Two Musical Q & A - 28th September 2014

Q. This question came up at our parish liturgy committee and we were unsure of the answer. When the priest says “Go forth, the Mass is ended” and we respond “Thanks be to God”, is it necessary to sing a dismissal hymn? If the Mass is ended, has it anything to do with the liturgy?

A. While a song is named as one of the key elements of the Introductory Rites, a hymn is not included among the Concluding Rites. Because a recessional hymn has become such common practice, people assume that it is a requirement, but it is more effective to do as we have been charged to do: to go forth in peace.

Many communities customarily sing a hymn at the end of Mass and would argue that it gives a strong conclusion to the celebration. It will take a good deal of formation and convincing to change the practice of singing a recessional hymn if it is entrenched.

Many parishes omit the recessional hymn during Lent. That would be a good way to start if you decide to begin the process of change.
It would also help if you have good organ and a talented organist who can play a voluntary/ postlude to replace the recessional hymn as people exit the church.

Q. Some of the musicians in our parish insist on singing a hymn between the first and second readings at Sunday Mass instead of the psalm which is “too difficult and boring”. Is there anything in the official liturgy documents that would give us some direction here?

A. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:
“After the First Reading follows the Responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and which has great liturgical and pastoral importance, since it fosters meditation on the Word of God. The Responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should usually be taken from the Lectionary.” (61)

Using psalms in worship is as old as the Church itself and in fact was taken from the practice of the Jewish synagogue. The responsorial psalm is itself the word of God and the prayer of the Church through the ages. The psalm assigned to the first reading frequently has a thematic or liturgical relationship to it. Just as we would never replace any of the other scriptural readings with something else, a hymn cannot be substituted for the biblical psalm.

It is appropriate to sing a hymn after the first reading only if it is a musical setting of the psalm.

The use of psalm settings with simple refrains and chanted verses make the task of singing a new psalm each week do-able for the cantor as well as the assembly.

Alternatively, the General Instruction offers the option of using common seasonal psalms:

“In order that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more easily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the different times of the year or for the different categories of Saints. These may be used instead of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung.” (GIRM 61)

The seasonal psalms are to be found in the Lectionary under Common Texts for Sung Responsorial Psalms. Many hymn books and psalm collections offer easily singable settings of these psalms.

© Liturgy Brisbane, 2014

Elizabeth Harrington