|ROME, 9 MAY 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I attended Midnight Mass this past Christmas Eve while visiting
friends in Virginia. I do believe this is the first time I have
experienced the priest singing all the words of consecration that Jesus
spoke. He sang beautifully, and reverently, but I wonder if this is
proper? I assume the consecration was valid. —
E.N., Richmond, Virginia
A: Until the Second Vatican Council the Latin rite was practically the
only one that did not sing the words of the consecration.
Among the changes brought about by the Council's liturgical reform was
to open up the possibility of singing the consecration, indeed the
singing of the entire Eucharistic Prayer, in the Latin rite. As the
General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:
"No. 30. Among the parts assigned to the priest, the foremost is the
Eucharistic Prayer, which is the high point of the entire celebration.
Next are the orations: that is to say, the collect, the prayer over the
offerings, and the prayer after Communion. These prayers are addressed
to God in the name of the entire holy people and all present, by the
priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ. It is
with good reason, therefore, that they are called the 'presidential
"No. 32. The nature of the 'presidential' texts demands that they be
spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen with
attention. Thus, while the priest is speaking these texts, there should
be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical
instruments should be silent."
"No. 38. In texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice,
whether by the priest or the deacon, or by the lector, or by all, the
tone of voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that
is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a commentary, an
acclamation, or a sung text; the tone should also be suited to the form
of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering. Consideration
should also be given to the idiom of different languages and the culture
of different peoples.
"In the rubrics and in the norms that follow, words such as 'say' and
'proclaim' are to be understood of both singing and reciting, according
to the principles just stated above.
"No. 40. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of
singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the
culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly.
Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing
all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should
be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in
celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.
"In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference
should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially
to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the
people responding, or by the priest and people together."
Apart from these general indications, the new Latin Missal, as well as
several officially approved vernacular translations, also provide music
for singing the Eucharistic Prayers or at least the consecration.
It is important to remember, however, that all musical settings for the
ordinary of the Mass must be approved for liturgical use by the bishop
or, in some cases, by the bishops' conference.
While singing the entire Eucharistic Prayer is quite uncommon, and
usually requires a musically capable priest, singing the consecration
can contribute to forming a sense of the sacred. It is especially useful
in concelebrations so as to guarantee some degree of uniformity among
priests who are used to their own personal rhythm of celebration.
At this year's Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Benedict XVI sang
the entire Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I), including the
consecration in which he was joined by hundreds of concelebrating
bishops and priests.
As far as I know this is the first time that a Pontiff has sung the
entire canon since the liturgical reforms, although it is possible that
it was more common during the first Christian millennium. ZE06050924
* * *
Follow-up: Singing the Consecration [05-23-2006]
After our comments on sung consecrations (May 9), a reader from
Marquette, Michigan, asked: "May the organ be played under the
celebrant's voice as an aid to his own musical presentation? Where I
have seen this done the instrument did not detract from the prayer in
any way. I have been told that it was improper, but I thought it
contributed to the effect."
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 32, has very clear
indications with respect to this: "The nature of the 'presidential'
texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that
everyone listen with attention. Thus, while the priest is speaking these
texts, there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or
other musical instruments should be silent."
When these "presidential" texts are sung, the "loud and clear" aspect of
their proclamation is reinforced. The prohibition of all other words or
music at this time is to help everybody to listen with attention to the
actual words being proclaimed.
For some, perhaps, low background organ music might enhance the sense of
the sacred, but not everybody is equally endowed with musical
sensibility. People who are both sensitive and musically literate could
easily be distracted in assessing the quality of the playing, or
recalling other works of the composer. People who are less attuned might
find the music a trifle annoying. In either case concentration on the
words and sacred action is diminished.
A priest asked: "What is meant by the requirement that the words of
consecration be spoken 'clearly and distinctly'?"
The word "distinctly" indicates distinction (difference) rather then
simply with good diction, which is catered for by the word "clearly."
This is probably a case where the message needs to be emphasized in
order to get it across. In almost every language there are phrases which
pair two words of similar meaning to produce a concept that is stronger
than either word taken separately: neat and tidy, loud and clear, right
and proper, etc.
The "clear and distinct" of the rubric probably stems from the Italian "chiara
e distinta" which was transformed into the Latin rubric "distincte et
aperte." Although the entire Eucharistic Prayer should be said or sung
intelligibly and fervently, the rubric does indicate that the
consecration be distinguished from the rest of the prayer.
Rather than a precise technical meaning, however, the "clear and
distinct" of the rubric embraces a range of concepts that stress the
overall requirement that the words be proffered with good diction, be
easily audible, and that they be pronounced with due pause and