|ROME, 16 JUNE 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Recently, one musician has told us during the class that Marian songs
should not be sung during the offertory of a Mass. Is this true? Why so?
A: I have often heard this particular "norm" bandied about but have yet
to find an authoritative source for it.
The 2007 guidelines on liturgical music, "Sing to the Lord," published
by the U.S. bishops' conference, give only general criteria regarding
hymns. To wit:
"A hymn is sung at each Office of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the
original place for strophic hymnody in the Liturgy. At Mass, in addition
to the Gloria and a small number of strophic hymns in the Roman Missal
and Graduale Romanum, congregational hymns of a particular nation or
group that have been judged appropriate by the competent authorities
mentioned in the GIRM, nos. 48, 74, and 87, may be admitted to the
Sacred Liturgy. Church legislation today permits as an option the use of
vernacular hymns at the Entrance, Preparation of the Gifts, Communion,
and Recessional. Because these popular hymns are fulfilling a properly
liturgical role, it is especially important that they be appropriate to
the liturgical action. In accord with an uninterrupted history of nearly
five centuries, nothing prevents the use of some congregational hymns
coming from other Christian traditions, provided that their texts are in
conformity with Catholic teaching and they are appropriate to the
Catholic Liturgy (no. 115)."
It is sometimes difficult to find specific "appropriate" hymns for the
preparation of gifts as this moment of the rite has received less
attention from modern composers than the entrance and communion.
Since this is a new requirement in the liturgy, there are few older
vernacular hymns for the offertory. This is probably also due to the
fact that a hymn is only one of several options at this moment. Apart
from a hymn it is possible to use the traditional Latin chant for the
day; a polyphonic piece by the choir; purely instrumental music (outside
of Lent); and even no music at all.
The question here is: whether Marian hymns should be judged as
"inappropriate" for the presentation of gifts.
I believe we can be guided here by the extraordinary form of the Roman
rite. In this rite the offertory chant is not an optional text but is
proper and specific to each particular day or season. A glance at the
liturgical calendar shows that the prescribed text for the offertory on
Marian feasts usually refers to Mary. In many cases the offertory chant
is taken from the first part of the Hail Mary, or a psalm verse
applicable to Mary and occasionally is an original composition such as
on the feasts of the Queenship of Mary and the Assumption.
Thus I think it is clear that Church tradition validates the use of
Marian texts at least on her feast days. There are also some oblique
references to Mary in the offertory chants on other occasions, such as
the feasts of saints noted for Marian devotion. For example, on the
memorial of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother (Feb. 27), the chant is
taken from Psalm 115:16-17: "O Lord, I am your servant, the son of thy
handmaid. You have loosed my bonds and I will offer you a sacrifice of
With this in mind it would appear that there is no reason to ban Marian
songs for the gifts, if there is a good reason for having one. They are
certainly justified on Marian feasts and probably also during the Marian
months of May and October.
They could also be used on other occasions, but I believe that the
criterion of their being "appropriate" is important. They should not
just be used as fillers because nothing else is available. The lyrics
should also in some way relate to the feast or to the mystery being
celebrated, especially those texts which bring out Mary's relationship
Insofar as possible, just as all hymns used in the liturgy intended for
community use, the text should preferably express an ecclesial
profession of faith and not just a personal and individual devotion.
* * *
Follow-up: Marian Hymns at Offertory [6-30-2009]
After our June 16 commentaries regarding Marian hymns at the offertory,
a Canadian reader asked: “I saw recently how a couple of priests
‘Marian’ their homilies, which may be due to their particular affection
for the Virgin Mary which comes from their order and/or formation. That
is fine to do and can even help the homily.
“The question is two-part. First, when they put the Hail Mary prayer
immediately following the Prayer of the Faithful. Is this allowable?
“Second, the Hail Mary has been inserted after the homily or at the end
of Mass where it is sometimes turned into several other additional
prayers. Is this allowable?”
Regarding adding the Hail Mary to the prayers of the faithful, we
mentioned this topic on Aug. 17, 2004, in a follow-up to a column on the
The gist of the reply was that, where customary, the Hail Mary could be
used as a final intercession but should not replace the priest’s closing
Second, I am more doubtful regarding the incorporation of the Hail Mary
into the homily, especially if the faithful are expected to recite it as
a community. This could be interpreted as adding an unofficial prayer to
It could be argued that in this case the Hail Mary is a concluding
acclamation akin to the “Praised be Jesus Christ
now and forever” with which Pope John Paul II frequently began and ended
his sermons. It is not impossible to interpret it that way, but it is
stretching the point.
A different case would be a priest who weaves the Hail Mary into the
conclusion of his homily as a rhetorical devise, glossing the text so as
to include other petitions for Mary’s intercession. There would be no
objections to this, although it would lessen the homily’s effectiveness
I did not quite grasp the inclusion of the Hail Mary at the end of Mass.
It would not be appropriate if these prayers were added to the official
prayers. If, on the other hand, they form part of optional devotional
exercises immediately after the dismissal, prolonging thanksgiving after
Mass, then there would be no significant objections.