Marian Hymns at Offertory

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Marian Hymns at Offertory

ROME, 16 JUNE 2009 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 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? — D.Z., Beijing

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 praise."

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 with Christ.

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 general intercessions.

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 prayer.

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 the Mass.

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 if overused.

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.

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