Music During the Eucharistic Prayer

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Music During the Eucharistic Prayer

ROME, 12 February 2013 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I was helping in a South American diocese and I saw there how the bishop invited the people to recite with him the opening prayer. Then he invited the people to do the same for the doxology. Also there they sing some songs during the Eucharistic Prayer; in between paragraphs the people sing short songs. I also celebrated Mass for the military, and right after I consecrated the host, during the elevation, the band played the national anthem and I had to wait till they finished before I consecrated the wine. And during the whole consecration everybody stood up. I asked local priests about those practices, and they told me that this was mandated by the conference of bishops and by the military bishop although they failed to show me any document. My question is: Can a bishop modify these parts of the Mass? — J.S., Bolivia

A: This question needs to be divided into parts as various laws apply in different cases.
First of all, an overarching principle regarding the bishop's authority over the liturgy is that he should not forbid what is permitted nor permit what is forbidden. There might be some punctual exceptions to this principle based on the bishop's general authority to dispense from universal and particular disciplinary laws not reserved to the Holy See (Canon 87).

However, a bishop does not have any general power to adjust the texts or rubrics of the Mass, nor should he do so. In the case mentioned above, the bishop erred in inviting the people to join him in parts of the Mass reserved to the celebrant.

A two-thirds majority of the bishops' conference, plus the approval of the Holy See, are required in order to make any stable modifications to the universal liturgy.

With respect to what our reader calls "some songs" during the Eucharistic Prayer, such interpolations have been specifically approved for Brazil. As the country mentioned by our reader borders on Brazil, it is quite possible that some of its liturgical practices have crossed the frontier. As far as I am aware, however, no other country has received specific approval for this practice from the Holy See.

Since Brazil is now revising its current translation, which in many respects resembles the former English version, there appears to be a tendency to reduce these interventions.

Finally, the custom of playing the national anthem during or after the consecration seems to be of Spanish origin, especially in military circles. This is why it is probably found in some South American countries.

It is a custom which appears to be generally dying, especially as current liturgical law is quite clear that no music should be played during the Eucharistic Prayer. Thus the 1967 instruction Musicam Sacram states:

"The use of musical instruments to accompany the singing can act as a support to the voices, render participation easier, and achieve a deeper union in the assembly. However, their sound should not so overwhelm the voices that it is difficult to make out the text; and when some part is proclaimed aloud by the priest or a minister by virtue of his role, they should be silent (no. 64).

"In sung or said Masses, the organ, or other instrument legitimately admitted, can be used to accompany the singing of the choir and the people; it can also be played solo at the beginning before the priest reaches the altar, at the Offertory, at the Communion, and at the end of Mass (no. 65)."

In this case, however, it could be argued that an exception is warranted in virtue of immemorial custom. It is also sometimes argued that the anthem is sung in honor of the Blessed Sacrament or as a sign of a country's consecration to Christ.

This was the meaning when, in 1899, the national anthem was sung after the consecration in the solemn act in which Venezuela was consecrated to the Blessed Sacrament by the country's bishops.

As I say, the argument from custom could be made. But it would still probably be better to let the practice fade away, as it is no longer in conformity with current liturgical law and easily open to misinterpretation.

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