Penitential Rite in the Mass

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Penitential Rite in the Mass

ROME, 27 APRIL 2004 (ZENIT).

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: I would like to ask about the penitential rite at Mass. May any music that speaks about asking for pardon be played at this moment? Or should only music which incorporates the forms "Lord, ... Christ, ... Lord have mercy" be used? — M.C., Petropolis, Brazil

A: To answer your question I think we may be inspired by the new Roman Missal in Latin. The abundant musical notations supplied in this missal encourage eventual vernacular translations to follow suit.

While awaiting future translations, the Latin text can still be a guide as to the extent of using music in the Mass. For the penitential rite the missal provides simple Gregorian chant notations for the usual greeting ("As we prepare ourselves ...") and for the conclusion ("May Almighty God have mercy...").

The greeting of the penitential rite may vary, and some missals provide a wide variety of texts. Likewise the priest may also substitute other similar words. However, this need not exclude his singing the greeting. The musical form is that of the simple chant which usually does not require musical notations and demands only basic musical ability.

There is no musical notation provided for the "I confess" of the first form of the penitential rite. It would appear that when this form is used it is intended that all recite it rather than sing it.

The second form of the penitential rite — "Lord, we have sinned against you" — receives a complete musical accompaniment in the new Roman Missal which means that it may also be sung in the vernacular according to any setting approved by the episcopal conference or the local bishop.

In both of these forms the penitential rite is always followed by the "Kyrie" ("Lord / Christ / Lord have mercy") which should be sung whenever possible. It may be sung according to any Gregorian or approved vernacular setting, of which there are many.

The priest may intone the first part of each "Lord / Christ have mercy" with the people responding. If necessary he may be substituted by a cantor or by the choir.

The third form of the penitential rite incorporates the "Kyrie" within it, preceded each time by a brief invocation. Many variant texts of the invocations before the "Lord / Christ / Lord have mercy" are found in the vernacular missals, often adapted to the liturgical season.

Musically the invocations may be recited by the priest to be followed by the singing of the "Lord / Christ / Lord have mercy" as indicated above. However the invocations may also be sung either by the priest or by a cantor with the people and choir responding with "Lord / Christ / Lord have mercy."

If the musical response requires it, the words "Kyrie" (Lord) or Christ may be repeated more than once before singing the "eleison" (have mercy). However, the order of the three invocations "Lord / Christ / Lord" should always be respected.

Priests and other pastoral agents should make full use of the ample possibilities provided by the missal itself and not substitute other songs or invented penitential rites for the celebration of Mass.

Also the "Kyrie" should always be present in some form, either after the "May almighty God," or as part of the penitential rite itself. The rubrics, however, foresee the possibility of omitting the penitential rite, and sometimes the "Kyrie" when another rite — for example, Morning Prayer of the Divine Office — is joined to the celebration of Mass. ZE04042721

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