Singing at the Elevation

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Singing at the Elevation

ROME, 14 DEC. 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Our priest used to sing a verse from "Come Let Us Adore Him" during the elevation of the consecrated host. Most of the congregation would sing along with him and it was beautiful. Then someone threatened him that they were going to report this to the bishop, so now he has stopped singing this. Is there any reason why a priest could not sing during the elevation and thus bring the message to the congregation more fully? — T.V., Canada

A: While the priest's zeal in promoting faith in the Real Presence is appreciable, I cannot agree with this particular mode of doing so as it goes against sound liturgical principles. It may also be true that the priest stopped acting this way not so much out of fear of the bishop but rather that some parishioner convinced him of his error. I am sure that a priest who shows such veneration for the Real Presence would also desire to show equal respect for liturgical law.

The overarching principle to be applied in this respect is that of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 24: "Nevertheless, the priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass."

The motive behind this principle are well articulated in the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum:

"[11.] The Mystery of the Eucharist 'is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured.' On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved, and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ's faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal, but are detrimental to the right of Christ's faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God. The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ's faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of 'secularization' as well.

"[12.] On the contrary, it is the right of all of Christ's faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. Likewise, the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church's Magisterium. Finally, it is the Catholic community's right that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factions in the Church."

And with specific mention of the Eucharistic Prayer: "[53.] While the Priest proclaims the Eucharistic Prayer 'there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent' except for the people's acclamations that have been duly approved …."

From another standpoint I think that introducing the phrase "Come let us adore him!" in fact unwittingly reduces the scope of the Eucharistic mystery. By concentrating only on the Real Presence, this expression leaves out the full reality of the Mass as a memorial making present the entire salvific mystery that is, in a way, the latest moment in salvation history. In fact, this reality is better expressed by the usual acclamations after the consecration which ties the Eucharistic mystery of faith to the Passion, Resurrection and Second Coming.

I certainly have no objections to a priest singing in order to underline the importance of this moment of the celebration, but this can be done without any undue additions. First of all, the rubrics already allow him to sing the entire consecration itself. It is also highly recommendable that he also intones the "Mystery of Faith" so that the faithful can also sing the memorial acclamation.

* * *

Follow-up: Singing at the Elevation [1-11-2011]

In the wake of our comments on a priest singing "Come Let Us Adore Him" during the consecration (see Dec. 14), a West Indies reader asked: "Our bishop has the habit of saying the phrase, 'Holy food for a holy people,' after the people respond, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you ...," and immediately before consuming the Body of Christ. According to your answer, that should not be done. I have the heard someone justify such a liturgical innovation by saying that the bishop is the lead liturgist in his diocese. Such a statement could open the door to just about anything. What are we to think?"

Yes, the bishop is the lead liturgist in his diocese, but he is not the owner of the liturgy: The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum outlines the rights and duties of the bishop with respect to the liturgy. It says in part:

"1. The Diocesan Bishop, High Priest of his Flock

"[19.] The diocesan Bishop, the first steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church entrusted to him, is the moderator, promoter and guardian of her whole liturgical life. For 'the Bishop, endowed with the fullness of the Sacrament of Order, is "the steward of the grace of the high Priesthood," especially in the Eucharist which he either himself offers or causes to be offered, by which the Church continually lives and grows.'

"[20.] … 'every lawful celebration of the Eucharist is directed by the Bishop, to whom is entrusted the office of presenting the worship of the Christian religion to the Divine Majesty and ordering it according to the precepts of the Lord and the laws of the Church, further specified by his own particular judgment for the Diocese.'

"[21.] It pertains to the diocesan Bishop, then, 'within the limits of his competence, to set forth liturgical norms in his Diocese, by which all are bound.' Still, the Bishop must take care not to allow the removal of that liberty foreseen by the norms of the liturgical books so that the celebration may be adapted in an intelligent manner to the Church building, or to the group of the faithful who are present, or to particular pastoral circumstances in such a way that the universal sacred rite is truly accommodated to human understanding.

"[22.] The Bishop governs the particular Church entrusted to him, and it is his task to regulate, to direct, to encourage, and sometimes also to reprove; this is a sacred task that he has received through episcopal Ordination, which he fulfills in order to build up his flock in truth and holiness. …

"[23.] The faithful 'should cling to the Bishop as the Church does to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ does to the Father, so that all may be in harmonious unity, and that they may abound to the glory of God.' All, including members of Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of apostolic life as well as those of all ecclesial associations and movements of any kind, are subject to the authority of the diocesan Bishop in all liturgical matters, apart from rights that have been legitimately conceded. To the diocesan Bishop therefore falls the right and duty of overseeing and attending to Churches and oratories in his territory in regard to liturgical matters, and this is true also of those which are founded by members of the above-mentioned institutes or under their direction, provided that the faithful are accustomed to frequent them."

Therefore, the bishop does have great authority to order and institute liturgical norms which apply the general laws to particular circumstances in his dioceses. This authority, however, is "within the limits of his competence." It is not within the competence of an individual bishop to introduce new liturgical texts, and thus the particular addition mentioned by our reader would not be justified by appealing to his episcopal office.

It might not actually be the bishop's intention to introduce a novelty. This could be no more than an act of personal and private devotion on the bishop's part that is picked up by the microphones. It is probably inspired by the Byzantine liturgy in which the priest sings, "Holy things for the Holy" before communion.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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