“Participation in the hymn is not so much about
the quality of one’s voice but more the desire to
foster the unity of the Body of Christ.” – Fr. Bill
Beginning in September, we will be returning to congregational singing for the opening hymn and the first communion hymn. During the past two years, we have faced restriction on singing due to Covid. We had to let the liturgical music ministers move our hearts and spirits with their singing. Now we are able to let the Assembly take their rightful part in praising God with song.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that the purpose of the opening hymn “is to open the celebration, foster unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers” (#47). When you have a list of items in a liturgical document, the most important is listed first; the least important is listed last.
The entrance hymn begins the celebration. I think this entrance hymn should focus on praising God. My personal opinion is that too many modern hymns focus on us, rather than on God. Rather than singing about ourselves, let us sing about God, what God has done and continues to do for us. Since it starts a celebration, the music and song itself should instinctively get us to our feet. There should be no need for any instruction to stand.
Of second highest importance is that the entrance hymn expresses and fosters unity. Participation in the hymn is not so much about the quality of one’s voice but more the desire to foster the unity of the Body of Christ. Even if you feel you cannot sing, you can still mouth the words. You would still be participating. However, if you purposely choose to keep your mouth shut (except for possibly a medical condition) you may be impeding the intent of the liturgy. Knowing the hymn greatly helps in wanting to sing the hymn. During Covid when we had to discourage singing, we suggested to our musicians that they sing new and
unfamiliar hymns. Now that we are increasing the Assembly’s singing we are asking that they select the most familiar hymns. Let our musicians know what your favorite hymns are.
The opening hymn also serves as a pathway to deeper faith as it draws you into the meaning of the liturgical season or festivity or even some of the themes of the day’s Liturgy. Like good poetry, there is a power to the words and music that help us transcend ourselves. For this reason the instruction warns about omitting verses that would risk distorting the whole meaning of the piece. During Covid we often ended the entrance hymn as soon as the priest got to his chair. My sense is we should sing all the verses necessary to get the complete meaning of the hymn.
Finally, the opening hymn accompanies the procession. Note, you are not singing to greet the presider. The procession is a symbol of what it means to be Christian: following the Cross of Christ and the Word of God. The procession announces the presence of God in the Assembly as the Book of the Gospels is enthroned and the Cross placed next the Altar where the sacrifice of the Cross will once again be made present.
I am impressed with the talent and dedication of our parish liturgical ministers. They have a challenging ministry to lead us in ways that help us truly celebrate, foster unity, lead us more deeply into the mystery of faith being expressed in the Mass and accompany the liturgical action and highlight its meaning. The best way to affirm and support them – SING!