Understanding GIRM 87: Responsorial Psalms/Hymns at Communion in Canada
  • They've just changed the Communion at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica from a responsorial psalm/other responsorial hymn to a hymn without a refrian.

    Schönbergian and I are trying to rebut the decision, as we believe that the responsorial format is better for the congregation. We are trying to bring an airtight, fact-based presentation to those who made the decision and thus we are looking for how we might be able to do that based on the instructions given in the GIRM.

    In the GIRM for the US, it approves explicitly of responsorial form:
    (3) a chant from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the conference of bishops or the Diocesan bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;

    In the GIRM for Canada, this option is not there, prompting me to think that even the responsorial psalm at Communion idea isn't lawful. Both suggest, however, that "some other suitable liturgical chant approved by [the respective Bishop's Conference]". Can someone here define "other suitable liturgical chant"? Does this include psalms or hymns arranged in responsorial form?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,149
    Suitable is not really defined anywhere, so common sense: suitable for a Communion song. The CBW has a number of songs that are obviously suitable.

    Since the antiphon in the Graduale Roman is pretty responsorial, and the Communion propers in the Simplex is very responsorial, and at least some songs in the CBW are obviously responsorial, such as #610 "Taste and See", there's no way to argue that responsorial singing at Communion is not "allowed".

    However, you may be up against the "everyone should sing all the time" idea, which I've certainly had clergysplained to me on at least two occasions. Those who think the liturgical choir's job is to "lead the singing", or read the GIRM's description of the Communion chant ("to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices") as excluding any cantor, well, such thinkers won't accept your appeal to the GIRM anyway.

    Try explaining that the most effective way to encourage unified singing at Communion is to repeat a short response over and over, so the communicants (who are not carrying books in the procession, of course) can hear and repeat it easily; and with a cantor singing psalm verses in between, for variety; and then singing a "meditative" hymn near the end (cf. GIRM #86b, #88). In this way, everything is done in good order and everyone gets what seems well to them.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,742
    Well, I don't know your situation or even whom the argument is being crafted for (Music director? Master of Ceremonies? Bishop?) but it's easy to imagine scenarios in which the change could be an improvement!

    We've moved to extending a solo antiphon (American Gradual, usually) till the line is finished and starting a hymn when everyone is back within reach of a book, which usually gets opened.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • Off the top of my head I can't recall the term that distinguishes the two, but technically a hymn intended to be sung strait through with no refrain and one sung with alternating verse/refrain structure are really two different musical forms.

    As a matter of personal opinion, it seems an antiphon with or without psalm verses is the intended primary music for the communion procession. The singing of a hymn of thanksgiving (the best examples of which I can think of are through composed without refrain) after communion is a distinct, and secondary, event within the larger communion rite.

    The singing of a choral or solo piece as a post communion meditation, while a very widespread practice, seems to have no license in current rubrics.
    Thanked by 1Andrew_Malton
  • Rather bizarre, I should say, that anyone other than the choirmaster is making this decision!
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    GIRM 86,86,88 is quite clear (except for the USA) that during the distribution of communion only the antiphon & psalm from GR or GS or 'another liturgical chant approved by the Conference of Bishops' is permitted. The only place in the Mass where a hymn ad lib is permitted is post-communion (or possibly in certain entrance processions such as Palm Sunday). Assuming these options include approved translations, the obvious way of engaging a congregation is for them to chant a simple refrain/response. GS/BFW gives four chants which are always permitted. (FWIW I would prefer Ainslie's 1967 Simple Gradual)
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,149
    In Canada we have an official hymnal, that is, a hymnal edited by a commission of the Bishops' Conference, and officially approved. So any (suitable!) song from the CBW may be used at Mass at the entrance, offertory, or communion, according to the rubrics.

    It's true that a song wholly ad lib is (only) allowed post-communion, but because only there does the GIRM omit the usual "from Graduals or other approved chants" condition.

    It's quite correct as @StephenMatthew says that motets, anthems, spiritual airs, and what not, sung by the choir, are not allowed at or after Communion. Presumably the right place for those of appropriate is at the Offertory.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 500
    Rather bizarre, I should say, that anyone other than the choirmaster is making this decision!

    Full agreement, MJO!

    At least, Casavant Organist, ...
    We are trying to bring an airtight, fact-based presentation to those who made the decision

    ... you apparently know at whom to address the rebuttal (which does not make it less bizarre of course).

    In my parish, a somewhat comparable decision has been made by the pastor, giving as explicit reason: complaints by parishioners (to him, not to me ...). Of course, he did not tell me who these were, nor is he willing to encourage them to complain directly to me.
  • roy2
    Posts: 15
    Does this help? From pages 37-38 of the CCCB National Liturgy Office's Guidelines for Liturgical Music (revised, 2015 edition):

    The reception of Communion has traditionally been accompanied by the singing of a psalm with an appropriate antiphon. The texts for the Communion antiphons in the Roman Missal are intended to be sung with appointed psalm verses which are indicated in the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex. Musicians may wish to consult these books. Settings of Psalm 23 and Psalm 34 are especially recommended for the Communion procession.

    Then it talks about the types of hymns that are also appropriate.

    And then this practical note:

    In order to facilitate the assembly’s full participation in the Communion song, it is recommended that hymns with refrains be used during the procession. The cantor or choir can sing the verses and the assembly can easily join in the refrain without having to carry a hymnal in procession.

  • We are trying to bring an airtight, fact-based presentation to those who made the decision

    If the people you are trying to convince are Catholic in their heart, the use of facts will be helpful. IF not..... not. As to an air-tight presentation based on the GIRM? One of the greatest weakness of every prohibition of girl altar-boys is that there is always wiggle room for those who want to use the language that way, almost as if it is designed that way.

    Thanked by 2Elmar dad29
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  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 1,063
    It's worth noting that the hymnal in use at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica is not the CCCB-approved CBW but, rather, an independent hymnal recently authored by St. Michael's Choir School. I am curious if garden-variety, non-antiphonal hymns from this alternate hymnal would still fall under the allowances laid forth in GIRM.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    'another liturgical chant approved by the Conference of Bishops'
    If it's not in CBW, you could seek evidence of explicit approval by CCCB (not just the diocesan authorities). Perhaps, like the Australians, there is a list of approved hymns?
  • The Canadian GIRM states things very vaguely because they haven't really thought trough the whole situation as clearly as the U.S. It is the very same situation as most of the rest of the English-speaking world. The GR and GS have to be included because they are the official books. The standard disclaimer of 'other book permitted by bishops' conference' means they can, if they choose, ban certain items. It also, tacitly, approves their own publications (recent Psalm books, cbw 3 and earlier versions, and the celebrate in song booklet). It doesn't, practically, suggest those books that use the correct texts but aren't explicitly approved ( think LCM, etc) or any other hymn book or collection that uses paraphrases (BFW, etc.) are not permitted.
    Technically, if you wanted to use a certain resource or piece, have it permitted locally by writing to the local liturgy office. Technically in Canada using Breaking Bread or another of the big U.S. Hymnals is not permitted, unless the local ordinary has permitted it within his territory, but in all honesty, no bishop is going to ban the use of these hymnals if they are generally accepted elsewhere. So, the GIRM citation is vague, not because it strict, but because it is trying to be inclusive or myriad options. It thus becomes confusing and a handy tool for either side of an argument. I say, keep using those psalms in whatever format, especially if it emulating the wines of the GR or GS. And if the text matches the missal, or is an approved text of the proper antiphon, then that cannot be refused. If it is from a non-approved translation, get local permission.
  • Canadian GIRM:
    86. While the Priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion Chant is begun, its
    purpose being to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of
    their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the “communitarian”
    character of the procession to receive the Eucharist. The singing is prolonged for as long
    as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful.74 However, if there is to be a hymn
    after Communion, the Communion Chant should be ended in a timely manner.
    Care should be taken that singers, too, can receive Communion with ease.
    87. In the dioceses of Canada singing at Communion may be chosen from among the
    following: the antiphon from the Graduale Romanum, with or without the Psalm, or the
    antiphon with Psalm from the Graduale Simplex, or some other suitable liturgical chant
    approved by the Conference of Bishops of Canada. This is sung either by the choir alone
    or by the choir or a cantor with the people.
    However, if there is no singing, the antiphon given in the Missal may be recited
    either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise, it is recited by the
    Priest himself after he has received Communion and before he distributes Communion to
    the faithful.
    88. When the distribution of Communion is over, if appropriate, the Priest and faithful
    pray quietly for some time. If desired, a Psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may
    also be sung by the whole congregation.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    The Canadian GIRM87 is a straight translation of the Latin, neither more nor less vague. It gives authority for alternatives to the official chants solely to the Conference of Bishops, adding explicitly 'of Canada'.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    As to the clarity of the US GIRM: it starts by listing as option 1 the missal text which when it was introduced was explicitly said to be a spoken only text, NOT used to displace the sung text.
    And it ends by delegating the authority to the bishop of the diocese, which is (mis)used, as other posts in this forum have stated, to mean that if any US diocese has an official publishing house then anything published by it has liturgical approval anywhere in the USA. It may be that USCCB has explicitly approved this, but it cuts the ground from under the feet of bishops who would prefer a better regulated liturgy.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops GUIDELINES FOR LITURGICAL MUSIC (revised 2015)


    See section 62
  • Notwithstanding the many errors and contradictions found in these guidelines, it is so politically weighted, it borders on the embarrassing.

    To address again the original query, if you are not singing any of the official options available, then whether the musical item is responsorial or not is subjective. I could never choose some modern twaddle about eating bread and drinking wine because it has a catchy refrain over something meaningfully catechetical without a refrain.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    whether the musical item is responsorial or not is subjective
    Surely the OP was using it in the objective sense of 'containing a repeated response or chorus'.
    The CCCB Guidelines reinforce the use of the official chants:
    Settings of Psalm 23 and Psalm 34 are especially recommended for the Communion procession.
    (which are two of the four 'options always available' in GS). And go on to state twice on page 38:
    In order to facilitate the assembly’s full participation in the Communion song, it is recommended that hymns with refrains be used during the procession.
    This shows that the OP is well supported in the opinion that
    we believe that the responsorial format is better for the congregation
  • I'm not sure what point you are trying to make, but the use of anything other than the official chants is always second-best. Within that less-than-ideal scenario, whether the piece being sung is responsorial or not should be within the remit of the music director. I cannot accept, in this instance, that it follows that a piece is better because it is responsorial. Even if an episcopal conference publishes a document recommending one practice over another, outwith the official chants, it is merely that: a recommendation. Take it or leave it.
    Universally, the permission is given for another suitable hymn or psalm to be sung, either as well as the prescribed chants or in place of them.
    All sensible music directors will choose a piece that is fitting and worthy for the Mass as a whole, and that it is suitable for that place within the Mass. I am pleased that it is becoming more common for the prescribed communion antiphon (or another, seasonal or ad libitum option) to be sung before any other hymns/psalms. I almost always disregard hymns with refrains because they are very often trite. I think the idea of unifying the congregation through song as they process to receive communion is rather academic. Most will prefer their own private prayers and devotions. Most likely, they will sing after they have received, by way of a communal thanksgiving.
    Finally, I have found that trying to tailor liturgical choices to, and try to appease, a congregation is folly. Most simply won;t care whether the hymn at communion has a chorus or not. If they like it, they will want to sing it. If they hate it, they won't bother. And the idea of choosing music so as to try, desperately, to make a congregation sing is also folly. How often is the misrepresented notion of 'full, conscious and active participation' laid on the shoulders of the music director? It is not their job to do that. It is the individual within the assembly's responsibility to actively participate fully and consciously at Mass. Within the rubrics, allow them the opportunities to participate. It's not your fault if they don't take those opportunities. And on that point - don't force them to join in with every single element of Mass. Keep it correct: Dialogues, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Psalm, Alleluia, Kyrie, Agnus Dei, Gloria, Credo, propers (more-or-less in that order) and then worry about whether they are singing hymns with refrains!
    Finally, to the OP - always try support your music director and don't bother fighting them on an irrelevant, and very small, point. In St Michael's there are 100 other things to worry about than whether the communion hymn has a chorus!
    Thanked by 1Andrew_Malton
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    Agreed maestrodicapella that there is too much choice allowable, most of it bad choices. The root choice here is "sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or a cantor with the people". The difficulty with having the people sing is, as said above, is that they will not have a hymn book, so if you want them to sing it needs to be a simple chorus or responsum or antiphon (as befits the musical genre). This view is supported by CCCB. If you do not want the congregation to sing at this point, then a hymn is unlikely (to put it no higher) to be a better choice than something among the official chants.
    Sorry if it annoys you and others but I take the view that the director of music is a paid servant. In this case I had the impression that the OP and friend did not think that the change they deplore was a decision by the DM. Also in this case note that the proper chant is sung by the choir at two of the six masses, and a choral motet at one the the others. If the hymn given last Sunday (The King of Love my Shepherd is) was supposed to be sung by the congregation during Communion, then I doubt it was taken up strongly.
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 1,063
    To clarify, the change was not made by the choirmaster/music director but by the Cathedral rector, a known opponent to traditional music in the parish (unfortunately). The last choirmaster here was just fired for being too traditional, actually.
  • The story is actually quite a bit more complicated than that, and these changes seem to be somewhat of a result of the choirmaster's dismissal.
  • To clarify, this is only a hypothesis with much evidence to support. Most of these changes of which I speak, including the "no descants in Lent" the previous choirmaster would never approve.
  • I’d guess this thread has “gone cold” and the intended objection’s course run, but as part of my efforts to foster awareness here, I want to point out that GIRM 86 in English is mistranslated: the word “their” in the English has no Latin antecedent, in which light it’s clearer that GIRM does not presume whose voices are in unity.

    Thus, GIRM 87’s explicit allowance for the choir to sing alone at Communion—as the first-listed option, no less—comes into clearer light. The point is that GIRM does NOT encourage—much less require—congregational singing at Communion.

    I’ve written to Cdl. Collins asking him to propose an emendation to GIRM’s English translation. I encourage others to make the same request of their local bishops. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained!)

    (NB: The Spanish, French, Italian, and German translations all avoid this translation error in GIRM 86.)
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • But when the Latin IGMR says that unity of voices expresses unity of spirit (per unitatem vocum exprimere unionem spiritualem) what kind of singing is it prescribing or proscribing?

    The phrase originates in a 1967 statement about liturgical singing in general, not just at communion.

    The rubric blathers on at this point about joy of heart and "communitarian" spirit of the procession. The rubric literally uses scare quotes, showing that Latin is not, after all, a sure protection from wooly thinking.
  • davido
    Posts: 851
    I find responsorial communion music to be trite, dull, simplistic, or tedious. It amazes me that musicians will legalistically argue about shortsighted, ill conceived documents like a GIRM in order to do justify doing something so unmusical.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    It is important not to forget that parishes vary enormously in size, talent, and the resources which can be devoted to music. The Church authorities have not lost sight of this, they provide GR for parishes with the talent available, for others wanting chant they provide GS which gives psalms with antiphons. They provide, sporadically, translations of the graduals for local provision of musical settings. They give permission to sing other songs, and recommend polyphony for, again, those with the resources.

    We have a Sunday congregation of around 100, four of whom are prepared to volunteer as cantors. We have an electronic organ, and a pianist (non Catholic) who tries to play it. We sing the Ordinary, just one setting, the ubiquitous Alleluia, an Offertory hymn, and one verse of an entrance hymn. For me, the best I could hope for would be the antiphons and psalms from GS, or an equivalent in English. Currently at Communion we say the Missal antiphon, and then the organist plays. It could easily be worse, I know at least two parishoners who strum guitars and sing, fortunately the pastor would not countenance that. (Also, we sing the Asperges once a month, less than one in ten of the congregation joins in audibly with the cantor.)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • @a_f_hawkins: Is your priest singing his part? If not, why? That is the true starting point (as GIRM envisions, anyhow), for that is the material that may nearly always be sung, regardless of the congregation’s singing ability, presence of an organist or cantors, etc. To sing an Entrance hymn requires the ability to hold a tune and probably some sort of musical leadership, but to sing “and with your spirit” is simpler yet. And it’s the same melody week after week, so over time there’s little problem of knowing the melody.

    There’s a lot that can be sung with just priest and congregation. We just need clergy to accept and to foster the “sung Mass” rather than the “Mass at which there is singing”.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • @Andrew Malton: I don’t think GIRM/IGMR prescribes or proscribes any particular kind of singing. The discussion of the chant’s purpose doesn’t lend a lot of support to any particular interpretation of what one “should” do, other than that I think “unity of voices” probably effectively favours communal singing (either choral or congregational) rather than solo singing.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,341
    Felipe Gasper : I agree entirely that is the true starting point, unfortunately our priest will not sing. Why I do not know, he is quite immovable (and unforthcoming). He wants us to sing, and apparently believes that hearing him would not help, I have never heard his singing (though his lips move).
  • @a_f_hawkins: Alas. Yeah, if your priest won’t sing—which I assume means he won’t want singing of the Creed or Our Father, either—that’s unfortunate.