Here is one simple thing you can do to make your parish’s celebration of Mass even better: Start the Communion song immediately.
When I first became a music minister, our choir didn’t want to begin the Communion song until “after Father did his Communion.” Twenty-five years later, most music ministers are still waiting for Father. The “Lamb of God” ends, the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God…” and the assembly responds, “Lord, I am not worthy….” Then…there’s a span…of silence…while everyone…watches…the priest…take Communion. (You get the picture.) Sometimes, this silence continues even longer as we watch the priest distribute Communion to the Communion ministers.
I go to many different parishes in our diocese for Sunday Mass, and if there is a constant liturgical weakness in our diocese, it is how we do the Communion Rite. One reason for this is because almost every choir I have witnessed waits to begin the Communion song until after the priest and all the ministers have finished receiving their Communion.
Often I think maybe the reason for the pause is that the music director or the accompanist is not ready. But that’s never been the case. It has always been because the music director or leader is simply waiting. And no matter how much of the Vulcan Mind Meld I try to do from my pew, I simply cannot get the music director to start the song.
Please, please, please, I beg all of you music ministers, please start the Communion song immediately after “Lord, I am not worthy….” This is the correct practice according to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 86, which says: While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun.
I hope you don’t see this as liturgical rubricism on my part. There really are better reasons for following the documents, and here are the reasons every music minister needs to follow this rubric: Delaying the start of the Communion song breaks down the flow of the Communion Rite and immediately puts the assembly into a passive mode—watching—at the very climax of the Mass when they should be expressing their “union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices” (GIRM, 86). Further, and perhaps more harmful, delaying the start of the Communion song subliminally teaches that “Father’s Communion” is different and perhaps “more special” than anyone else’s. Yet, Communion by its very definition cannot be individualistic, nor can it make distinctions among the members of the faithful. There are not two Communions—the priest’s and mine, or even yours and mine; there is only one Communion—ours with Christ.
The reason I plead is because this is such an easy thing we can all fix that will make our celebration of the Mass so much better. You don’t even have to go to a workshop to fix it! Just start doing it!
If you still feel queasy starting the song as the priest is taking Communion, at least begin the introduction to the song earlier. As soon as the assembly finishes responding, “Lord, I am not worthy…,” the accompanist begins the introduction while the song leader announces the song’s title and hymnal number.
The Communion song accompanies the action of sharing Communion. This action formally begins after the invitation to the table: “Behold, the Lamb of God….” Thus, the Communion song must begin immediately after the assembly’s response to that invitation: “Lord, I am not worthy….”