During Mass, we’ve been addressing some of your more complex questions about the Catholic faith in our message series, Faith Answering Questions. Here’s a question we received about music and a response from our Director Music Ministry, Mario Balestrieri.
Why do the church music ministers keep changing the tune of the church hymns?
Each Sunday we sing four hymns during mass: The Gathering, Offertory, Communion and Concluding Songs. The Church does not prescribe specific hymns or songs to be sung at these times. These songs are not chosen by random or as a matter of personal preference. These songs change every week because they are chosen carefully and thoughtfully to tie into the readings of the particular Sunday. As the readings change week by week, so do the songs. This is done as a way of reinforcing the Scripture message, and at the same time broadening our exposure to the church’s wealth of songs.
The parts of the mass that we sing regularly include the Gloria, Alleluia, Holy, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Lamb of God. These are not “hymns” or “songs” as such. They are prayers and acclamations from the Ordinary of the Mass, “ordinary” referring to regular or unchangeable parts of the mass. Composers set these acclamations to music usually in complete sets related by a musical theme or idea. Musical settings of the Mass parts are typically given a name such as “Mass of Christ the Savior” or “Mass of Glory.”
Just like the liturgical year with its various seasons, the Mass has a certain ebb and flow to it from beginning to end, a rhythm which builds to high points and settles down to quiet moments. The hymns or songs are chosen so as to accentuate the ebb and flow of the mass. Songs for the Gathering and Conclusion of Mass are generally strong and upbeat. By contrast, the songs for the Offertory and Communion can be more meditative and subdued in character. As for the Ordinary parts of the Mass, the Gloria, Alleluia, Holy, and Great Amen are rousing acclamations in contrast to the more subdued, quieter character of the Memorial Acclamation (When we eat this bread) and the Lamb of God.
We use different liturgical colors throughout the year to mark the seasons and the Holy Days. Just as the liturgical colors change to mark the change of season, the musical setting of the Ordinary parts of the Mass typically changes to mark the change of season in the same way.
Music has a unique ability to transcend us as we participate in the Mass and is, therefore, integral to its celebration. From the earliest days to the present time, the Church has always recognized the significant contribution of music to the Mass, be it instrumental or sung music. That has remained constant through the centuries. The style of music, however, has changed and evolved through the years. Chant of the early church and the Medieval times led to more complex music of the Renaissance Period, followed by the evolution of music styles in the Baroque, Classical and Romantic Periods on into the styles of the Twentieth century including Gospel and Contemporary music.
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