The Intent of Sung Prayer

Not getting around to other parishes, not even our other three from our merged four, on Sundays, I’m not always up on current affairs as regards the practice of musical worship in general in CatholicLand. One thing I remember way back in the day in Oakland was that directors announcing the song to be sung often took the liberty of verbally contextualizing “why” that song was going to be sung, or simply a mini-homily. I have to assume or hope that practice has gone the way of the 8 Track Tape.
Anyway, as my schola (in its 22nd year) is greying, for every new member we lose about two to health or retirement issues (moving) and such. So, I’ve started to re-tool the overall thrust of choral repertoire towards SAB. Just got in Kevin Allen’s MOTETS FOR THREE (equal) VOICES which, though I’m full of glee about them, I have to manually transpose them as our organist has impeccably perfect pitch and even if he doesn’t accompany them, he sings them. So if a “B” is on the page but we’re singing it down the fourth on F#, he literally is disabled. I digress.
A big part of the SAB move of course is more than satisfied by Chuck Giffen (and others) wonder Wiki, CPDL. So, I found a number of wonderful motets recently by Gounod. One of those, especially tender, is a setting of “Da pacem, Domine.” (Give peace, O Lord.) We’d been rehearsing it among others for a few weeks and last rehearsal I decided to employ it yesterday.
Our schola is eclectic- we stuff the Meinrad Introit and Communio with hymns that most often resonate with the proper, the Offertory is flexible based upon a number of factors, but yesterday’s was obvious: Christ as both Word and Light. “Da pacem” wouldn’t have made sense there.
So, here’s the deal. I and the rest of the world woke up to the news that the second Japanese hostage by ISIS had been beheaded. I thought “This is getting to be Groundhog Day” (no pun intended) as everyday we wake up to some new horror perpetrated in the name of religion.
So before Mass, I welcomed everyone per usual, normal brief script. But then I told them I was going to uncharacteristically make some prepatory remarks. I then mentioned that as events around the world point to the overwhelming evidence of evil and violence, the choir would be offering the “Da pacem” to God as a choral prayer and in the hope that all victims and martyrs of such malevolence now know God’s peace.
Was I wrong to do that? I’ve been lobbying the pastor lately to brainstorm ways we can minimize or even eliminate extraneous talking and explanation from all “ministers” at Mass, and I make that call, all of maybe 15 seconds before Mass! But it was honest. It was prayer. But is it appropriate now and then to explain one’s intent for programming a piece, particularly if it is in Latin or another tongue?
Be gentle.

6 Replies to “The Intent of Sung Prayer”

  1. Hmmm. Are we trying to impose stuff on the Mass? It would be one thing if the Mass was the votive 'for peace.'

  2. I tell my choirs that every single thing we sing is sung prayer. It it's not, it has no business in the liturgy. Now, if you're talking about making an addition to the rubrics (say, announcing that the choir will now sing a special prayer for peace), then I would be wary.

  3. I never say anything before Mass. If there is new music, they just need to sing it. Music is the universal language, and responsible musicians would not introduce something that is too difficult, or too different from the parish's norm. I personally think that any sort of choral prelude is just as acceptable as an organ prelude, but any explanation about it can just as easily written up in the bulletin or worship aid.

  4. This Sunday, our priest/celebrant added to the General Intercessions a prayer for the Japanese who was murdered and for the consolation of the people of Japan. Depending on the relationship with the priest/celebrant I would ask him to make the announcement and reference and, if my congregation is one that wants a translation then I would put that in the priest's venue as well. I agree with Stephen, that if there is a worship aid or bulletin (time allowing) that this would be the place to explain this.

    I think it also depends on what the norm is of the parish. Some parishes include a paragraph or two about why particular hymns were chosen to validate the choice of music.

    Of course, if we were singing the Propers this discussion would be mute.

  5. if we were singing the Propers this discussion would be mute.(sic)

    Just an observation thus far-
    Could everyone read all of the specific circumstances In noted in the piece? We do sing the Propers, for example. I mentioned that my choice of "Da pacem" was extraneous to those. I did mention that the "announcement" was prior (by ten minutes) to Mass. I did specify this to the congregation present, not just to the choir. I did mention that this announcement was not tantamount to implying a votive or thematic intent. And, thanks G, I did mention I rarely, almost never, engage in such repartee with the congregation prior to Mass.
    Of course, now that we know that terrorist brutality knows no bounds as of today, and will likely escalate, why bother God with a pithy human concern expressed in prayer for relief unless Ps. 137 is scheduled in the Missal or Gradual?

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