I recently wrote about our learning of the World Youth Day Mass setting, Missa Benedictus qui venit, in preparation for next month’s massive event. Why is it, however, that the preparation and learning of a Mass setting has taken priority over other songs and hymns?
The reason for this is because the singing of the acclamations of the Mass should always take priority over the other songs and hymns of the liturgy. The United States’ Bishops last year released a document on liturgical music entitled Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, which says the following about acclamations:
The acclamations of the Eucharistic Liturgy and other rites arise from the whole gathered assembly as assents to God’s Word and action. The Eucharistic acclamations include the Gospel Acclamation, the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Great Amen. They are appropriately sung at any Mass, including daily Mass and any Mass with a smaller congregation. Ideally, the people should know the acclamations by heart and should be able to sing them readily, even without accompaniment. (no. 115)
The reason for singing the Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy Lord…), Memorial Acclamation (Christ has died…, and others) and the Great Amen is simple. These texts are integral parts of the Mass where the entire gathered assembly gives its firm acknowledgment of Christ’s presence and action within the Mass; where he truly makes himself present to us. Other parts of the Mass, while they can be sung and it is good to sing them, do not form the liturgical texts of the Mass itself that must otherwise be said. As such, if a community had to choose only a very limited amount of the Mass to sing, its first priority should be singing these acclamations.
Singing these acclamations encourages our full, conscious and active participation in the celebration. It allows us to make full use of the gifts that God has given us. It adds a richness and fullness to our worship. We unite ourselves with our ancestors of both Christian and Jewish faiths, whose use of song and music to praise God is recorded in the Bible itself. It enriches our prayer.