During the course of this year, we will gradually begin to use the texts of the revised translation of the Roman Missal. This is not just a time when we need to learn new words, but will hopefully be an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of the Mass. Here we will take a closer look at what happens at Mass.
Once we have gathered together and prepared ourselves for Mass, our Eucharistic celebration begins with the Introductory Rites. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 47) states:
After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.
The Entrance is the first part of the Introductory Rites. The chant or hymn, as you can see, is an integral part of the celebration, not just an “add on” or “optional extra”.
The entrance hymn has a far richer purpose than simply providing accompaniment for the procession. During the Mass, the entire assembly gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist forms one body in Christ. One of the purposes of the entrance hymn is to build up the sense of unity amongst us. It also helps us to direct our minds and hearts to what it is we are about to do and celebrate.
As such, the entrance hymn shouldn’t end as soon as the priest reaches the presidential chair. Music ministers have the important task of trying to sense how long the hymn should be. It can be almost impossible to determine before Mass begins. Often longer is better, especially as some people may still be coming in the door quietly looking for a seat, that a sense of unity in such a large group of people doesn’t happen instantly, and that the priest and ministers need time to reach their places, gather their thoughts, and hopefully join in as well. To say, for example, that we should only ever sing a couple of verses of a hymn doesn’t take into account everything the hymn helps us to do.