Our Gospels continue to speak of Jesus as the bread of life, however this Sunday’s Second Reading from St. Paul can be a reminder of the other elements of liturgy that prepare us for the reception of Eucharist. St. Paul admonishes us to be wise, not to continue in ignorance. We are taught through Scripture. Each Sunday we hear from the Old and New Testaments and the Gospels. These readings rotate on a three-year cycle because one can never hear a good thing too many times! A homily follows the readings. The homily serves to express Jesus’ teaching, to use images and examples which will allow us internalize those words and use them in our lives. Granted not every homily will be the best we have ever heard and this is OK. God speaks to us through every single event of our lives, including a lackluster homily!
St. Paul goes on to say that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should fill our being. For centuries, it was Christian tradition to sing the sacred liturgy. This fell by the wayside as our culture demanded that things move swiftly, that we can be on to our next experience. The revision of the Roman Missal encouraged the return to the tradition of a sung Mass. More often, we now experience the presider singing parts of the Mass.
The singing of the responsorial psalm has been part of our liturgy since Vatican II. Its placement may still seem odd. Here we are reading the word of God and suddenly a song breaks out. What is going on here? Is it another reading, is it a prayer, what is its purpose?
We could say that the psalm is “another reading” because its source is sacred Scripture, but unlike the other readings, during the psalm we not only listen, we actively offer our praise by engaging in song with the cantor. The cantor sings the verses, we sing the response or antiphon. However, this interchange is not why the word “response” is part of “responsorial psalm.” Our “response” is to the Scripture we heard in the first reading. That is why the words of the psalm often echo the words or theme of the first reading.
In addition to the sung parts of Mass, we usually have a gathering hymn, offertory hymn, Communion hymn and recessional hymn. One thing is certain, whatever four hymns are chosen each week, everybody will have an opinion; “ too loud, too soft, too fast, too slow, too many words, too hard to sing, old fashioned, too jazzy, didn’t appeal to me, my favorite.”
The hymns used at Mass don’t magically pop up on your parish music board. Hymns do not find their way into Mass just because they are popular or make you smile, or carry sentiments of years gone by, were composed by a saint everyone has head of, or are a favorite of the choir. The hymns are chosen to reiterate the theme expressed in the Gospel, to cause us to raise our hearts in praise to God and to inspire us for action. Someone in your parish, be it your music director or a music committee, selected each hymn. Music ministers do have resources to draw from, but be assured they also spend time reading and reflecting on the Scriptures before selecting music.
The liturgy, in its entirety, is a wonderful mystical gift to us. Let us follow St. Paul’s advice and make the most of the opportunity.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.