Monday, September 04, 2006

When to Sing the Communion Antiphon and Psalms

Members of the St. Cecilia Schola had the opportunity to put together a liturgy, based entirely on chant and polyphony, on the occasion of St. Gregory's Feast Day, at St. Gregory's parish in Blufton, South Carolina. One of the most thrilling moments came at communion, at which a women's schola sang the Domine Memorabor precisely as the rubrics intend it to be sung. For most singers, it was their first encounter with chant.

The effect of the Gregorian antiphon with the Psalms is indescribable. The repeating antiphon, with its subtle musical references to youth and old age, together with the Psalm verses, creates a movement within stillness, like heavenly bodies in motion outside of time, change within changelessness. To me, this was the most memorable part of the liturgy, and the part that made the biggest impression on a congregation that has long been used to linear hymns with organ during this section of the Mass.

There has been some talk on various lists concerning rubrics for communios. They are clearly spelled out in De Musica Sacra (1958) but we shouldn't be under the impression that this usage is somehow new. I'm grateful (ever!) to Fr. Robert Skeris who sent this note:

The earliest definite rubric about the Communion is found in the Ordo Romanus Primus (ca. 750/770 A.D.), OR I/117 = Andrieu vol. 2 (1971) P. 105. It says : Nam, mox ut pontifex coeperit in senatorio communicare, statim scola incipit antiphonam ad communionem et psallunt usquedum communicat omnis populus. In other words as soon as the Pope has begun to distribute Holy Communion in the senatorium (which is where the VIPs stood), the schola immediately intones the Communion antiphon (chanting it in alternation with the subdeacons) and they continue to chant until all the people have received Holy Communion. (Then the Pope makes a sign to them to sing the Gloria Patri, and so when they have repeated the antiphon [repetito versu] they stop.) You will scarcely do wrong if you intone as soon as the priest has said the Ecce Agnus Dei and begins to distribute Holy Communion.