Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 2: April 2001
Look, Ma No Planner!
What the experts can’t tell you about planning a liturgy
Many parish musicians have come to rely on liturgical planning workbooks produced by large liturgical publishing houses. These books are supposed to make planning a liturgy easy all you need to do is to look up the Sunday, and the "planner" will do it all for you.
But are these books the only means of choosing the most appropriate music for Mass or even the easiest way to plan a liturgy? (Choosing the music is what most people mean by "liturgical planning", though these workbooks often include ideas like putting sand in the holy water fonts or pots of cactus around the altar during Lent.)
Two basic tools
A simpler and far less expensive method of selecting the music for Mass and most other liturgical celebrations is to make use of the key tools your parish already has: 1. a real hymnal (not a disposable "hymnalette"); 2. the most basic seasonal missal (a/k/a "missalette") containing the texts of the Psalm, Epistle and Gospel readings for Mass. (Example: "Pray Together" published by Sunday Missal Service, 1012 Vermont St., Quincy, Illinois, 63201.)
There are several indices in the back of any true hymnal (e.g. the Adoremus Hymnal). In addition to a list of musical settings for the sung Mass and an alphabetical index of titles/first lines of hymns, there is an index of suggested hymns for liturgical seasons (Christmas, Lent, Easter, etc.), and for particular feasts and occasions. This seasonal index will normally include a list of "General" hymns that may be appropriate for a variety of occasions.
There is still another index giving the biblical references contained in hymns. Very often hymn lyrics are rhyming paraphrases of passages of Scripture, many from the Psalms.
Five easy steps to a good liturgy
First, look up the appropriate Sunday or Holy Day in the seasonal missal, and read all the Scripture readings.
Second, if the Mass is to be sung, choose a musical setting that seems most appropriate for the season, either Gregorian or vernacular.
Third, check the list of suggested hymns for the liturgical season or occasion.
Next, look at the index of Scripture references to see if any of these match the readings for the day or occasion.
Finally, select Mass settings (for a sung liturgy) and/or two or three hymns that are most in keeping with the theme and spirit of the Mass.
Bear in mind the ABCs of choosing liturgical music for the "active participation" of the people: The congregation will sing best music that is
a) most familiar,
b) most singable, and
c) most beautiful.
For both a sung Mass, where the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei (and perhaps the Credo and Pater Noster) are chanted or a "low" Mass where these prayers are spoken, an opening (or processional) hymn and a closing (or recessional) hymn is usually sung by the entire congregation.
The choir or cantor might sing another hymn at the offertory; and the organ might play a eucharistic hymn softly during the people’s Communion. (Most people find singing during Communion distracting.)
It is wise (and considerate) to consult the priest-celebrant who is (or should be) the chief liturgist of the parish before finalizing the selections.
See how easy is is to be a liturgist?