The Choir at the Consecration

Date: March 13, 2022
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Question: At our church, the choir cannot kneel during the consecration because we stand on risers in the choir loft during the Mass. I am wondering if it is preferable for us to stand or to sit during the consecration. It seems odd to remain standing while the congregation kneels, but perhaps it is the right thing to do. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is not entirely clear (or at least I’m not clear) since it does not say something like “those who cannot kneel should ….” It states only that those who do not kneel should profoundly bow. – L.G., Beaufort, South Carolina

Answer: The text of the GIRM mentioned by our reader is from No. 43:

“In the Dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by ill health, or for reasons of lack of space, of a large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause. However, those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the Priest genuflects after the Consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.”

Although there is no specific mention of the choir in the above number, the general principles would also apply to them, especially that of lack of space which would prevent kneeling.

When it is impossible to kneel, it is preferable to remain to stand than to sit, as this is more clearly a gesture of respect and reverence. It is also the most common liturgical gesture outside of the Latin Church as a sign of the Resurrection. Thus, St. Basil says in his “Treatise on the Holy Spirit” (Ch. 27, no. 66):

“We pray standing, on the first day of the week, but we do not all know the reason. On the day of the resurrection (from the Greek for standing again) we remind ourselves of the grace given to us by standing at prayer, not only because we rose with Christ, and are bound to seek those things which are above, (Col. 3:1) but because the day seems to us to be in some sense an image of the age which we expect .…”

Kneeling, while present in Christianity from the beginning for personal prayer, only gradually developed in the Latin liturgical tradition to further stress the reverence already implied in standing.

Regarding the place of the choir, this is expressed in a general way in GIRM, No. 294: “The faithful and the schola cantorum (choir) shall have a place that facilitates their active participation.” This is further explained later on:

“312. The schola cantorum (choir) should be so positioned with respect to the arrangement of each church that its nature may be clearly evident, namely as part of the assembled community of the faithful undertaking a specific function. The positioning should also help the choir to exercise this function more easily and allow each choir member full sacramental participation in the Mass in a convenient manner.

“313. The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments should be placed in a suitable place so that they can sustain the singing of both the choir and the people and be heard with ease by everybody if they are played alone. It is appropriate that before being put into liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.”

The United States bishops expand on the above in their document “Built of Living Stones”:

“The Place for the Pastoral Musicians

“88. Music is integral to the liturgy. It unifies those gathered to worship, supports the song of the congregation, highlights significant parts of the liturgical action, and helps to set the tone for each celebration.

“89. It is important to recognize that the building must support the music and song of the entire worshiping assembly. In addition, ‘some members of the community [have] special gifts [for] leading the [assembly in] musical praise and thanksgiving.’ The skills and talents of these pastoral musicians, choirs, and instrumentalists are especially valued by the Church. Because the roles of the choirs and cantors are exercised within the liturgical community, the space chosen for the musicians should clearly express that they are part of the assembly of worshipers. In addition, cantors and song leaders need visual contact with the music director while they themselves are visible to the rest of the congregation. Apart from the singing of the Responsorial Psalm, which normally occurs at the ambo, the stand for the cantor or song leader is distinct from the ambo, which is reserved for the proclamation of the word of God.

“90. The directives concerning music found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the guidance offered by Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today can assist the parish in planning appropriate space for musicians. The placement and prayerful decorum of the choir members can help the rest of the community to focus on the liturgical action taking place at the ambo, the altar, and the chair. The ministers of music are most appropriately located in a place where they can be part of the assembly and have the ability to be heard. Occasions or physical situations may necessitate that the choir is placed in or near the sanctuary. In such circumstances, the placement of the choir should never crowd or overshadow the other ministers in the sanctuary nor should it distract from the liturgical action.”

The above documents indicate a shift in emphasis regarding the role of the choir as an integral part of the liturgical assembly and hence its preferred location. Therefore, most new churches contemplate a place for the choir that allows for its full participation, including in the common postures during Mass.

Older churches, especially those endowed with a venerable pipe organ, will often have to continue using the choir loft with frequently restricted spaces. In such cases, as said above, there may be no alternative to remaining standing while the rest of the assembly kneels.

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