Music at the Consecration
Date: November 20, 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: Is it right to play instruments or sing during the consecration of the bread and wine at Mass? -- V.S., Tamil Nadu state, India
Answer: The short answer to this question is no. The 1967 instruction “Musicam Sacram” was quite clear on this point:
"The use of musical instruments to accompany the singing can act as a support to the voices, render participation easier, and achieve a deeper union in the assembly. However, their sound should not so overwhelm the voices that it is difficult to make out the text; and when some part is proclaimed aloud by the priest or a minister by virtue of his role, they should be silent (no. 64).
"In sung or said Masses, the organ, or other instrument legitimately admitted, can be used to accompany the singing of the choir and the people; it can also be played solo at the beginning before the priest reaches the altar, at the Offertory, at the Communion, and at the end of Mass (no. 65)."
This was later reflected in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).
“32. The nature of the ‘presidential’ parts requires that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen to them attentively. Therefore, while the Priest is pronouncing them, there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent.”
This applies to all presidential prayers and not just to the moment of the consecration.
However, the exclusion of musical instruments does not preclude the optional use of bells at the moment of the consecration. To wit:
“150. A little before the Consecration, if appropriate, a minister rings a small bell as a signal to the faithful. The minister also rings the small bell at each elevation by the Priest, according to local custom. If incense is being used, when the host and the chalice are shown to the people after the Consecration, a minister incenses them.”
While instruments and other songs are excluded, the priest is encouraged (GIRM, 147) to sing the presidential prayers, at least those parts for which musical settings are provided in the missal. This includes the possibility of singing the Eucharistic Prayer and the consecration for which the Roman Missal provides simple chant settings of Eucharistic Prayers I–IV. This can be very useful at large concelebrations.
Finally, there does seem to be an old custom, especially among the military in Spain and countries which were once under Spanish rule, of playing the national anthem during the consecration.
Although the custom was explained as a mark of honor toward the Blessed Sacrament or as a sign of a country's consecration to Christ, it still contravenes current liturgical law, and it would probably be better to let it lapse.
* * *
Readers may send questions to email@example.com. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, city, state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the many questions that arrive.
Return to Liturgy