A Point For The People
By DOM BERNARD McELLIGOTT A kindly critic, Mr. L. T. Pevan, writes to express his disagreement with what said on October 23 about sitting during the Offertory and Communion at a sung Mass. I said that the people sit while the choir sing the Offertory, and later while they sing the Communion.
Mr. Pevan teaches his Sunday school pupils to kneel at the Offertory and make an offering of themselves to God, and he asks " should 1 really have to tell my pupils that I have taught them all wrong?"
Another correspondent raises a number Of interesting points in a private letter,
among them the same question of the congregation sitf'ng at the Offertory.
As Mr. Pevan says, the right bodily actions at Mass are important. They are part of the communal offering of the sacrifice by the people, and they /neon something. The Church intends them to be performed with uniformity to show one heart and one mind, and with a knowledge of what they mean.
At a Low Mass the people kneel the whole time, except for the two Gospels, when they stand. But we are considering the eight bearing of the body at a High Mass or a sung Mass.
The Missal States—
The rubric of the Missal governing this is No. xvii. Section 2 of this refers to a Low Mass and reads: "Those who take
part (` circumstantes,' those standing round) in a private Mass kneel all the time, even in Paschal time. Except when the Gospel is read."
Section 7 refers to Solemn Mass and reads: " In choir those who are actually singing do not sit; but the rest may sit when the celebrant sits, and also while the epistle, Gradual, Tract or Alleluia with its verse, and Sequence are sung: and also From the Offertory to the incensing of the choir (or to the Preface, if the Choir is not incensed); and at the Antiphon which is called the Communion. At other times they stand or kneel."
The words " the rest may sit " clearly refer to the rest of the Choir. those in choir who are not actually singing.
Who Are the Choir ?
Two questions arise here:— 1, What is this "Choir"?
2. Do these directions refer to the Choir only, or to the congregation as well?
First, the "Choir." The following explanation of their term is taken from Handbook of Ceremonies by Fr. John Baptist Mueller, translated from the German by Fr. D. A. Pearl, 9th edition, 1936.
" The liturgical choir, as the term was originally understood in the Church, was made up of those clerics (priests and others) who did the singing at liturgical functions." (In parenthesis, this means the special singers, the Sehola, who were responsible for the Proper of the Mass and the Office, as distinct from the congregation who took their part in the Ordinary and the psalms and hymns.)
" They (the liturgical choir) sat in stalls or on benches at either side of the sanctuary and were an essential part of all solemn functions. To-day, except in cathedrals, collegiate churches, and the churches of regulars who are bound to the Divine Office in choir, the liturgical choir as such has almost disappeared, the singing in most places being done by lay people from some place outside the sanctuary. However, priests or clerics who attend the sacred functions in the
sanctuary are still referred to as the choir, and as such they should follow the directions given for the choir."
Two Meanings From this it appears that we now use the term "choir " in two senses:— 1. The clergy who attend Solemn Mass in the sanctuary (but do not usually ,si ng the Proper of the Mass).
2. The laymen (members of the congregation) whose special function it is to sing the Proper, and to assist the people in singing the Ordinary, often by alternating with them.
The lay choir may sing " from some place outside the sanctuary," or, vested in cassock and surplice, in the sanctuary itself.
But the rubric governing the standing, kneeling and sitting of the " choir " refers properly to the attendant clergy in the sanctuary.
The People Imitate the Choir But here comes the second question. What about the people? What do the rubrics say about their movements at Mass?
There seem to be no rubrics governing the actions of the people at Mass as distinct from those of the choir " of clerics. The people, therefore, follow the actions assigned to the "Choir." This is expressly stated in " Manual of Liturgy and Ceremonial according to the Roman Rite " by le Vavassem and Haegy. In Vol. i, No. 141 of this work there is the following note : "The faithful in the church imitate the actions of the clergy in kneeling, standing and sitting."
But the rubric of the Missal, No. xvii, Section 7, quoted above, makes it clear that those who are actually singing stand for what they have to sing.
The people have. their own part of the Mass to sing, the Ordinary and Responses throughout the Mass. They should sing all this and should stand to do so.
At other parts of the Mass they kneel or sit according to the directions for the clergy attending in the sanctuary but not actually singing.
Thus they sit at the Offertory and Communion (while the lay choir sings these portions of the Proper) because the attendant clergy would sit then.
Squattage and Kneelery But although this is the practice, and correct according to the rubrics of a Solemn Mass, those who think that we ought to stand together at the Offertory instead of sitting have, it seems to me, much to recommend their idea. Mass is a communal offering by priest and peoe:e, together. it is an external offering of a divine Victim, and of the material means to the Sacrifice.
We may take note, too, of the fact that the direction about sitting is permissive, not obligatory: " the rest may sit."
The rubric allows for sitting but does not enforce it. In this it is kinder than those churches which heve benches and kneelers so disposed that no position is possible except sitting and kneeling at the same time.
One holds on to the arm-rest with might and main in an attempt to kneel upright; but the position rapidly becomes untenable, and one relapses upon what " Beachcomber " might call squattage and kneelery. Those double-crossing " seatings " are little help towards taking an active part in the Mass.