Entrance chant: Getting things started
It's time to begin Mass. The cantor or leader of song welcomes the people, gives them any brief instruction they may need, and announces the opening hymn. All stand, and the entrance chant or hymn begins. The ministers enter from the back of the church. The procession reaches the sanctuary and the ministers arrive at their appointed places. The singing stops. Father has reached his chair. The Mass begins.
Does this sound familiar? This is how many communities begin their liturgies: the song at the beginning of Mass is considered traveling music to get the priest to his chair. As we adjust to a new translation of the Roman Missal, perhaps it is time to (re)examine the nature of the introductory rites.
The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal builds on the previous instruction. Little in the document is truly new, but much has been stated more clearly in the hope that we will grow in our understanding and celebration of all of the various parts of the liturgy. How we begin our eucharistic celebration sets the tone for the entire liturgy. From the moment the singing begins, we transition from our everyday activities into the celebration of the mystery of God's love for us. This is not just traveling music; it does not just cover the entrance of the priest. Rather, it helps us enter into the celebration. The GIRM reminds us,
Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass …. After the people have gathered, and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers, the Entrance Chant begins. Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers. (40, 47).
Note that the final purpose in the list is to "accompany the procession"; fostering unity and drawing the assembly into the mystery are more important.
After nearly 50 years of encouraging assembly participation, music is often still viewed as so much functional window dressing. This perception shortchanges the power that music can have for the liturgy, and the liturgy suffers.
When carefully chosen, the entrance chant can cause us to truly enter into the celebration. Music must be allowed to do its job and invite participation from the entire assembly, including the priest and other ministers. Many years ago, Music in Catholic Worship stated, "No other single factor affects the liturgy as much as the attitude, style, and bearing of the celebrant" (21). From the very beginning of Mass, the priest is called to participate. Too often he does not sing and expects the music to stop when he gets to the sanctuary and is ready to offer the greeting. But in the 2007 statement Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, we read:
The priest joins with the congregation in singing the acclamations, chants, hymns, and songs of the Liturgy. … To the greatest extent possible, he should use a congregational worship aid during the processions and other rituals of the Liturgy and should be attentive to the cantor and psalmist as they lead the gathered assembly in song. In order to promote the corporate voice of the assembly when it sings, the priest's own voice should not be heard above the congregation. (21)
Furthermore, we are reminded, "Care must be taken in the treatment of the texts of psalms, hymns, and songs in the Liturgy. Verses and stanzas should not be omitted arbitrarily in ways that risk distorting their content. While not all musical pieces require that all verses or stanzas be sung, verses should be omitted only if the text to be sung forms a coherent whole" (143). If we expect our assemblies to fully engage in singing, they must perceive the music as important. If we want them to sing, we need to give them a chance. Singing one or two verses to cover the procession hardly accomplishes this. The more they sing, the more they will sing. With strong musical leadership and a well-chosen text and tune, the assembly will be drawn into the mystery we have gathered to celebrate. But the participation of the priest is crucial. He is called to sing as part of the gathered assembly. If he is standing mute at the chair, adjusting books, or trying to get the attention of the server, he sends a message that what the rest of the assembly is doing is not important.
Getting things started requires the full cooperation and engagement of all involved in the celebration of the Eucharist, and the entrance hymn needs to be thought of as much more than traveling music. The first song of the liturgy has the power to gather all assembled into conscious, active, and full participation in celebrating the mystery of our faith. ML
David Fedor holds a master's degree in music and liturgical studies from the University of Notre Dame. In 1986 he was appointed director of music and organist for the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., and since 1998 has been the parish musician for St. Cassian Church in Upper Montclair, N.J.