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    A View from the Pew

    Overloading the opening rites: too many notes

    Overloading the opening rites: too many notes

    In the film Amadeus, the Emperor Joseph’s director of music criticizes Mozart’s music. “Too many notes, Majesty,” he quips after a premiere performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Mozart huffily replies that there are just as many notes ‘as required,’ whereupon the emperor argues that the ear can take in just so many notes at a time. I thought about this particular scene in Amadeus when I stumbled upon a little jewel of an article written by Joseph Gelineau, S.J.

    A principle pedagogue on liturgical prayer and music and author of the Gelineau Psalter, Père Gelineau worked as a member of the Consilium during the Second Vatican Council and the reform of the Mass. While doing some homework for my Ministry and Liturgy columns, I found a column that Père Gelineau penned for Pastoral Music (17:1/14-17) in which he states that the “opening rites are simultaneously overloaded and empty.”  He muses that the reformers envisioned an opening ritual with alternative uses for the Kyrie and Gloria, including using the Gloria as a festive gathering song during the Christmas season. Père Gelineau states that “what we get in practice is a whole pre-celebration ritual” that becomes so over-ritualized that “we miss what is essential: our gathering (synaxis) to take our place (statio) in the presence of the One who calls us together, placing us in relationship in our shared faith.”

    Here are a few questions for your consideration. Do our assemblies robustly enter into full, conscious and active participation in everything that we sing, say and do within the opening rites? Or do we overload our people with too many notes, too many words, too little silence? How do we balance mystery with ministry? Adoration and ritual? Liturgical structure with liturgical spirituality?

    Currently, the opening rites include

    An exposition by the presider on the theme of the readings

    a mini-penitential celebration in four movements – an invitation to repentance, the petition for forgiveness and the proclamation of absolution. 

    Followed by

    the Kyrie chant

    the Gloria hymn

    an invitation to prayer

    an opening prayer


    The exposition of the celebration should be brief.

    The Penitential Rite contains options. Consider which ones speak to people’s hearts within a particular season. Why do we direct this prayer toward personal guilt rather than God’s mercy before we feast on word and table?

    A chanted Kyrie speaks to the heart. A recited Kyrie evokes empty response. Which do you use?

    Must we sing the Gloria at every Mass? If you sing it weekly, why do you sing it? Do you sing the Gloria because the rubric indicates a preference for a sung hymn and you think you should sing it or because your people clamor for a weekly sung Gloria? If you always recite it, what reasoning lies behind your decision? Does the culture of your parish, your people, your context, dictate your decision? Pastoral judgments matter and weigh as heavily in your liturgical music decisions as the liturgical and the musical judgments.  

    Before the invitation into the opening prayer, do you invite deep silence? People need time to process everything that we expose during the opening rites and silence always suffers. Sometimes our version of silence includes the presider’s busy preparation for the opening prayer while musicians prepare music and organ stops for the psalm and the assembly just hangs out as they wait for liturgical leadership to move from their ‘Amen’ before they sit to hear the word. Do we really collect the prayer of the people within deep silence before we lift prayers from our hearts to God’s ears?

    Père Gelineau ends his article by reminding us that we would do well to remember why we sing what we sing, say and celebrate within our liturgical celebrations.

    “Collective global action rather than ritual pointillism must dictate pastoral liturgical decisions.”

    Lots to think about, pray about, talk about. Comments welcome.

    Have a good week ahead.