OR A REASON I CANNOT EXPLAIN, the Introductory Rites are the most misunderstood and mangled part of the mass, even by good priests who tend not to exhibit liturgical problems elsewhere. More specifically, the Penitential Act and Kyrie are routinely a problem area. It falls into one of two extremes: 1• It is rarely a problem. 2• It is routinely botched nearly every Sunday. But it doesn’t end there.
I don’t have the answer why many good, conscientious priests do not understand the structure of the three forms of the Penitential Act and its relationship with the Kyrie. (Many musicians do not either!) My observations are drawn from a wide variety of circumstances, professional and personal.
For example, here is a recent conversation with a priest whom, by the way, I greatly admire:
Priest: Are you doing a Kyrie?
Me (Voice inside my head): DOING a Kyrie? What?
Me (Outside voice): We will sing the Kyrie as part of Penitential Act C.
Priest: What’s that?
Me: We will sing the invocations within the Kyrie. We will then sing the Gloria after the Absolution.
As such, two of the most common problems I encounter (and there are many others) are 1• those who believe singing the Kyrie replaces the Penitential Act, i.e., sing the Penitential Act, Form C without the invocations 2• Omitting the Kyrie after the Penitential Act when using Form A (Confiteor) or Form B.
As such, these two articles on the Kyrie will clarify much:
* * Lord, Have Mercy? Andrew Motyka
* * Is the Kyrie Part of the Penitential Rite? Jeff Ostrowski
UT WITH CONFUSION COMES OPPORTUNITY. The Introductory rites, and their potential variations, (e.g., Sprinkling during the Easter Season) offer an opportunity for Music Directors and priests to get together and discuss the Introductory rites, at least for logistical reasons. This is a necessity anyway. It also offers an opportunity to find what the pastor’s preferences are for the Penitential Act. If you are lucky, this may open the door to constructive dialogue regarding more elements of the Introductory Rites and the liturgy in general.
What is the Purpose of the Introductory Rites?
I recently attended a mass with my family (in and of itself a rare occurrence) and experienced yet another common set of problems. After the Entrance Hymn the priest had a few words to say about the readings of the day. While this practice is not my preference, it is very common and can be done well if pointed and brief. The GIRM only allows this if there is no music, but it is common practice nonetheless.
GIRM #48. If there is no singing at the Entrance, the antiphon given in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise, it is recited by the Priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. no. 31).
Unfortunately, this introductory explanation morphed into a rambling ferverino which awkwardly segued into the Confiteor (Penitential Act, Form A), thus skipping the Sign of the Cross, and the Greeting. After the absolution, the Kyrie was skipped. The Gloria was then recited.
I will not draw a personal judgment from this. Although it was indeed very sloppy, these kinds of improvised accretions and omissions, while well intended, are sadly all too common. (The rest of the mass had no such problems and the priest was very kind to my children afterward. I thanked this kind priest for his prayers.)
My objection to all of this was not the lack of compliance with the GIRM. My objection to such loose practices is based in missing the very purpose of these rites which is to prepare ourselves for what comes after. The GIRM succinctly states:
A. The Introductory Rites 46. The rites that precede the Liturgy of the Word, namely, the Entrance, the Greeting, the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, the Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) and Collect, have the character of a beginning, an introduction, and a preparation. Their purpose is to ensure that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves properly to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily.
“Worthily” is a key word (something I will always struggle to achieve). Furthermore, the people to do not deserve an unprepared and altered preparation. A pastoral approach is to enter into preparation that quiets the heart (i.e., the Sacred Silence in the Penitential Act and after the invitation to pray, GIRM #45) Likewise, as musicians, we are very much part of this preparation. We are not commissioned simply to execute the musical portions, but to do so with the spirit of their context: to prepare people to hear the Word and enter into the Sacred Mysteries, worthily and not haphazardly or half-heartedly with our music.
The GRM for the Entrance states its purpose well:
GIRM #47. When the people are 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.
HE INTRODUCTORY RITES ARE WONDERFULLY STRUCTURED to foster spiritual and mindful preparation. This is not something we simply DO and check off on our list. When we prepare in mind and spirit, the details that seem ancillary at first may take on a greater light. The simplicity, shape and rhythm of the Introductory Rites do the faithful a great service in opening their hearts and minds to receive our Lord in Word and in the Eucharist. Let us allow ourselves to be shaped by them and the greatness that follows.