Monday, August 08, 2005

The Communion Antiphon

At our Monastery, we sing all of the traditional Gregorian chant Ordinaries and Propers at the Mass. This includes singing the Communion song or antiphon. Bear in mind that this is not a 'Communion Hymn' which is allowed for by the documents of Vatican II, but as an exception. In any case, we begin singing the Communion antiphon when the priest receives the Sacred Body of Christ and conclude as the vessels are purified.

Many newcomers to the life voice an objection that singing at this time is a distraction from their personal thanksgiving prayers at Communion. Why should we have to sing a song that we might not even understand? Isn't it better to meditate on Christ's tremendous gift?

Before I answer this directly, I would like to mention an analogous situation that occurred recently with our Oblates. Some of the wished to institute a Holy Hour devotion on Sundays at the Monastery, forgetting or being unaware that we already have Adoration and Benediction every Sunday. When I brought the suggestion to the Prior's Council (composed of the senior members of the Monastery), it was pointed out that the Church's liturgy, particularly the Eucharist and Divine Office, take precedence over devotions, including Adoration.

The solution was to invite the Oblates to imitate the monastic observance which is to sing Vespers on Sunday in the presence of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, then to participate in the 20-30 minutes of Adoration that we have in silence afterward.

We are apt to forget that Christ's redemption of us is not individual but is communal. As Peter says in his First Epistle, "Once you were no people, but now you are God's people." "The People of God" is a common name for the Church since Vatican II and indeed the name favored by Pope John Paul II. This does not mean that individuals within the People of God can neglect their personal relationships with Jesus Christ. Far from it. But far more important is our unity as the saved members of the Body of Christ. So Adoration is a great good, but singing God's praises together must be the goal toward which our personal meditation tends. Similarly, while thanking Christ personally must happen at the Eucharist (we encourage brothers to spend a good length of time after Mass in meditation), we image forth the contours of our redeemed life better by a show of unity which traditionally has best been done by singing in unison. We receive the Word of God under the form of bread, and we give back the Word of God in the form of the antiphon. By receiving the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ, and as such speak with one voice the praises, not with the thoughts of our own minds, but with the thoughts of God infused with the One Holy Spirit.

I will admit that this is counter-intuitive, but it is clearly the will of our Mother the Catholic Church, and we do well to put our own preferences aside when She has something to teach us.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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