“Him, not hymn”

William Bentley Ball wrote an essay in Homiletic & Pastoral Review titled “Him, not hymn”, questioning the necessity of requiring the congregation to sing during reception of communion:

. . . there is another aspect of reception [of communion]: listening. We do need silence for that – silence not only from enforced singing but silence for our own yapping minds even though they try to be engaged in prayer. John Paul II recently stressed this very point. The hymn-singing obviously blocks the profounder reception of hearing what Christ may have to say to us. “Sorry, dear Jesus — no chance to hear you. I’m told to spend these critically precious moments telling you, doing all the talking — not hearing you.” [. . .]

Either we are faced, at the Mass, with the reality of the actual Person of Christ coming to us in Communion, or we are faced with a gathering, an assembly, a prayer meeting. Now, the General Instruction does tell us that singing during reception is “an act of community.” . . . Group-singing may help [restore a sense of community], but when it preempts prayer or obliterates reception, it attacks the essence of the Eucharist — the Real Presence. To be a community heedless of that, simply in order to be in some sense, a “community” is not only pointless but destructive of the Faith.

I read this some time ago and agreed with it then, and recent experiences at Mass prompt me to once more appreciate William’s proposal.

This is especially the case where, as I witnessed, many members are not singing at all (perhaps because they can’t follow along with the contemporary melody), and a good portion of the congregation seems inclined to kneel directly following communion and make an attempt to pray.

If there is a single part of the service that might benefit from the institution of silence, a brief time for quiet reflection and prayer, or at least musical accompaniment without words, this seems to be the case.

What do other parishioners feel about this? Pastors? Musical directors?


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