Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Songs for the entrance procession
by Father Jan Larson
(From the Aug. 24, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Catholics are certainly familiar with the liturgy’s entrance procession. Normally, this procession comes down the main aisle of the church – first the servers, with the cross and perhaps candles and incense, followed by other ministers, maybe a deacon, and the priest.
The entrance procession serves a number of purposes.
First, of course, the procession is functional, a ritual way for the priest and ministers to get to the place where the liturgy is to be celebrated. There are also symbolic meanings to the procession. It represents the risen Christ entering the assembly to join in worshipping the Father, and this is signified by the cross that leads the procession, and by the book of the Gospels that is reverently carried by a deacon or other minister. The procession is also symbolic of all of the people of God assembling to worship the Father. In fact, two times during the year, on Palm Sunday and at the Easter Vigil, all the assembly is invited to join in the entrance procession.
The procession is also accompanied by what is called the entrance chant, which begins as the ministers and priest enter. The purpose of this chant or song is to open the celebration, to foster a sense of unity among all who have assembled, and to help people focus their thoughts on the liturgical season or feast. The chant also lends an important element of festivity as it accompanies the procession. There are a number of possibilities for the chant or song that accompanies the procession. The singing may alternate between cantor and the congregation, or by the congregation alone, or even by the choir alone. In most situations, the assembly joins in the singing, since this option provides for the fullest participation by everyone.
There are also four options for the song itself. First, it may be the text that is provided in the official liturgical books – the Roman Missal or another collection of musical texts, called the Roman Gradual. Second, the entrance chant can consist in seasonal texts and music, repeated, for example, each Sunday during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter. Third, the chants can be taken from collections of music and texts approved by the nation’s bishops or by the bishop of any diocese. Finally, the nation’s bishops or any diocesan bishop may approve any other liturgical songs for the entrance procession. It is this last option that is common to most parishes today, as we find the approved hymns in our familiar church hymnal.
Because the entrance procession is a part of the liturgy, it is a form of prayer, and should be well planned, with music and song chosen carefully. Thus, not just any hymn is appropriate. Liturgy planners, for example, would not choose the hymn “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing” as the entrance hymn, or a song in honor of Mary the Mother of God, simply because these hymns are familiar to everyone. Thus, the United States Bishops, as long ago as 1969, offered the criteria for selecting the entrance hymn: “The entrance rite should create an atmosphere of celebration. It serves the function of putting the assembly in the proper frame of mind for listening to the Word of God. It helps people become conscious of themselves as a worshiping community. The choice of texts for the entrance song should not conflict with these purposes. In general, during the most important seasons of the church year, Easter time, Lent, Christmas, and Advent, it is preferable that most songs used at the entrance be seasonal in nature.”
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)
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