Communion for the Musicians

 The tricky question of how to get the musicians to Communion can be answered in almost as many ways as there are parishes. The best arrangement for you and your parish depends on various parish practices surrounding the distribution of Communion, and the number of musicians involved.

The main difficulty is finding a way to avoid gaps in music while also making sure everyone gets to receive without drawing too much attention. The Important Thing is that everyone knows what is going to happen ahead of time. Unless you have access to the premium option, Having Communion Brought To You By A Dedicated Minister, your options are limited to Going First, Going Last, and Going Later - i.e. tracking down the priest or a Eucharistic minister after Mass to distribute Communion. Obviously, this last avoids gaps the best, but also is the most effort, and doesn't always work out. I'll just throw out a whole bunch of ways we've made Going First or Going Last work in our parish at different times, starting with the fewest people and working my way up. (And of course, if you've got anyone in your crew who is attending more than on Mass today and has the opportunity to receive at another Mass, take advantage of their availability to cover for others!)

But first, a quick note on continuity: if your parish is one where hymn numbers are announced, skip it for Communion. The Communion Rite is not a transitional shift like the break at Offertory, it's not a good time to interrupt the flow of liturgy with a helpful announcement. Even if you don't have a display board for numbers, people who want to sing will figure it out.

One Person

If it's just you, gaps are impossible to avoid, but they can be minimized with good timing. Going First in this case means going to the foot of the altar during the prayer "Lord, I am not worthy..." and then stepping up to receive before the altar servers (if your parish has Eucharistic Ministers, you blend in with them). You then hustle back to your seat, play a long intro to the Communion hymn so you can catch your breath, and off you go.

Going Last means you have to keep an eye on the Communion line and wrap it up in time to snag the last place in line. If you have a long walk, or if visibility isn't great, this isn't a great option.

Two People

Cantor and Organist have a little more flexibility, since they can either both go first, both go last, or trade off. If you've got the dreamy combination of a short walk, a long hymn, and great timing, the organist can start the hymn with a full verse intro (or if you're a master improvisor, a chorale prelude on the tune) while the cantor Goes First - begin the organ music as soon as the cantor receives. Afterwards, the cantor can sing something a cappella while the organist catches the tail end of the line.

A more tradition-oriented approach would be for the organist to receive first while the cantor sings the Communion Antiphon unaccompanied (beginning as soon as the priest raises the chalice to receive). The Church Music Association of America publishes a book of the Communion Antiphons in Latin with their ancient melodies, and also one with the psalm verses in English. This Page shows you both, plus links to download every single one of the antiphons for free. I have found it to be a helpful practice to proclaim the English translation of the antiphon text before singing in Latin, so that the people know what they are meditating on. If you'd rather sing the antiphons in English, there is a great resource for that too.

Choir

Sheer numbers rule out a straight-up Going First option. Either the musicians all go last, or you split up the duties. The organist can cover for the choir with an instrumental, and the choir can cover for the organist with some a cappella singing, in whichever order you find works for your group. Alternatively, a cantor or schola can sing the antiphon while all the rest of the choir Goes First (though not on the altar, in numbers like that, but rather, at the head of the line after the altar servers), then the cantor or schola can grab the end of the line or Go Later.

For the record, that is how we manage in my parish - once the prayer "O Lord I am not worthy..." is concluded, the choir very quietly goes down the stairs, waits at the back of the church for the English text to be read, and when the schola (3 guys from the choir) sings the incipit, we walk up to the front to claim the first spot in line. Schola wraps up the antiphon with a Gloria Patri as we return to the loft, and we move into the Communion hymn, and then they either get the tail end of the line if the hymn is short enough (or we have enough other men to cover their exit) or resign themselves to tracking down a Eucharistic minister later. After a brief organ interlude, we all sing an a cappella motet for meditation while the sacred vessels are purified and put away.

Special Liturgies

Any time we expect the church to be packed, and for there to be multiple priests, deacons or seminarians in attendance, I try and arrange for Communion to be brought up to the choir loft. We still have to work out logistics once the minister arrives, but everything takes less time, and we can then focus back on providing the music for the occasion, which usually is more involved and/or difficult, and we'd rather not be thinking about checking the length of the line, deciding whether to cut something short, or worrying if any Eucharistic ministers will still be around at the end.

Weddings and Funerals are special cases. If it's just me, I usually just make a spiritual Communion or seek out the priest afterwards. Sometimes weddings are large enough affairs that there is an extra priest to tend to the choir, or the music is varied enough to allow the choir to receive in groups. As always, just make sure to talk about it ahead of time and tell everyone how it's going to work. Don't be that choir director who just decides that no one in the choir gets to receive Jesus today because it's too much work to figure it out. Try to find a way.

So, how does your parish handle Communion for Musicians? Do you use one of these options? Something else? How well does it work? Let me know in the comments!

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