You may have noticed that at most of our Masses we have replaced the offertory hymn with instrumental music. I have had many parishioners approach me, curios about the change, so I feel compelled to write an explanation...
IS THAT EVEN ALLOWED?
The Roman Missal is the book used by the priest to celebrate Mass. The Mass is governed by a set of instructions at the beginning of this Book. This is commonly referred to as the “GIRM” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal). The GIRM, among other things, gives us options for music at Mass. For the Offertory it states:
74 The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the offertory chant, which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar. the norms on the manner of singing are the same as for the entrance chant... (see number 48 below)
48 …in the Dioceses of the united States of America, there are four options for singing at the entrance: (1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its psalm from the Graduale Romanum...(2) the antiphon with psalm from the Graduale Simplex of the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of psalms and antiphons...(4) some other suitable liturgical chant...
You’ll notice that it doesn’t mention instrumental music at all. Some would argue that since instrumental music is not mentioned, it is not a ‘legal’ option during Mass. However, much later in the same document, it says this:
142 ... If, however, there is no offertory chant and the organ is not played, in the presentation of the bread and wine the priest may say the formulas of blessing aloud...
So it would seem that despite not being mentioned as an option, there is an assumption that instrumental music is in fact acceptable. In the old rite it was common during the “Low Mass” for the organist to play during the offertory as the priest prayed silently. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of pieces entitled “Offertorium” which were written for this very purpose!
THE REAL REASON
Ok, I’ve spent a lot of time on whether or not it is allowed, but in all honesty that had little to do with the decision to switch to instrumental offertories at most of our Masses. The pastoral reason behind it is simple: people pray in different ways. For some, singing loudly along with the hymns is a moving experience. For others, hearing a beautiful piece of music without words can be equally as moving. I’d be willing to bet that for an even larger group, both are true. When choosing music for Mass I take into account many things, not the least of which whether or not it will help us pray. I think this has been true in this case, but as always I welcome your feedback.
Director of Music & Liturgy