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I recently heard that at the end of Mass, if the recessional hymn has the form of a prayer that the priest is supposed to remain at the altar until the hymn/prayer is done. I'd imagine this is coordinated between the priest and the music director so that the priest isn't taken by surprise and has to lasso the altar boys. Is there a list of hymns which are also prayers or some other cryptic markings in music that indicate the hymn is also a prayer.

This was a hymn on the Feast of the Archangels, where the three verses were prayers specific addressed to each of the archangels. I believe it was this hymn:

Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels, Thou Who hast made us, Thou Who o’er us rulest, Grant of Thy mercy unto us Thy servants Steps up to Heaven.

Send Thy archangel, Michael, to our succor; Peacemaker blessèd, may he banish from us Striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful All things may prosper.

Send Thy archangel, Gabriel, the mighty; Herald of Heaven, may he from us mortals Spurn the old serpent, watching o’er the temples Where Thou art worshipped.

Send thy archangel, Raphael, the restorer Of the misguided ways of men who wander, Who at Thy bidding strengthens soul and body With Thine anointing. https://hymnary.org/text/christ_the_fair_glory_of_the_holy_ang_th

Which definitely reads more like a prayer than "How Great Thou Art" or "Morning has Broken"

Usually the recessional hymns are just the normal songs from the hymnal, but I think this one was special in some way - possibly specific to this feast day?

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  • Is this in the context of TLM or Novus Ordo? Found a recent 2016 article about recessional hymn by a composer of liturgical music who is the program director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy. Also an informative article here has informative citations from recent documents. Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 19:46
  • @GratefulDisciple TLM, but I have to confess my ignorance as to whether this something that should be common to the Novus Ordo or is just commonly ignored or unknown
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 19:47
  • On something related to your question: I often go to a parish where after Communion and before the final blessing, a certain priest recites "O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine ..." and some of the the congregation say it with him. One day, I asked the pastor if this was part of the Mass (knowing that it wasn't). He told me "It is a hymn." Thinking that it might be possible to vocalize a hymn without singing it, I try not to let it bother me anymore.
    – user60376
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 20:40
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    @equ well it might be something else then (it's after Mass so it's outside the rubrics). So it probably doesn't matter that it was a recessional hymn. What I'm asking is how someone knows whether a hymn is a prayer or a song.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 1:54
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    A sequence in the liturgical sense only occurs after the Alleluia; more broadly it just refers to a type of poetry.
    – eques
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 13:26

1 Answer 1

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How can the congregation know whether a hymn is also a prayer after Mass?

First of all, let us look into the history of recessional hymns. Neither in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass nor in the Ordinary Form of the Mass is the recessional hymn a requirement. In fact, there is nothing in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in the Mass of Pope St. Paul VI that requires a recessional hymn.

Having attended the Traditional Mass for decades, I have never seen a Mass with a recessional hymn sung. Outside of Lent, the organist plays a piece of music that elevates our thought to things on high. I have seen this in Novus Ordo Masses also.

Even though you may have heard it said that if a “recessional hymn has the form of a prayer that the priest is supposed to remain at the altar until the hymn/prayer is done.” Since there is absolutely no mention of a recessional hymn in either Mass within the Roman Rite, this must deemed as an opinion of a particular person or priest.

That’s right. There’s nothing in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that requires a recessional hymn. Here’s what the GIRM instructs regarding the Concluding Rites:

To the Concluding Rites belong the following:

  1. brief announcements, should they be necessary;

  2. the Priest’s Greeting and Blessing, which on certain days and occasions is expanded and expressed by the Prayer over the People or another more solemn formula;

  3. the Dismissal of the people by the Deacon or the Priest, so that each may go back to doing good works, praising and blessing God;

  4. the kissing of the altar by the Priest and the Deacon, followed by a profound bow to the altar by the Priest the Deacon, and the other ministers. (§90)

The Mass for Millennials: Recessional Hymn

Now let us address your question of interest: How can the congregation know whether a hymn is also a prayer after Mass?

St. Augustine once wrote that he who sings prays twice. But we have to remember that in St. Augustine’s day, the faithful chanted the words of Scripture in Latin, either the Palms, the words of the Gospels (especially the words of Christ) or some other portion of Scripture.

Thus singing various parts of Scripture in a prayerful manner is definitely a prayer in aiding our meditation of things divine.

Further more, if a hymn is composed in such a way that one of the three basic conditions of prayer, then it would definitely be a prayer. The Litany of Saints is an excellent example of a prayer in the form of intercession.

One phrase in your example hymn is obviously a prayer of supplication: ”Send Thy archangel ...”.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the three conditions of prayer as follows:

Three conditions are requisite for prayer. First, that the person who prays should approach God Whom he prays: this is signified in the word "prayer," because prayer is "the raising up of one's mind to God." The second is that there should be a petition, and this is signified in the word "intercession." On this case sometimes one asks for something definite, and then some say it is "intercession" properly so called, or we may ask for some thing indefinitely, for instance to be helped by God, or we may simply indicate a fact, as in John 11:3, "Behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick," and then they call it "insinuation." The third condition is the reason for impetrating what we ask for: and this either on the part of God, or on the part of the person who asks. The reason of impetration on the part of God is His sanctity, on account of which we ask to be heard, according to Daniel 9:17-18, "For Thy own sake, incline, O God, Thy ear"; and to this pertains "supplication" [obsecratio] which means a pleading through sacred things, as when we say, "Through Thy nativity, deliver us, O Lord." The reason for impetration on the part of the person who asks is "thanksgiving"; since "through giving thanks for benefits received we merit to receive yet greater benefits," as we say in the collect [Ember Friday in September and Postcommunion of the common of a Confessor Bishop]. Hence a gloss on 1 Timothy 2:1 says that "in the Mass, the consecration is preceded by supplication," in which certain sacred things are called to mind; that "prayers are in the consecration itself," in which especially the mind should be raised up to God; and that "intercessions are in the petitions that follow, and thanksgivings at the end."

We may notice these four things in several of the Church's collects. Thus in the collect of Trinity Sunday the words, "Almighty eternal God" belong to the offering up of prayer to God; the words, "Who hast given to Thy servants," etc. belong to thanksgiving; the words, "grant, we beseech Thee," belong to intercession; and the words at the end, "Through Our Lord," etc. belong to supplication.

In the "Conferences of the Fathers" (ix, cap. 11, seqq.) we read: "Supplication is bewailing one's sins; prayer is vowing something to God; intercession is praying for others; thanksgiving is offered by the mind to God in ineffable ecstasy." The first explanation, however, is the better. - Prayer Article 17

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  • "I have never seen a Mass with a recessional hymn sung" Whereas I have seen this very commonly with Traditional Masses
    – eques
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 18:57
  • @eques I never said it does not happen. I know well some parishes do have recessional hymns. But I have never been to such parishes. I suppose that hymns like the Salve Regina would be sung. Even some religious orders do the same, at least in France.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:40
  • I didn't say you didn't say it doesn't happen. The question is what does your personal experience add to the answer. It wouldn't be meaningful to give the OP an inaccurate perception of recessional hymns at Traditional Masses. For additional details, my parish often does a Marian antiphon chanted followed by a recessional hymn
    – eques
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 22:46

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