Singing the Sursum Corda

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: I have noticed that since the election of Pope Francis the «Sursum corda» is not chanted, but the «Mysterium fidei» and concluding doxology are. Papal Masses are not the only place I have seen this. I have also seen it in Masses televised from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. I thought that, somewhere in my liturgical music training, I was told that they should either all be chanted or none chanted. Is this correct? — A.R., San Antonio, Texas

A: There is no such rule that states that all must be sung or else omitted.

In fact, if this rule ever existed, then it was more often honored in the breach than in practice. Most priests will gladly introduce the «Mystery of faith,» and many will sing the final doxology. The number drops, however, when it comes to the «Lift up your hearts,» as this naturally implies an attempt to sing the entire preface and fewer priests feel up to the challenge.

From what we have mentioned, we can also see a slight difference in the contexts of the three moments. The introduction and the preface are always and exclusively proclaimed by the principal celebrant, and this requires a certain minimum of musical ability.

The celebrant alone intones the «Mystery of faith,» but the people’s response may be sung even if the celebrant is unable to sing the introduction. In this case the organ can help by giving the tone.

Singing the concluding doxology is also proper to the principal celebrant, but in a concelebration a musically challenged priest can give the first notes and allow the concelebrants to carry the rest. If absolutely necessary, the organ can help to give the tone but should not normally accompany the singing, as it is still part of the Eucharistic Prayer. The organ can accompany the great Amen of the faithful.

With respect to the Holy Father, it was obvious from his first blessing that he does not sing. Whether this is because of his having only one lung or some other reason, is beside the point. The facts are that he does not sing and this has no bearing on the efficacy of his Petrine ministry.

Finally, with this article this column has reached its first decade. When I volunteered to begin this experience in 2003, little did I suspect that I would end up inflicting on my poor readers over half a million words. It has been and is a wonderful experience, and with God’s help I hope to have been an instrument of good for all those who have written from every corner of the globe. My increased responsibilities as dean of theology have made this year a tad more difficult, and I wish to personally thank the editors for allowing me at times to get very close to deadline. I hope to keep answering these questions as long as Zenit’s friends continue asking.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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