Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: When a priest is not comfortable in singing during the liturgy, it is permitted that the cantor sing “The wood of the Cross” during the veneration on the cross on Good Friday, and at the Easter Vigil the dismissal rite that is usually sung by the priest or the deacon? — R.F., Toronto
A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal has the following moments when either a priest or cantor may intervene:
“52. After the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, Eleison (Lord, have mercy), is always begun, unless it has already been part of the Penitential Act. Since it is a chant by which the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore his mercy, it is usually executed by everyone, that is to say, with the people and the choir or cantor taking part in it.
“53. The Gloria in Excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other. It is intoned by the Priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by everybody together or by two choirs responding one to the other.
“68. The Creed is to be sung or said by the Priest together with the people on Sundays and Solemnities. It may be said also at particular celebrations of a more solemn character.
If it is sung, it is intoned by the Priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir. It is then sung either by everybody together or by the people alternating with the choir.”
The U.S. bishops’ conference document “Sing to the Lord” assigns the following roles to the cantor:
“37. The cantor is both a singer and a leader of congregational song. Especially when no choir is present, the cantor may sing in alternation or dialogue with the assembly. For example, the cantor may sing the invocations of the Kyrie, intone the Gloria, lead the short acclamations at the end of the Scripture readings, intone and sing the verse of the Gospel Acclamation, sing the invocations of the Prayer of the Faithful, and lead the singing of the Agnus Dei. The cantor may also sing the verses of the psalm or song that accompany the Entrance, Preparation of the Gifts, and Communion. Finally, the cantor may serve as psalmist, leading and proclaiming the verses of the Responsorial Psalm.
“38. As a leader of congregational song, the cantor should take part in singing with the entire gathered assembly. In order to promote the singing of the liturgical assembly, the cantor’s voice should not be heard above the congregation. As a transitional practice, the voice of the cantor might need to be amplified to stimulate and lead congregational singing when this is still weak. However, as the congregation finds its voice and sings with increasing confidence, the cantor’s voice should correspondingly recede. At times, it may be appropriate to use a modest gesture that invites participation and clearly indicates when the congregation is to begin, but gestures should be used sparingly and only when genuinely needed.
“39. Cantors should lead the assembly from a place where they can be seen by all without drawing attention from the liturgical action. When, however, a congregation is singing very familiar responses, acclamations, or songs that do not include verses for the cantor alone, the cantor need not be visible.
“40. The cantor exercises his or her ministry from a conveniently located stand, but not from the ambo. The cantor may dress in an alb or choir robe, but always in clean, presentable, and modest clothing. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as vesture for the cantor.”
Finally, the rubrics in the missal for the showing of the holy cross says of the priest that “He is assisted in singing by the Deacon or, if need be, by the choir.”
Therefore, the cantor can in some cases substitute the priest in intoning certain parts of the liturgy, above all, those to which the people will continue in song. Likewise, although the above-mentioned rubric mentions only the choir, I do not think that it excludes the possibility of a cantor. I would conclude that if the priest is really unable to sing for the showing of the holy cross, then a deacon, cantor or choir could substitute for him.
This part of the celebration, as with most of the sacred Triduum, is much more effective if sung rather than recited.
However, the dismissal of Easter Mass and any Mass pertains more exclusively to the ordained ministry, especially the deacon, and a cantor cannot substitute the deacon or priest at this moment.
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