Music for graduation Masses in Catholic secondary schools

Fiona Dyball offers some advice for all those planning Graduation Masses, encouraging careful planning and consideration of these important moments for evangelisation. 
"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."
—Jeremiah 29:11 


Transitions: stepping into the unknown with hope

Graduation Masses that celebrate the transition from primary and secondary school to the new life waiting hold special memories for children and families. A new chapter begins, with all the fears, hopes, dreams and questions that come with such a significant life change: What will this new stage bring? How will the graduating student cope with the broader horizon, and with the increased demands of study and/or work? Will old friends remain connected, and who will be the new friends that emerge? Where does God fit into all of this?


Sacred moments, intentionally celebrated

As Catholic communities of faith, we move in the deep and living tradition of the paschal mystery, which always welcomes new life. Stages of growth and change are intentionally marked in sacred ritual. So, like any liturgical celebration, our graduation Masses have three dimensions: they recall the past in the present for the sake of the future (Adrien Nocent, The Liturgical Year, vol. 1, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013, p. 54). A graduation Mass honours the past, while also pointing to an unknown but hopeful future for young people and their families. It’s an opportunity for young people to show gratitude for the time they have shared in a specific community that is also part of a global church family. These Masses acknowledge how far people have come, allowing them to stand together in joyful and solemn solidarity. Finally, they seek to send young people and their families into the future with hope, accompanied and cared for by a loving God and anchored in the richness of Christian community. The music chosen should reflect the saving work of God while also expressing the community’s collective response to God’s love and faithfulness.


Highlight opportunities for evangelisation

Graduation Masses are important opportunities for evangelisation. Family and friends will often make a significant effort to prepare for and participate in the Mass and in the celebration that usually follows it. Often people will travel long distances and make other sacrifices to be present. The music and sung prayer in these Masses will ideally reflect and honour this preparation and commitment by the extended school community. So sufficient time needs to be allowed for graduation Masses to be consultatively planned, carefully prepared and thoroughly rehearsed. The music on these occasions can offer a fitting tribute to the character of a community, while also staying true to Catholic identity and to the liturgy itself.


All are welcome

All people need to feel welcome to join in the sacred song at different points in a graduation Mass. There also needs to be clear consideration of the cultures represented, and the singing abilities of the people who will come. Some people may not have been to Mass for some time, so having both hymns and a Mass setting that are intergenerational is also important.

People need to be able to see and hear clearly what is going on, and to know when they are being invited to participate in the music. This allows the whole range of people present to experience hospitality and inclusion as they participate in the Mass through sound, silence, word, posture and gesture. Any booklet or hymnal should be clear and easy to follow, as should any PowerPoint or Keynote slides, allowing everyone present to participate fully. Taking care with these details is invitational and demonstrates hospitality.

These Masses are not concert opportunities for the school music department or the star vocalist, although the beauty of an excellent music performance is often present and welcome. Graduation Masses are opportunities to bring all the musical gifts of the school community together in music ministry to serve the sung prayer of the wider school family. To this end, the planning group (which will incorporate the student leadership team, including leaders in music and liturgy) will need to actively discern which music is better suited to the Mass, and which is more appropriate to the party after Mass.


Scripture, season and liturgical action

The readings of the day and the liturgical season are the first considerations in planning any Mass, including a graduation Mass. Most graduation Masses fall before Advent, but if the Mass is in Advent, you should be mindful that this is the season of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of Christ at Christmas. The music at this time is still joyful but is not as exuberant as the music at Christmas. Masses outside of Advent offer more scope for music choice and character. Before selecting the music, it is a good idea to look at the sacred scripture chosen for the Mass so that you can choose music that will allow the texts to resonate even more deeply. The nature of each part of the Mass also needs to be honoured, as the music needs to complement the liturgical action at different points in the Mass. An inclusive and consultative approach to planning ensures student buy-in and liturgical understanding, as well as meeting the requirements of Musicam Sacram, §5.


Road-tested repertoire

A useful list of suggested music for graduation Masses can be found in the appendix to ‘Celebrating liturgy in schools: Catholic identity in song in The Summit Online. 


Mandatory copyright inclusions for Mass booklets and/or PowerPoint and Keynote slides

Every time song lyrics or melodies are reprinted or displayed during Mass—in booklets or on overhead screens—a copyright acknowledgement must be included. The acknowledgement needs to include the author, the composer, the copyright year and the publisher, along with the licensing body and your licence number. For example:

‘Song of Gathering’, Words & Music by Mary J. Composer, © 2013 XYZ Publications. Reprinted with permission under ONE LICENSE #A-000000. All rights reserved.

Any congregation or institution reprinting or displaying a Mass setting or psalm must also acknowledge the copyright owners of both the text and the music. For example:

‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, in New Mass, by Mary J. Composer. Words: excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal, © 2010 ICEL. All rights reserved. Music: © 2013 XYZ Publications. Reprinted with permission under ONE LICENSE #A-000000. All rights reserved.

Any copyright acknowledgement must be printed large enough be legible for anyone reading it.


What about liturgical texts in booklets or slides?

The International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) owns the copyright of most liturgical texts. ICEL provides royalty-free permission for individual parishes and schools to reproduce, publish and communicate their liturgical texts at specific Masses or celebrations (for example, in convention program booklets, or at jubilee Masses, ordinations, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, funerals, weddings, etc.) Acknowledgements must be included in any published material containing ICEL texts.


What about scripture in booklets or slides?

The text of the scripture readings proclaimed during the liturgy should not be included in service booklets or on slides. Handouts for the purpose of individual reflection may include small amounts of scripture texts (for example, for bible study groups, Lenten reflection groups, sacramental preparation groups and other catechetical situations). The copyright owners of the various translations permit parishes, schools and individuals to reproduce, publish and communicate up to 500 words of scripture under certain special conditions. Acknowledgement of copyright owners must be included in the publication.

Fiona M. Dyball works extensively in adult and youth faith formation, and in Music Ministry. She is a member of the Marist National Formation Team (Melbourne) and the Australian National Liturgical Board, and has tertiary qualifications from Australia and the United States in music performance and choral conducting, music therapy, secondary education, religious education, liturgy, and theology.

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