The first step to preparing your music for Mass is to prepare your text. The music for Mass should be related to the readings of the day, specifically the Gospel. In fact, the creators of the Lectionary chose the Gospel readings for the various days first. Next, they chose the first reading to correlate to the Gospel either as a thematic resemblance or contrast, Old Testament background information, or a prophetic foreshadowing. The responsorial psalm was chose to bridge the first reading with the Gospel. Therefore, since there is a direct link between the first reading, responsorial psalm, and Gospel, as well as an indirect link between the other music of the Mass, namely the hymn and song selections, there is a need to be very familiar with the texts of the readings for Mass and the texts of the hymns and songs.
Read the Gospel for the day in a slow and prayerful way. As you are doing so, ask yourself these questions: Who is Christ in this Gospel? How is he acting? Who are we? How are we acting?
Read the first reading for the day in a slow and prayerful way. As you are doing so, ask yourself these questions: Who is God in this reading? How is he acting? Who are we? How are we acting?
Read the responsorial psalm for the day in a slow and prayerful way. As you are doing so, ask yourself these questions: Where does the journey from the first reading to the Gospel begin in this psalm? Where does it end? Where are we spiritually, mentally, emotionally, liturgically at the start of the Liturgy of the Word? Where are we at its end and how did we get there?
Read the text of each hymn or song for the day in a slow and prayerful way. As you are doing so, ask yourself these questions: Does the hymn/song relate to any of the readings? Is it responding to them? Is it extending the idea brought forth in the Liturgy of the Word? Is it preparing the congregation to hear the Liturgy of the Word? Is it preparing the congregation to live the message of the Liturgy of the Word outside of the church walls?
For each text you sing, the responsorial psalm, a hymn or song, a part of the Mass, speak the text aloud in a natural and conversational way as if you were telling the story to a friend or loved one. Where are the text cadences? Where do the complete ideas or thoughts begin and end? Where and what is the punctuation? Does observing the punctuation change the meaning of the text? Does it enhance the understanding of the text or hinder it? Make sure to repeat the text aloud at least 5 times to really familiarize yourself with the words. If there are any words you don’t understand, look them up in a dictionary.
Repeat the text again, but this time emphasize a different word each time. Does it change the meaning of the text? How so? When emphasizing a particular word is the meaning enhanced? If so, then underline it.
Based on your reading and analysis from Step 5 and 6 above, chose where you will pause to breathe with either a small catch breath or a full breath. These choices should enhance the clarity of the text’s meaning, and help clarify the role this hymn/psalm/song plays in the liturgy. Mark those breathes in the music
Say the text aloud again observing the breathes and emphasizing the words you’ve chosen. Repeat at least 10 times.
Chant on a single tone the text. Be sure to observe all breathes and to emphasize dynamically the intended words. Also, be sure that as you are chanting you are singing the text as smoothly and evenly as possible with no silence between words or consonants except when you breathe.
Resources for Preparing the Texts
Living Liturgy published by Liturgical Press