“The propers are the Mass . . . “?

Elsewhere on this blog a vigorous discussion is taking place on “Singing the Mass.” But two assertions deserve direct attention.

To Father Allan’s assertion, “Chanting the official texts of the Mass has illustrated for our congregation the unity that these antiphons bring to the Liturgy and how they fit rather nicely into the Scripture lessons of the day and/or the particular feast/solemnity celebrated,” I ask, “What unity?” and “Do they fit nicely into the lessons of the day?”

Both John Ainslie and Father Anthony make the best answers thus far to Jack Nolan’s assertion that “The propers are the Mass . . . ”

I would go another step by asking us to rank the propers in their relevance to the central motive for Eucharist in the CSL: “The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with “the paschal sacraments,” to be ‘one in holiness’; it prays that ‘they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith’; the renewal in the eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and [humanity] draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire.”

What, then, are the propers of the Roman Missal and their relevance to the fire they should be fueling?

Setting aside the orations (and the preface when it is proper), I think that the gradual and the alleluia or tract of the Roman Gradual and of the Simple Gradual are the less important even in vernacular translation, the less they correspond to the new lectionary.

The Offertories are a special problem/opportunity. When they function—or if they can be made to function—as a ‘sermon hymn,’ they can be helpful. I also find some of them very moving in their theology/spirituality; my favorite example is the use of Psalm 31: 14–15a at weddings: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand.” (In te speravi, Domine; dixi: Tu es meus, in manibus tuis tempora mea.)

The Introit and the Communion are the more important, because they are found in the Roman Missal and in the Roman Gradual. But as Christoph Tietze points out (about the Introit—and his investigations rings ever truer of the Communion) in his essay, “Graduale or Missale: The Confusion Resolved,” there is no one-to-one correspondence between the texts of these two books. In my opinion, there is much to be pondered upon in the Introit texts of the Roman Missal.

So, if there is to be a new English sung proper, it needs to take seriously the texts of the Introits of the Roman Missal.

But what of the Communion texts? (What follow are just a two thoughts from a work in progress; I am writing what I hope will be a learned article on the subject.) When the texts are truly proper, as when the Roman Gradual in Ordinary Time finds authentic chants that allude to or actually quote the gospel pericope of the day, yes, I say, these are important. However, the more generic the text, the less useful for theology or for spirituality.

Returning to Father Allen’s first assertion, I reply that when the proper texts, especially the Communion, “fit nicely into the lessons of the day,” then they contribute to the unity of the liturgy. More importantly, they can set the liturgical assembly on fire.

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39 comments

      1. Here’s another favorite, Jeffrey, the Offertory at a monk’s solemn profession, after his vows, as he takes his place in the choir:

        Sicut in holocausto arietum, et taurorum, et sicut in millibus agnorum pinguium, sic fiat sacrificium nostrum in conspectu tuo hodie, ut placeat tibi, quoniam non est confusio confidentibus in te.

        As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please Thee: for there is no confusion to them that trust in Thee.

  1. “Both John Ainslie and Father Anthony make the best answers thus far to Jack Nolan’s assertion that “The propers are the Mass .”

    If they are not part of the Mass what are they?

    The good Fathers’ answers seem to be that the propers are secondary due to difficulty of use/workability within a given parish.

    The arguments seem unconvincing when we consider that the propers can be chanted in Latin or English, to venerable or contemporary melodies and by the example of the Responsorial Psalm that changes week to week, even day to day. If a cantor can chant the psalm the cantor can lead the people in or chant the propers. The example already posed of typical parishes who do employ the propers regularly have not been considered sufficiently. Is any proper more difficult to sing than “On Eagles Wings”?

  2. Jack, you didn’t say “part of” in your earlier assertion; you seemed to suggest that they ARE the Mass, in an unnuanced way. Of course they are part of the Mass. I was trying to tease out the implications of your statement and see if others had developed a sense of what is primary and what secondary in their use.

  3. “The good Fathers’ answers seem to be that the propers are secondary due to difficulty of use/workability within a given parish.”

    No, Jack, you have misunderstood me. There are in the liturgy some texts that are more important than others – nearer the kernel, so to speak. Think of the Eucharistic Prayer compared with the private prayers said quietly by the priest before the ‘Domine, non sum dignus’. And there are some parts of the liturgical ritual which are not primarily to do with texts at all, but with actions – like the administration of Holy Communion.

    The processions at the Entrance, the Offertory and the Communion are primarily actions. The antiphons that are provided in the missal or Graduale are only their accompaniment. That is the reason for the greater flexibility permitted for choosing the most suitable song for a given celebration by a given liturgical community to express the significance of the liturgical action taking place.

  4. John, your point is well-taken. There is in liturgy a progression of importance depending on what is going on in the rite at different moments. Entrance is important, but not so much as greeting the Gospel, for which we have five text options, or the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, for which we have one.

    However, the actual music that accompanies these processions are a bit more than accompaniment. The Entrance music still has three other purposes, and the GIRM is explicit about the Communion chant being a means of reinforcing congregational unity through music.

    Processions are indeed important, but they are not the only action at those moments.

  5. Very good post and food for thought. At our daily Mass, our lector leads the congregation in reciting the Entrance antiphon as the priest and server proceed to the altar. At communion time, the adult server leads the congregation in reciting the communion antiphon. Our missalette does not provide an offertory antiphon for either daily or Sunday Mass. All our Sunday Masses are sung (in fact I lead the singing of the Kyrie, Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus, Mystery of Faith, Great Amen and Agnus Dei at every daily Mass without accompaniment, but the two antiphons are spoken by all and it very effective at daily Mass). Only since the beginning of this Advent have we had the cantor chant the simple refrains for the entrance, offertory and communion antiphons. I’m not sure where our choir director is getting the offertory ones, but these are very nice. We still sing a processional hymn and communion processional hymns. It seems to me that the new GIRM does say that the communion antiphon should be said or chanted even in daily Masses if I am not mistaken.

  6. As someone with zero liturgical expertise but a deep love for Gregorian Chant, I find the fixation on correspondence to the lectionary out of step with the history of the Roman rite. Historically, the texts of the propers seldom corresponded to the readings; on important feasts, they correspond to the theme of the day but not necessarily to the lessons. Midnight Mass of Christmas is a good example: the readings speak to the “left brain,” rational and historical character of the day, while the chanted propers use the poetry of the psalms to communicate on the level of mystery. On “green Sundays” there is no particular reason for choosing one psalm over another for the Introit text; rather, the psalms are just spread out over the calendar. This suggests that the fixation on “propers” misses the point – the option for “seasonal” antiphons in the Simplex and the ’74 Graduale is perfectly reasonable.

    Why does the Lectionary assume such importance that it is the standard against which everything else must be measured? The point of the Gradual and Alleluia seem to be to foster meditation after a reading through melismatic music – the text to which this music is set need not correspond to the reading.

    If in modern times a congregational psalm is substituted (for the laudable purpose of increasing active participation, and for the practical reason that capable scholas are rare), the model of the brief response from the Office suggests that there need not be any necessary connection to the reading that preceded the response. This is an occasion for the readings to “sink in” and it isn’t obvious that it should be an opportunity to introduce new, left-brain, logical parallels.

    The point of the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons is to accompany a liturgical action; must they echo the readings? (In the case of the Communion, perhaps yes, as it makes explicit the bridge between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.)

    1. Why does the Lectionary assume such importance that it is the standard against which everything else must be measured?

      Robert, you have asked the most important question in this matter and most other liturgical matters.

      The answer to your question is found in a close reading of the first ten paragraphs of the 1981 Lectionary for Mass: Introduction.

      These paragraphs enshrine the liturgical implications of the Dogmatic on the Divine Revelation:Dei Verbum. Note that they apply to all liturgical use of the Word of God, not just to the Mass.

      They also reflect Saint Augustine’s sense that all sacraments are visible words (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 80:3). Indeed sacraments are tastable, touchable, smellable, hearable, and sensible words.

      An Indian theologian, Fr. Joseph Lionel, a priest of Tanjore, Tamil Nadu, in southern India, has pointed out that “the celebrant of the liturgy is minister of the Word at all times during the liturgy, ‘not only when he reads and preaches.'”

      I’d LOVE to continue to discuss this theme, if you wish.

      1. +JMJ+

        Shouldn’t the Word itself be the standard, rather than the Lectionary or the Propers (which are selections from that Word)?

        And if the Propers are expected to be linked to the readings, can we also work to build a better link between all the readings? The Second Reading is usually just a sequential reading from the epistles and is not very clearly thematically related to the First Reading, Psalm, and Gospel.

  7. In nearly 40 years of attending the Novus Ordo, down under (as northern hemisphere people deem it) I have never heard the Entrance Antiphon (Introit) used. No hymn, no said intriot as seen it’s meant to be sung it is omitted the same applying to the Gospel Acclamation and as such the Communion Antiphon. The antiphons have no link to the readings usually, are seldom chanted, should not be used if said.

    Often in NZ the responsorial psalm is replaced by the praying of the full psalm text, and at weekday Mass the first versicle, linking the Opening Rite, to the LIturgy of the word, is proclaimed by the celebrant and faithful in the place of the Entrance Antiphon.

    Remeber General Instructions are ‘general’ and are not rubrics that tend to be unbending.

    Creativity in liturgy, and local adaption are fundamental -the principal of ‘Common Practice.’

    Why are you still using Introits and Communion Antiphons anyway?

    1. Remeber General Instructions are ‘general’ and are not rubrics that tend to be unbending. Creativity in liturgy, and local adaption are fundamental -the principal of ‘Common Practice.’

      Phillip, General Instructions have the force of canon law, as you can see from the chart I distribute to my seminarians. The Latin word for “general instruction” is praenotanda. Depending on the rubric, there can be great flexibility; see “juridic norms” and “interpretation” on this chart.

      Why are you still using Introits and Communion Antiphons anyway?

      Because they preserve the psalm verses our ancestors prayed going back centuries. By praying them we join a procession that has been in process for well more than a thousand years.

    2. In the 1970’s we were taught in the seminary that if you didn’t sing the alleluia and verse, you didn’t say it, it was omitted. You could substitute a hymn for the responsorial psalm and it was nice to sing a hymn after the homily. At daily spoken Masses, people seldom heard the alleluia and verse unless it was chanted by the celebrant if he could sing, if he couldn’t it was omitted. The same for the entrance antiphon and communion antiphon, although these are in the missal and in people’s missalettes, no one ever said or sung these at a daily Mass and certainly these were omitted on Sunday’s sung Masses. Whether by decree in the earlier forms of the GIRM or through decree of dogmatic liturgists with their own “imperialism” in terms of liturgy, this development from the 1970’s is an impoverishment of the liturgy, not an enhancement of it. In that exuberant period too, law, canon law, civil law, rubrics, general instructions, etc where castigated and despised. We have institutions filled with people who hate the law, these are called jails. 40 years of doing something that is questionable on many fronts doesn’t make for a good tradition and needs to be reformed.

  8. The USCCB have wisely stated in regard to General Instructions that:

    In this manner the Church, while remaining faithful to her office as teacher of truth safeguarding “things old,” that is, the deposit of tradition, fulfills at the same time another duty, that of examining and prudently bringing forth “things new” (cf. Mt 13:52).

    We progess to the kingdom, and continuing to rely on on old words and patterns, is not what Jesus intended, a person who never prayed a Roman liturgy, in fact he fought peacefully ‘Roman’ oppression.

    The new translation rules prohibit paraphrases, which have been common in some English speaking Conferences. When we paraphrase, make the psalms etc. come alive in contemporary language and patterns/liturgical forms, we sing a re-newed song (cf. Ps 98 paraphrase).

    In the end the Local Ordinary oversees, in the role of episcopos, liturgical practice, not Conferences, and not the Diocese or Bishop of Rome, and therefore local adaption hopefully praytell will be preserved after the current rush of blood to the head, and the pretence of kowtowing, is over. And American thoughts of dominating the English language/translation are put to rest, as well as the linguistic imperalism of Rome.

  9. Phillip said: Remeber General Instructions are ‘general’ and are not rubrics that tend to be unbending.

    I hesitate to disagree with my friend Paul Ford, but Phillip is at least partially correct. GIRM 21:

    This Instruction aims both to offer general guidelines for properly arranging the Celebration of the Eucharist and to set forth rules for ordering the various forms of celebration.

    That paragraph has always been a grey area and continues to be so, as long as GIRM continues not to specify in detail which portions are the general guidelines and which are the rules, and indeed how far those rules are binding.

    It is worth recalling that previous incarnations of GIRM had a section beginning, in the Latin, forma typica. It was pointed out more than once that this could equally well be translated as “A typical form” and not necessarily “The typical form”. Alas, this ambiguity was swept away in the latest revisions….

  10. To suggest that the Propers are not an essential part of the Mass begs some pretty serious questions. We might debate the supremacy of the Missal propers over the Gradual propers (when they differ), but what exactly is being suggested?
    -That some parts of the official liturgical books of the Roman Rite be willfully ignored?
    -That a hymnal produced by GIA, OCP, WLP, or some other commercial entity is better suited to the Roman Rite than the hymnal produced by Solesmes and approved by the Vatican?
    -That one set of texts (the Propers), which may or not closely align with the lectionary, but still surely contain in them the theology and teaching of the Catholic Church be substituted with texts chosen sometimes at random by poorly trained music directors, which also may or may not have anything to do with the lectionary or the theme of the day, and may or may not be heretical, wrong, misleading, or just plain stupid?

    Which of those conclusions should we be reaching?

    And what is the solution?

    1. Adam, I reach none of the conclusions you propose.

      I did not say that the propers are not part of the Mass. I was only drawing attention to Jack Nolan’s hyperbolic statement that the propers ARE the Mass.

      The conclusions I reached are in the original post.

      As for my care for and about the propers, I adduce my By Flowing Waters and the Psallite project.

      Your statement “which may or not closely align with the lectionary” is parenthetical; but it is worded in such a way as to give me the impression that you don’t value that alignment as much as I do, and as I suggest in comment #12 above. Can we talk about that?

  11. Adam, I welcome your questions as part of the discussion.

    “Willfully ignored” is rather strong, and presumes a certain malintent on the part of those who do not use the propers. I was critical of the way CMAA “rewrote” the musical section of the Eucharistic Prayer prayed at its Colloquium. I would characterize that offense as well-intentioned, but not a willful liturgical abuse.

    I don’t know that a publisher’s carefully-researched hymnal wouldn’t be superior to the work of Solesmes. I would actually tend to put more faith in a prayerful and informed music preparation process at the local level.

    Your last question is, in essence, a matter of trust. A thought experiment: would we participants in this discussion trust another here enough to hand over our parish for a weekend?

    What about this question: is God capable of working with less-than-perfect human beings? And if so, what is our response to music directors who may be less competent than we?

    1. +JMJ+

      is God capable of working with less-than-perfect human beings? And if so, what is our response to music directors who may be less competent than we?

      I hope it’s a better response than the one given here to clergy in the various dicasteries at Rome.

  12. My reference to “may or may not be closely aligned with the lectionary” meant the following: I do value lectionary-driven musical choices a great deal. However, the a huge number of parishes don’t do that. For every big suburban parish with a vibrant, lectionary-based contemporary music progra, there are dozens of understaffed small parishes with a little old lady doing hum-n-strum on the synthesized organ, playing yet another poorly-executed syncopation nightmare that has nothing to do with the lectionary. For thousands of parishes all over the country (and probably the world) the Propers (in a simple setting) would be a VAST improvement, and make their life easier.

    And as to “willful.” Okay- I didn’t mean to suggest malintent. But, if you know the words are there in the Missal, and you don’t do them, you’re ignoring part of the Mass. On purpose. I don’t get it. The fact that CMAA has also changed the the Mass in some way bothers me equally (if true, I don’t know- I wasn’t there) and doesn’t justify other people also changing the Mass.

    In fact- this is exactly my problem: I’m a liberal, progressive, sometimes heretic…. I don’t want my fellow lib/progs changing the Mass to fit their theological agendas because that means that the conservatives can do the same thing.

  13. But, if you know the words are there in the Missal, and you don’t do them, you’re ignoring part of the Mass. On purpose. I don’t get it.

    Not necessarily. We and other forums have already had this discussion several times. The compilers of the 1970 Missale Romanum did not envisage that the antiphons provided would be set to music as they stand. Their purpose is quite different, according to those who worked on them:

    (a) to “appease the Gregorianists”, so that the latter could continue to use the pieces of plainchant that were dear to their hearts;

    (b) to remind everyone else that they should be singing something at this point — but not these actual texts.

    This is why Rome removed the antiphons from the US Bishops’ approval process. Mgr Moroney woke up very late in the day to the fact that (i) these antiphons had not been designed to be sung as they stood, but (ii) the translation of them had been done precisely with singing them in mind, and with a relaxation of the rules of LA. Result: Rome has now retranslated, we are told, the 2008 texts of the antiphons to conform more closely to LA stipulations.

    There are other problems with the Propers of the Missal: for example, those for Ordinary Time run on a 1-year cycle whereas the Lectionary we now use runs on a 3-year cycle. That means that two years in three, and sometimes in all three years, they have nothing to do with the readings of the Mass.

    And before someone jumps on me, I want to make it clear that I am talking about the antiphons in Missal, not those in the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex.

    A further point: the antiphons are only recited if there is no singing taking place, or about to take place, at these points, whatever that singing may be. The strong implication of this is that the texts themselves are not of primary importance.

    1. +JMJ+

      The compilers of the 1970 Missale Romanum did not envisage that the antiphons provided would be set to music as they stand. Their purpose is quite different, according to those who worked on them: … (b) to remind everyone else that they should be singing something at this point — but not these actual texts.

      But how does that square with the Consilium stating in 1969 that the Propers were what should be sung?

    1. +JMJ+

      So what role did the Consilium have in “compil[ing] the 1970 Missale Romanum” and the GIRM? If they said in 1969 that the Propers are to be sung, who changed it in the GIRM?

      1. I’m not sure which propers the Consilium had in mind – was it the proper antiphons in the Graduale Romanum? I doubt it was the proper antiphons in the missal, because they stated that these were intended for reciting when the proper antiphon wasn’t sung. The missal propers don’t always match up with the GR propers, nor are they meant to.
        awr

      2. +JMJ+

        I’m not particularly concerned at the moment which set of propers they meant. It’s clear they meant said that hymns were not to replace whichever propers they had in mind.

        Why did the Consilium provide a ruling in 1969 which called the replacement of the propers with hymns “cheating the people”, and then present the Pope with a Missal whose General Instruction allows for something to be sung instead of the propers? Didn’t the Consilium produce the GIRM?

  14. Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Paul Inwood :

    There are other problems with the Propers of the Missal: for example, those for Ordinary Time run on a 1-year cycle whereas the Lectionary we now use runs on a 3-year cycle. That means that two years in three, and sometimes in all three years, they have nothing to do with the readings of the Mass.

    But again, why is this a problem? Why must they have something to do with the readings? The texts of the introits, historically, usually had no connection with the readings. This was simply not the criterion behind the choice of the texts; for long stretches of Sundays the psalms chosen for the Introit are in numerical order from one Sunday to the next. (The Communions do sometimes quote the Gospel of the day)

    1. One might consider the summary of the 2008 Synod on the Word. What did Pope Benedict and the world’s bishops have to say about the connection between the Eucharist and the Scriptures, especially the Liturgy of the Word?

      If the texts of the propers are independent of the Lectionary, there would seem to be an easier argument for dispensing with them, no? For the record, I would hope for a reform of the Lectionary to align the ordinary time New Testment reading more closely to the Gospel.

      1. If the texts of the propers are independent of the Lectionary, there would seem to be an easier argument for dispensing with them, no?

        Or for the new lectionary not being all it’s cracked up to be!

      2. Samuel,
        The new lectionary is no different from the old in that it mostly doesn’t connect up with the propers but on major feasts and in some Sundays of seasons it does. Would you condemn, then, the old and new lectionary alike? Otherwise your comment doesn’t make sense to me and makes me think you’re pulling out any argument just to reject the liturgical reform. Please clarify.

        awr

      3. Well, if you think coordination is important, and you’re creating a new lectionary, it’s clearly a fault if you fail to coordinate.

        The task is, of course, made much more complicated by having three sets of readings.

        If your propers are of (largely) ancient and venerable usage and coordination is more or less throughout the year, there’s no fault in not coordinating where coordination is not expected. Correct sentiment is sufficient. Rationalization of existing liturgy is generally ill advised (as opposed to creating rational systems when you create new systems.)

  15. But Robert, the renewal of the liturgy since V2 has asked us to see the particular pericopes of a given celebration as foundational for all liturgical preparation and choices. Historically, you are correct in saying, that was not necessarily the concern. In GIRM 47 we are instructed that one of the goals of the entrance is to “introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity…” The scriptures appointed to each celebration are key to all of this. This is one of the reasons why options are good for the entrance in addition to the propers, as they do not always line up well with the pericopes for a given celebration.

  16. Just off the bat, the discussions remind me of the 1970s expedient of a commendator before the Mass telling the congregation about the “theme” of the Mass of the day. This was dropped because it seemed to reduced the liturgy to the celebration of an idea. So GIRM 47 says not not an idea, but a “mystery.”In practice I am not sure this is much different than a “theme.”

  17. I meant to say So GIRM 47 says now not an idea…
    And as for the congregation, most the parish has troubling remembering what the scriptures were for the past Sunday let alone all these little bits and pieces which I suppose are better for lectio divina either before or after the liturgy.

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