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.