Moderator’s note: Just as I posted this, I saw that Paul Ford posted on the same topic. Oh well – we’ll leave both posts up.  -  awr

This just in: the updated translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says the same thing about proper chants and other songs as did the 2003 translation! This is huge.

It used to be that there were four options for the piece sung at the entrance, the first of which is the proper chant and the fourth of which is another piece. But now, there are four options for the piece sung at the entrance, the first of which is the proper chant and the fourth of which is another piece. You see the implications.

Hardly wonder Jeffrey Tucker is jumping up and down. “Dramatic Changes in Music Rubrics for New Missal,” the headline shouts. Jeffrey is so attached to his pro-propers, anti-strophic hymns agenda that he sees it, even when it isn’t there. “I’m happy to report that the legislative ground has just shifted, and dramatically so,” he exlaims. “If I’m reading this correctly, any text other than an appointed text for the Mass will now fall outside the boundaries provided for by the authoritative document that regulates the manner in which Mass is to proceed.”

But I’m pretty sure he isn’t reading this correctly. There is no change in the legislation on propers and other songs. There is a clarification – and I think it is a good one – for how to choose a song or hymn. There is also a change in the translation of the Latin term cantus. And that’s it, as I see it.

Here is how 2003 described the fourth option:

(4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

Here is how it is described in the latest approved GIRM:

(4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

The helpful clarification is that 2003 merely said that freely-chosen song or hymn should be “suitable.” Now it is spelled out that this means “suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year.” Sounds good to me. It’s what I try to do when I choose a hymn for entrance (or preparation of the gifts, or communion).

What is a cantus? Literally, as the past participle of canere, it is anything which is sung. How do you translate cantus in this context – “hymn,” “song,” “piece”? All could be defended. The tendency now, as we know, is to use Latinate cognates, as in the English word “chant” which derives from “cantus.” (Think calix, “chalice.”) But whatever translation you use, it still means “the piece which is sung.” And that could be “Ad te levavi,” or it could be “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

I just emailed Fr. Rick Hilgartner at the Bishops’ Committee for Divine Worship about this. My question and his response:

AWR: Rick, does the fourth option for the entrance chant in GIRM 48 still refer to an appropriate hymn or song chosen by local liturgical planners?

RH:Yes.

Fr. Hilgartner also noted that, in his understanding, the paragraph is about the text to be sung, not the musical form it takes. The point is that the prescribed antiphons can, and perhaps should, influence the choice of hymnody. An example (from him) is using the hymn “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” if the entrance antiphon is from Psalm 23.

My advice to would-be interpreters: First, check out all the ways cantus has been used in the papal documents of the 20th century on sacred music, especially to refer to popular congregational songs of various nations and peoples. Second, check out the history of indults allowing such songs to replace Latin propers, how this made its way into Musicam sacram no. 32 (“The custom…widely confirmed by indults, of substituting other songs for the songs in the Graduale…”,) and how this prehistory informs GIRM 48.

awr