Try Again, Australia

Sources tell me that Rome isn’t accepting the Australians’ vernacular hymn repertoire. Liturgiam Authenticam (2001) is best known for what it says about translation. But no. 108 says about congregational hymns that each bishops’ conference

“shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory [directorium seu repertorium] of texts intended for liturgical singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.”

LA 108 is a huge innovation. Until now (both before and after Vatican II), Catholic hymnody has been a free-for-all in the English-speaking world. Before Vatican you could sing almost anything at Sunday Low Mass (eg. hymns to Mary in May and October without looking at the readings) because, if I may put it baldly, the congregation didn’t matter and only the priest said Mass. Since Vatican II we’ve had “All You Need is Love” (at least back in the 60s and 70s) and “A Mighty Fortress” and everything in between. Imagine that anyone, the Holy See for example, would have second thoughts about all this.

The Australians submitted 750 hymns and were told that some things shouldn’t be on their list. Now how will the Australians build the city of God for the Lord of sea and sky? We don’t yet know if the things not on the final list (once that gets hashed out) will be prohibited Down Under. It’s worth asking whether this would really be the implication, because the talk in the US was of a small core repertoire required to be included in every hymnal, plus lots of freedom for additions by various publishers. The short list (not yet even begun to be developed) would be approved by the conference and Rome. The additions would be approved by the bishop of the diocese of the publishing house. For this, the local bishop would apply the guidelines found in the hymn directorium (as distinct from a repertorium of specific hymns) which the US bishops submitted to Rome several years ago. Rome still hasn’t responded to that submission, no doubt because they want a repertorium of actual hymns from our bishops, not just a directorium of guidelines.

I know, I know, many people get very nervous about white lists and black lists. But I think it could be a good thing. Here’s why: it means that vernacular hymnody is getting a huge promotion, liturgically speaking, from the category of “do what you want but please try to do something appropriate” to “canonically approved for worship.” Protestant synods have done this for centuries with their official hymnals – the hymn texts mattered that much. Provided there is room for geniune creativity, oversight which improves the quality of our hymnody is to be welcomed. But ask me again when they prohibit something created by me!



  1. Well … I would be fascinated to hear why certain texts would be approved or not. Given Rome’s track record, I have little confidence in their ability on this. But I’d like to be surprised.

    The early SLJ’s would have been fine because most of the late 60’s through the late 70’s were based on Scripture, used the old antiphon+psalm (or canticle) format, and have been many imitators through the years.

    Perhaps contemporary composers got off track trying to emulate the hymnwriting efforts of the organ-n-choir crowd and joining the publishing mainstream. Lots of 70’s musicians doing fair to good work with Scripture did less well with originally composed texts, however much they alluded to the Bible or Lectionary. We see this kind of thing in pop music even more frequently: people writing good texts (Suzanne Vega, David Byrne, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bruce Springsteen, for example) are far outnumbered by those attempting good work. It’s easier to find good musicians. By far.

    The apex of pop songwriting was in the middle of the last century, and it’s no coincidence the lion’s share of the best songs were done by teams … Strayhorn/Ellington, Rodgers/Hammerstein, or even Lennon-McCartney. There’s a lesson there, perhaps.

    What would work even better than a competent and benevolent Roman oversight would be gathering prospective writers at a university or a monastery, or the like under the tutelage of people like Genevieve Glen. Making lists is easy, and not terribly creative. It’s the job of bureaucrats or sleazy politicians. If we want better texts, we need to do it positively and show people what to do, not what not to do.

  2. But you’re not supposed to sing hymns during the Mass at all. You’re supposed to sing the liturgy – the sung parts of the ordinary of the Mass (kyrie, gloria etc.) and the chant propers (introit, graduale etc.), the music that is integral to the rite.

    Hymns and other songs can be sung for the recessional, for processions, to some extent in the Divine Office, for homilies outside of Mass, for pilgrimages, for family prayers, for devotional gatherings, for worship & praise sessions, and in fact for any number of occasions outside of Mass. Why must people insist that they be used in Mass as well?

    1. Actually, Gideon, that isn’t quite the Church’s policy . Check out Musicam Sacram, the General Instruction, and “Sing to the Lord” on hymnody. The Church clearly allows it at Mass since Vatican II. And already before Vatican II Rome had allowed it since 1943 for Germany (then including Austria) at sung High Mass. Poland never asked for permission from Rome (as far as I know), but singing vernacular hymns at High Mass was their immemorial custom. It’s what Pope John Paul II would have grown up with, as did Pope Benedict in his homeland.

      1. Other suitable songs are permitted, but the propers are the ideal, in Vatican II and more recent documents, and in the larger tradition which they reflect. Hymnody undoubtedly has a place, but we can’t begin to work that out unless we get our perspective right first.

  3. Gideon, I am inclined to agree with you. My favorite document is this response from Rome that is known by its Italian name: Cantare la Messa, dunque, e non solo cantare durante la Messa.

    Query: Many have inquired whether the rule still applies that appears in the Instruction on sacred music and the liturgy, 3 Sept. 1958, no. 33: “In low Masses religious songs of the people may be sung by the congregation, without prejudice, however, to the principle that they be entirely consistent with the particular parts of the Mass.” Reply: That rule has been superseded. What must be sung is the Mass, its Ordinary and Proper, not “something,” no matter how consistent, that is imposed on the Mass. Because the liturgical service is one, it has only one countenance, one motif, one voice, the voice of the Church. To continue to replace the texts of the Mass being celebrated with motets that are reverent and devout, yet out of keeping with the Mass of the day (for example, the Lauda Sion on a saint’s feast) amounts to continuing an unacceptable ambiguity: it is to cheat the people. Liturgical song involves not mere melody, but words, text, thought, and the sentiments that the poetry and music contain. Thus texts must be those of the Mass, not others, and singing means singing the Mass not just singing at Mass. [Notitiae 5 (1969) 406.]

    Documents on the Liturgy 1963–1975: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1982), edited and translated by Thomas C. O’Brien of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 4154 (p. 1299)

  4. Greetings,

    The Catholic Hymn Tradition is very important. However, the quality of hymns does not seem very good. As our parish sang “All are Welcome” today all I heard was what ‘we’ were going to do, and that everyone was welcome to do it. There was no praise of God. It is an attempt to be catechetical. Our hymns should focus on God, not on us.


    1. It could have been worse. We sang “Sing a New Church.”

      I’m generally not much in favor of white or black lists, but this text — cliché-ridden nonsense — is enough to make me reconsider. And just to pour salt on the wound, it’s unequally yoked with a great american folk hymn tune.

  5. Fr. Ruff;

    You are certainly ( I know) well aware that while hymnody is permitted, there is a specific preference in all three of the documents you cite. Would you care to elaborate on how that prefernce figures into this scenario?

    I was appalled that the US Bishops essentially “punted” on LA 108… perhaps the “Australian Example” will be a wake up call.

  6. Or perhaps the “Australian Example” will be an object lesson for the other English-speaking conferences and nobody else will submit.

    I have less of a problem with the assembly self-referencing at Mass and speaking of God in the third-person. One sees it in the psalms. One sees other ways of referencing God and community in the psalms, too. That’s not a matter for any single song, but for a parish’s entire repertoire.

    That’s something Rome will never tell a national conference or a faith community to do. A full liturgical repertoire is almost as much a work of art as the music itself.

  7. Say, one generally believed aspect of the GIRM is that when options for what to sing, folks over at NLM and Musica Sacra tend to maintain that the first named option is the most preferable, followed by options is lesser degrees of preference. Thus, for the entrance, the Graduale Romanum antiphon is the most preferable (1), followed by the Graduale Simplex (2), etc. This makes sense to me, because if all options are equal, why doesn’t the GIRM just write option 4 (a suitable liturgical song), which technically includes options 1-3. However, I’ve never ready anything official regarding this or what some circumstances would be in which a choir able to sing the Grad. Rom. antiphon would be allowed to sing a suitable hymn instead. I remember reading Fr. Ruff’s piece on chant in Today’s Liturgy (I don’t have the exact words handy) a while back, in which he notes that the goals of the entrance or communion song as contained in the GIRM might not be best met by chant. I have to admit that I have a hard time imagining a choir or congregation in the U.S. that is unable to carry off the English propers in By Flowing Waters (Grad. Simp. in translation), which can often be used in consecutive Sundays. All in all, I find the GIRM rather mealy-mouthed.

    In addition to the admonitiion to “sing the mass”, it is important to “sing the psalms” not “sing compromised paraphrases of psalms” that we find pervasively in OCP, GIA, WLP publications. I’m so glad that OCP continues printing Owen Alstott. We need the psalms as they are and not as they would best mach catchy tunes.

      1. Joannes, your comments are well stated all the same! The very last sentence “We need the psalms as they are and not as they would best match catchy tunes” rings oh so true..

  8. AWR writes, “Protestant synods have done this for centuries with their official hymnals – the hymn texts mattered that much.”

    “This is most certainly true,” to quote the indefatigable Dr. Luther. And the process of developing hymnals for non-Roman Catholic church bodies (at least in the recent past) has reflected a marvelous cooperation between theologians and musicians, while taking into critical account the needs and desires of those who have to actually sing the hymns — the people in the pews. This inevitably results in some compromise, not always to best effect. (There are a few real bombs in The Hymnal 1982, for example, but they’re somebody’s “favorite” hymns; and the favorite hymns, or hymn tunes, of some others didn’t make the cut. Where’s the English warhorse tune THAXTED, for example?) Nevertheless, the level of care and cooperation involved in preparing, evaluating, and approving such a book is laudable.

    I think the proposed American model of a core repertoire with carefully evaluated and approved additions is sound. What I fail to comprehend is how a central authority can maintain the pretense that it understands the pastoral-liturgical and musicological needs of a particular national body better than the pastors (read: bishops) who have immediate responsibility for the cure of souls in a given place.

    1. Rev. Cody,

      This is an issue of three interacting cultures: that of a particular Rite or family of Rites; a country in which it is used; and the locality. In the case of the Roman Rite the first culture is Tradition, of which the liturgy is understood to be the expression and Rome its faithful guardian; the second is the ecclesiastical arrangements that recognise the experience and needs of particular cultural-linguistic groups, especially in relation to translations, but perhaps to some degree music, too. In the case of the Anglican Communion the first was once the historic connection with the English and Scottish Prayer Books, and the second the particular national Prayer Books deriving from them.

      The third is the locality where the liturgy is celebrated, and its own particular pastoral and practical circumstances.

      There will always be a tension between these three, and the way we work it out will reflect our ecclesiology. The Anglican Communion, with its particular origins and development, has long been comfortable with national liturgical variants. For equal and opposite reasons the Roman Rite has one ordinary liturgy, of which local translations are expected to be faithful expressions. Vernacular hymns tend to be used as substitutes for the Propers of that liturgy; it is not unreasonable, then, for Rome to expect National Conferences to exert some measure of control over those substitutes, subject to its ultimate oversight. The extent to which particular localities vary national rules will depend on a church’s ecclesiology and the scope and detail of the rules. Speaking as a Roman Catholic, I would wish our Bishops to take extraordinary steps to encourage all to employ the Propers in faithfulness to our tradition (I believe their current levels of use to be scandalous), but that where hymns are used they will not be too encumbered by bureaucracy.

  9. it means that vernacular hymnody is getting a huge promotion, liturgically speaking, from the category of “do what you want but please try to do something appropriate” to “canonically approved for worship.”

    So these would then be, if so approved, the only selections for exercising option 4 in the GIRM and elsewhere. This makes sense since even those documents call for selections to be approved and there are no such selections available today, unless you consider the “wink and a nod” type of approval that we currently have.

    I don’t see it as a “boost” to vernacular hymnody unless you simply mean in terms of status though. It would seem that the net effect would be to greatly restrict the number of vernacular selections that could be used at Mass, and it would make necessary quite a process to introduce new selections, at least to the degree that we have seen these past years. It may actually have the effect of re-inforcing the role of Propers by emphasizing the “text” and not the “tune” of those parts of the Mass that are sung.

  10. I’m so glad that OCP continues printing Owen Alstott

    I am glad as well, however it may be an unintentional comment on the current state of things that we have to be “thankful” for such things. They are at least textually in agreement with the lectionary.

  11. “Actually, Gideon, that isn’t quite the Church’s policy”

    I don’t bloody well care for what the Church’s “policy” is!

    Various times in the past it has been the Church’s “policy” to prop up certain despots because it was politically expedient, or to relentlessly persecute heretical groupings rather than correct the scandalous mores of the clergy that fed their discontent. How many Bishops in the US and Ireland in recent years have had a “policy” of moving paederastic priests around rather than risk embarassment by exposing them?

    “Policy” is useless. Truth, which is immutable and eternal, is what matters.

  12. Having experienced the wide diversity of Catholic liturgies in many countries, I will be extremely surprised if central management by the Vatican of approved sacred songs will ever be enforceable. The Church is just too diverse and too large now; and people are just too used to freedom of expression. It’s an exercise in utter futility.

    Rather concentrate on training parish and diocesan liturgists to recognise good hymns and songs, and to use them appropriately.

    Rather concentrate on building up the liturgical resources of bishops’ conferences to help with training.

    Rather concentrate on populating conferences with at least some bishops who have wide and deep liturgical training and experience; who know good liturgy and how to pass it on to their fellow bishops by example.

    The church is just too big to successfully manage at the level the Vatican thinks is necessary.

  13. Gideon

    Fr Ruff’s use of the word “policy” was not a technical one. Perhaps you’d have understood this: your interpretation of when hymns are permitted at Mass is incorrect – the governing law permits them more widely than you would. That’ the truth here. To pretend that governing law is narrower than it actually is does not serve the Truth.

  14. Karl;

    It (the governing law) also perhaps restricts the use of vernacular hymnody to a greater degree than is widely supposed or applied. Consider that at the time of the “legislation” in question, there was yet still the distinction between “Low Mass” and “High Mass”. If the particular law is viewed through that “lens” (hermeneutic), then the liberal permission for the use of vernacular hymnody as a continuation of tradition makes sense. That is the essential thrust of Musicam Sacram 36, and why it refers to these other songs being sung at “said Masses” (Low Mass).

    That a concession to allow vernacular hymnody to continue to be used in a “Low Mass” context would then be applied more widely to apply to a situation that was not yet existent (a normative liturgy that no longer distinguishes between “low” and “high” liturgy) is at least a stretch, at worst perhaps a corruption of the intent of the law.

  15. Jeffrey

    Later specific legislation controls prior general legislation. Thus, the GIRM is to be interpreted to modify Musicam Sacram.

    And, given the consistent usage around the world, including Rome, there is little doubt about the intent of the law.

    That said, the law yet ascribes a preference for the propers. But, at least since 1970 through today, it’s a *preference*. The preference should be given more attention and thought than many give it, and I will support your efforts heartily in that regard. But to read into it something more does not serve the Truth, because it’s not true. To say otherwise is rhetorical overreach. And a path built on rhetorical overreach is one built on sand.

    1. I’m not a canonist and I would be interested in hearing thoughts from someone who is, but your statement about the “GIRM” and “Musicam Sacram” seems, according to this canonist, to be incorrect:
      The piece hinges on the argument that “Musicam Sacram” possesses the force of law in the same way that “Inter oecumenci” did. I don’t have the experise to evaluate his argument.

      1. Ioannes

        I think the author of the article begs the question when he declares the GIRM to be “general” and MS to be “specific” – the GIRM is much more specific on the point of the choral Sanctus than MS is, for example. It’s an interesting argument, but it does not persuade. Moreover, this question has been around for a long time, and Rome chose to keep the specific instruction in the 2000 edition of the GIRM. (Mind you, I don’t object to the occasional choral Sanctus, but I don’t think it could currently be said to be normative; it would be one of the Roman things where one bows to the current norm while occasionally not implementing the norm, as it were. Americans cannot stand this approach, of course, because our legal culture is so different.)

  16. I am very skeptical about the beneift of greater centralization in this matter. It seems to me an invitation to apply mechanical sets of criteria to art forms that require a nuanced and culturally sensitive approach. Who in Rome has the competence to judge all the music of the Catholic world? No one. Local churches are made up of grown-ups. Rome should trust them. If there is concern about quality, that’s what teaching is for– policing and micro-managing is a recipe for resentment.

  17. I’ve been harping on LitAuth 108 since it was published. I think the episcopal conferences have been trying to finesse it (for years, the BCL staff just ignored queries about what its process would be to implement), rather than engage/confront it, and I’ve long suspected that won’t work, and that the only thing that will work is for Rome to be forced to do what it claimed it would do, and see if its bite is up to its bark.

    I think it’s interesting that Abp Weakland, in his recent memoir, ascribes to the otherwise much-loved Cdl Dearden the original sin of leaving Catholic liturgical music in the USA to the forces if the commercial marketplace (an ever-present American temptation); Weakland had favored a loosebound experimental national hymnal, to be tested for years before committing to revision and hardbinding. He now regrets that he did not resist Dearden on this point more firmly, and believes both sides lost, and that our liturgical music has been largely a failure. I tend to agree, but LitAuth 108 is looks to me like the wrong cure.

  18. “the governing law permits them more widely than you would.”

    But that’s just the point – the present governing law is useless!

    The GIRM (which, by the way, I’m not sure if is a document which has force of law) shows some preference to chant, but in a very vague way and the circumstances in which allowance is given to “other songs” are not delineated at all.

    Laws can be good or bad, helpful or unhelpful. They most certainly do not necessarily represent moral absolutes. But Vatican II taught that chant has pride of place and thus ought to be used whenever at all possible. This is the teaching of the Church, in full conformity with Tradition, and must be obeyed – no matter what Vatican bureaucrats, professional liturgists or ‘hip’ Benedictines might say.

  19. Gideon

    Your interpretation of “pride of place” is your personal one, not that of the Church; for you to pretend your interpretation binds others as if it were law does not serve the Truth, because it is not true.

    1. The Latin expression is “princeps locus” or “chief position.” It seems to me that if a choir is capable of singing Gregorian chant it is bound to at least sometimes. There is a lot of modern music that is more difficult to sing than chant. And since a constitution dictates as much, it seems that no priest, liturgical planner, congregation can say that Gregorian chant does not hold this position. I can imagine some good reasons why Gregorian chant might not be used such as musicians at a total loss on how to perform it or working in missionary territory, but the overwhelming majority of churches I have attended that do not use chant absolutely had the capactiy to. The only conclusion that I can draw is that these churches are simply obstinate and at least implicitly deny the validity of the Council’s teaching. I left one choir because of an explicit denial.

      1. Ioannes,

        I agree fundamentally with your assertion, and I have had the good pleasure to “lend” my voice in a couple of really fine scholas (at Fargo, ND; and Collegeville, MN, under Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB) that were committed to preserving the chant heritage of the Roman liturgy — but also to utilizing other forms of sacred music as permitted by the decrees.

        I have long been intrigued by the oft overlooked phrase in both Sacrosanctum Concilium 116 and Musciam Sacram 50a — Gregorian chant is to have pride of place, ceteris paribus: “other things being equal.” Again, to quote Martin Luther, “What does this mean?”

        In the first place, I think it means that capabilities and competencies need to be taken into account, both of the congregation and of the choir or schola. I don’t think the Graduale Simplex should be the one-stop source of all-resort. It’s a starting place, and I think a good one at that, but the repertoire is far richer than just that. Preparing the more complex antiphons of the Graduale Romanum takes a bit of work, and a bit of know-how. If one adopts a purist position on this, you’ll downright need a professional trained in Gregorian semiology. I think it’s very easy to see that, on the point of musical resources, things are not usually equal.

        I also think the pastoral dimension needs to be considered here. Musicam Sacram 4a defines sacred music as being “created for the celebration of divine worship” and being “endowed with a certain holy sincerity of form.” While it privileges Gregorian chant, it includes “sacred polyphony in its various forms both ancient and modern, sacred music for the organ and other approved instruments, and sacred popular music, be it liturgical or simply religious” under that definition. I really do hate to admit it, but some of the praise-and-worship music coming out of Ireland and Australia in the last decade fits the definition, accords with the inclusion, and is frankly of a better quality than much of what was written by the big-names in the US during the last 45 years or so. And don’t tell me it’s not singable — the congregations of these communities prove otherwise. I raise this point to indicate some of what the pastoral dimension needs to consider. Given that churches are one of the ever fewer places that people sing (even singing at home is less and less common), and that people will sing what they know and in styles with which they are familiar, the playing field (or choir loft) is not level here; other things are not equal. I think it remains highly debatable that a schola singing the entrance antiphon from the Proper, however liturgically “correct” in the view of some, is closer to the ideal of … the Latin Rite? … “good” liturgy? … whatever … than the full-throated bellowing of a congregation entering into worship “with thanksgiving,” going into God’s courts “with praise” (Ps 100:3).

        Gregorian chant deserves an important place, even a key place, in the Latin Rite liturgy. But there are other considerations that must be taken: that much is clear from the documents: and at present they are the only interpretive recourse any of us may claim to “truth” in this matter. It is to these other considerations — practical and pastoral — that a directory or repertoire is addressed. One can only hope that in this situation, the application of the norms of the governing documents will be at least as pastorally sensitive as the documents are themselves.

  20. Karl and Gideon, please continue to be passionate about your positions but please also care about each other. As you, Karl, said on another thread:

    Karl Liam Saur :

    And don’t forget Begrudge.
    Begrudge is the animating spirit that cultivates resentment, which rudders so much of our liturgical discussion.
    As they say in recovery, expectations are premeditated resentments. So much of our conversation bears traces of addictive dysfunction.
    Resentments are a form of slavery (usually triggered initially by involuntary things, but later reinforced by a twisted form of choice); they are therefore not of Christ.
    A good rule of thumb: if what you are expressing is in any way a form of nursing resentment, stop and move on immediately upon realizing it. And resolve to do a better job of realizing it sooner.

  21. Karl;

    Later specific legislation controls prior general legislation. Thus, the GIRM is to be interpreted to modify Musicam Sacram.

    With all due respect, where did you come up with such a principle? The GIRM, as it regards music at least, is a specific application of Musicam Sacram. The two don’t disagree except perhaps in their interpretation.

    And, given the consistent usage around the world, including Rome, there is little doubt about the intent of the law.

    This claim is essentially an old argument…since we have all disobeyed for so long it must be valaid. Would it follow then that the Catholic Church actually approves of birth control since this is the “consistent usage” around the world? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

    The issue comes down to those who see the law as something to be followed in the narrowest sense, and those who see the law as something to be interpreted in the broadest sense.

      1. “The Roman Missal’s current edition trumps everything in disagreement that came before it.”

        Hmmmm. Am not convinced about the trumping or your words on the blog. What are exactly the times for which Musicam Sacram was in force? Where do we know that? How do we know it is not longer in force? What is the legal nature of the GIRM? What if the GIRM had not included the prayer of the faithful or leave room for a homily. Surely, the GIRM can’t trump Sac. Conc. For instance, it seems to me that the Council fathers still envisioned something called a “solemn mass”. Does the new missal, along with the GIRM follow through on that? Do the guidelines in the GIRM adequately provide for chant holding the “princeps locus” (I really don’t like the “pride of place” translation) of liturgical music? It seems to me that the GIRM actually offers more reasons (none of which are found in Sac. Conc) why chant shouldn’t be used than why it should. I’d still love to get a second opinion from a canon lawyer, and until then, I think I need to stick with the one I mentioned above.

      2. Thanks for responding Ioannes. I think we have to look at the purpose of MS. It was an implementation document that came out before the first reformed Roman Missal. And a caution here: you can’t just look at the GIRM. You also have to read the rubrics and texts of the Sacramentary (Roman Missal) too.

        As for your question on “solemn Mass,” I’d say the way it shook out for the Roman Rite is a bit different from the Tridentine terminology. But close to it would be this: every Sunday and holy day Mass should be a “High Mass with the proper singing. However, the Roman practicality would have us do the best we can within the principle of progressive solemnity.

        Canon lawyer? This isn’t canon law. This is liturgical law. Two different things. Not always in agreement, either.

      3. Todd,

        I always enjoy your comments, even when I fundamentally disagree with them. Let me suggest they would be all the better for the perspective of tradition. You tend to focus on the contemporary and recent history, both in your understanding of the laity’s needs and your selection and interpretation of authority. As our Orthodox brethren will tell you, Holy Tradition is not a matter of a particular interpretation of this document, that exciting idea or those creative opportunities: it is to be found in the sweep of received belief and practice, in particular in the liturgy. Tradition should be the basis of our interpretation, not its ever-changing product. As the Holy Father puts it, even he is but the guardian of tradition, the gardener of an organic growth that he is not free to divert by fiat. This, incidentally, is the basis of the true ecumenism, an understanding we hold in common with the Eastern and African Churches. The passing liturgical fads of the 20th century and our Protestant friends are a dead end.

  22. Forgive me for not having read this entire comment thread before posting this–I apologize if this was already asked:

    LA 108 speaks of “texts”–not “hymns”, not even “musical pieces” or “musical settings”. This request for “texts intended for liturgical singing” seems more consonant with the “texts” that are already approved for liturgical singing–they are already a part of the liturgy–namely the texts of the Mass itself (Ordo, Ordinary and Proper). I could see classic Catholic sacred texts included on this list that are neither strictly liturgical or biblical–the Anima Christi, Acts of Faith, Hope and Love, Prayer of St. Francis, etc. These texts could be set in numerous ways, of course, and they already have been.

    Am I missing something? LA asks for approved texts, not hymns, correct?

  23. The reason the Australians were able to come up with a list at all was because
    (a) the repertoire used in Australia is significantly smaller than in other territories;
    (b) the great majority of Australian celebrations are in the same language.

    Any list for the USA, for example, would have to include a Spanish component, a Vietnamese component, a……. You see the point. It would become impossible. Even in English, the repertoire is already so vast that any selection would be meaningless in comparison with what people are already using; and forcing its inclusion in every hymnal in the land would still have no impact on what people actually use.

    There have been attempts in the past to control what happened. The German-speaking experience with the national hymnal Gotteslob in the 1970s and 80s is instructive. (a) The selection of items was contentious: if you were in, all well and good; if you were not, you were effectively consigned to outer darkness for ever. (b) The imposition of the book in every diocese except one had the effect of stifling all public liturgical musical creativity for the best part of 20 years. The Church in German-speaking territories stagnated. (c) However, music continued to be written, but it circulated and was used underground, rather like a samizdat – not a good thing, I venture to suggest. Although Gotteslob is still very much a force to be reckoned with in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, etc, it has lost its iron grip, and liturgical music has come to life again.

    It may be that the German church, if it were to attempt to comply with LA 108, would simply send Gotteslob to Rome and say “There’s our list.” It would then be interesting to see how Rome would cope with the many German translations of the work of Huub Oosterhuis (often set to music by Bernard Huijbers) contained in the book, to give just one example.

    As far as the Propers are concerned, there is a problem: what exactly is being referred to? We have it on the good authority of those who worked on the original Missale Romanum that the entrance and communion antiphons contained in it were generally not intended for singing as they stood. They were included to appease those who wished to continue to use the Gregorian Chant repertoire. Apart from that, the intent, knowing that the Missale would be translated into vernacular languages and mostly used in those languages, was that the antiphons would be a reminder that something ought to be sung at those points in the rite – but not those actual texts, which are there as alternatives to be recited if singing cannot take place.

    Additionally, the one-year cycle of antiphons in the Missal is completely independent of the 3-year Lectionary cycle of readings, and therefore often has little or nothing to do with anything else happening in the liturgy that day. The 1974 Graduale Romanum from Solesmes attempted with some success to remedy this defect, plumbing the depths of the medieval repertoire to revive pieces that had not formed part of the repertoire for many centuries. But even producing vernacular translations of that Graduale and the Graduale Simplex may not be the entire answer. A different approach is to be found in the Psallite project, which is based on the antiphon+psalm form traditional to the Roman rite, enfleshed in new guises for today’s needs.

    Gregorian Chant may have pride of place, but the qualifying phrase is “other things being equal”. Even in the pre-conciliar era things were not equal. Many choirs simply could not manage the often prolix pieces of chant in the Graduale, and had recourse to other ways of chanting the texts – for example, Laurence Bévenot’s collection of tones for the Propers, widely used in the UK. No one frowned upon this practice – after all, the text was still being “delivered”. Today, I believe we have gone beyond merely seeing utterance of the prescribed texts as being the only value that matters.

    As far as Musicam Sacram is concerned, I am sure Anthony Ruff would be disappointed if I did not point out that this document was written at a time when the Tridentine liturgy was still operational, and therefore (in my view) has only a limited application to a post-conciliar reformed liturgy which is very different in its thrust. It appears that scholars are increasingly realizing this, describing it as primarily a backward- rather than forward-looking document. Despite the wisdom contained in it, it contains stipulations that cannot be reconciled with the Ordinary Form of the rite as we have it now. For example, it places the Alleluia and verse in the lowest category of things to be sung, which is in direct contradiction to the expectations of GIRM and the Lectionary for Mass.

    Finally, a note on the use of “we” in hymn texts. I suggest that this is a rather healthy counterbalance to an excessive individualism to be found in some texts, and not least in those of the ‘contemporary Christian artists’ whose work is being increasingly used today. Using “we” reminds us that we come together as a celebrating Body, not as a collection of “I”s who happen to be in the same room at the same time. It underlines the difference between the Church’s public, communal liturgy and private prayers and devotions.

    1. The imposition of the book in every diocese except one had the effect of stifling all public liturgical musical creativity for the best part of 20 years. The Church in German-speaking territories stagnated.

      It’s been just about 20 years since I spent any time in Germany, and things may well have changed, but at that time I found the level of congregational musical participation amazingly high. Rightly or wrongly, I tended to attribute that to the lack of musical creativity of Gotteslob — i.e. people participated because they had been singing the same songs for decades.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for musical creativity. But, in liturgy, it does not always foster congregational participation.

    2. Musicam Sacram … was written at a time when the Tridentine liturgy was still operational, and therefore (in my view) has only a limited application to a post-conciliar reformed liturgy

      This touches on the issue of continuity, to which the Holy Father has frequently alluded. It is damaging to our tradition to interpret the documents of the Council in terms of rupture. Rather, they should be understood in the context of reform-in-continuity. From this perspective, while there will be items of detail in the documents that relate to the 1962 missal, so we will see principals that are consonant with the deeper tradition, that should guide our interpretation of the reform. Such an understanding will not, for example, use “other things being equal” as an excuse to ignore the place of chant in our Rite, seeing it effectively replaced rather than supplemented by new-composed music.

    3. “As far as the Propers are concerned, there is a problem: what exactly is being referred to? We have it on the good authority of those who worked on the original Missale Romanum that the entrance and communion antiphons contained in it were generally not intended for singing as they stood.”

      There are two sets of propers for any given Sunday, one in the Graduale Romanum and one in the missal. These frequently differ, and I believe the proper antiphon of the missal does vary according to the 3-year cycle. The missal propers were not originally intended to be sung:
      “Even though the text of the Roman Gradual, at least that which concerns the singing, has not been changed, still, for a better understanding, the responsorial psalm, which St. Augustine and St. Leo the Great often mention, has been restored, and the Introit and Communion antiphons have been adapted for read Masses,” (Missale Romanum).
      In the GIRM, the first option listed for the introit and communion are the sung propers from the Roman Gradual OR missal. Clearly, the GIRM envisions the missal propers as subjectable to singing, certainly at odds with their original use. Fr. Weber, I believe, has set many of the missal antiphons to Gregorian melodies as allowed by the GIRM.

      I admitted to myself long ago (dabbing back tears) that the fathers of the council either did not realize what the effect of the multiple-year cycle would be on the gradual propers or perhaps were willing to sacrifice them in favor of other benefits. I really do think of it as greater importance that the ordinary is chanted than the gradual propers. For many of the chant propers, the lectionary cycle really does compromise the beauty and cohesion that existed beforehand. Maybe it will be worth it; I hope so. Still, the searsonal antiphons and psalms of the Simple Gradual, a work requested by the Council Fathers, allows for chant at these points in the mass that can be sung by choir or congregation.

      1. I disagree that the congregational singing is the first priority automatically. Before 1969, the entrance and communion propers in sung masses were always presumed to be sung by the choir. This goes back to the first Ordo Romanus.

        I genuinely believe that the congregation’s (certainly my) spiritual welfare MAY benefit more from active listening to the Easter Sunday proper, Resurrexi, in its centuries-old Latin Gregorian setting than singing a hymn together in its place.

      2. I think Ioannes, you are free to disagree about the priority of congregational singing. The “Before 1969” practice you cite is now the fourth of four options given in the GIRM (48) for the Entrance chant, and is not really listed as a major option for Communion.

        As a contemporary musician rooted in tradition, I would agree with you on hymnody. However, there’s nothing preventing the preparation of a musical dialogue between choir on antiphon and congregation chanting a pointed psalm text. Even on Easter Sunday.

        That would be far more in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Roman Rite than musical performance alone.

      3. “The “Before 1969″ practice you cite is now the fourth of four options given in the GIRM (48) for the Entrance chant, and is not really listed as a major option for Communion.”

        Where do you get this stuff? You’re making it up as you go. The pre-1969 options are the FIRST option given, numero uno, primo, top of the list. What in the world do you mean by “major option”? Is this the kind of jargon that liturgical law uses but canon law doesn’t?

        GIRM 48: In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the
        antiphon from the Roman Missal OR THE PSALM FROM THE ROMAN GRADUAL AS SET TO MUSIC THERE or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the
        Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

        87. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Communion chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal OR THE PSALM FROM THE ROMAN GRADUAL AS SET TO MUSIC THERE or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song chosen in accordance with no. 86 above. This is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or cantor with the people.

        The letter and spirit of the Roman Rite? The first Ordo Romanus has both introit and and communion sung by the schola. I can’t think of a valid use of “letter and spirit” that doesn’t support my argument.

        There are two stresses that the current lectionary cycle places upon the use of Gregorian propers. The first is that because not all Sundays have thematically relevant propers now, the propers are less attractive. The second is that when there are Gregorian propers assigned to each Sunday of the cycle, a choir might not sing a chant for three years, making the maintenance of repetoire very difficult. Luckily, certain feasts keep their readings during all three cycles, so the Gregorian propers are still feasible for these.

      4. Where do I get this stuff?

        The liturgy documents of the Church. Every serious liturgist and church musician must be familiar them. All of them. Not all of their contents, but the general thrust of them. The participation of the Entrance Chant is (1) choir and people in dialogue, (2) cantor and people (presumably when there is no choir), (3) the whole assembly, then (4) choir alone. These options are not given for Communion.

        The first Ordo Romanus you’ve been referring to: which one is that? I have the Latin and English versions of the IGRM, and I consult the Sacramentary. This is the Roman Rite, ordinary form, if you will.

        I don’t have a problem with people exhibiting an occasional flash of anger. It’s good that we all feel passionately about liturgy and its importance. That others share my regard for tradition is a good thing. But as a pastoral minister, I must adhere to the Gospel as well, that the Sabbath is made for people, and that for the greater spiritual good of the Church and its people, sometimes continuity or its perception must rightly be set aside.

  24. A number of issues have been touched upon here. In considering them, we should begin with the axiom that, as Catholics, our faith is liturgical and traditional: the liturgy is the ordinary means of our encounter with God, handed down to us, the product of millennia of development of belief and worship. This is a wonderful thing. It allows us to understand that our personal faith is not the product of one individual mind amongst many, blown here and there by the winds of circumstance. Rather, it is part of the collective experience of a community of faith, guided by the Holy Spirit in a continuity that goes back to the Apostles and Our Lord.

    Our Bishops have a special place in that continuity. Communion with them is a visible sign of our unity with tradition, and recognition of the role they play in its continuity. So, too, their communion with the Holy Father recognises his particular role and authority as guardian of the tradition. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect both to take an interest in the widespread introduction of extra-liturgical texts to the celebration of the Roman Rite, especially when they substitute for the Propers (an integral element of the Rite), but also when they supplement them. Nor should the institutional form of this intervention surprise us: it is a matter for the individual Bishops’ Conferences, under the guidance of Rome.

    The nature of the supervision is the interesting thing. To what extent should it be prescriptive, and to what extent a matter of recommendation? My own feeling is that if there were a clamp-down on the widespread use of Proper-substitutes, as a practice that deprives us of an important element of the liturgy, there would be less of an argument for prescription and more of one for recommendation.

    A similar observation can be made about music. It is by no means certain that the Church will take a prescriptive approach to liturgical music, but it is clear that there is a problem to be addressed. The music of many Parishes is more or less at odds with tradition, by omission or commission. Chant is an integral element of the Roman Rite – it is the music proper to it, having developed with it and as a part of it from the earliest times, its flexibility and noble simplicity uniquely suited to the Rite. This has been repeatedly recognised and taught by the Church, not least by the second Vatican Council, which decreed that chant should have “pride of place” in our celebration of the liturgy (whatever the interpretation of the qualifying “other things being equal”, it clearly isn’t a negation). It cannot be said that chant has this place in many parishes. So, too, the Church teaches that alternatives to chant should be sympathetic to the Rite’s ethos and not resonant of the secular. This leaves open a number of possibilities of style and instrumentation, but poorly strummed guitars and amplified praise bands hardly fit the bill. ICEL’s approach to the problem is to provide simple, model chant settings for its new translation. However, if priests, parishes, musicians and diocesan officers continue to wilfully ignore the tradition that this offering represents (and the inherent beauty of the form), they will only have themselves to blame if the Church takes firmer action.

    Some reading this comment may question the axiom with which I began it and on which its arguments are based. If they are Protestants that is quite understandable, though it begs the observation that Protestant Churches frequently have their own liturgical traditions that embody their faith. If they are Catholics then I would ask them to consider the characteristics of their faith, which differ from that of our Protestant Brethren in certain key respects. Those differences are the key to this discussion.

  25. We’re worried about bad translations and what songs to sing or not sing while the world is at war, poverty is increasing at a horrible rate, wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a very few, the environment is compromised, and we have climatic change that could devastate the earth…does the hierarchy not have any responsibility to speak to the world’s economic & environmental responsibilities?

  26. Gregorian chant is to have pride of place, ceteris paribus: “other things being equal.” Again, to quote Martin Luther, “What does this mean?

    Ceteris paribus has a specific legal meaning, which is quite the opposite of how it is used in most discussions where it comes up in relation to liturgy, particularly in this well-known passage.

    It specifically means that other considerations which might seem to mitigate against the object which it modifies (in this case, Gregorian chant) are to be given lesser consideration than that object.

    The common usage seems to be that all mitigating ciscumstances should be given equal, or even greater weight than the object. While this serves certain arguments well, it is really not the case.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong about this. Not a canon lawyer, but I’ve worked on this specific passage at some length…

    1. Yes, this is my understanding of “ceretis paribus” also. And yes, quite the contrary to how it is often interpreted.

  27. I’m all for careful interpretation of Church law, and when I celebrate Mass I follow the rubrics. But today’s Gospel at Mass struck me: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” If the sabbath, then surely a fortiori the church’s heritage of chant (which I cherish) and the documents advocating it (which I accept). Our Lord puts people before ritual laws. Is it fair to ask whether Our Lord’s teaching is higher or lower than Musicam Sacram and GIRM?

    1. There is a danger here of a kind of liturgical elitism that restricts elements of our liturgurgical tradition to the musically educated. There is no opposition between the Church’s liturgical heritage and either our spiritual needs or our duty to worship. The liturgy has developed over the last two millenia as the ordinary form of our experience of the Divine in order to meet these very requirements. Any reform or local practice that disconnects most Catholics from key elements such as chant diminishes us all and deprives the faithful of their birthright.

      1. Sure; I agree with you on this principle, Ian. However, let’s not mistake the peripherals (chant or metrical song, for example) with the core values of cultivating holiness, developing the Christian apostolate in the world, and the like.

        The Vatican II reforms did not disconnect the faithful from chant. Performance choirs and Low Masses, and especially liturgically uncommitted pastors did enough of that.

        Two things I see many conservative Catholics uncommitted to: diagnosing the problem accurately, and getting ministry (not just musical) priorities straight.

  28. Ioannes, you’re sounding quite angry. Please be aware that the US, England & Wales, and Australia all have different versions of GIRM, and the paragraphs you quote have significant national variations (not that anyone seems to have taken much notice of them so far – the stipulations for E&W are simply not possible at the present time). Since these differences, as I indicated previously in another thread, were all imposed by the Congregation, this is an interesting indication that the “universal rite” of the Church may not be quite so universal as people would like to think.

    1. I trust you don’t see that observation as a hole through which to drive your choice of cart and horses, Paul.

  29. Is it fair to ask whether Our Lord’s teaching is higher or lower than Musicam Sacram and GIRM?

    Our Lord’s teaching is certainly higher than the barmy GIRM.

    Anyway, this analogy with Our Lord’s teaching on the Sabbath is a complete red herring. What Christ objected to was that the Pharisees had made up a set of ‘ritual laws’ that were to some degree contrary in intent to the original commandments given on the Sabbath by God, since they gave prominence to the letter rather than the spirit of the law and gave little space for charitable acts on that day. But in insisting on using chant or similar music, the Church has not made up any ‘ritual laws’ that work contrary to God’s law. Indeed, a succession of Popes have taught that chant is that music which most perfectly expresses and underpins Christian faith. What could then ever justify using something altogether different?

    Early Christians believed that their music was received from the angels. Indeed, even if it did not in the event descend from the chant of the Synagogue (still a disputed question), it certainly had its origins in the earliest times of the Church – possibly even in the charismatic inspiration of the first Christians. The various forms of Christian chant constitute the ‘spiritual mother tongue’ of the Church, profoundly more important than the spoken mother tongue as song is vastly superior to speech. What is so ‘charitable’ about denying a fellow Christian the use of his mother tongue?

  30. If the sabbath, then surely a fortiori the church’s heritage of chant (which I cherish) and the documents advocating it (which I accept). Our Lord puts people before ritual laws. Is it fair to ask whether Our Lord’s teaching is higher or lower than Musicam Sacram and GIRM?

    While I think I understand Fr. Ruff’s point, I am worried that it is a bit of a red herring as well. Catechesis has not been discussed here sufficiently. Sure, if we switched from the typical four-hymn sandwich overnight to using Gregorian ordinary and propers, it would be a poor, uncharitable pastoral judgment. However, this is seldom what is happening. I have encountered few places where there is a concerted effort educate the faithful in the documents concerning liturgy, and if so it is usually with “Sing to the Lord”, which we know is in itself not the “first option”. I hope we would all be of the mind that, if more of the faithful (including pastors!) would be docile to the teaching, that we would use the “first option” (musically, propers or vernacular translations thereof; liturgically, SC, GIRM, and MS as applicable) all the time. If one wished to do an “appropriate” hymn in addition to the propers, then fine, but the faithful should not be deprived of the propers. I understand the concern for music that will help sanctify those “in the pews”, because this is certainly my aim as a musician who is also a Catholic seeking that holiness myself. However, this happens through growth (prayer+education, in my mind), both in individual situations and in the community at Mass.

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