Implementing MS 33 – One Attempt

You know about the hymns vs. propers debate. As rich as the Latin propers (introit, gradual, etc.) are, they’re seemingly too difficult and inaccessible for most people, as the leaders of the liturgical movement in Europe had already started to conclude by the 1930s (e.g. Pius Parsch). Many people have long since concluded that vernacular hymns are the way to go. I’m torn, because I really like both.

But there’s another intriguing option suggested in the 1967 Roman instruction Musicam Sacram at no. 33:

It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.

The idea is to keep the propers, but find an easier way for the people to participate in them. Here’s what we’ve trying at Saint John’s Abbey for the introit and communio when we don’t do the chant propers. We’re drawing on the experience of the Polish church.

The Communist government did not permit the Polish Church to print congregational hymnals. So they devised an ingenious system of singing the responsorial psalms after Vatican II by fitting all the refrain texts into 5.6. meter. That way, any refrain melody can be used with any refrain text. If you only know three melodies at first, you can use them until you learn other more. But from day one every refrain can be sung, it it’s short enough for the congregation to pick it up just by hearing it. We’ve used this system of 5.6. refrains, not for the responsorial psalm where there are unmetered texts of widely varying length in our lectionary, but for the introit and communio of Advent and Lent. There is no official English translation of the Latin chant propers, which gives us the freedom to devise a refrain text in 5.6. meter which more or less captures the theme of the longer Latin text. There’s a price, since not everything you want to say can be said in 11 syllables. But this must be the type of solution envisioned by MS 33. And in our case we reprint the refrain with music in the worship leaflet.

Here are the entrance antiphon and communion antiphon from last Sunday, III Lent. We all know it’s a challenge to engage the congregation in song during the communion procession, as is so strongly encouraged in the official documents. By using the same melody for the entrance and the communion, it makes it much easier for the congregation to pick up the communion refrain and to retain it for singing by heart while processing.

Here is a video clip of part of the entrance from last Sunday, psalm verse with a simplified Gregorian tone.  You hear it getting gradually louder as the monks process from the cloister walk into the church. The congregation was small during the academic spring break, but you hear people joining in rather well. Some monks would prefer that the organ not come in part way through and it would all remain unaccompanied; others like the way it builds to a crescendo.

I’m sure lots of you are doing creative things like this. Please do send us audio and video files, and we’ll consider putting them up for others to see.

BTW, do you think the 5.6. refrains in the Polish lectionary will survive in this Liturgiam Authenticam era? It’d sure be a shame if something so charmingly Slovak and pastorally successful would go down the tubes.



  1. This idea is one reason I have long argued for a pervasive familiarization with the Roman psalm tones (perhaps not all variations). I remember singing vernacular psalms antiphonally for evening prayer, and with consistent exposure even the most musically Luddite of pewsitters can get conversant with them – thus empowering the PIPs to sing (not necessarily beautifully, but effectively) without need for any accompaniment.

    This won’t satisfy those for whom full Gregorian propers are the only Grail, but I think it’s more faithful to the conciliar vision than simply giving up and reverting to hymns as a default. I wish the USCCB would sponsor a freeware site for pointing all these texts to the Roman tones, and the compilation of a metrical vernacular psalter paraphrase (using meters that are commonly used in standard metrical hymnody where possible) – and for those texts to become preferred (though not exclusive) usage as alius aptus cantus. And all this on a creative commons basis.

  2. I still say do what is permitted in the EF Mass at the OF Mass, sing a metrical hymn for the procession that is congregational. When the priest and other ministers arrive at the altar as he goes to his chair or incenses the altar, allow the schola only to sing the official introit in Latin or English, allowing the schola to shine at that point, why get the congregation involved in the singing of it since it is hard? Just provide a good translation of it if sung in Latin. It really isn’t that long; the same for the offertory and Communion antiphons, let the schola or choir do it and then sing a congregational procession hymn and a choir motet of some kind at the preparation. That’s what we did this past Sunday and every first Sunday of the month EF High Mass, the people sang the vernacular hymns with gusto and the schola sang the introit, offertory and communion antiphon with their own gusto. I don’t think anyone felt cheated. Eventually we’ll do this at all our OF Masses too.

  3. Interesting, Dom Anthony. Nevertheless, I think I preferred the processional introits for Lent that Saint John’s Abbey was using a few years back — full antiphon texts, but locally composed musical settings. They were really quite lovely, and supported the processional action very well.

    For a parish, I can certainly see the pastoral advantage of the 5.6 meter refrain. In my own experience, especially during Lent, I find a hymn at the entrance (a) difficult to choose and (b) a bit overwhelming.

    Of course, many Episcopal parishes use the Great Litany in Procession on one or more of the Sundays in Lent. (A reasonable recording of the Litany, from St. Barnabas’ Church, Falmouth, MA, may be found here, though I’m not keen on the use of the chimes to help in keeping pitch — at least, not during Lent!)

  4. Fr. Ruff,

    This is very workable, and I like your settings very much.
    My only hesitation is the amount of Psalm-specific information that is lost in the abbreviation of the antiphon.

    I direct a children’s schola, and we use the Sacred Music Project propers with By Flowing Waters Psalms (we’re just beginning with psalmody). Although it takes the less-experienced kids quite a few tries to catch on to a lengthy antiphon like last week’s Communio, “The sparrow even finds a home,” the shorter antiphons come very quickly. It makes me wonder whether a congregation might be able to pick up a complete intercalated antiphon after, say, 6 Psalm verses, especially with a cantor and printed text.

    Having learned, rehearsed and sung an antiphon this many times, it becomes a theme song for the week–not a bad mental habit to have!

  5. Fr. Allan- LOVE your idea. Pastorally respects the congregation’s familiarity with (And love of) vernacular hymn singing and the Church’s ancient chant tradition.

    I bet a good arranger/director could even find a way to seamlessly move from one to the other.

    It’s packed away somewhere, so I can’t find it, but I have a book of complete metrical (Lutheran/Anglican style, I’d say) hymns based on the entire cycle of Introits. I like that idea as well, but I’ve never been to a church that actively used something like that. Surely there are many resources like this.

    Maybe someone should write a contemporary setting. Hmm…. 🙂

  6. This idea is one reason I have long argued for a pervasive familiarization with the Roman psalm tones (perhaps not all variations).

    Yes, it seems to me also that the Psalm Tones are more or less the same thing as the concept of a “Hymn Tune”…a ready-made template that you can fit a text into as needed. The Polish Catholics at our parish do the same thing you were mentioning above. I play for our Parish Polish Mass, and for a long time I thought they were just singing the same psalm every week until I noticed that the cantor was reading it from the Missalette. I asked him and he said it was the only psalm melody he knew.

  7. In “The Genius of the Roman Rite” (Hillenbrand), Laszlo Dobszay makes the following proposals for churches incapable of singing the Gregian propers but with the hope of engaging the congregation in the propers.

    “…return to the old ‘set principle,’ which is to say using a collection of set pieces for an entire season…based upon the traditional Gradual. In such cases the celebrant, the ministers, and/or the congregation should, after chanting that ‘set’ piece, pray the Introit (or Offertory, etc.) proper to the day…[T]he Introit Ad te levavi…could be sung throughout Advent, followed by recitation of Introit proper of the day,” (p. 101)

    “Latin and vernacular in combination…the solois/cantor chants the Latin Gregorian melody of the Introit…after which the congregation repeats it in their mother tongue on a simple tune, as a ‘sung translation’ so to speak,” (p.102)

    1. It’s always interesting to read Dobszay, but this doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me. Sing one introit (the common), then recite another (the proper). What does that say about music being integral to the rite? Which is the real one, which one counts, why are we duplicating, are we just fulfilling legal obligations?

      1. To be fair, Dobszay only propses this where a trained schola can’t sing the propers on a regular basis. His primary concern isn’t the inclusion of the congregation, though I thought his suggestions were germaine to the piece. His push in the article is that the traditional Gregorian propers are integral to the rite and ommitting them unacceptable, though emphatically not from a “legal” viewpoint. However, If they can’t be sung as intended, what are plans B and C for including them? He had other suggestions, which I didn’t mention, as I thought they crossed a line into unacceptability.

    1. No… they are common hymn tunes (Hyfrydol, St. Anne, In Babilone, etc…). The Proper texts are fit to metrical form. I think these would be much more widely used if they were promoted as something more than an “oddity” or niche product.

  8. God made so many different kinds of people; why would God allow only one way to worship?…Martin Buber

  9. The other day I watched the installation of the new bishop of Austin. Like several cathedral liturgies I’ve seen or attended recently, they sang an antiphon with a Psalm during the opening procession.

  10. Speaking of what Cody said about the Great Litany in Episcopal/Anglican circles, I did read somewhere that Rome highly encourages the use of the Litany of the Saints in procession on the First Sunday of Lent. Does anyone observe this custom?

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