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.