For the future – singing the Mass

A keynote-address to the Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium
by Msgr. Andrew R. Wadsworth,
Executive Director of The ICEL Secretariat
Atlanta, Georgia – August 21 2010

I would like to begin by saying how very pleased I am to be with you today and as someone whose own journey has been associated with music-making, I find myself very much at home with musicians and welcome the time that we have together.

Like many speakers, I feel that I need to begin with something of a disclaimer – one website advertising this symposium recently described ICEL as being ‘responsible for the new translation’. With the best will in the world, I don’t think we can claim that to be true. ICEL is a joint commission of eleven Episcopal Conferences and is therefore essentially a group of eleven Bishops who undertake to present draft translations of liturgical texts to their respective conferences for comment, amendment and approval. As such, it becomes the work of many hands, as conferences are free to consult as widely as they wish in considering texts in the various stages of their evolution.

As you well know, the final stage of the process lies with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, who retain the right to make radical amendments to the text as they see fit, even at the final stage of the process. I suppose we can say that in this way, it is very much a work of the Church.

In speaking to you today, I would like to briefly explore with you some of the implications of receiving the new translation of the Missal, with particular consideration of its possible impact on liturgical music. Obviously, I don’t have to explain to you that music is integral to the liturgy, but perhaps we find ourselves at a good moment to be able to reassess how this principle has been applied in the liturgy we have experienced thus far and how it could be applied to our liturgy in the future?

We are currently in the season of summer schools and symposia which seek to deepen knowledge and understanding of what we are doing when we celebrate the liturgy. It is always interesting to identify the different models or concepts of the liturgy that are expressed in a series of intense seminars and workshops held all around the country. In one place, renowned for the excellence of its scholarship and the significance of its influence on all who celebrate the liturgy in English, a key-note speaker offered the following definition by way of an introduction to a course:

The readings from scripture and the prayers of Mass make up the given, largely un-changing liturgy of the Church. The homily, hymns, and songs are the creative, changing elements by which we interpret the liturgy, suggesting some possible meanings of faith for 21st century believers. We will look at hymns and songs that may help contemporary worshipers integrate the Sunday prayers and readings into their weekday lives.

I think this definition would be considered as largely uncontroversial, as it reflects an approach to the liturgy that has been relatively widespread in the years since Vatican II. I want to use it, however, as a spring-board to ask some rather big questions. For instance, is it helpful? Is it accurate as an assessment of the way we should approach the complex and intimate relationship between music and the other elements which make up the liturgy of the Mass? Is music really exclusively a creative response to the ‘un-changing liturgy of the Church’ or does it in some way form part of the ‘given’ aspect of liturgy which we receive from the Church? I would suggest that these are questions which come more naturally into focus as we prepare to receive the new translation.

We stand now at the threshold of the introduction of a new translation of the Roman Missal, an event of unparalleled significance in the forty years since the introduction of the first English translation in 1973 of the Missale Romanum in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.  While the transition from one translation to another is qualitatively less dramatic than the introduction of a new Rite of Mass, I think it is fair to deduce that the current translation has not only shaped our liturgical experience over the past forty years, it has also generated a common culture of liturgical music. For this reason, we are well placed to consider seriously what has been achieved and how things could be improved for the future.

I am sure that many of you here today were among the first to recognize that a change of translation, a change which implies a difference of style, register and content, would have considerable implications for our liturgical music. I am sure it will have occurred to you that it would not just be a matter of adapting our current settings and songs to the new texts, rather in the way that one might alter an old and well-loved garment to meet the demands of an increasing or decreasing waist-line! But rather, the new texts would quite naturally inspire new music which responds more directly to the character of the texts themselves, reflecting in an original way their patterns of accentuation, their cadence and their phrasing. Is it too much to hope that this might be a wonderful opportunity for reassessing the current repertoire of liturgical music in the light of our rich musical patrimony and like the good housekeeper being able to bring out of the store treasures both new and old? (cf Matthew13:520)

Maybe the greatest challenge that lies before us is the invitation once again to sing the Mass rather than merely to sing at Mass. This echoes the injunctions of the Council Fathers in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and reflects our deeply held instinct that the majority of the texts contained in the Missal can and in many cases should be sung. This means not only the congregational acclamations of the Order of Mass, but also the orations, the chants in response to the readings, the Eucharistic prayer and the antiphons which accompany the Entrance, the Offertory and the Communion processions. These proper texts are usually replaced by hymns or songs that have little relationship to the texts proposed by the Missal or the Graduale Romanum and as such a whole element of the liturgy of the day is lost or consigned to oblivion. For the most part, they exist only as spoken texts. We are much the poorer for this, as these texts (which are often either Scriptural or a gloss on the Biblical text) represent the Church’s own reading and meditation on the Scriptures. As chants, they are a sort of musical lectio divina pointing us towards the riches expressed in that day’s liturgy. For this reason, I believe that it is seriously deficient to consider that planning music for the liturgy ever begins with a blank sheet: there are texts given for every Mass in the Missal and these texts are intended for singing.

Initially, even if you agree with this assertion, you may feel there is a dearth of suitable material available. This is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Praxis has governed the development of our resources of liturgical music and for the most part, composers and publishers have neglected the provision or adaptation of musical settings of these proper texts. Despite this, a brief trawl of the internet produces a surprisingly wide variety of styles of settings of the proper texts which range from simple chants that can be sung without accompaniment to choral settings for mixed voices. Some are obviously adaptations of Gregorian Chant or are indebted to that musical language, others are more contemporary in feel. In addition, I know of a number of initiatives which seek to provide simple chants in English for the texts of the Proper of the Mass, chants which are specifically destined for parish use. Of course, there is nothing to stop us singing Latin chants in a predominantly English liturgical celebration. The presence in the Missal of Latin and English versions of some chants, embodies this principle. I think it is reasonable to expect that the quality and quantity of material available will continue to increase as we grow in our knowledge and experience of using the new texts.

Chant is proper to the Roman Liturgy, whether it is celebrated in Latin or in vernacular languages. This is a fact established in all of the major documents which treat music in the liturgy from the time of the Council onwards. Why has there been such a universal loss of experience of the chant? I am personally convinced that part of the reason why we lost our chant tradition so easily was that so few people understood the intrinsic link between the chant and the liturgical text. Chant is not merely words set to music; in its simplest forms it is essentially cantillation – it arises from the text as a heightened manner of proclaiming the text. In this, the Church continues the Jewish tradition of a sung proclamation of the Scriptures. For that reason, it preserves the primacy of the text as distinct from other forms of music that have a tendency to impose a structure and a form rather than receiving one. The most obvious example of this would be the signing of the psalms – a simple tone is sufficiently flexible to allow for natural expression prompted by speech rhythms, whereas metrical settings can have a tendency to dragoon the text into pre-determined shapes.

The present situation of neglect of these proper chants is due both to the liturgical culture which prevailed before the Council and the practices which were universally accepted upon the introduction of the revised liturgy. Contrary to the suggestion of some who currently champion the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the musical repertoire of the Catholic community at the time of the revision of the liturgy, was not predominantly Gregorian Chant or the jewels of sixteenth century polyphony. Low Mass with vernacular hymns was standard fare for most parishes with High Mass or Sung Mass reserved for only the greatest occasions and for most Catholics was something of a rarity outside of cathedrals or religious communities.

I mention this in order to emphasize that the practice of singing the Mass was lost to us a long time ago. It is true that the most commonly sung setting of the Ordinary of the Mass prior to Vatican II was the Missa de Angelis with Credo III , but these soon gave way to a multiplicity of Mass settings which may had been locally composed and remained largely unknown beyond a particular parish. Publishers extend this phenomenon by creating a national repertoire by default. I am personally very aware of this as I travel in my present work and I often find myself at a celebration of Mass in English at which none of the music used is remotely familiar to me. This is a strangely alienating experience that does little to engender a sense of the universality of the Church, but rather limits its parameters to that which is national or parochial. Does this necessarily need to be the pattern for the future, or can we and should we look to see a change? I think it is worth considering that discussions which focus ideas about a common repertoire on a national or international level may be more appropriate now than at any stage during the past forty years.

I would suggest that ours has essentially become a predominantly Low Mass culture with music increasingly seen as incidental rather than integral to our liturgical celebration. In all honesty, I would also have to acknowledge that we clergy have often not helped in this regard when we have refused to sing those parts of the Mass which of their nature should be sung, at least in celebrations of greater solemnity. We cannot claim to have a sung liturgy if the priest doesn’t sing any element of the orations and the antiphons of the proper are not sung. This is true no matter how many timpani and trumpets are employed.  Regardless of the quantity of musical overlay, the underlying impression remains basically that of a said Mass with music added.  In this respect, it is not only our lay people who face the challenge of a changing liturgical culture. As those responsible for liturgical music in your communities, you will all have to work hard with your priests to build their confidence in this respect. In conversation with one diocesan bishop recently, he admitted to me that he had never sung anything on his own in public, not even ‘Happy birthday’! In addressing such cases, psychology is just as important as musical knowledge. When I worked as a répétiteur in an opera company in London many years ago, it was just as important to communicate to singers a sense of self-confidence in what they had to sing as it was to teach them the notes!

Apart from an encouragement to sing the orations, the preface and on occasion the Eucharistic prayer, the new edition of the Missal will also evidence the Church’s invitation to proclaim the readings of the Liturgy of the Word in song. This can be particularly effective if used sparingly at solemn celebrations. It also extends the ministry of lector or reader to those who can sing in addition to those who read well. I recently took part in a study day on the new texts for a group of men in formation for the permanent deaconate. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in the said diocese, formation included instruction in singing the Gospel and the orations. Our study day ended with sung Evening Prayer in which the group of about 40 men seemed quite at home singing the psalms and other elements of the office. Patterns of formation will need to change to encompass a different musical expectation.

On a practical level, there is already a considerable number of resources aimed at preparation of the musical elements of the Missal which are almost ready for publication. Although I appreciate the enthusiasm and sometimes the impatience of musicians eager to have this material freely available at the earliest possible stage, the continuing evolution of these texts, even into the final stages of their preparation, makes it very unwise to release musical settings before the definitive version of the text has been established by the Holy See and communicated to our Bishops’ Conferences. Such texts as have been released to date are always designated as draft texts which still may be subject to amendment. I realize what a difficulty this represents for composers and liturgical musicians. It is a situation brought about by the collaborative manner in which these texts are produced in a complex process of many stages which is ultimately controlled by the Holy See.

Consideration of liturgical music resources brings me to a more controversial point: musical repertoire has for practical purposes largely been controlled by the publishers of liturgical music and while this is unavoidable, for a whole variety of pragmatic reasons, it has rather reinforced the perception that I cited at the outset of this address: that music is exclusively part of the creative element in liturgy rather than part of that which is ‘given’. Perhaps this is a good moment for reassessing some of the criteria that govern the selection of music for publication? While I would personally advocate and endorse a rediscovery of our chant tradition, I would want to stress that the recovery of the singing of the proper texts of the Missal is not necessarily to be equated solely with this one musical genre but would also potentially admit a variety of different styles. In the same way, the Church permits a variety of legitimate interpretations of the liturgical norms which result in celebrations of diverse character. The unity of the Roman Rite today is essentially a textual unity rather than a ritual uniformity – we use the same proper texts when we celebrate the liturgy.

It is my sincere hope that the occasion of a new translation of the Missal will be an opportunity for a reappraisal of many of the elements of our liturgical experience. The liturgy is the point of contact for the greatest number of our Catholic people, it is not only a window to heaven, but also the Church’s shop-window in a largely unbelieving world. If we are to draw many more to the hope that we hold, I believe that our experience of the mystery which is ‘ever ancient, ever new’ must effectively convey the spiritual realities that we celebrate in all their richness and depth, both to the Catholics of our own time and those yet to come.

I want to thank you for all you do in the service of your communities. Your work is an essential aspect of the way the Church in every generation announces the mystery of Christ. In the words of Psalm 46, my encouragement to you is ‘psallite sapienter’ – ‘sing wisely’, immersing yourselves in a tradition that is older than Christianity itself, a tradition by which the Song of the Church arises in every place as a thing of beauty and truth. We need both beauty and truth and our liturgical song can be a vehicle for them both. Thank you for honoring me with your attention.


  1. There is so much here to consider, and one cannot avoid reading into some of what is said, given the speaker’s position and knowledge of what is happening at this time.

    I cannot help but think back to LA #108.

  2. Indeed much to consider, so I’m going to limit my commentary.

    “… the greatest challenge that lies before us is the invitation once again to sing the Mass rather than merely to sing at Mass.”

    Msgr Wadsworth may have drunk too deeply of the reform2 kool-aid on this one. Over the past forty years, we’ve advanced from the pre-conciliar four-hymn sandwich to Eucharistic ordinaries in the mouths of the people, plus psalms, litanies and acclamations. If we haven’t been making substantial progress toward singing the Mass, I think we can blame Msgr’s parishes, not the rest of the Church.

    “These proper texts are usually replaced by hymns or songs that have little relationship to the texts proposed …”

    Is this guy serious? The immediate post-conciliar experience, as he concedes, is a snippet of Scripture recited from a newsprint hymnal. No psalm texts. No other Scripture. As an alternative, we have songs that largely adopt the form of propers: an antiphon friendly to assembly singing, and the adaptation or use of psalms, canticles, and Scripture texts for verses. In many ways, we have a superior system to the propers, given that contemporary composers have adapted Isaiah 6 or 43 or 55 or 60 or the Beatitudes, or Paul’s Kenosis text, or Deuteronomy 30 or any number of Biblical passages that have lent their lyricism to the liturgy.

    I appreciate the man is the executive director of ICEL, but where are his bona fides on the state of liturgical music? This is embarrassing.

  3. “I would suggest that ours has essentially become a predominantly Low Mass culture with music increasingly seen as incidental rather than integral to our liturgical celebration.”

    This is just plain wrong. While there are, no doubt, parishes without good musical or pastoral leadership, most cathedrals and nearly any parish of any significant size presents two or three or as many as six “high masses” per weekend: psalmody, litanies, acclamations, and sound Scripture-based music that alludes to the Lectionary or to the liturgical season.

    So I’m grateful for the acknowledgment that “we clergy have often not helped in this regard when we have refused to sing those parts of the Mass which of their nature should be sung.” But I’m not as willing as Msgr Wadsworth to consign those of us who work with non-singing priests to the purgatory of a Low Mass.

    Has this man never heard of the principle of progressive solemnity? I’ve worked with many fine singing priests who made judgments about singing based on the nature of the celebration.

    I’ve had priests happily work on chanting the Exsultet or the Eucharistic Prayer on Christmas or Pentecost or such. At least the modern Roman Rite chooses a mystery of Christ for a judicious use of a fully-sung Mass. What did the 1962 Missal give us last Spring? The fifth anniversary of a papacy.

  4. “I would suggest that ours has essentially become a predominantly Low Mass culture with music increasingly seen as incidental rather than integral to our liturgical celebration.”

    Finally someone willing to admit the truth! Low Mass every time all the time has been the reality especially since the council. In former times we might hope to get at least one Sunday High Mass in many parishes and the sung mass with its 4 hymn sandwich otherwise. Today with our epidemic minimalism the four hymn sandwich remains the norm.

    “These proper texts are usually replaced by hymns or songs that have little relationship to the texts proposed by the Missal or the Graduale Romanum and as such a whole element of the liturgy of the day is lost or consigned to oblivion. ”

    Is it pastoral to deny the propers to the people? Of course not. In actually reduces their full & active participation in the liturgy because it keeps the full liturgy from them.

    “music is (wrongly seen to be) exclusively part of the creative element in liturgy rather than part of that which is ‘given’.

    The central point and perhaps the root of much opposition here. Recently I encountered the Salazar Gloria with its paraphrase …certainly not the “given” in our sacred liturgy.

    1. Actually, the Low Mass model has not been especially the norm *since* the Council. It was not eradicated by the Council, but it surely did not increase in dominance after the Council.

  5. I usually just lurk here, but wanted to comment about this. I’m confused about what some of the above commenters consider to be a “High Mass.” I’ve only ever seen one or two ordinary form Masses in my lifetime that could have been said to be High Masses in the traditional sense of the term (which would be where both the priest and people sing the texts of the Mass that pertain to them). The vast majority of Masses are a cross between a Low and High Mass, usually skewing more towards the low end of the spectrum since the priest doesn’t sing and because parts of Mass that were traditionally sung (like the credo and various dialogues) aren’t sung.

    I frequent Latin Masses on a regular basis, though I don’t consider myself a traditionalist. I always find it bizarre that even a tiny Latin Mass parish can muster a High Mass every weekend while an ordinary parish consisting of thousands can’t even muster one on a major solemnity like Easter (and doesn’t seem to even want to).

    1. Because the Latin Mass is restricted pretty much to congregations that are very devoted to its cultivation. Were the EF made mandatory tomorrow, you would not see such. Selection bias, as it were.

      1. I’ve seen this argument brought up before, but I’m not so sure it has merit. While I didn’t live prior to the council when the Latin Mass was the norm, everyone I’ve ever talked to remembers that most churches had a High Mass every Sunday and Holy Day (and for most funerals). Low Masses were of course the most common type of Mass celebrated, but High Mass seemed to be much more common than it is now.

      2. It has more to do with the zeal of the clergy and their devotion to the liturgy than anything else. Many diocesan clergy, especially those of a certain age, are practical minimalists to the degree that if it is not required it will be avoided.
        In other words, it is the love of the liturgy that compels many more traditional priests to bring out the beauty in their public celebraions. Also, most traditional parishes do not celebrate a true High Mass either, they don’t usually have the required ministers, they are celebrating a Missa Cantata which is a form of the low Mass.

    2. “I always find it bizarre that even a tiny Latin Mass parish can muster a High Mass every weekend …”

      Well, I don’t. I may not agree with the TLM remaining unreformed, but I do appreciate what a determined, intentional faith community can accomplish.

      That said, I would *love* to see a large Latin Mass community attempt a full weekend slate of High Masses, plus funerals, weddings, school Masses, and holy days.

      Even my friend Jeffrey Tucker concedes he can’t field a program of propers every weekend. Imagine if he had a whole parish full of Masses to attend to.

      1. I don’t know of any large ordinary form parishes that do what you suggest, so I doubt it would happen with a Latin Mass community.

        IMO, an English High Mass doesn’t seem so difficult that only a group of self-selected specialists can accomplish it.

      2. Jack – you don’t know of any ordinary forms that do? Would you qualify that? How are parishes not living up to celebrating the ordinary form?

      3. Todd, why do you persist in referring to the TLM as “unreformed”? The Mass of Paul VI is the result of the reform of the “Tridentine” Mass.

      4. I don’t follow. Of course TLM is ‘unreformed’ – it has none of the reforms called for by the last ecumenical council. That seems pretty obvious to me. Or am I missing something?

      5. From whence did the novus ordo come? From the traditional mass. Todd’s reference to the unreformed TLM seems to indicate that some further tinkering needs to be done with it. But that was already accomplished in the novus ordo. Seems pretty clear to me.

      6. +JMJ+

        John Drake – he is referring to the celebration of the EF/TLM/whatever-you-call-it as it stands, without having had the Vatican II reforms applied to it.

        Simple analogy: a 2009 Toyota Prius has a faulty floor-mat (or does it…?). Toyota fixes the problem in the 2010 model. Joe still drives a 2009 Prius. He’s driving the “unreformed” Prius, even though a “reformed” Prius exists.

        I share Todd’s stance on the matter, at least to the degree that I believe the 1962 Missal is in need of reform “within itself”, if you know what I mean by that. It still has the “problems” or “defects” (or whatever you want to call them) that the Council Fathers decided needed adjusting. I don’t know exactly what the result would look like — the 1964 missal? 1965? 2002? — but I think we’ll see the 1962 Missal undergo some reforms a la Sacrosanctum Concilium

      7. It’s pretty clear to you that we would have a liturgy which doesn’t meet the teachings of an ecumenical council about the need for liturgical reform, and the teachings about what liturgy should be (and become) to express the true nature of the church? You don’t find that rather odd?? It’s the most bizarre setup I’ve ever heard of in my life – utterly without precedent, as far as I know. Easily the biggest innovation in the history of the Church.

      8. A liturgy not meeting the pastoral objectives of the II Vatican Council? That is not only the EF Mass before 1965, it would include the OF as celebrated in most parishes today unless we don’t consider SC #36 to be the teaching of the Council Fathers. The truth is that we are far from the liturgical implementation of the council and the new translation is a big step in the right direction.

  6. While I agree with most of this article’s proposals, very little of it is likely to happen because the problem as the author admits existed before Vatican II. The sung Mass outside of monasteries and cathedrals was rare then as it is today.

    Things will not change much until priests define their primary duty as singing the Liturgy, and their secondary duty as preaching the gospel. Things will not change much until seminary formation is primarily about singing the liturgy (like the Orthodox) and biblical study (like Evangelicals). Things will not much change until we recruit priests primarily because they are prayerful and holy people who want to praise God and interpret and preach the scriptures.

    We need to turn the administration of the parish, counseling, education and social programs over to the laity, and stop having priests involved in everything as if we were still an immigrant church with uneducated laity.

    In order to get the desired quality of priests (prayerfulness, musical ability, intellectual ability) we will likely have to make celibacy optional.

    Not much of this is likely to happen any time soon.

  7. The world’s bishops adopted Sacrosanctum Concilium with moral unanimity. SC is more, much more than section 116. Or 23.

    There are sound principles that go beyond “tinkering” that should be applied to the TLM as a Roman Rite liturgy. When TLM advocates can embrace conciliar reform, and say, “Let’s take a generation to study SC and examine how we can do a superior reform than 1964-1970,” then I’ll know it’s more about a hermeneutic of continuity and less a hermeneutic of obstruction. I think we all know what would happen if the Ecclesia Dei commission or the CDWDS said, “Let’s get it in order by 2030.” There would be holy h*** to pay. And that tells you all you need to know.

    Look, I’m about as sympathetic to plainsong, polyphony, and the promise of the propers as you’ll ever find among mainstream liturgists. If I were a brother in Fr Anthony’s community, yes way, we could and should easily aim for these ideals. But I would be part of a daily praying community committed to excellence in liturgy.

    It would be an exceptional parish that could manage full sung Masses all weekend long, plus funerals, weddings, and the whole bit. (If you find one, sign me up.) But no large parish is likely able to sustain that intensity … outside of a conservatory, a liturgy school, or a religious community deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy.

    1. I think the EF will be reformed to be more in line with Vatican II eventually, but it’ll take some time to get to that point. It’s only been in the last three years that the Latin Mass has been seen as an “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite that anyone can attend rather than something dirty and wrong that only a few crazy freak traditionalists should be allowed to use if they beg for it long enough.

      Personally, I’m of the opinion that the “unreformed” 1962 Mass isn’t *that* far off from the ideals of Vatican II. I’ve been to ones where the congregation makes all the responses, sings, and more-or-less participates in a way that is little different from what I see at a typical OF. It’s not like the OF is in perfect accord with the ideals of Vatican II either.

    2. There are parishes that do it. The cathedral in Phoenix, which is also a normal parish, manages the sung propers with a small choir and a cantor. Their Mass resembles a Missa Cantata when there is no deacon present.
      The parish of St. Agnes in St. Paul manages it and there are many others.
      Let us not imagine that it is more difficult to practice the propers than it is to practice a hymn.

      1. Let us be honest.
        As much as I’m amazed at St. Agnes, and enjoy attending there once a year if I can to hear all the propers in chant and the Ordinary with choir and orchestra, it is a very unique situation which can hardly be duplicated. They draw from a 50-75 mile radius and attract financial supporters from far and wide. If there were a second St. Agnes among the couple hundred archdiocesan parishes, I suspect their attendance and financial donations would be cut in half. If there were three such parishes, they would split the limited interest-pool and money-pool three ways. We know how many people in the entire archdiocese go for St. Agnes’s approach – and these people all fit in their church for one Mass per week, with a few empty pews to spare.
        None of this is a put-down of St. Agnes. It’s a treasure.

      2. The cathedral parish in Phoenix is in a middle class neighborhood and is territorial in its draw. I’ve been to parishes in other places that use the propers. We seem to be approaching the propers in the parish setting with a sort of learned helplessness even though examples abound where we can approach this constructively. Does anyone think that the propers are more difficult to sing than “On Eagles Wings?

  8. I should not have been so hard on Msgr Wadsworth with my comments earlier today. But neither he, nor the pope, nor the Vox Clara bishops, nor the ICEL clergy are in situations in which they ordinarily celebrate more than one Mass a day. Try being a priest with fifteen Masses a week, give or take. Or a music director with a half-dozen chant scholas to cover all the Sunday Masses.

    The propers have little hope of catching on outside of intentional communities, probably small ones. What would happen in my parish if I tried to implement? I would spend a lot of pastoral capital to develop one Mass with the “ideal,” and the other three Masses would be waiting in line. Do we really want further ghettoization of parish liturgy?

    I’ve advocated for the inclusion of plainsong for years in my parishes. It’s an uphill struggle. Other styles are part of the picture–there’s no getting away from that. Hymns and songs will still be sung in meter and to harmonized accompaniment. Music has moved on, and it’s time to acknowledge that as a starting ground for the real initiatives we should be talking about: evangelization, Christian unity, adaptation to the present age, and more spiritual and apostolic vigor among Catholics (SC 1). And if the reform2 crowd can’t address those conciliar basics, then their ideas lack the necessary depth to add to the conversation.

    1. Other parishes have done it. Visit them and see how they put it together. It is about implementing the council and not ignoring elements that appear to be challenging or less popular with publishers. Christian unity will be served when we receive the liturgy of the Church, including the propers, the Eastern Orthodox manage to do it in their parishes and would appreciate our efforts to respect what the Msgr. calls the “given-ness” of the liturgy. Receiving the liturgy will also bring about more unity within our own parishes because no one will argue about the liturgy. The liturgy will cease to be a point of division within the parish. We will see fewer “niche” liberal/conservative parishes and then truly all will be welcome in our communities.

  9. Sean Whelan :

    Jack – you don’t know of any ordinary forms that do? Would you qualify that? How are parishes not living up to celebrating the ordinary form?

    I’ve never been to a Weekday Mass that was anything other than a “Four Hymn Sandwich” at best (but having no music at all is pretty common too), and most Sunday Masses aren’t High Masses, but are rather a sort of Low/High Hybrid where the priest and lectors don’t really sing anything. As I said before, I’ve only been to maybe one or two ordinary form Masses that I would really call High Masses in the traditional sense – and even there I’m being generous with the term since I’m not even talking about Masses that used the propers or even had a sung Credo (I’ve never experienced either of those in the OF).

    1. That’s Progressive Solemnity! At any parish I’ve been at, the Gospel Acclamation, Eucharistic Prayer Acc., Lamb of God are always sung, in addition to a Gathering Song etc…

      I don’t think the High/Low Mass comparison works for the OF.

      1. I’m all for progressive solemnity, but I imagined that that idea came about as a way to improve the music at Masses that would otherwise have been Low Masses rather than to completely kill off the celebration of High Mass. A completely sung ordinary doesn’t seem so difficult that it should be totally out of reach for 100% of parishes 100% of the time.

      2. If you mean “ordinary” in the traditional sense of the term — Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei — then lots of parishes sing the ordinary (excepting the Creed) every Sunday.

    2. Minimalism is a scandal of sorts because the post-conciliar liturgy made the solemn Mass easier to celebrate than before clearly indicating that the more solemn sung Mass with incense and bells (smells and bells) was their ideal. We no longer need the presence of a deacon & subdeacon to celebrate a solemn Mass. The opposite has happened, however, and the current reform seems to be trying to address it. It is so bad today that even our altar servers, so unfamiliar with the solemn Mass, have to be retrained every year in how to incense the people at the offertory in preparation for Holy Week when this recognition of the priesthood of the faithful should occur every week.

      1. So, why don’t you do it every week?

        But yes, I agree with you that the fault of minimalism was never really addressed in implementing SC, outside of the occasional parish.

  10. I had not seen this thread when I posted (currently #15) in the “Frustration abounds” thread, relying on Jerry Galipeau’s report of what Andrew Wadsworth said. I do not know if it is an offence against blog rules to repeat that post here, so will not do so. I’m sure the blog editor will duplicate it or move it here if he so wishes.

    1. Paul – not a problem to put it on two threaads if it helps everyone have access to it.

      I have been thinking about a rule that you can only repeat yourself 5 times on any point, but then I’d have to observe it too! 🙂


  11. “A group of self-selected specialists…”

    That’s hilarious.

    I’m 48 years old, and a member of an FSSP apostolate as well as member of its schola. We’re led by a 19 year-old BOY.

    Our other members, of which there are fifteen, range from 16 to 85. All of us are amateurs, and only two of us, apart from the BOY, who’s a music major, have any sort of formal music training.

    Each Sunday we pull off a High Mass. Once a month, we pull off a Solemn High Mass – replete with seminarians from a local, well-known seminary (the FUTURE).

    When necessary, we pull off a Solemn High Requiem Mass or wedding.

    In two weeks, we’ll sing our parish Confirmation.

    Once a week, after a mid-week evening Mass, we chant Compline according to the RB.

    Once a month, we sing at Benediction after High Mass. Once year, we sing at Benediction in the diocesan cathedral.

    We also tackle Easter Vigil and Midnight Mass at Christmas very competently.

    Each Sunday, there are two Masses. The earlier is a Low Mass. On average, 100 people attend. The later Mass is the High Mass. On average, 300 people attend.

    Our practice is limited to once a week, for a single hour, before Mass. Prior to major liturgical events, like Christmas or Holy Week, we may add a half hour practice after the Mass – and that only sporadically.

    The entire retinue of 15 rarely shows up each Sunday. Last Christmas, because of families attending Midnight Mass the night before, and the weather, only the BOY and I…

  12. were present. The job of cantor fell to me. Admittedly, I sang the Rossini Propers, but I did a respectable job, and believe me, I have NO formal training.

    My point after all this being that ANY parish can have beautiful music, worthy of the Glory of God. Our present pastor has a fine voice, but his predecessor sang like a burned frog. He charged ahead anyway – he certainly didn’t limit us to Low Mass because he couldn’t sing. Fear and lack of innate talent are no excuse.

    You’ll all may be wondering why an FSSP’er would lurk about. Well, I’m concerned that the Novus Ordo, while it exists, be the very best it can be. The Sacrifice is effected. Christ is present. It needs to be re-sacralized (hmm…, I don’t know about “re,” but let’s not get into that) and this is a perfect opportunity to do it. Besides, I’d love to hear just a little Latin next time I go to visit the folks ;^)

    God bless.

    1. Thanks for this JD. The two forms should be mutually enriching and all of us benefit from your observations. People may attempt to say that your parish is a specialized draw full of unique zeal or, as some do about our Eastern Rite Catholic parishes where the propers are also sung weekly, that you’ve got a unique ethnic interest sustaining an interest in the propers, but you belay that explanation with your specific information about the people in your choir and your pastors and because FSSP parishes are Latin rite. The real question is why so many OF parishes do not sustain the kind of interest or love for the whole liturgy that gets so many amateurs to learn on the job, as it were and sing the full liturgy. The rest of us could learn from the popular hymn and “be not afraid” of the propers.

  13. F C Bauerschmidt :

    If you mean “ordinary” in the traditional sense of the term — Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei — then lots of parishes sing the ordinary (excepting the Creed) every Sunday.

    By “ordinary,” I mean the things you listed as well as all the other unchanging parts of Mass (like all the “Lord be with you/And also with you” dialogues, etc). Pretty much anything that is audible to the congregation should be sung.

  14. I have not seen anyone comment on what I find to be the most remarkable statement in this address:

    Is music really exclusively a creative response to the ‘un-changing liturgy of the Church’ or does it in some way form part of the ‘given’ aspect of liturgy which we receive from the Church? I would suggest that these are questions which come more naturally into focus as we prepare to receive the new translation.

    He then goes on to expand on this idea, suggesting that liturgical music is, or at least should be in some cases part of that un-changing “given” of the liturgy. This is a rematkable statement given a) The position of the individual making the statement b) The context and the audience to which he was addressing it c) The emphasis on “singing the Mass” (we all know that he means singing the Propers here) and the suggestion that this is the goal of an “ongoing effort” and finally d) his rather striking suggestion that commercial publishers might have too much influence over the development of liturgical music and that “perhaps this is a good moment for reassessing some of the criteria that govern the selection of music for publication?”.

  15. And then there is this:

    While I would personally advocate and endorse a rediscovery of our chant tradition, I would want to stress that the recovery of the singing of the proper texts of the Missal is not necessarily to be equated solely with this one musical genre but would also potentially admit a variety of different styles

    It sounds like an effort to divorce the singing of the Propers from the Gregorian settings with which they are associated commonly, suggesting that there should contemporary settings of the specific texts. This has been suggested by many, but to hear it coming from someone intimately associated with the whole process of producing liturgical texts, it is very suggestive that this may already be underway. This address (with many publishers in the audience) may well have been a “trial balloon” sort of event.

  16. I agree, this is one of his most important observations. To no one’s surprise, I agree with him and have waited for years to hear this from an ICEL representative. It is a fundamental point to Catholic liturgy. Perhaps the real surprise is that it has taken this long. Maybe we could return to a pre-1973 practice and have at least one key (prominently scheduled on a Sunday) Mass in most parishes that employs the propers and continue the typical four hymns in the others. I think Todd might agree that this could be done. What do you all say?

  17. I noticed it, too. But I think the answer is both/and, not either/or.

    I think the question will be postponed rather than engaged by the implementation. Musicians will focus on the unchanging texts, the Mass ordinary. Clergy will need to focus on their proclamation of new texts in a totally different style. And the people will adapt to the spoken texts. In most every place it will be done in a very pragmatic way.

    MR2 would have put us in a far better place to be addressing these concerns, instead of delaying for thirteen years.

    Publishers have been very supportive and good team players for MR3. Your point d strikes me as a measure of ingratitude.

  18. I suspect that many parishes still have at least one quiet or no singing Mass every Sunday but the rest of their Sunday Masses are sung, meaning all the congregational parts, except the official antiphons at the entrance, preparation and communion. I believe that the most recent “GIRM” still allows suitable substitutions for these which is the common practice in most parishes. What’s not sung in most parishes is what the priest is encouraged, but not mandated, to sing, collects, preface, greetings and dialogues as well as the “Sign of the Cross” at the beginning, the final blessing and dismissal. Also the Eucharistic Prayer may be sung following the Sanctus. Many priests don’t have “solo” singing skills and would be advised not to try to sing the entire Mass if they can’t. In terms of progressive solemnity, I think there should be some things done at various “higher” solemnities that are not done otherwise, but in my parish, we have two sung Masses, with everything sung every Sunday, priest and congregational parts, incense too. Sprinkling with Holy Water is reserved for special occasions as well as singing the words of institution, more candles at the consecration, etc. If you have a tradition of singing the entire Mass every Sunday, it becomes natural. I recommend it for those who can do it well. If not done well, it is agony. In our parish, though, we have not arrived at singing the official entrance or preparation antiphon, although we do at Holy Communion.

    1. What constitutes “singing well”? How good does the priest have to be? The majority of priests seem willing to sing the doxology to the Eucharistic Prayer. I have only heard a few whose singing of this was “agonizing.” Could the priests who can pull off the doxology not also pull off the dialogues and the preface? It doesn’t really involve “‘solo’ singing skill,” but only a three or four note range and the ability to stay on pitch.

      I was at a Bar Mitzvah a few months ago and as various members of the congregation took their turns chanting the Torah I was struck by the fact that, despite the variations in musical ability (one was a professional symphony conductor), in every case the chanting of the text had an elevating, transporting effect.

      1. F C, I think it is a judgment call. It might be a good idea for the “liturgy committee” to make recommendations to the priest about his abilities, but also the music director. I’ve been fortunate that since 1985, I’ve been in parishes which have a full time paid music director/organist. These wonderful people have worked with me, coached me and told me the truth about my abilities. So hopefully, all priests would submit to some kind of coaching and critique. We have two deacons who cannot sing, period. Our music director worked with one of them to get him to sing “The Mass is Ended” at the Easter Vigil with the added Alleluia’s. Never again! It was the fly in the ointment to an otherwise outstanding sung Liturgy. I wouldn’t even dare suggest that the deacons sing the Gospel, which when well done is magnificent, especially when I sing it! 🙂 I’ve never celebrated Mass, though, where the first and second readings were sung, which can be done very nicely in the EF Mass. But in terms of priest/deacons singing talents, the congregation will let you know behind the priest/deacon’s back. Listen to them

      2. I’m not sure I’d write off your deacons simply on the basis of their lack of success in singing the Easter dismissal. It is, after all, a pretty challenging bit of chant. The Gospel is a piece of cake by comparison.

  19. I reject the notion that singing the proper entrance, offertory, and communion text is somehow beyond the capability of most parishes. As far as I know most parishes sing the proper responsorial psalm each weekend. This is because there are numerous settings available. Why aren’t there similar collections for the other propers? I think this would be a worthy project for the large publishers and some of their more talented composers. Richard Rice has basically created this for free with his Simple Choral Gradual (though the antiphons are not for congregational singing).

    The major issue with the propers, especially the entrance and offertory, is that they often don’t correlate with the themes of the Mass of the day very well. One would think/hope that if the Church wants them to be sung more regularly, it would revise them to better connect to the specific Mass (this would seem to be the whole point of having “proper” texts).

    Finally, the most important element of good congregational singing is the celebrant singing his parts. How many times have I heard a priest complain to the congregation about the singing, only to not sing any of his parts? How many times have I had a priest tell me they did not have a good enough voice, when I knew that it was really a matter of comfort and practice? Singing well is mostly a craft, not a talent. It’s an act of great humility for a priest to sing his part as well he can, and an immeasurable service to the Church.

    1. It’s one thing to have a so-so cantor sing the Resp Psalm. But it’s another to listen to the cantor for all the propers – entrance, communion. A congregational hymn is much more appealing on aesthetic grounds. It would be a very unfortunate disaster if this new traditionalism or legalism or reverence for liturgical books, or whatever it is, led to the wholesale elimination of hymns in favor of propers led by cantor. As much as I like the propers – many of the recent vernacular settings are rather bland, without the aesthetic strength of Lobe den Herren or Sine Nomine. Do the traditionalists really want to visit such an aesthetic disaster upon the Catholic Church?

      1. My own view, FWIW, is that idealists with an ideology (as opposed to idealists who base their ideals on persons before concepts) tend to get in their own way, and that the most difficult idealists are those who are unaware of their cognitive blindspots in this regard.

        I think a practical principle that the Catholic people should not be strangers to their own liturgical musical birthright is a more useful and helpful one than trying to discern a way to make the liturgical books affirm a specific univocal incarnation of liturgical praxis as best and brightest.

        What might this looks like? Enough regular/periodic use of Gregorian propers so that Catholics in the pews don’t feel it strange to encounter (and perhaps, in apt cases, even to join in singing!*) them. What’s enough? It depends – but I don’t mean “it depends” in a lazy, cop-out sense, but in a challenge-to-make-serious-discernment-over-time sense.

        That strikes me as quite challenging without trying the hermeneutical equivalent of the neutron bomb.

        It certainly would be way more chant than was common before the Council, albeit probably not nearly as much as ideologically-oriented chant idealists agitate for.

        * Which strikes me as a good sometime goal to counter the Aesthete temptation for purity-of-performance-beauty-uber-alles, which can get confused and conflated with Divine Beauty.

      2. Speaking for myself, it is not new traditionalism (not sure what that is though), legalism, or reverence for books that makes the propers attractive. Is is a desire for the whole Mass and its “givenness” that persuades me that this is the better way to go.
        No one says to eliminate the hymns wholesale but hymns should not be in first place in a liturgical tradition (IMHO).
        I think a pastoral approach would be to use the propers at least in one well placed Sunday Mass. Remember that there are seasonal options.

      3. …many of the recent vernacular settings are rather bland, without the aesthetic strength of Lobe den Herren or Sine Nomine.

        This is actually part of the problem. The hymns that replace the propers are often too exciting and elaborate and “peak” the Mass in the wrong places.

      4. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that hymns could or should be eliminated as an option. But currently we have 95% usage of hymns, to the point where many priests don’t even know that the antiphons in the Missal can be sung. If GIA published a Michel Guimont collection of Communion Antiphons w/ verses for the liturgical year I would buy it and start using immediately. And I would still program Lobe den Herren and Sine Nomine alongside. Where are these resources?

        The point of visiting “aesthetic disaster” is a bit amusing. If the Church survived the last forty years of aesthetic disaster, I’m sure the singing of propers isn’t something to worry about. In fact, there are so many ways to get creative here, sing the propers, do them beautifully, have the congregation singing the antiphons. Verses can be sung by cantors, choirs in harmony, alternating between high and low voices, etc. There are so many ways to do this well. It’s a matter of where we put our creative energies.

    2. How many times have I had a priest tell me they did not have a good enough voice, when I knew that it was really a matter of comfort and practice? Singing well is mostly a craft, not a talent.

      In our parish the deacon sings the Easter dismissal for all the Sundays in Easter (let’s call this a local “organic development” of the practice of singing for the octave). As I mentioned above, I think this is a fairly challenging piece of chant. I do it passably well (I am told), but only because I do it more than twice a year. Also, it helps to know that congregation appreciates my efforts even if I don’t sound like Pavarotti.

      1. FC, I agree, our two masses entirely sung every Sunday (my associate sings even better than me!) has enabled us to be very comfortable with all of our parts starting with the Sign of the Cross. Doing it this way each and every week has made it normal and ordinary not only for the priests but more importantly for the congregation. We’re blessed too with a congregation that belts out their parts. We’ve been singing the greetings and preface dialogue in Latin for over a year, but will go to the new English as soon as someone tells me I can which would be this Sunday if I could! and I might!

      2. Fr McDonald, while I applaud your practice here, it does beg a question or three. When your term is completed, will your bishop appoint a singing priest? And if he’s disinclined to do so, would you urge him to change his mind? And if the answer to both is “no,” haven’t you created a de facto appearance that the sung Mass is the whim of the priest, not the desire of the Church?

      3. Todd, certainly the sung Mass, at least for the “principle” liturgy of Sunday is the desire of the Church, but as such is an ideal too. If the priest simply can’t or won’t sing or if the priest is into “progressive” liturgy, then that’s what they’ll get with the truly sung Mass at Easter and Christmas, if they’re blessed. I’ve learned long ago that I have no control over what happens when I’m replaced. And while I’m anxious about many things, who follows me and what he does is not one of my anxieties. There are many people who prefer a quiet Mass, a Mass with only hymns and the parts sung. Some would be quite content not to have the entire Mass sung. It’s not just a matter of the rules/ideal, but also a matter of taste and spirituality for most people.

      4. Todd,

        Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but it sounds as if your saying that celebrants should go for the lowest common denominator. Couldn’t the same questions be asked about things like preaching? Should the possibility of the bishop appointing an adequate but uninspiring preacher as his successor lead him to try to preach in a less inspiring manner?

      5. “(I)t sounds as if your saying that celebrants should go for the lowest common denominator.”

        I hope not.

        But I think we need to be realistic. That Fr McDonald isn’t willing to go to bat for ars celebrandi with his successor should sadden any of us. Singing the liturgy is indeed a good thing. But in some circles it’s not as important as the clerical culture or a desire for personal orthodoxy.

        If the people really “got it” under Fr McDonald, and a new priest (or music director) came aboard, they might well challenge the new administration to aim for the former high standard. Otherwise, doesn’t it just look like we just indulged the whims of a musical priest for the past term?

        For the record, I always aim high. You never know what good will come of attempted excellence. And more, the relationships forged in the effort are much more germane to furthering the Gospel than the particulars of how well I play or sing or teach.

  20. For a different perspective on conflicting hermeneutics regarding “singing the Mass”, here’s one from a frustrated traditionalist couple who have worshiped for several years at the parish I was largely raised in on Long Island (once I was able to drive, I started going to Mass when I could to the formerly Benedictine-run parish (St Kilian’s in Farmingdale – the diocese took over from the Benedictines of St Leo’s Abbey in the mid-1970s, but the parish maintained its strong musical traditions for another decade after that – from which our parish was carved during the Baby Boom), and where my parents continued to worship until they moved 3 years ago.

    1. I think they have a good point. I’ve been to Latin Masses where the congregation was more-or-less discouraged from singing their parts. That’s something that needs to change.

      IMO, the biggest enemy of Latin Mass communities is the desire to recapture the 1950’s. The old mass is perfectly suitable for modern people in a modern setting, and doesn’t need to be moored to the past in order to work or have appeal. It’s not a museum piece or special historical reenactment to show people what Catholicism was like prior to 1965.

      I lucked out in that the first Latin Mass I ever attended had decent congregational participation. I was amazed when I observed a teenage girl sitting in front of me singing Credo III. It made me want to learn it too.

      I always sing the responses.

      1. Jack, I have a once a month Sunday EF high Mass, with a small schola that helps us to sing everything. I encourage the congregation to take all the parts that the altar servers say and the choir sings. Some will, some simply won’t. That’s their business. I can’t force anyone to do anything, EF or OF. We don’t read the scriptures in Latin facing ad orientem, these are in English facing the congregation, but still honoring the epistle and gospel sides of the altar. If I celebrated this Mass every Sunday, I would certainly be more challenging of congregational participation. But as such, it’s not that bad now, but certainly not perfect.

  21. Todd Flowerday :

    Yes, John. But this is my point: do they do it at every Sunday Mass, funeral, wedding, and school Mass, and at least go part way at daily Mass?

    Why would they have to? Why not have one true sung Mass on Sunday and major feast days and let the other Masses follow the rule of progressive solemnity?

  22. Because progressive solemnity is a quality applied more usually across the liturgical year. Not from one Sunday Mass to the next on the schedule. Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time in my parish has 4:45 PM, 8:30AM, 10:30AM, and 7PM Masses. There’s nothing in the liturgy to suggest any of them is less deserving than the other. I’ll submit that in providing a choir and for congregational singing at every one of them, my parish is closer to the Catholic ideal even if we never sang a proper.

    1. I don’t think it has anything to do with one Mass being more deserving. Your parish seems unusual if every Mass has a choir. Around here you usually have one Mass on Sunday with a choir while all the others have a cantor. Despite this, there tends to be no difference between the Masses other than having more people up front singing at one of them.

  23. F C Bauerschmidt :
    I’m not sure I’d write off your deacons simply on the basis of their lack of success in singing the Easter dismissal. It is, after all, a pretty challenging bit of chant. The Gospel is a piece of cake by comparison.

    I agree with the general principle here, but it’s worth pointing out that the dissmissal could be sung even in the 2nd ferial tone (very simple) and the Gospel tones can be quite difficult (depending on which is chosen and also depending on whether there are questions or quotations in the Gospel).

  24. Fr. Allan J. McDonald :

    Jack, I have a once a month Sunday EF high Mass… (edited for length)

    Sounds lovely!

    One of the more interesting Latin Masses I’ve attended was at a church where they replace the Saturday vigil with one a few times a year. You basically had a “normal” group of people at an “average” parish pulling it off rather than the stereotypical “self selected group” of traddies. It was rough around the edges and would have made a rad trad cry, but it was still wonderful.

  25. In thinking about this some more, I am brought back to Bob Hurd’s preface for his “Ubi Caritas” collection published by OCP. He writes primarily on the structure of the gathering rite (in anticipation of the 1998 Missal, not approved unfortunately), and of priest especially singing his part. Just a snippet…

    “Consequently, an unfortunate pattern sometimes takes hold: presider and assembly do not sing the ritual, but rather at the edges of the ritual – a song for opening, preparation of the gifts, communion, and dismissal. Over time this means that the “full, active, and conscious participation” the Council wished for worshipers is focused more on songs than rituals. Since the powerful internalizing force of music has been relegated to the edges of ritual, we have become much more repertoire literate than ritually literate. We need both, of course, but unless the assembled people become ritually literate in the profound sense of knowing, performing and drawing nourishment from the very rituals of the liturgy, the central aim of Vatican II’s reform is missed.”

    We often focus so much on singing hymns, to the exclusion of the Mass itself (the Gloria is often spoken or omitted after a big opening hymn, the Creed, the Intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer, the dialogue between celebrant and congregation). I think Hurd is right… we are way out of whack in terms of what he calls repertoire literate verses ritually literate.

  26. Here’s another angle.
    Priests from Africa and India are much more likely to sing the dialogical elements of the Mass than North Americans are, in my experience. “The Lord be with you” is something they (almost) always sing. Now, how’d they learn to do that? Hmm. Are the seminaries in Kerala or Lagos teaching them to do it? But if so is it because they come from “singing cultures” and their people expect to sing as part of life?

    Here’s my point: There is a cultural density to the question of singing that is not mentioned or even alluded to here, but I think it’s important. People in industrialized societies sing less. Period. They listen to recordings; they live in an atmosphere of ambient sound that they do not actively produce. It’s a cultural challenge, when you’ve lived in a milieu which consigns singing to “those with skills” to recover a sense that singing is like breathing, everyone does it.

    1. One of my good professors said that we (Americans) lost our musicality as a culture with the advent of recordings. Prior to the phonograph, most young women learned to play piano (and men too!) and nearly everyone sang as a part of social interaction. In came recordings, and we became a “listening” culture….

      1. My 87 year old aunt tells of her childhood growing up singing around the player piano, a kind of transition to the recorded music era.

      2. I think it’s rather unfortunate that the Catholic Church didn’t try to encourage congregational singing much *much* earlier (like maybe before the 19th Century). By the time congregational singing became an ideal, our culture had moved much more towards being a listening culture.

        I attended the “casual” service at a run-of-the-mill Lutheran church once (ELCA, I think), and the level of singing astounded me. Everyone picked up the hymnal and sang (I picked up the hymnal and mumbled along so I wouldn’t be the sore thumb), and at one point the cantor and congregation sang in harmony. The congregation was probably made up of people who don’t otherwise sing, but from what I’ve gathered about Lutherans, the precedent/tradition for singing goes back generations and is a big source of pride.

        The most robust (if you can call it that) singing I’ve experienced in Catholic circles would be the Benediction hymns (The Latin “O Salutaris” and “Tantum Ergo” and “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.”).

    2. Jeffrey, Jack, and Todd, I agree. Thanks. I wonder what thought you may have given to the prospects of mitigating or even turning this cultural situation around? I write (and edit) curriculum materials as well as books about liturgy, and am dismayed at how it is now imperative to include the option of “use a recording” where in past eras the teacher and students would sing something. But at this point, the situation is fixed.

      I feel it’s imperative for liturgical musicians to persuade catechists and school teachers to encourage singing for children, and at early ages! I understand there have been studies done which show we are slipping further, e.g., parents no longer sing lullabies to their children. Where does the practice of singing begin then? My mother sang to me when I was an infant, and I sang to her as she was dying. I can’t imagine a life without song.

      The physiology (or perhaps neuro-psychology) of singing is important too. We use a different part of our brain for song as for speech. Thus, stroke victims may lose their capacity for speech but not their capacity for song. Perhaps we need to promote singing as a health and wholeness issue? I don’t know, but I do believe that our liturgical challenges have deep roots, and addressing some of them before they reach the liturgy is important!

      1. That same professor of mine also noted the importance of music and singing in courtship. Men and women sang to woo each other…now we make mix tapes (or CD’s). There was at one time a powerful incentive to sing!

  27. There may be a not unrelated technological factor to culture, the present of sound systems nearly everywhere in our public lives.

    Several years ago, I had the task of reading an award citation at an annual dinner. The sound system was not functioning well, so I “read” the citation in a raised pitch voice that came close to singing.

    Afterwards many people remarked on how beautiful it was and what a nice voice I had. Well I am just an average, maybe even mediocre singer. I suspect had the sound system been working I would have read the citation in a rather matter of fact and uninspiring way.

    Perhaps if sound systems did not dominate our lives we would discover our singing voices. I suspect the reason many priests do not sing the ordinary and that we almost never hear a chanted reading or Gospel is the presence of sound systems.

    Sound systems can be rather addictive. When I was in college teaching years ago, I much preferred lecturing in a large auditorium with sound system to having to project my voice in a large classroom without a microphone.

    1. Like you, Jack, I’m all for natural sound, especially the human voice. An electronic sound system can indeed be a crutch that keeps people from walking normally. But it can also provide much-needed assistance for soft-voiced individuals, and over long, long days. How best to use the technology? Many churches have a crude use of it, despite their good intentions. Yet even the better sound systems pose challenges. Some are best for spoken word, others for music, etc.

  28. Who died and left the likes of Bruce Harbert and Andrew Wadsworth, each employed to put together a book comprised of the work of other people – translators – (which they have not done – the task having been taken from them by Vox Clara and Tony Ward) in charge of mincing round the world, telling everyone else how to do liturgy?

    1. I doubt that these are either Bruce Harbert’s or Andrew Wadsworth’s sentiments alone. The ideas expressed in his address are becoming part of the collective discussion about the future of liturgy. What is amazing to me is that such ideas have now entered the “mainstream” dialogue, whereas only a few short years ago they were the exclusive domain of venues like the CMAA Colloquium and “conservative” websites. Suggestions that were once dismissed out of hand are now being seriously weighed and considered.

      Rather than attacking the speaker, why not defend those views that you propose and support?

      1. Jeffrey, I’d seriously appreciate an example of my “attacking the speaker” (and an apology if you cannot find such an example) – why, even if I had gone into the details of their business and first class air travel, and five star accommodation, I would STILL not have been attacking the speaker … and my question remains: who made these guys, employed to do an office job (which was in the event not done by them), experts on liturgy?

      2. I would venture to say if we are interested in discerning who can be categorized as a liturgy expert, we should look no further than BXVI himself. And his views on liturgy can be seen as much more traditional than the speaker in this article.

        Do you really have to be an “expert” at liturgy to dicuss how liturgy can be improved? The liturgical “experts” in the 60s had their views on liturgy…and it didn’t always jive with the directives of the church. So, the real question is what requisites are needed to be considered an expert on liturgy and thus be taken seriously?

      3. Chris

        How about that snarky “mincing” for starters. And “the likes of” et cet.

        The comment was filled with snark, and at a personal level.

    2. Chris;

      Your comment is nothing but a personal attack on Msgr. Wadsworth and Bruce Harbert.

      “Who died and left the “likes” of…
      “mincing around”…
      “Telling everyone else how to do liturgy”…

    3. In answer to Chris Grady’s question, I think the person who died was Pope John Paul II.

      There was a liturgical synthesis developed in the post-conciliar period and supported for the most part by Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) did not like that synthesis. He was for some time voicing his displeasure and collecting like-minded individuals around him in hopes of overturning it.

      As Pope John Paul II became more incapacitated, Card. Ratzinger used this opportunity to promote his liturgical goals. When JPII died and JR was elected pope, his favorites moved in entirely and evicted the remainder of the former regime. This isn’t a movement, really. (I know others will disagree.) It’s a coup. It was precipitated by the incapacitation and eventual death of the former leader.

      As for qualifications, there are “anti-qualifications” in the new regime, are there not? You see, to the old synthesis belong most of the liturgy scholars. Hence, liturgy is “too important to be left to the liturgists,” and all that. Harbert is a Latinist, not a liturgist, hence superbly qualified in the new regime, by his very non-qualifications. Of course, developments of this kind don’t wear well over time. But they are characteristic of a coup. Loyalty trumps expertise. Power over persuasion. That’s how I read the situation.

      1. So are you saying that this Papacy is an “anti-intellectual coup”? While you may not agree wholly with his vision of the Church, I think it is a bit much to say that Pope Benedict is somehow “anti-intellectual”.

        I would certainly agree that there are much varied opinions of what constitutes an intellectual depending on what side of the theological or political divide you call home. An intellectual from the other side of the divide simply becomes a pundit or a hack. If we believe everyone, then there are no intellectuals…and that might actually be OK insome instances.

      2. Rita, we can’t forget that JR was elected pope by the conclave of cardinals. If the cardinals had not chosen him as successor, the “coup” you so speak of would not have even been possible. Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit who is leading the church in this direction? Unless you don’t by into that whole pentecost thingy…

      3. But as Cardinal Ratzinger himself said, right before the conclave: the Holy Spirit doesn’t guide the electors in the sense of telling them which candidate is the Holy Spirit’s choice. In fact, given the checkered history (this is still Ratzinger talking), about the most we can say is that the Holy Spirit prevents them from completing ruining everything.

      4. No, Jeffrey, I am not saying “anti-intellectual.” It is simply a fact that most liturgical scholars of the late 20th-early 21st century are and were associated with the post-conciliar synthesis supported by JPII. It is likewise a fact that BXVI, when a cardinal, said liturgical experts were listened to too much in the reform. It is also a fact that Aidan Nichols attributes to Ratzinger the now much-quoted bon mot that liturgy is “too important to leave to the liturgists.”

        Ratzinger has succeeded in finding some of the very few scholars who have disagreed with that consensus, and has promoted their work. That does not make their arguments either more cogent or more persuasive (all these ideas have been around before), but it does make them the fashion at court. I recognize that there are people who believe in the new synthesis, passionately. I respect them. But, I think are very, very few.

        Now we come to another facet of the problem. In order to move a change of synthesis in the realm of practice, and do it fast, something else also had to change. There is simply not enough of a consensus about Ratzinger’s position. So, we see other people promoted, who are loyal to the program, but whose views are not formed by the earlier consensus of liturgical scholars because they are not liturgists at all. That’s not anti-intellectualism. That’s politics.

      5. Brad, I’m a passionate believer in Pentecost! But I think it’s a mistake to throw the cloak of sanctity over political processes in the Vatican in order to forestall questions about their wisdom or probity. Test everything, you know, and all that.

      6. Rita;

        If you are defining an intellectual scholar as someone who supports the aforementioned synthesis, then of course “most intellectual scholars agree with the post-conciliar synthesis”…those who oppose it are not intellectual scholars by definition.That was my point.

      7. Jeffrey,

        I think you may have read my post too quickly. I wrote “liturgical scholar” not “intellectual scholar.” I am not defining the term, nor stacking the deck. Anybody either in the academy or acknowledged by the profession will do. This is purely an empirical observation.

      8. Jeffery – I mean this as a serious question. You say you’re “very suspicious of academia.” How does this fit with our Catholic tradition’s hallowed ‘fides et ratio’ stance, which is in principle open to the intellectual investigation of every aspect of the Faith? I think that every word of teaching written by John Paul II and Benedict XVI was informed by their years of extensive work in academia. Even Ratzinger’s writings on liturgy are surely written with explicit engagement of academic authors – even as Ratzinger is writing outside his area of expertise.

  29. Karl Liam Saur :
    How about that snarky “mincing” for starters. And “the likes of” et cet.
    The comment was filled with snark, and at a personal level.

    Karl, if you think those things consitute attacks, you’ve never been attacked by me. Nor has Jeffrey.

    Bruce and Andrew have repeated time after time that they are just doing a tough (office) job in difficult circumstances (this was before Vox Clara took over their jobs) – I’m agreeing with that position, and asking the still unanswered question: who made them liturgical experts?

    1. Karl, if you think those things consitute attacks, you’ve never been attacked by me. Nor has Jeffrey.

      The fact that one is capable of acting like a bigger jerk does not change the fact that one is acting like a jerk.

      1. Thanks for that. Does “jerk” constitute an attack?

        And the question about the experts remains unanswered.

      2. What exactly is the question? Are you imagining that there is some central office that designates people as “liturgy experts?” Msgr. Wadsworth was asked to give an address at a conference. Apparently someone organizing the conference had some reason for thinking him competent to give that address. You may disagree. Fine. Make your arguments as to where his incompetence shows through. But don’t pretend that there is some illusory “liturgy expert” credential that he lacks that makes it self-evident that there is some nefarious plot to do. . . well, something nefarious (I’ll admit, I have a hard time discerning what malfeasance is being hinted at in your innuendos).

        As to “jerk”: I was merely stating a general principle. Feel free to apply it to your own life in whatever way you wish.

      3. Perhaps the Msgr. at the beginning of his name is some indication that he may know just a little something about celebrating liturgy.

  30. Chris;

    I’m sorry that you are having whatever problems you seem to be experiencing. My point was that there are competing views of where liturgy, particularly liturgical music, should be going. What are your views? How are they different than, or perhaps superior to those of Msgr. Wadsworth, and why? Put your ideas out there and let them be discussed and compared to those of Msgr. Wadsworth rather than trying to discredit Msgr. Wadsworth and therefore his ideas, which are, not coincidentally, pretty much the mind of the Church on this particular issue. He needn’t be a “litugist”… the ability to read liturgical documents is sufficient for what he is proposing

    As for me, I am largely in agreement with him and could add little to his commentary other than to expand on his vision for HOW a transition to such things as singing the Antiphons might be accomplished. How would you go about such a task, or why do you think it would be ill-advised?

  31. Thanks, Rita….nice synopsis. Would only add another observation. JPII seemed to institute a new type of “papal personality” and interjected that “personality” with power and authority. Agree that his liturgical “style” was more integral than JR but, in some ways, JR has adopted and extended the new papal personality pattern.

  32. I have really appreciated this discussion (for the most part!). The variety of ideas mirrors much that was common in discussion with the 300 musicians gathered in Atlanta on Saturday. The purpose of my address was to stimulate discussion, which it has. I don’t regard myself as any sort of expert, although 35 years of experience as a liturgical musician, including employment in several parishes, the composition and recording of liturgical music and 20 years of singing as a presider suggests that I might have something to say to a group of musicians gathered to discuss liturgical music. Even if it is only an exchange of views…

    1. I very much appreciated Msgr. Wadsworth’s thoughtful and stimulating piece. (I write as one who is torn on the hymn/proper discussion because I love both. I’m all for more propers as long as it doesn’t bring about an aesthetic loss because poor-quality new propers are replacing sold, traditional hymns.)

      I appreciated all the comments here EXCEPT the suggestion that Msgr. Wadsworth is not qualified to speak on liturgy. This as an ad hominem argument and it is disrespectful. Msgr. Wadsworth is qualified to speak on liturgy because of his training, his experience, and his current important position for the liturgical life of the Church.


  33. «Maybe the greatest challenge that lies before us is the invitation once again to sing the Mass rather than merely to sing at Mass»

    I’ve been a cradle Catholic for almost 66 years…when did we ever SING the Mass? Only the choir sang the Mass…

    We (people in the pews) actually sing more now than what I’ve ever experienced previously.

      1. Jeffrey – this is somewhat true regarding propers such as Introit and Communio, but even here, since the legislation allows either the Graduale proper (what I believe you take to mean “singing the Mass) or a hymn, which the US bishops says fulfilles “a liturgical role,” along with a few other options in-between, one could argue that all the choices are ‘singing the Mass’ since the Mass allows for all options and doesn’t require the proper chant.

        For the rest of the liturgy, surely people ARE singing the Mass – the Resp Psalm, the Gloria, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, etc. – these are all part of the Mass. They’re not singing Singmesse hymns paraphrasing these liturgical acclamations or about something else entirely.


      2. Some of the suspicion that we are not “singing the Mass” might be due to the degree of diligence in planning and preparing musical selections. Does a parish music group select a piece because they like it, regardless of the text’s harmonization with the Mass of the day? Let’s sing “All Are Welcome” when the students return to campus each August–my predecessors at my present parish thought that way. This would be an example of singing a song at Mass. And an option I’ve chosen not to continue.

        I’d submit that if a chant schola decides it can’t handle the propers every Sunday and only picks a favorite every two or three weeks it’s in the same boat: singing at the Mass.

        Option 1 in GIRM 48 gives me the choice of “another” setting of the Psalm from the Roman Gradual. So if I program “On Eagles Wings” when the Gradual Psalm is the 91st, it would seem my parish is singing the liturgy.

      3. But that doesn’t answer the question…when did the people in the pew ever “sing” the Mass…

  34. Amen to Anthony’s comments just now. As one who was in Atlanta as one of the 5 presenters that day, and having the tremendous privilege of getting to know Msgr. Wadsworth, I can speak of his integrity as a musician, a liturgist, and as Anthony as stated – his role of leadership and knowledge of all of issues involved. I too, go back and forth on the issue or propers and the use of hymns, and I do not know if I am totally convinced that most parish priests will embrace his call for a more engaged singing presider – but his sentiments and as he has stated, a call for a rigorous discussion and debate on these things – I applaud. I also can speak as a result of lots of informal discussions that Jerry Galipeau, Jeffrey Tucker, myself, and the wonderful leadership of the diocesan liturgy office in Atlanta had the pleasure of having with Msgr. Wadsworth – that these issues are complex, and the task that he has been overseeing together with the BCDW and other leaders is HUGE, to say the least. I am not totally happy with the end result of the missal – and I think it is also safe to say, either is he…. but we move forward as best we can, and trust that MOST of the people who have been engaged in this process from the standpoint of ICEL and others, have been working out of a place of faith, commitment to quality liturgy and prayer, and also – to help bring the best translation to life as they possibly can – especially since their efforts were often sabotaged and undermined.

  35. Even with all of the problems and issues that this final version presents us with – I stand by Msgr. Wadsworth’s leadership.

  36. “Even if it is only an exchange of views…”

    Would that this exchange be broadened in preparation for vital Catholic discernment on translation, inculturation, composition of texts and music, and the other liturgical issues of our day, rather than be given as a less meaningful concession after the fact.

    Fr Anthony’s good word is enough for me in considering the measure of a liturgist. But it doesn’t alter the deep skepticism I have for this project as a whole in terms of competence, scholarship, artistry, and pastoral ministry. Many, many questions to bring to this exchange of views.

  37. “I’m all for more propers as long as it doesn’t bring about an aesthetic loss because poor-quality new propers are replacing sold, traditional hymns.) ”

    Fr Ruff, thank you for that. I really don’t think anyone is interested in an aesthetic loss. As long as parishes rely on a single cantor to lead singing, creative solutions will be needed. I have found Mr Ford’s By Flowing Waters, while only seasonal in nature, to be a good model. The congregations to which I have introduced these simple melodies, catch on quickly and seem to buy into the alternatim of cantor on verses, congregation for the antiphon. Especially without organ, this is a powerful sound. We should encourage composers to set annual cycles of sturdy melodies for the antiphons that are adaptable to several texts. Hymns are good but should be used for devotional moments during the Mass where they will be most effective. It would be so nice to be freed from finding 4 hymns for EVERY Mass.

  38. While I appreciate the ideal of the congregation singing the official entrance antiphon, I do think that most parishes, and mine included (made up of a very significant number who have joined us from Protestantism) would have a most difficult time giving up strong metrical hymns,especially those exquisite ones from the Anglican and Methodist tradition. These are very singable, orthodox, God/Christ oriented and powerful. Does it have to be either/or? Why not both/and? Let the choir or cantor sing at least what is written in the missal after the procession arrives in the sanctuary and while the incensation occurs, or sing it as a prelude? I see no reason why the choir or cantor could not sing alone the offertory and communion antiphons. Even at our monthly EF High Mass, where we sing all that is prescribed, we still have a metrical entrance procession and recession in the vernacular. The schola sings the introit after the prayers at the foot of the altar as I ascend it to incense it. The people then join in the Kyrie and Gloria and I sing with them, don’t recite these by myself.

    1. Hmmmm. . . I detect a creeping reformism in your celebration of the EF, father. Next thing you know you’ll be offering communion under both species, and we know what that leads to!

      1. FC, I am a reformer and reform minded, but of course within Cardinal Ratzinger’s school of continuity! And yes, I think it would be entirely appropriate for intinction during the EF Mass. Apart from the vernacular, after the prayers at the foot of the altar, the EF Mass is not that different than the OF except for the offertory and the duplication of the “Dominus non sum dignus” once for the priest and once for the laity and of course saying it three times, each time. As Cardinal Ratzinger once said, most people wouldn’t be able to detect the difference between an OF Mass celebrated in Latin, Gregorian Chant, with all of the antiphons sung and the EF Mass, if both are celebrated ad orientem. That’s quite true I believe.

    2. Fr. McDonald;

      This is the approach used by many, including myself. The introit is sung by the choir, followed by the processional hymn. At communion, a small “schola” sings the communio while the choir receives communion. The choir usually follows with a motet. It isn’t at all disruptive to the “status quo”.

  39. Jeffrey, This is how they used to do it at the National Shrine, but I think in most parishes, it would work better (and be understood better) if the Introit and single verse were sung at the foot of the altar after the opening hymn. Most introits would not last too long and the priest could ascend during the Gloria Patri, perhaps. The Introit is a processional chant, but even in the EF, it is employed the way I mention if the Asperges is sung.

  40. Still sounds like the choir will be singing a whole lot and the people in the pews will be singing very little…struggling to sing along with something new every week…even a choir in the usual parish won’t be able to keep up with that!

    Due to budget, we’ve gone from a fulltime liturgist/musician to a part-time choir director…many parishes will need to consider what $$$ are left after having to purchase all new music for choir and for people (especially since many of us just bought all new hymnals for the entire parish/choir last year!).

    The Vatican is already operating in the red; most parishes are in the red or close to it…the Church is close to financial collapse…probably, this would be the best reform to come along in centuries!

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