No hymns permitted at Mass in England and Wales? Not quite.

It has been claimed (for example at the Chant Cafe, based on a comment here at Pray Tell) that the GIRM for England and Wales requires proper chants and does not permit other hymns.

1) The General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) for England and Wales came into force in 2005. It’s already operating. And “Celebrating the Mass” (CTM) is the equivalent in England and Wales of ICEL’s “Pastoral Notes” for the 1998 Sacramentary. It was published by the E&W Conference in 2005 at the same time as GIRM.

2) GIRM 48 for E&W says: “In the dioceses of England and Wales the options for the Entrance chant are: (1) the antiphon and psalm from the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex; or (2) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, the text of which has been approved by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.”

In other words, this is a much more restricted provision than in the US. The Australian 2007 GIRM provision in this paragraph is different again. In England and Wales, no one is taking any notice of what was clearly an editorial oddity – perhaps produced after a heavy Roman lunch? See also CTM para. 140.

3) GIRM 74 states: “The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the Offertory chant (cf. no. 37b), which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar. The norms on the manner of singing are the same as for the Entrance chant (cf. no. 48). Singing may always accompany the rite at the offertory, even when there is no procession with the gifts.”

Since there are no Offertory chants in the Missal, but only in the Graduale, no one is taking any notice of this either. See also CTM para. 180.

4) GIRM 87 for E&W states: “In the dioceses of the England and Wales the options for the Communion chant are as follows: (1) the antiphon from the Graduale Romanum either with or without the psalm; (2) the antiphon with the psalm from the Graduale Simplex; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.”

Once again, this appears to be the after-effects of over-indulgence at that little trattoria at lunchtime…. Once again, see CTM para. 213.

 5) The provisions of GIRM for E&W are supplemented by CTM. Since particular law takes precedence over universal law, here are the relevant provisions.

CTM 140 on the Entrance chant: “The Roman Rite provides an antiphon to be sung at this point, although it may be replaced by a psalm or suitable liturgical song. The text and the music should be suited to the mystery being celebrated, the part of the Mass, the liturgical season or the day.”

CTM 180 on the Offertory chant: “Music or song may begin with the collection and continue during the procession of gifts; it should continue at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar… The purpose of any music at this point is to accompany the collection, the procession, and the presentation of gifts, particularly when these will occupy a considerable period of time. Sung texts need not speak of bread and wine, nor of offering. Texts expressing joy, praise, community, as well as the spirit of the season, are appropriate. Since the presentation of gifts is preparatory, instrumental music or silence may often be more effective. Care should be taken that the musical elaboration of this part of the Mass does not emphasise it to the detriment of the great act of thanksgiving that follows it.”

CTM 213 on the Communion chant: “The Roman Rite provides an antiphon to be sung at this point. The antiphon may be replaced by a psalm or suitable liturgical song. The text and the music should be suited to the mystery being celebrated, the part of the Mass, the liturgical season or the day.”


  1. The provisions of GIRM for E&W are supplemented by CTM. Since particular law takes precedence over universal law, here are the relevant provisions.

    But is CTM particular law? What makes you say that that is the case?

  2. Actually I think on the one hand labelling Celebrating the Mass particular law, and, on the other, disputing the label, are an irrelevance. This is guidance given to us by our bishops. I therefore see no grounds for disputing it.

    Those who like to spend their time fulminating at the moral turpitude of bishops’ conferences can get on with their fulminating; the rest of us can get on with celebrating the Mass.

  3. The GIRM is absolutely ‘particular law’, and not only this, but the greatest binding liturgical legislation in any region. ‘Universal law’ would be the Latin IGMR with no adaptations from any Bishops’ conference. These sections of the E&W are undeniably the particular law with the greatest force in E&W. I would like to hear anyone argue otherwise.

    1. Actually, Adam, you are incorrect. GIRM is the universal law, but documents such as CTM are particular law for a territory and take precedence. If a bishop, as chief liturgist in his diocese, makes yet other provisions (and in my own diocese we have one or two small deviations from GIRM), then that too is particular law in the diocese in question.

    2. Perhaps we’re going to have to ask a canonist to mediate this, Paul, but I believe that you are wrong.

      As I have been taught, universal law is given by the Vatican, the universal legislator. And for the liturgy this is found in the editiones typicae, in our case the rubrics in the Roman Missal and its General Instruction. Conferences of bishops are given the competency to make certain adaptations to the universal law as described in GIRM 390. If the proposed adaptations are approved by the universal lawmaker then they become particular law for that region.

      I understand that the same process of Vatican approval is needed for directives produced by bishops conferences if they are to take the force of particular law. I do not see this Vatican approval in ‘Celebrating the Mass, so I do not believe that it holds the status of “particular law”. The same is true of ‘Sing to the Lord’ in the U.S.

      Since the liturgy is not legislated from the Code of Canon Law I suppose we would need confirmation from a canonist or from the Holy See itself. But I think that this is pretty commonly understood. Again, this is what I have been taught in my graduate study of liturgy. I’m not making it up. Just checked my notes.

      I would love to see any more support that you can give to support your claim.

      Particular law for the processional chants in E&W is contained in the approved GIRM for that region, not in CTM.

  4. Really, does this matter to the vast majority of catholics? I know it is of great interest to elite liturgy buffs but really it does not impact on ordinary parish worship..

    1. I know it is of great interest to elite liturgy buffs but really it does not impact on ordinary parish worship
      lol, that surely is the case in my parish

  5. It is of very little to interest to those “liturgy buffs” who care about worship as the source and summit of the spiritual life rather than a locus for arcane (and ultimately irrelevant) legal disputes.

  6. It is of interest to those who feel that several parts of the Mass have been taken away from the faithful and replaced by songs of varying merit, both textually and musically. Yes, I understand the coordination issues with the 3-year lectionary and the Gradual propers, but this needs to be addressed so that the proper texts of the Mass can be returned to the faithful. For those of you that would dismiss this, ask yourself which other parts of the Mass are next to shoved aside in favor of another text. I already have the great “pleasure” to be forced to hear a priest make up the eucharistic prayers as he goes along for part of the year (we are seasonal in Florida).

  7. Dare I add that the publication of this, um, “oddity” as reprinted, not advanced by the Chant Cafe didn’t warrant much traction or interest there, thus making Paul’s apologetics seem like using a fire hyrant to take a sip of water. Must we always engage in tit for tat just so we can claim the high road?
    It died a quiet death at CC, why call out the trauma unit on a DNR?

  8. Charles – thanks much for this admonition. The timing here, and the misunderstanding, is my doing. Paul wrote all this to me in an email, it was a response to the post at PTB, and I said I’d post it for him because I liked it and I knew he was up to his earlobes in another project. Well, packing and travelling to Rome and finding internet connection, etc., meant that I only got to it now. As I put up Paul’s post (he did a final approval of my draft and hit ‘submit’), I did think to myself that I didn’t mean it as a rebuttal of Chant Café, with the goal of PTB 1, CC 0. I decided to put the CC link because I thought it would interest the reader, but I was glad I could say that it was all based on a comment originally at PTB.
    You’re right to raise the point. We really shouldn’t be about tit for tat at all. We’re all on the same side, serving the same Lord.
    Thanks much for contributing, at CC and at PTB!

  9. Paul
    May I ask you to explain what you mean when you write: “In England and Wales, no one is taking any notice of what was clearly an editorial oddity – perhaps produced after a heavy Roman lunch?”
    I guess that you mean “very few” for “no one” as there will usually be an exception to prove a rule so fair enough.
    My query is rather: Have the bishops not approved a collection of psalms and antiphons and thus approved an instruction referring to something that does not exist?
    By “taking any notice” I expect that you mean “seeking to act in conformity with this part of GIRM”. The implication is that the bishops issued an instruction and then fail to follow it themselves.
    By describing “an editorial oddity” perhaps you mean that the instruction was issued by mistake and it is easier to pretend that it is not there than to make a change.
    Have I correctly understood or am I misstating your understanding?

    In asking these questions I do not ask whether current practice is good or bad. It is a matter of making sense of instructions and how they are followed.
    Many thanks

  10. Actually, what started this conversation was a comment by Dom Anthony, in which he said that every edition of GIRM known to him made provision for hymns to be sung in place of propers. In response to this, I observed that, as a matter of fact, the GIRM proposed by the Bishops of England & Wales, granted ‘recognitio’ by the Holy See, and already nominally in force since 2005, makes no such provision. This *is* a matter of fact; no-one disputes it. I did not make a ‘claim’; I stated a fact.
    Mr Inwood then replied to me with the claim that CTM – effectively – invalidates GIRM where the two documents are in conflict. This seemed a surprising claim to me, given that CTM is subtitled ‘A Pastoral Introduction’, has not received the recognitio, and does not present itself as containing legislation. Indeed, in his foreword, Bishop Roche, writes that CTM “is intended … to serve as a companion and guide to a greater appreciation and implementation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.” Again, I made no claims, I simply queried Mr Inwood’s assertion about the legal status of CTM. This would have been an opportunity for him to provide some evidence to support his claim. Instead he gives us some entertaining spiel about an imagined ‘heavy Roman lunch’ which led to three (curiously consistent) mistakes on the part of the E&W bishops. My surprise at the development of this conversation continues to grow.

  11. Well, Ben, I tried and AWR acknowledged this was a “nothing to see here, move on.”
    But I’m glad someone else noticed Paul’s repeated inference that KPluth, JT, A.Bartlett, myself and a bunch of other folks are simply Roman “Kool Aid” drinkers. 😉

  12. But I will say this, in order to clear up an apparent misunderstanding: I have said nothing that could give a careful reader the impression that I believed the singing of hymns at Mass to be prohibited in E&W. Clearly that would be nonsense: GIRM specifically provides for a congregational hymn *after* the distribution of holy communion; and as nothing is said about music after the dismissal, presumably a recessional hymn is quite acceptable. There’s also no reason why, if time permits, the proper chant or approved antiphon/psalm could not be supplemented by an appropriate hymn at the entrance & the preparation of the gifts as well. But what is excluded by the *changes* which the E&W bishops made to the Latin IGRM (cf. the Scottish version) is the substitution of hymns for proper chants. Now this is unenforceable as long as there exists no approved collection of antiphons and psalms; and such a collection was unlikely to be forthcoming until the final text of RM3 was established. Hence, no doubt, the rather more permissive approach in CTM. But the bishops have laid down a road map for a radical new approach to music at Mass in their territory: it will be over the next few years that we will see whether they can follow through. I prefer the hypothesis that the bishops are playing a long game to the insinuation that they were enjoying a long lunch.

    1. Ben,

      You really do not understand what was going on, do you.

      The text of GIRM which was given to the USA in 2002 was negotiated at great length by Msgr James Moroney, then secretary of the American BCDW. The texts which “arrived” in late 2004 at the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales and in 2007 at the Australian Episcopal Conference were not negotiated by those Bishops at all. They arrived out of the blue and were imposed by the Congregation in Rome. Their contents were a surprise to those Conferences and their liturgy personnel. The inconsistencies inherent in those texts support the theory that the editorial pen of a well-known member of the staff of the Congregation in Rome lacked, shall we say, some acuity after ample wine-fuelled lunches at that infamous little trattoria. There is no suggestion that bishops were indulging themselves at lunchtime, and it is certainly not they who were responsible for “changing” the text. It is all down to that member of the Sacred Congregation.

      A simple comparison of the text of GIRM in the USA version (2002), England and Wales version (2005) and Australian version (2007) demonstrates that there is indeed no other plausible explanation for the inconsistencies, which make no sense whatsoever. That is why people are not taking them seriously.

      Incidentally, your statement and as nothing is said about music after the dismissal, presumably a recessional hymn is quite acceptable. shows that you do not understand that there is no recessional hymn in the Roman Rite. Mass ends when the people respond “Thanks be to God” to the dismissal. Anything which happens after that is not technically part of Mass at all. A recessional hymn or an organ voluntary or nothing at all are all possible, but the rite makes no provision for them, and therefore nothing is said about them. The question of acceptability does not arise, as they do not belong to the rite.

      1. Paul, thank you for that authoritative summary.

        The bottom line which I take from what you have written is, machinations at administrative level, whose aims are to control and micromanage what happens globally, result in people locally ignoring them and using their own judgement. So let’s have more intrigue and inconsistency. The more the merrier. They discredit an over-centralised model of administration, like the one we have at the moment.

        A scripture professor in Maynooth in the 1980s told his students that they could relax in that all of the wars about biblical studies had been fought, and that now, it was the turn of moral theology to be in the firing line.

        World War III will be about liturgy.

  13. “The question of acceptability does not arise.”

    While E&W GIRM and CTM provide no guidelines for a recessional hymn, other documents do take up the question of acceptability for recessional songs, including MCW, STTL and this from Rome on all hymns sung at the beginning, at the Offertory, at the Communion and at the end of Mass:

    “they must be in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast, or with the liturgical season” (MS, 36).

    I imagine that it is this Roman document that continues to guide the English and Welsh while their 2005 version of GIRM remains silent.

  14. Ooh, juicy gossip with a chaser of conjecture even.
    This gets funner and funner.
    Pretty soon PTB, CC and all the other war zones will have to have PUI checkpoints, most appropriate this Memorial Day weekend here in the colonies.

  15. Mr Inwood,
    nobody is remotely interested in the question of how much I “understand” about your colourful anecdotes. What people are interested in is (a) which documents are canonically authoritative; (b) what those documents actually say; and (c) how those authoritative instructions can be interpreted practically in parishes.

    1. Ben,

      My point, which you clearly missed, was that you claimed that bishops had made changes to GIRM for their own territories. “But what is excluded by the *changes* which the E&W bishops made to the Latin IGRM”…..

      The fact is, they didn’t. The changes were made (and inconsistently made) in Rome.

      1. No, I didn’t miss your point, I just don’t see how it’s relevant to the questions I’ve raised and which you have still not addressed. The Bishops published GIRM & put it on their website – they didn’t have to do that: the Irish & Canadian Bishops haven’t done so – so one can presume that they approve of the form in which GIRM now stands. Why, then, should Catholics in E&W not regard it as particular law, and make at least some effort to obey it? Or is CTM a reward for disobedience? Discuss.

      2. The English and Welsh Bishops are very pleasant folks. They published GIRM because they felt they ought to, not because they liked everything in it (you see how pleasant they actually are), and simultaneously they published CTM, which was designed to help people implement and interpret GIRM for E&W. They also put both documents up on their website, side by side.

        The clear intention is that for E&W you look to CTM to see how GIRM is to be employed. End of story.

        The reward for disobedience, as another liturgist suggested, was another papal document, as we have already discussed elsewhere on this forum. It has nothing to do with what we are talking about.

        Let me summarize once more what I said before:
        (a) GIRM in Latin (2002) contains certain provisions.
        (b) GIRM for the USA (2002), E&W (2005) and Australia (2007) contain different provisions in some particulars.
        (c) These differences appear to be quite arbitrary. No one knows why they happened, least of all the bishops’ conferences and their liturgy office personnel.
        (d) A theory explaining these glitches, based on knowledge of the post-prandial capacities of certain clerics working in Rome, has been proposed.
        (e) While this theory may not be the only explanation, it is nevertheless reasonable to suppose that these inconsistencies have come about accidentally, and therefore not too much credence is to be placed in them.

        That was the purpose of my post: to say that in fact virtually no credence is being placed in them!

        You say that because there is no collection of antiphons and psalms, therefore the E&W bishops could not recommend one. But their statement in CTM, The antiphon may be replaced by a psalm or suitable liturgical song is quite clear. No particular collection is referenced. There is in fact at least one collection of appropriate antiphons and psalms, the Psallite project, already available; and this is being increasingly used. No doubt others will follow.

      3. If that was your only point, I’m not sure why you dragged us all round the trattorie. The whole point of my original comment was to state a fact about the E&W edition of GIRM which Fr Anthony didn’t know, but seemed relevant to the discussion about ‘Worship 4’. No one’s disputed the fact, but you have now devoted a considerable number of lengthy comments and a blogpost trying to convince me (& apparently just me, as you haven’t addressed any of the interesting comments that our petty squabble has generated from other readers) that GIRM is not law, or it is “only” universal law and therefore irrelevant, or it is law drawn up by a drunken bureaucrat and therefore invalid, or it is a law that all (in the sense of ‘many’) break and therefore of no consequence, or it is shop-window law and if you’re nice to the bishops they’ll let you have the real law under the counter, or … well, actually I’m not sure what you’re trying to tell me any more. If I lived in England or Wales, I might care enough to pick away at some of the extraordinary things you’ve posted this weekend (like that teasing allusion to “small deviations” in Portsmouth, for example), but I’m determined to walk away from this conversation with something positive, so here it is: I was waiting for you to plug ‘Psallite’, and I admire the fact that you did so in such a discreet way.

    2. I think the point about a plug for Psallite is implied. But look at the blurb on the litpress website:
      The composers of Psallite: Sacred Song for Liturgy and Life–Carol Browning, Catherine Christmas, Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam, Paul F. Ford, and Paul Inwood–collaborate on an expanded collection of music for the Mass.

      The BBC would say that other suitable sources exist.

  16. I find the “juicy gossip” to be some of the least palatable commentary here at PTB. For all the remarks about the Roman hierarchy being an old boys’ club, there are plenty of remarks from people here about this or that trattoria in Rome, this or that curial official, this or that anecdote, all without giving names, which leaves me with the feeling that I’ve bumbled into some Members Only club room.

  17. So the “no hymns permitted at Mass” thing was not delivered as infallibly as the “no hers at the altar” thing, right Paul?

  18. Paul
    Thank you for this last post. I think that you mean that GIRM 48 refers to a collection “approved by the Bishops’ Conference” and this approval is given in CTM 140 for anything “suitable,” presumably at the discretion of the celebrant. A sort of blank cheque.
    I am a little puzzled by the dates. You mention in your post 18, 28 May 6.59 pm (presumably American time) that the 2005 GIRM arrived in England in late 2004. I see that the Decree of Confirmation by Cardinal Arinze of 17 August 2004 refers to the document being sent to the Congregation by Cardinal C Murphy-O’Connor on 30 March 2004 which I think would be early, not late 2004. Would you like to check? I am not sure that this is the most important matter here but it might be useful.
    What seems more important is the idea that there is a formal instruction of which “no one is taking any notice”.
    Would the same casual approach be appropriate for the Nolan guidelines?
    I work in a bank where we are careful to comply with all laws and regulations. It seems odd that the clergy should take a casual approach to their laws and regulations. Do you see the reason this seems odd to me?

    1. Peter,

      Thanks for asking.

      The sequence of events was as follows, some of which can be gleaned from what is in the front of E&W and some of which is known only to those who were around at the time:

      (1) The E&W Conference approved GIRM in principle at their November 2002 meeting, hence the reference to canonical approval on 14 November 2002.

      (2) Nothing having been heard from the Congregation, the president of the Conference, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor wrote again on 30 March 2004.

      (3) The Congregation woke up, processed the document, and the decree of confirmation signed by Cardinal Arinze is dated 17 August 2004. This decree notably refers to “the attached copy” [of GIRM] and requests that two copies of the printed copy be forwarded to the Congregation.

      (4) Though the decree carries a date of 17 August 2004, it is most unlikely that it was signed then, in the middle of the Roman summer holiday period when everyone is away and Roman dicasteries are closed.

      (5) Roman documents often carry dates which bear little resemblance to the actual date of signature or reception or publication. A good example of this is the first Latin verson of the latest GIRM, actually signed by John Paul II on 11 January 2000, but dated Holy Thursday of the the same year (20 April). No one knew of its existence until it appeared in its first (defective) English translation in the last week of July 2000. (The final definitive Latin version came out in 2002.)

      (6) In a similar way, Cardinal Arinze’s decree of confirmation, dated 17 August 2004, together with the attached text of E&W GIRM, was not received at the secretariat of the Bishops’ Conference until just before Christmas 2004, at a time when the offices were closing down for the holiday and many people were away.

      (7) That is why the decree of publication is dated 6 January 2005, the date the mail from Rome was opened after the holiday, and why E&W GIRM itself was not actually published until 14 April 2005.

      1. (8) The “attached copy” of GIRM for E&W included the clearly defective version of para 48. The differences between the E&W version and the US version were quickly noted, and at first caused a little consternation since they took no account of practice in England and Wales, which is normally to substitute a hymn for the antiphon and psalm at the entrance. (This practice continues today.)

        US GIRM (2002): In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

        E&W GIRM (2005): In the dioceses of England and Wales the options for the Entrance Chant are: (1) the antiphon and psalm from the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex; or (2) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, the text of which has been approved by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

        and cf. Australia GIRM (2007): The antiphon and Psalm from the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex may be used, or another song that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the season and that has a text approved by the Conference of Bishops.

        which is an exact translation of the generic Latin IGMR (2002): Adhiberi potest sive antiphona cum suo psalmo in Graduali Romano vel in Graduali simplici exstans, sive alius cantus, actioni sacrae, diei vel temporis indoli congruus, cuius textus a Conferentia Episcoporum sit approbatus.

      2. Thank you Paul
        It sounds a bit of a muddle. I suspect that Roman paperwork is ofton slow.

        I amused myself briefly with the thought that if there was no collection approved under GIRM 48 (2) then the only legitimate music would be chant from the Gradual.
        There may be a serious point here apart from poor drafting. If there is no authoritative text to point to the poor parish priest may find that the music is controlled by the choir master or organist and he has no means of ensuring that the choice made is appropriate. Here I consider a priest serving various churches who has to drive from one Mass to another and so has insufficient time to prepare the choice of music with the musicians. The result may be very unsatisfactory.
        Incidentally we see that Fr Ruff has benefited from a Roman lunch after his Palestrina. Who knows what disasters have been prevented by these lunches?

  19. It seems to me that many people simply don’t realize that the antiphons in the Missal are not antiphons to be sung, but to be recited when the antiphons from the Graduale Romanum (or from the other exceptions made in the General Instruction) are not sung. It still remains a mystery why the Offertory antiphon is not in the missal, but people should know to look at the GR first for the antiphons instead of simply looking at the Missal. The Roman Missal isn’t the only book for Mass. Here’s a simple breakdown:

    1. Missale Romanum- for the priest
    2. Graduale Romanum (OF)/Liber Usualis (EF)- for the choir (not necessarily excluding the congregation)
    3. Kyriale- for the congregation

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