Chants of the Roman Missal: A Review

John Ainslie reviews Chants of the Roman Missal: Study Edition, published by Liturgical Press.

Chants of the Roman Missal: A Review


  1. Many thanks for this sensitive and broad-thinking review. It occurs to me as I read it that one pastoral situation not discussed is one that affects the liturgical ecology of many a parish: when there are multiple priests celebrating Masses, alternating with each other (as far as the people are concerned, randomly) for various more or less habitual assemblies — priests with multiple levels of ability to chant and (perhaps more to the point) various levels of willingness to be bothered to prepare for the celebration — the people are put on a kind of roller coaster of approaches to celebrating the liturgy. Such situations override the kinds of matters discussed in books like this, and even in the highly subtle discussion of Mr. Ainslie. But they greatly affect the people’s ability to count on certain aspects of the whole atmosphere of the celebration, and this doesn’t redound to their security for full participation, which should be (and is, clearly, for Mr. Ainslie) a preeminent concern.

  2. the people are put on a kind of roller coaster of approaches to celebrating the liturgy

    Ironically the decreasing number of priests seems to have exacerbated this. In this area the attempt to not decrease the number of Masses has resulted in many priests rotating in and out of parishes.

    In addition to priests, there is the matter of different choirs (traditional, contemporary, children’s) which in some parishes get rotated around the Mass schedule, so that people who have a favorite Mass time may end up with various combinations of priests and choirs.

    While some parishes publish the forthcoming schedule for those who would like a choice, others are very reluctant to publish anything. Maybe they are afraid they might find out that people have favorite choirs and/or favorite priests?

    With all this planned variety and chaos, is it any wonder that the laity are passive with little motivation to become involved in the liturgy?

    I began to attend the parish about a half hour away with the sung EP because they had the most predictable liturgy. No matter when you go, regardless of priest or choir, you get the same type of liturgy. Fortunately it is one that I like.

  3. John, Before your review of Chants of the Roman Missal: Study Edition is unceremoniously carried off to the PrayTell archives, I want to thank you for a most thought-provoking review.

    I have not yet purchased a copy of Chants… I will probably wait for the dirt-cheap “condensed version” to be published (the version without the chants themselves).

    I have refrained from criticizing anything in the chants of Roman Missal 3 for fear that I might be accused of “sour grapes” since I invested hundreds of hours in the preparation of the chants contained in the ill-fated 1997 Sacramentary. Many of the concerns you raise in your review I share.

    I hope that Chants of the Roman Missal: Study Edition, along with your review, will be read by many folks, especially those presently engaged in creating new plainsong music in English. A lot of mistakes can be avoided if musical formulae are flexible enough to accommodate the speech rhythms of the English text. Case in point: the musical treatment of the “It is” which begins every preface in Roman Missal 3.

  4. May I add my congratulations for a well-thought-out, balanced and generally excellent review, John.

    Many thanks, too, for naming the problems with the principles adopted by those responsible for the chants. I know, from my experience with clergy in my diocese, that these principles are going to come back to bite those responsible. Why else would we already be in the position of issuing “corrected” versions of the chants so that the brethren may find them both usable and prayable? You mentioned the problem, but charitably refrained from pointing out that the different variations on the tone used for chanting “The Lord be with you” are no less than a pastoral disaster. And that the simpler clergy tones are actually to be found in the appendices at the back rather than in the body of the Missal….

    The furore that erupted over the chants in the 1973 Missal has been avoided, probably because we are all too civilized now, but that doesn’t mean that the major problems aren’t still there. What has happened will ensure that other, better chants, perhaps modal but not tied slavishly to the neumes, will eventually emerge. Indeed, they are already doing so. So much for the universality of the Church…. But perhaps this is a sign of intellectual inculturation. 🙂

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