Agnus Dei tropes – one approach

You’re familiar with the practice of extending the Lamb of God chant by singing several verses with Christological invocations? Like this: “Lamb of God,” “Son of God,” “Lord of love,” “Bread of life,” and the like; and then the last time the return to “Lamb of God” to signal the final ending, “grant us peace.”

Pray Tell reported earlier that official moods are moving toward opposing such tropes. According to the ascendant view, only the text “Lamb of God” (“Agnus Dei”) should be used each time if the chant is extended. This led to our solution at St. John’s last Pentecost – to sing the approved text in many languages.

Since that earlier report, I’ve found out that the USCCB hasn’t officially ruled on the matter, but has expressed its considered opinion in response to an inquiry. The permission for tropes in the US bishops’ document Sing to the Lord, then, still stands. In recently published worship aids, though, publishers are avoiding such tropes, I believe at the request of the USCCB.

Meanwhile, Alan Hommerding has convinced me that “Lamb of God” is a highly appropriate text for this moment, and one should hesitate to replace it with something which diminishes the paschal sacrificial banquet theme.

Putting all this together – Agnus Dei tropes are permitted but frowned upon, “Lamb” is the right theme for this ritual moment – I’ve decided to abandon the use of seasonal tropes for the Agnus Dei, but use the same tropes year-round. They have exclusively lamb/sacrifice themes.

Here are the tropes used for Latin chant settings in congregational layout. Here is the cantor part. Here is Agnus XVIII for schola with organum. I set it up so that each trope is one syllable longer, which both helps build momentum and makes it clearer when the Agnus Dei returns. Here’s a recording of it from Sunday Mass at the abbey.

For English settings, the congregation sings the tropes, like this.










  1. While I’m not really familiar with such a huge corpus, weren’t some of the actual medieval Agnus Dei tropes phrases in addition to “Agnus Dei,” rather than instead of it? Those suggest a different model: tropes as extra lines of text, allowing for variation and lengthening of the chant, while preserving the repeated use of “Lamb of God.”

    Of course, those tropes were a lot more creative, and less conservative, than the simple use of a few short phrases we see today. I wouldn’t expect any approval for such an approach in today’s climate. But hypothetically, it’s interesting that they would allow for rich creativity, while holding onto the paschal/sacrificial language at the same time.

  2. We are using the Mass of St. Paul the Apostle by Christopher Walker. I respect Christopher’s work very much; and this setting is about as good as anyone can do given the source material.

    With regard to the Lamb of God, we have needed extra time due to the fraction rite. What is very helpful about this particular setting is that the final “Lamb of GOD,” goes up to a higher pitch; thus when the DLM sees that the cups are finally filled he simply sings the “GOD” on the higher note and the assembly is readily cued that we are coming to the “Grant us peace” coda. It works very nicely.

    I like awr’s tropes quit a bit. Nice job!

    1. Maybe you could just have the cups filled beforehand, then? Dragging the fraction rite out forever interrupts the pacing of the eucharistic liturgy and smacks of clericalism (the “important people up there” are doing stuff by themselves; the “chosen ones” get VIP communion straight from the priest; meanwhile everybody else has to look on and twiddle their thumbs), so it sounds like you might want to rethink things overall a little bit.

  3. AWR does great work. But I don’t see much point here really. Not sure what is to be gained by tropes here. There has been so much instability over the last decades; “lamb of God” is a good text and the repetition here amounts to a very lovely liturgical stammer. Let people have their expectations met in this instance.

    1. The need is in my mind the practical one that, if one is following the ideal set forth in GIRM #321, the fraction rite often takes longer than most Agnus Dei settings. So the point would be to have a way of signaling the congregation that the final repetition, with its Dona nobis pacem, has arrived.

      I suppose one could simply figure out how long the fraction rite typically takes and simply always repeat agnus Dei the same number of times, so that the congregation remembers that on, say, the sixth repeat they sing dona nobis. Or one could always use a setting like the one described by Fr. Jim, above.

      1. We used to use multiple tropes based on the length of the Fraction Rite + communicating the EMs. However, with the stronger emphasis on the priest communicating under both species before distributing to EMs, we have found that the usual three times work well. Since the communion “chant” begins after the priest’s communion, we have the cantor intone the refrain to our communion song at that time. The assembly then is singing while the EMs receive, and (in a perfect parish!) can continue singing at least the refrain during the actual communion procession. The cantor receives communion at the end (except when the usual EM forgets!).
        One advantage of multiple tropes is that, when the last one is always Lamb of God, the congregation knows that the response will be ‘grant us peace.” While I appreciate (as always) Alan’s take on the matter, it does seem to me that similarly sacrificial and eucharistic tropes could be used when necessary, especially since there appears to be adequate documentation and precedent for the practice.

      2. Actually, per GIRM 159, the Communion chant is supposed to begin *during* the priest’s communion. (In other words, the priest’s communion is no longer supposed to be marked by the silence that functioned to demarcate the juridical end of what was necessary for a valid Mass; remember that, for many centuries, the priest was the only one receiving Holy Communion on most occasions.)

      3. In other words, the priest’s communion is no longer supposed to be marked by the silence that functioned to demarcate the juridical end of what was necessary for a valid Mass;

        The explanation you suggest here has no basis in the rubrics of the Tridentine missal. If there is no Communion of the people, the Communio is sung (according to the rubrics) as the priest receives Communion. The reason it is normally delayed until the people’s Communion has to do with the elaborated Communion rite with Confiteor and/or Ecce Agnus Dei after the priest’s Communion, which would be impeded if the Communio was sung at the priest’s Communion.

  4. Tropes are time-tested. Many beautiful ones going back to the 9th to the 13th century. They should be encouraged as part of the Roman patrimony (I thought this pope was into preserving patrimony).

    As in so many liturgical matters today, I see widespread use of tropes regardless of what Rome says.

    1. Dunstan’s point is worth bearing in mind.

      One person’s instability is another’s variety. There is no good reason, apart from personal taste, for opposing a variety which is legitimate and edifying.

  5. With respect to the idea of alternate tropes being no longer in fashion what I’m seeing in various liturgical pronouncements are little more than prohibitions against the pet peeves of a handful of powerful ordinaries. Case in point, Francis George personally disliked the practice of filling communion cups during the fraction rite. Now, after thirty years of time-tested practice, this beautiful action of “pouring out” is reprobated. The same is true of the trope issue. Some influential cardinal somewhere had a bug up you-know-where about it, and now it’s a cause celebre for all the climbers who need the endorsement of said cardinal for the next step up the ladder. That’s how it works. Very little is based on principle any more.

    1. Fr. Blue we see widespread deviation by priests from those pet peeves of cardinal George and others too. If Rome and the powerful hierarchs treat the liturgy as a forum for imposing their personal likes and dislikes, why should the CDW and others be surprised to hear of parishes ignoring RM2010 and other impositions?

  6. The earlier multiple languages idea was better although the idea of many languages, especially each alternative in a different language, would probably work only in settings in which people were exposed to many languages such as education institutions.

    My simpler suggestion is three languages for the USA: Latin, English, Spanish. Begin with the Latin, continue to alternate with English and Spanish. Whenever it is time to conclude, use Latin for the final with the “dona nobis pacem” response.

  7. As a former user of tropes, count me a skeptic on them today. After Redemptionis Sacramentum, I found them not needed. But it was very difficult to move songleaders away from Lamb, Bread, Lamb. Or such.

    Better to dispense with the idea this piece is a true litany, and just use the music to signal the final repetition when needed.

    1. Since the Kyrie was until Pope Gregory the Great’s time the response to Pope Gelasius’ litany, why not restore the whole litany on occasion, or perhaps a shorter version of it? Then shelve the so-called Prayer of the Faithful which is so many cases has deteriorated into a wish list announced by groups with special interests. Would we even need this?

  8. I’ll add a voice against the tropes, mostly because they seemed to only be necessary to cover the time needed to fill the chalices from the flagon during the Agnus Dei. As we know, that practice is now prohibited by RS.

    Another point of view, too, though: seeing as ecumenical councils have a dim view of tropes (i.e., Trent), why would one think that adding tropes (when it’s not covering a procession or other liturgical action) be anything other than an accretion?

    1. You state: “As we know, that practice is now prohibited by RS.”

      Redemptionis Sacramentum:

      Of course, RS was signed by Arinze – there are numerous statements in RS that don’t appear to be reconciled with the usual eucharistic liturgies and practice in the US. Examples:

      106.] However, the pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the Blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the established norms.
      (am reminded of Fr. Ruff’s other post on concelebration and the point to not let legalism or practicality determine the actual practice – so, is there a flagon the meets established norms? Is this stated merely to protect against what – defilement? not letting LOG go too long?)

      93.] The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.[180] (Really?)

      89.] “So that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the Sacrifice being celebrated”,[174] it is preferable that the faithful be able to receive hosts consecrated in the same Mass.[175] (Again, really?)

      Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate.[207) (and what about beautiful and specially made crystal? or artisans who work with earth/clay?)

      On the occasion of a feastday, sacred vestments of a gold or silver colour can be substituted as appropriate for others of various colours, but not for purple or black. (wonder if Fr. Allan will be wearing gold at his parish feast day?)

      [130.] “According to the structure of each church building and in accordance with legitimate local customs, the Most Holy Sacrament is to be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is noble, prominent, readily visible, and adorned in a dignified manner” and furthermore “suitable for prayer” by reason of the quietness of the location, the space available in front of the tabernacle, and also the supply of benches or seats and kneelers. (and yet, would suggest that many would read this so it justified putting the tabernacle on or right behind the altar?)

      It is fitting that the host to be exposed for adoration should be consecrated in the Mass immediately preceding the time of adoration, and that it should be placed in the monstrance upon the altar after Communion.[239] (again, really?)

      Accordingly, terms such as “celebrating community” or “celebrating assembly” (in other languages “asamblea celebrante”, “assemblée célébrante”, assemblea celebrante”) and similar terms should not be used injudiciously

      47.] It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension.[119] Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these. (and one would add, How is that working out for you, Bishop Olmsted?)

      Merely highlighted a few sections but would suggest that there appears to be lots of picking and choosing in terms of what we pay attention to – so, why would eliminating flagons but not using communion plates, or wearing gold vestments during lent even on a feast day, or etc., etc. be any more important or elevated to a point of necessity versus some of these other points?

      And as some have said on other posts, this whole document seems to be most focused on errors, possible profanations, etc. using “reprobate” language rather than a positive statement about our eucharistic liturgy.

      1. Bill, don’t shoot the messenger 🙂

        As you probably know as well, the document was the “fleshing out” of the abuses JPII mentioned in Ecclesia de Eucharistia. So yes, it is necessarily supposed to address abuses. I don’t think this is a “return to the bad old days” or anything like that: any of us with kids know we have to balance positive reinforcement and correction.

      2. Bruce – understand. My point is – like many liturgical documents, it says many things but everyone appears to continue to pick and choose – the old….well, I like this so we will change things; don’t like this so I will ignore it but of course, everyone else is not following what the document says.

        Actually, many pastors seem to be cafeteria liturgists but would, of course, deny this completely. Then, you have bishops like Olmsted who are cafeteria liturgists.

      3. Bill, even in the US, we have a great tradition of this! Sing to the Lord talks around itself a lot, for better or worse. Actually, i would take it easy on +Olmstead: after the communion-under-both-kinds misunderstanding, he ate his humble pie. Would that more prelates of any outlook were that way.

      4. Bruce – Olmsted did not eat much humble pie. He continues to get strong support from certain “unidentified” folks in the curia and continues his push to take George’s place in Chicago. Believe he was recently named to Vox Clara – Pell must like him.

  9. The time required for the fraction varies from one situation to another. If one is using “recently-made” bread which “truly [has] the appearance of food” it can take a more significant amount of time to break the bread and distribute it into vessels. Even using wafers, some priests take longer to portion out the consecrated bread for some reason.

    In my parish, the fraction rite is on the long side, and the Lamb of God from the Mass of Wisdom is relatively short, making it necessary to extend the chant with tropes.

    1. Distributing into four bowls and pouring into two cups takes us probably 2:30 whereas the LOG sans tropes is about 1:30.

  10. Yes, a trope is an addition to, or commentary on, the liturgical text. It does not replace the text. These were, as has been observed above, quite common in earlier times, particularly the Mediaeval era. They were added to Kyrie, as well as other parts of the mass. What seems to be under discussion here are not actually tropes on, but substitutes for the ritual text. This, it seems to me, is not licit.

    ‘O Lamb of God (mighty victor over sin and death) have mercy upon us’ is a troped Agnus Dei.

    ‘Prince of Peace, Shepherd of souls, have mercy upon us’ is a substitute text.

    1. I venture to suggest that this is a specious distinction. As long as the first and last invocations begin with the words “Lamb of God”, everything that comes between them is a trope.

      1. It is not specious at all.
        Rather, with due respect, I think that your assertion is questionable at best. There (apparently) may or may not be any number of invocations of Agnus Dei, each one of which, if one is really troping, is sung entirely, with a trope inserted INTO it. Leaving out part of the ritual text and substituting other words is just that: it is not troping.
        This leaves the recourse that ‘this is what everyone does and this what what we CALL troping’; but, that’s not what it really is.

    2. Some of the medieval tropes (e.g. the Agnus Dei ‘Archetipi Mundi’ from the Scottish MS known as W1) actually do replace large parts of the canonical text. They sang ‘Agnus’ and then launched into a trope; they sang ‘Miserere’ and launched into another trope. The words ‘Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi’ & ‘nobis’ were left out. I’m not saying this was a good thing to do then, or now, but what you’re calling substitute texts also have medieval precedents.

  11. I have to question the need for extra tropes at all. My perception of the Lamb of God is that it marks the beginning of the Communion Rite. The three-fold sequence seems to book-end the three lines of the Kyrie. A quiet pause as the Hosts and Wine are distributed allows us in the congregation to prepare to receive the Eucharist.
    My experience with extra tropes came about when they were added with no explanation. The distracting addition of assorted tropes seemed random and intrusive. It came across as if we had to keep singing depending on the whim of the presider.
    It strikes me that some people seem to be afraid of silence. We aren’t dealing with radio or television where dead air is verboten. We could take a lesson from the Quakers on the value of some quiet time.

    1. Brigid, GIRM 83 gives the rationale for extending the singing during the fraction:

      This invocation accompanies the fraction of the bread and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has been completed. The final time it concludes with the words grant us peace.

      1. I understand that the GIRM views this as an accompaniment. I was offering my perception of how the prayer fits into the Mass as an example of how it comes across to at least one person. While I can’t claim other people perceive it this way, my guess is that most people are unfamiliar with the GIRM or the history of this prayer.

    1. It’s more appropriate to be speaking of “additional tropes during the Agnus Dei” to avoid the impression that liturgical/literary tropes are confined to this context.

  12. Jeffrey Pinyan :
    What would you say about tropes that change even the second half of the line from “have mercy on us” to something else?

    Only comments with a full name will be approved.
    JP –
    I would say that the ritual text has been deleted and replaced with another text. I would say that this is not a trope. It seems to me that this is really self evident… and illicit. Again, a trope is an elaboration inserted in midst of a ritual text, the beginning and ending of the liturgical text remaining intact. As in ‘Kyrie, God omnipotent and thrice holy Creator of the universe, eleison. Such would be a troped kyrie. Without both kyrie & eleison at the beginning and end of each petition there is no trope, only other (illicit) words. A trope is a trope only by virtue of it’s insertion into a liturgical text whose beginning and ending remain unaltered and intact.

    1. A trope is a trope only by virtue of it’s insertion into a liturgical text whose beginning and ending remain unaltered and intact

      Leaving aside the gratuitous apostrophe, that was precisely my point above. I think MJO’s definition is narrow, and he is attempting to wriggle out of an uncomfortable position. Brandishing the word “illicit” is really no substitute for a pastoral argument.

      We have spent the past forty years, no less, with a practice which has — surprise, surprise — fed people’s prayer-life and encouraged them to broaden their focus from a narrow preoccupation with the sacred elements into something that embraces a biblical spirituality, to say the least. And this has been done with tacit approval of our bishops.

      Those bishops also approved, in the UK, the ICET (now ELLC) text of the Lamb of God, which is itself a trope if you accept my definition, as long as it was sung. This approval has not to date been abrogated.

  13. PI said: “We have spent the past forty years, no less, with a practice which has — surprise, surprise — fed people’s prayer-life and encouraged them to broaden their focus from a narrow preoccupation with the sacred elements into something that embraces a biblical spirituality, to say the least. And this has been done with tacit approval of our bishops.”

    Narrow preoccupation? Really? We don’t want the ‘sacred elements’ “to be gazed upon, or to be carried about” now do we? Or do we but can’t, because the Benedictine arrangement is in the way.

    So we are now finding a need to return to a pre-Tridentine abuse that was reformed precisely because it took away from the purity of the rite? So that people’s prayer life can be fed and their focus broadened? …by a trope.

    Might I suggest that if a modern sung Agnus Dei is not long enough to cover the breaking and pouring of the ‘sacred elements,’ rather than adding, changing, troping, substituting, re-writing, whatever it might be called, then perhaps this might be a great time for the choir or chanters to sing an Agnus Dei from a Mass setting (Palestrina, Byrd, or even plainsong) and give the people a chance to breathe and maybe even prepare themselves in prayerful active participation to receive the same.

  14. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi…..
    Salvator mundi, qui tollis….
    Panis vitae
    Calix salutis
    Aqua viva
    Princeps pacis
    Gaudium nostrum
    Vitis vera
    Bone pastor
    Servus omnium
    Fili Patris
    Fili Mariae
    Spes peccatorum
    Fons amoris
    Lumen cordium
    Rex regum
    Lux aeterna
    Fons amoris
    Pascha nostrum

    These and many other invocations I have often used at diocesan celebrations with Gregorian chant Agnus XVIII. The cantor sings the invocation, and all continue with qui tollis….. A return to “Agnus Dei” indicates the ending with dona nobis pacem instead of miserere nobis.

    1. Who could possible object to such a format! To all intents and purposes it’s a litany. Sounds and looks great.

  15. I guess now that the CDW and the USCCB have definitively ruled on this matter, we can all move along and just pray the liturgy as it has been given us, minus all this additional andunnecessary nonsense. Maybe we can actually sing/pray the Gloria as it is written, NOT as a banal antiphon.

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