Liturgy at Abbots’ Congress in Rome – Some Reforms

There was a request to see some of the leaflets I prepared for the abbots’ congress now taking place at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. Here you go – I Vespers, Lauds, and II Vespers of today, Sunday XXV.

Die septembris 22 Ad Vesperas

Die septembris 23 Ad Laudes

Die septembris 23 Ad Vesperas

There is no leaflet for Sunday Mass today because the congress participants have the option of a field trip to Monte Casino, Subiaco, or Norcia.

For those of us who stayed at the monastery, we did a simple Latin Mass, all singing Mass XI, Orbis factor, for the Mass parts, and a thrown-together schola singing some of the propers of the day.

I learned only 4 minutes before-hand that this Mass for the non-pilgrims was happening and I was responsible for music. It was great fun – I mean this seriously – to be able to open the Graduale and make music, on the spot, with a couple German abbots (Beuron, Gerleve) whose singing style and rhythmic interpretation fits perfectly what I learned in Graz, Austria. A student monk from Korea, Br. Pachomio, also added his beautiful voice. He obviously is accustomed to singing the syllables with equal values, but he’s a quick study and picked up that accented syllables are longer (not louder) and that the energy moves through the note group to the last note, especially on an accented syllable, and that the whole thing moves. It all held together.

We did the proper introit and communio of Sunday XXV. We only had the Graduale Romanum, not the Graduale Triplex, but the Germans and I pretty much knew by heart the rhythm of the early neuemes, and I was able to indicate this to Br. Pachomio as clearly as possible. Br. Pachomio sang the Responsorial Psalm in Italian from a little Italian handout with readings of the day – I think he made up a simple, singable chant on the spot. For the Gospel Acclamation we did, rather than the proper of the day, the simples mode VI Alleluia that everyone knows, and we chanted the text of the verse in the Graduale to the simple psalm tone of the mode.

During the opening Sign of the Cross the abbot of Gerleve said he might as well accompany the congregational chants, though he had never played the organ. Mad dash for the console, searching for which stops are for which manual, and I held my hand up to hold everyone back in the sanctuary when we weren’t quite ready for the Kyrie. And then we began. Gloria (and Credo III) alternating between schola and all. Since we sing the Mass parts in English at Saint John’s and only use 2 or 3 Latin ordinaries, this was a Gloria I had never sung in my life, but it was great fun conducting it on the spot to keep the schola together while I sight read.

During the homily (in Italian) I decided that the proper offertorium of the day is a bit much and I’d rather not butcher it since we hadn’t had time to rehearse it. The foreword to the Graduale allows for substitution of proper chants within the same season, so I began paging around for a more usable candidate. Sunday XIX it was, In te speravi.

This offertorium is another chant I’ve never sung (the chant schola at Saint John’s focuses on introits and communios, rarely doing an offertory), so I had no earthly idea what the early neuemes say. I whispered to the abbots that I’d take a guess, and they should follow me as best they could. It worked. Then there was time remaining so I made a snap decision that maybe wasn’t too brilliant – I chanted out a verse of Psalm 34 in English to a simple psalm tone, and we repeated the antiphon. Then we sat down and I thought about what I might have done – say, a Psalm verse in Latin… say, from the psalm that antiphon is from. Oh well.

Here are a couple Mass leaflets – St. Matthew on Friday, BVM on Saturday:

Missa septembris 21

Missa BVM septembris 22

The leaflets evidence my campaign for “mutual enrichment” – not that the pre-Vatican II unreformed Mass and the reformed liturgy enrich each other as Pope Benedict proposed when he readmitted the unreformed Mass universally with Summorum pontificum, but that the postconciliar liturgy as generally celebrated in vernacular according to good liturgical principles enrich postconciliar celebrations of the Mass of Paul VI in Latin.

I’ve long observed that in many celebrations of the reformed rite in Latin in Europe, liturgical principles are overlooked, or old habits are still in place, or folks haven’t thought through how to make the new liturgy work in Latin with good assembly participation. Hence the following reformist measures on my part.

I included all the assembly’s sung and spoken responses in the leaflet – no, not everyone knows these by heart.

I made some use of the Graduale Simplex. I know that some people regret the loss of the great masterpiece propers from the Graduale Romanum, and in fact I’m one of them. But for the votive BVM Mass, for example, I surmised that the participants might appreciate singing familiar pieces such as the Ave Maria, rather than struggling with propers that are rather difficult for 300 people to sing together. Since the Simplex draws from office antiphons, and since the office antiphons known to Benedictines from the 1934 Antiphonale Monasticum are revised and much improved over the 1912 Antiphonale Romanum, I used our 1934 melodies rather than  AR / GS, also with some consultation of the new Antiphonale Monasticum of 2005 – (about which, opinions vary).

For some of the congress Masses I have printed the proper introit and communio in the leaflet, sensing that it will not go over well if Anthony Ruff uses the Simplex as part of a slash-and-burn campaign to eliminate chant propers. Mass of St. Matthew has the proper introit Os iusti, for example. But even here, I strived to make it look like as much like an assembly antiphon as possible, not an excerpt from some esoteric monkish book. This means that only the antiphon of the introit is in the leaflet, and then just the text of the verses. It’s a subtle change, but it is intended to communicate that the reformed liturgy has a variety of roles which allows for alternation between assembly and schola.

I recall from the last abbots’ congress (2008) that every Latin chant proper was printed in the leaflet, and in some cases, especially during communion, almost nobody sang along – or some brave souls struggled to carry the melody, but at several tempos simultaneously, each slower than the next. This struck me as something rather less than the glories of our precious Benedictine liturgical heritage – not to say, a train wreck. I included some of the easier Mass propers from the Graduale Romanum where I thought they had a fighting chance of working, but when not, I opted for the Simplex.

Note: when a large assembly such as this sings a Latin mass proper, the tempo will inevitably be a bit slower. Plan on it and make your peace with it, and do what you can to keep it moving while graciously striving to hold it together. There is nothing contructive about an unamplified schola of 5 people singing at a much quicker tempo than an assembly of 300, unless if you have a thing for chaos. I directed the assembly just a bit (not being a big fan of gesticulating animators), and cocked my ear to hear what was coming from the nave so as to guide the schola to stay with the mob. I suppose some in the schola might have thought that I don’t know how quickly chant should go. If it’s to be an assembly chant, you have to account for the assembly and respect them.

The Scripture readings are proclaimed in various vernaculars at the abbots’ congress. I recall from 2008 that the lector generally said “The Word of the Lord” in his or her own vernacular, with most of the congregation struggling to guess how to say “Thanks be to God” in that langauge. I thought it more practical and hospitable to have it sung in Latin at every liturgy – Verbum Domini. Deo gratias.

Here’s a pet peeve: immediately after the second reading (or gradual/psalm at daily Mass), the organist starts improvising on the Alleluia while the acolytes begin bringing the incense equipment to the celebrant. The schola beings the Alleluia – rather quietly, while all remain seated as if they need better to see the incense preparation. The Alleluia mostly accompanies the celebrant’s and acolytes’ incense preparations. Then somewhere near the end of the Alleluia, all finally stand as the deacon approaches the ambo. Hello, everybody: the Alleluia is the assembly’s joyful, expectant acclamation to the Lord who will speak in the Gospel reading, and all should stand as it begins. Sitting reflectively in silence is appropriate before the music begins, i.e. after the second reading. For all these reasons (from the GIRM, not me), I mostly used Simplex assembly Alelluias. For St. Matthew, though, I also included the proper chant in case the schola had a chance to learn it (note, only the Alleluia refrain, and then the text of the Alleluia verse). We ended up using the Simplex option for practical reasons.

I included the simple and solemn versions of the preface dialgoue, rightly guessing that some celebrants would use the simple preface tone since the prefaces in the Latin missal aren’t all notated.

I used an expanded, three-fold chant “Amen” at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer so it would feel more like a real affirmation on the part of the assembly. (Don’t tell anyone, but it’s from the 1997/1998 ICEL sacramentary. I don’t want the provenance to leak out, lest it prevent this three-fold Amen from being included in an official Latin book someday.)

The organist – a very talented  young monk from Maria Laach – doesn’t know it yet, but I have a further reform in mind for daily Mass this coming Monday and Tuesday. The unfortunate custom in Europe is that the Memorial Acclamation (Mortem tuam) and Amen are sung unaccompanied, though the organ accompanies the congregational Sanctus. My issue with this is that the Eucharistic Prayer is a unity, and the music should reflect this. So… I know it means the organist won’t be able to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer (no comment on that for now), but I will ask him to accompany the Memorial Acclamation and Amen on the organ.

BTW, I’ve pulled from various papal liturgies at the Vatican website the chant setting for all three Memorial Acclamations:

Memorial Acclamations Latin chant

Since these settings are available, I’ve  mixed it up and used a different one each day at Mass. It has required just a bit of waving the leaflet at everyone to indicate if it isn’t the first one that everyone knows by heart.

All these are subtle changes, but for perceptive people it has an effect on the spirit of the liturgical celebration. It feels now like we’re doing what we always do, Sunday after Sunday,  the reformed liturgy of Paul VI – but now in Latin because we’re an international group – and not that the Latin language has some sort of gravitational pull upon our memories and causes us to fall into a different set of ritual customs, with less concern about the assembly.

I’m sure there are varying opinions about celebrating the liturgy in Latin. In this case, it wasn’t my decision to do so. That decision was already made, and it was my role to make it happen. So far, I think it’s gone quite well. Let’s see what the conference eval sheets say.






  1. Very interesting. One of my pet peeves, relating to the memorial acclamation above, is that the English speaking world insists on turning the memorial acclamation and “Great” Amen into substantial musical units, often linked musically/thematically to the Sanctus and other parts of the Ordinary of the Mass. The net result being musical performances like a choral Sanctus at these points which perhaps only a handful in the congregation will know. At least in France, Italy, Poland and perhaps other European countries the memorial acclamation and Great Amen are true short acclamations, using quite a limited range of melodies (mostly one melody per text) and flow naturally and spontaneously from the singing of the celebrant. Admittedly, in some cases, there is lack of accompaniment and they are often not sung if the priest doesn’t sing. That said, I don’t mind so much if the preface-Sanctus remains distinct from the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer. The Missal itself makes a distinction – the chant for the preface is quite different to the chant for the rest of the prayer. The Sanctus melodies in the Graduale Romanum are more often than not way more elaborate than the simple melodies for “Mortem tuam” and the other memorial acclamations.

    1. @Fergus Ryan – comment #1:
      Sing to the Lord, the US bishops’ document, says this at no. 178:
      “In order to make clear the ritual unity of the Eucharistic Prayer, it is recommended that there be a stylistic unity to the musical elements of the prayer, especially the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Great Amen. As much as possible, elements such as the preface dialogue and preface should be chanted at a pitch that best relates them to the key and modality of the other sung elements of the Eucharistic Prayer.”

      So there is a reason for those Mem Accs and Amens that match the Sanctus. In my experience, people sing these very well all across the U.S.

      I think there are different starting points. The bishops’ document starts with the nature of the liturgy and the theology of the eucharistic prayer, not with the chant melodies in the chant books, most of which were written nearly a millenium before the Vatican II reforms clarified that the Eucharistic Prayer is now a great text said out loud for the entire assembly to hear. I wouldn’t expect monks in the 11th century to have written a Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Amen suited for the Eucharistic Prayer of the Missal of Paul VI.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #2:
        Interesting. I’m writing from an Irish perspective (although living in Rome for graduate studies) so the US bishops’ document doesn’t apply in Ireland – although US suggestions/ideas/etc have a lot of influence in Ireland to the extent that the new “ordinary” or the Mass is the above mentioned Eucharistic Acclamations and the Alleluia, rarely little else. And that is my gripe, really. These “acclamations”, by being treated separately, and composers being invited to compose for them, makes them little hymns which the people may or may not know, depending on how music is managed, or not. GIRM seems to separate the acclamations and responses of the people from the traditional Ordinary of the Mass, requiring melodies for the former to be approved by the bishops’ conference before publication. This is often done by providing music in the Missal and leaving the rest to composers who have no obligation to have their music approved. However, the English speaking world has taken a different approach, lumping the sung parts of the Ordinary in with the simple acclamations. Basically, I’d have to see that I have difficulty with Sing to the Lord as you quoted it, and I observe that it hasn’t received any recognition or approval from the Holy See. @Fritz – the acclamations are sometimes recited in Europe (=meaning France, Germany, Italy, Poland, rather than England/Ireland) because the priests have stopped singing the Mass and the musical settings depend on the priest to sing his part.

      2. @Fergus Ryan – comment #13:
        A particularly striking instance for me of not singing the memorial acclamation or amen were Masses I attended at Santa Maria in Trastevere, celebrated by the San Egidio community. They are rightly celebrated for their beautiful sung worship. But at Mass, while the announcement and conclusion of the Gospel (but not the Gospel itself) is sung, the memorial acclamation and, I believe, the amen are said. From my perspective, an odd set of musical priorities.

    2. @Fergus Ryan – comment #1:
      Quite true Fergus–nothing seems to “break” the unity of the one Canon into two prayers like a big extended “memorial acclamation.” Someone on another post commented that the elevations at the Consecration broke the prayer, but quite honestly, the acclamation does a much better job at it. And isn’t it repetitious to sing in the acclamation basically what the priest will pray when he gets back into the Canon once the acclamation is over? The anamnesis is already part of the prayer.

  2. Though I tend to agree with Anthony on this question, I think Fergus raises a valid question: why should the memorial acclamation and amen have to match the sanctus and the preface dialogue not? As I recall, the Mass of Creation has its own melody for the preface dialogue, designed to make the EP a seamless whole, musically speaking. Is this simply the logical conclusion of what the US bishops recommend regarding the memorial acclamation and the amen, or is it a bridge too far?

    For me, less important that the musical matching of the memorial acclamation and the amen to the sanctus is the fact that they get sung at all. My experience in some parts of Europe is that they are often simply said.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Fergus Ryan and Fritz.

    Hmmm… I can see it coming now… because Mother Church proposes for our use only chant settings of the Preface in the official books, for stylistic unity only chant settings of the Sanctus etc. are acceptable? … OR: Modern-day composers of the Holy, Sanctus, and Amen should creating matching settings of the preface dialogue and of all 94 prefaces in the Missal??



  4. I know it means the organist won’t be able to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer (no comment on that for now), but I will ask him to accompany the Memorial Acclamation and Amen on the organ.

    I must confess that I have never seen an organist kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer. The player normally needs to be in position for the Memorial Acclamation and Amen at the very least, not to mention additional acclamations and accompanied chants on occasions when these happen.

  5. Fr. AWR, what a fun and joy-filled post! I would hope that some of the pithy moments of deciding on the fly, or when someone unfamiliar with the organ at hand leaps over tall abbots in a single bound, etc.
    It also points out to those who would have us all buy into a one size fits all chant book solution to the music wars that it ain’t that simple, and decisions aren’t sitting on the vine in order waiting to be picked in easy sequence.
    And to be on the safe side, for Fritz, I wouldn’t cite Marty’s Sursum corda, preface, Holy, EP et al as a valid precedence for setting “consistency” into the progression. “Twas maybe noble in ’88, but doesn’t pass the Pepsi challenge according to the docs, and moreso, to the sensibilities of all the assembly, IMO. YMMV. Thoroughly lovely post.

  6. Franz Karl Prassl comments:
    Great, Fr. Anthony, great! This is a very fine ways to rediscover the values of Gregorian chant and to reintroduce a little bit more into our liturgies. An antiphon from the office is “very artful” too, small could be very beautiful. And – as Dom Cardine always said – start with antiphons and afterwords you’ll be able to understand and sing the great propers in the right way.
    Thanks a lot!

  7. To clarify, this is a great post that really brings home the multitude of things that a person responsible for the music must juggle all at the same time, and it is very impressive. But, as someone who finds that being on the choir is a hindrance to prayer, I get the impression that the director of music almost inevitably has to sacrifice his or her own prayer to instead devote their attention to creating music that will help the congregation’s prayer. I wonder if that impression is correct.

  8. Claire Mathieu : To clarify, this is a great post that really brings home the multitude of things that a person responsible for the music must juggle all at the same time, and it is very impressive. But, as someone who finds that being on the choir is a hindrance to prayer, I get the impression that the director of music almost inevitably has to sacrifice his or her own prayer to instead devote their attention to creating music that will help the congregation’s prayer. I wonder if that impression is correct.

    I encounter this all the time: musicians or other liturgical ministers who say “I’m too busy to pray at Mass”. Actually, I also encounter a significant number of priests who say the same thing.

    I tell them that this is completely untrue. An integral part of your ministry of service is precisely having all those logistical and practical considerations running around in your head during Mass. It’s normal, and it’s OK. But it doesn’t mean that you aren’t praying. You are in fact praying through the exercise of your ministry on behalf of the community. All that logistical and practical stuff is part of your prayer. Your service to the community is much more important than you being able to kneel down quietly by yourself, and you can do that at any other time you like.

  9. Thank you Father, for this most interesting post, so much to learn! This seems to be the real ‘spirit’ of Vatican II. That the reforms are not a dumbing down but rather an opening up of more possibilities reflecting the liturgical situation.

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