Non Solum: Musical Resources for Small Parishes

A Pray Tell reader writes in:

I am a parishioner at a very small, rural parish of about 50 families. We really struggle with music on Sundays. Often we have no accompanist of any kind, and rarely do we have a cantor. Certainly no one is paid to do any sort of music prep… [W]e have very little resources – both financial and in terms of talent.

So, given this situation, does anyone have suggestions for musical resources that are simple and singable, and do not require accompaniment? Resources for the Mass Ordinary? For the Responsoral Psalm? Is there a hymnal would you recommend? Would you recommend a hymnal at all?

OR given our situation, would it be better simply to dispense with music altogether and focus on other things that we can actually do well – training lectors, servers, greeters, etc.?

It seems that dispensing with music altogether should be the last resort. At the very least one could sing the Mass parts in unison unaccompanied. Readers, do any of your communities have similar problems? Are there any suggestions or resources that you could offer?


  1. Nathan: It seems that dispensing with music altogether should be the last resort.

    No, silence is the first resort. Silent contemplation is the profound forge of intellectual growth in spirituality. Hymns and compulsive responses drown out the still voice from the soul.

    Mass should be a sanctuary of the heart speaking to mind, where we discover our love and bond with the Eucharist outside an ever-interlinked and virtualized world.

    Dear respondent, please preserve one of your Sunday Masses to be entirely spoken and without accompaniment. A hearty Deo gratias to the discovery of a spiritual thought encouraged to turn circles in the mind, to roam freely.

  2. The Eucharist should include generous amounts of silence, but praising God in song should rarely be omitted. Otherwise we would risk drifting back to a passive assembly listening to and watching the priest offer the Mass for them. Perhaps I misunderstand Jordan.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #2:

      Fr. Jack, I don’t believe that every Mass should be without hymns or prompted congregational response. Rather, at least one Mass per Sunday should be without accompaniment. If a parish has only one Mass on Sunday, default to sung Mass.

      By “compulsive responses” I refer to the tendency of a cantor or commentator prompting the congregation to say responses. A loud amplified call to response, in my view, is merely a disincentive to respond. It’s my experience that at daily said Mass, where commentary is absent, most people will make responses. Each person has his or her personal volume, and some do not respond at all. Still, the response and assent of the assembly is there.

  3. Music in the liturgy (no matter how simple) sets an aesthetic, an atmosphere conducive to all types of prayer. It invites all the gathered faithful to give of themselves just as Christ gives himself. Music requires us to be comfortable with vulnerability. To truly create music, we put all of our triumphs, failings, confidence, and hesitancy into shaping it. This aspect of music reveals what draws us to it. Its humanity is what creates connections between people. This is what Christ does through the sacraments, and has done throughout history. The sacraments allow us to see a glimpse of the humanity of Christ, thus experiencing the breadth of the Spirit’s love for us as individuals and as community. Making music together only strengthens what the liturgy has to offer. If we are vulnerable in creating music with one another, we allow the space for Christ to do what he came to do: to save us, to embrace us, to empower us. It gives us an opportunity to see an example of the power of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

  4. I would think that the first resource you need is a person – a cantor. Not the kind with which you would be familiar in better resourced parishes, but simply somebody to intone the singing and keep it going if some problem crops up, to manage the printed resources (hymnals, etc.) and to manage the repertoire of chants people know, teaching new material that would be helpful for special occasions, etc. There is no need for the cantor to stand facing the people, especially if the community is small and everyone knows what’s going on. GIRM n.116 says that the basic form of Mass should ideally have three assisting ministers: acolyte, lector, cantor.

  5. At my church, weekday/daily masses are celebrated without any music.

    Personally, I do not find anything lacking. One can participate just as actively and joyfully in “the mystery of the presence of the Lord among us” (to use our pope’s words) and praise God during the liturgy without singing.

    I do love singing and enjoy good music during Sunday mass, however; I just don’t think it’s essential for “good” liturgy.

  6. I live in the Cathedal Parish Motherwell, Scotland

    It is possible that some of the music and chants from Taize the ecumenical community in France can be used for a small congregation.

    Weekday masses even in the cathedral dont have that many people and sometimes Taize Kyries are adapted for use in the liturgy and also the Alleluias

    As the chants repeat the same phrase they are not difficult to learn. They are sung in different languages some traditional such as Latin and Greek others modern. There is something for every season of the year in the Taize repertoire but not music for the ordinary of the Mass.

  7. This gets to one of my main recommendations for programming music: there should be a presumption (not a conclusive presumption, but a fairly strong one nevertheless) in favor of music that sounds good a capella (this doesn’t mean it HAS to be done a cappella, but that it doesn’t sound strange or awkward if unaccompanied – among other things, no gaps waiting for instrumentation, et cet.). As a filter, it’s proved very worthwhile over the years.

    Along this line, every parish should have under its belt a setting of the ordinary that it can sing without need of assistance from musicians. That even a daily Mass crowd could sing, just to bring the point home. (In more ambitious parishes there could be a simple and a festal setting to have under the belt.)

    The old David Hurd Plainsong Mass is an example of what I have in mind in the vernacular.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #7:

      “a setting of the ordinary that it can sing without need of assistance from musicians”

      Please forgive me for I know not what I’m talking about, but it’s, uh, frowned upon to use, um… karaoke-like backing tracks in such a case, right?

      1. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #10:
        Yes. You’ve just lodged a penance in the form of a mortifying thought in my head for Friday; it will be lodged their for the rest of that day.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #13:

        Sorry, I said I was probably talking out of my arse.

        But since the seed has already been sown, here’s a follow-up thought: From the sound of it, the parish in question doesn’t seem to have that someone who can start off the singing. Even the simplest of songs and chants that can be sung unaccompanied, someone needs to start singing, and when no one can be that someone, maybe “other” venues could be explored to get things started, to help the congregation to get used to the tunes and whatnot.

        Still mortifying, eh? 🙂

  8. Adam Wood’s Mass of the Blessed Fire is very good for situations like this. It is written to be sung unaccompanied, is very easy to pick up and the composer has generously made it freely available under a Creative Commons licence.

  9. I realise that I am an Anglican and that we have flexibility not normal in the Latin rite however we have a printed service order to use in the absence of the choir in which the sung parts of the Eucharist are adapted to be sung to familiar hymn tunes.

  10. The Iubilate Deo chants are supposed to be known by all Catholics – so that would be the ideal place to start. Also the simplest of the dialogues could be chanted by the priest/deacon and people.

  11. I totally agree with the essential resource, the cantor (Fergus Ryan #5). It is imperative that you have someone who can support the times when the assembly needs that support. If the parish can find a small group of people who can sing – even better! In addition to the fine suggestions above, I would highly recommend the resource Psallite from The Liturgical Press. The collection is very versatile and can sound equally pleasing a capella or with accompaniment. I am not a proficient pianist (at all) and with a little practice I can even play the accompaniment to many of these. Also, the Meinrad Psalm Tones are simple and can be used with almost any text. I have also fallen in love with the Meinrad Tones and use them often to set a psalm setting for daily Mass (Fr. Anthony has published a book of Psalms for weekday Masses for the seasons of Advent, Lent, Christmas and Easter and I have often done this for weekday Mass in OT as well). These, of course, can be done a capella.

    1. @Anita Fischer – comment #12:
      I am going to second the recommendation for the Psallite collection. Their Mass setting and all their psalm settings, table songs and song for the week are easily learned and sung a capella. We have music resources available and I still often conduct them a capella!

  12. I agree on the cantor — just someone to start off the singing, not someone who stands at a mike. If that person was comfortable enough singing alone, he or she could also do the verses on the responsorial psalm and maybe a communion song.

    Though they may not be ideal in every respect, I would think the chants in the Missal would be a place to start. Also, pick a psalm tone and sing the responsorial psalm every week on that tone.

    Taize chants work well a capella. If you want hymns, I think the more traditional ones with a regular meter work best if you don’t have music. I don’t think you need a huge repertoire of hymns; if you sing a couple at each Mass I would think twenty well-chosen one’s would be a serviceable repertoire for Ordinary Time. A lot of good older hymns are in the public domain, so you could even put together your own booklet.

  13. I would agree with the use of a cappella music for a small parish with few resources. Our daily Mass folks sing the Missal chants with no hesitation. I just start them and everyone joins in. We will finally be introducing them to the Sunday assembly for Lent. I find they do well in responding to the chants of the Penitential Act too. It seems that the transition from home based music making to listening to produced music has made us timid about singing in an “amateur” (in the best sense if the term) way. The human voice is a great instrument that does not always need accompaniment.

    Several years ago I was in a parish that had a great singing tradition. According to legend, a former pastor used to stop the singing if it wasn’t engaged enough. On a particular Sunday there were no musicians. At Communion time I asked them to join in singing “Amazing Grace” and said that since I would be distributing Communion they would have to keep it going themselves and that we would do all the verses. Amazingly, they passed it among themselves and it was an incredible moment of Communion in lots if levels. I’ve never had the guts to try it again but it shows what is possible.

  14. Another accessible chant setting of the ordinary in English is Christopher Walker’s Belmont Mass (OCP). Its primarily pentatonic melody with recurring themes throughout makes it an easily learned and retained setting.

  15. It probably isn’t so much that talent is lacking in this assembly, but perhaps some basic training is in order. This parish’s diocesan prayer and worship office, liturgical commission, or what have you, may be able to get in touch with a professional who could put together a workshop that would help the assembly find its voice and maybe even elicit a cantor from the ranks. As many have stated above, the cantor here need not be amplified, just one who could get the singing going.

    As for resources, I agree with the suggestion of the chants in the missal, as well as the Psallite resource and familiar metered hymns, all of which are good options for assemblies without accompaniment and limited resources. I would also add that Psallite’s “At the Table of the Lord” is a great, singable mass setting with or without accompaniment, and very easy to learn. Taize is also a good way to go.

    I grew up in a small rural parish and now serve as music director for a medium-large-size parish. In the small parish, we often had no accompaniment, and certainly no cantor in those days. When the priest enthusiastically lead the singing, it was a robust a capella; when we had visiting clergy and no musicians, it was a somewhat depressingly silent experience. (There was a feeling that we should be singing; this was SUNDAY!). If the assembly can gain some confidence in its own singing (so that this doesn’t always fall to the priest to lead), and if just one or two folks could volunteer to select just an Entrance and Communion hymn each week from a relatively small repertoire, this could go a long way. As for the mass ordinary (and I would start with this), depending on your level of access to the internet, perhaps the assembly could be directed to YouTube, where there are some nice renditions of the Missal chants with music on the screen!

  16. Lots of good suggestions. I would just add this consideration: for dioceses with large numbers of small, rural parishes with limited resources (which would be the profile of every diocese but one in the state where I live, Illinois), I would expect the diocesan worship office to help with this kind of problem. A small parish shouldn’t have to solve this problem on its own. The diocesan worship office should already have incorporated some of the specific suggestions given here into a diocesan program, and should help small parishes get up to speed on it – e.g. it should host workshops and/or 1-to-1 sessions to help unpaid volunteers learn the diocese’s recommended chants and tones and a capella settings, and to teach these volunteers to teach them to the assemblies. It should also have recommendations, including specific, orderable part numbers and contact info, so the parish can purchase or make worship aids to help the people learn and sing these settings.

  17. Check out Jubilate Deo, and either the graduale simplex or by flowing waters (Latin and English versions of the same book). The simplex is specifically a book for smaller parishes. I would seriously consider using these, the actual music books of the roman rite.

  18. I often attend the very small country parish near my home. The town has a population of 800 on a good day. We have a choir, but no musicians. As the choir, and the assembly sing, we are accompanied by the karaoke back tracks. Liturgists despise it, and are mortified as Mr. Saur states, but it works well in that small parish with a good choir but no musician.

    The choir and and the parish sound great. Our human resources are limited, but the liturgy is beautiful and prayerful. The congregation is very active. My main complaint is that we sing every verse to every song.

  19. For at least 15 years I have been encouraging lectors to start off a simple sung unaccompanied Alleluia at weekday Mass, following General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass 23:

    The Alleluia or the verse before the gospel must be sung and during it all stand.

    There are now numerous parishes in this part of the world, and some in the US too, where this is a regular practice on weekdays. Once you have persuaded people who don’t normally think of themselves as singers to start something off, the world is your oyster. You can start off a simple Alleluia? Then how about a well-known hymn? Or the Agnus Dei (only two notes!). You do it on weekdays — how about on a Sunday? You can do it from wherever you happen to be sitting — no need to stand up in front of people.

    From these tiny mustard seeds, many unaccompanied-singing assembly trees can grow.

    PS: Low Mass with no singing was a mediaeval aberration. The postconciliar reforms encourage us to leave it behind now. Let’s do just that.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #22:

      PS: Low Mass with no singing was a mediaeval aberration. The postconciliar reforms encourage us to leave it behind now. Let’s do just that.

      This is the last time I will write this. Low Mass brought comfort and perseverance to centuries of Catholics. After Oliver Cromwell laid waste to Ireland and forced the Irish into servitude, the only spiritual consolation of Eire was low Mass. When Fr. Emil Kapaun (pray for us) dodged bullets and mines in the Korean War to drive his altar-Jeep to GIs longing to hear Mass, he must have often offered the viaticum to those soldiers assisting with him. Indeed, it is likely that at least one of the communicant-soldiers at any particular Mass died that day or the next.

      Low Mass needs no “worship resource”. Low Mass needs no liturgical planning. Low Mass frets not over “proclamability” and “assembly reception”. All that is needed for low Mass is a hungering heart.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #30:

        Jordan, I think we must agree to differ on this. My impression is that for you liturgy is something individual; for me it is something communal.

      2. @Paul Inwood – comment #45:

        Before being quite so dismissive (there’s a strongly implied superiority of communal over individual), it might help for you to imagine that Jordan’s approach might be *differently* communal, not merely individual. Jordan spends a *great* deal of effort in understanding things from perspective of others who disagree with him, and he was trying to convey something from the heart to make it easier for others to see his point of view less intellectually. In your pastoral mode, Paul, it would be delightful for you to imitate Jordan’s vulnerability in this.

  20. If you’re without much musical support, people won’t sing something they don’t already know. So the first step must be to ask: what are people’s favorite hymns? What do they know and enjoy singing? Then, find a hymnal with those in and limit yourself to a small repertoire.

    The change in translation has meant that a lot of the Mass settings people knew are no longer useable, so here you’ll probably have to either resort to saying it (not my preference, or that of the documents). The chants in the Missal are very simple. If you’re going to learn one new thing, it should probably be these.

  21. In the small rural parish where I grew up, there were always 2 or 3 older ladies plus perhaps 2 or 3 students in the older grades who had enough keyboard skills to get the job done on our small pipe organ. No one was paid, we sang the same handful of hymns a zillion times over, and it wasn’t very organized. But we usually managed to have four hymns and sometimes some service music at every weekend and school Mass.

    But today I imagine it’s harder to find people. Piano lessons and singing in public are not as common as they once were. Ordinary people once made music in their homes–now they largely consume professionally-produced music.

    My small hometown parish now employs a part-time musician, perhaps it became impossible to keep the services covered with a network of volunteers.

  22. I am a big fan of the Psallite collection, having sung these pieces in many different settings. But the idea that these chants can be led unaccompanied by a typical cantor seems like a stretch. One needs a strong (read: trained) sense of pitch and rhythm to teach and lead these chants, and even that’s presuming that the person can read music. The promotional descriptions of this series stress that they can be sung unaccompanied, but many times it’s easier to find a decent keyboardist than a trained singer.

    In my previous parish, I introduced a number of Psallite pieces, unaccompanied, with myself as the cantor. The parishioners sang with gusto and called for more. Yet when I tried and tried to teach my volunteer cantors to lead them, it never worked. They just did not have the musical skills or confidence to lead unaccompanied singing. When nearly all of our music in church is led by instruments with the cantor towed along behind, it’s a leap to ask a cantor to create music out of thin air.

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #26:
      My most frequent experience of a capella singing has been at daily Mass and it is usually the case of the priest intoning something extremely familiar, like the kyrie or sanctus. This doesn’t seem to present any problems, perhaps because the pieces are so short that no one has time to slide off pitch.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #28:
        Yes, if the tune is familiar to all, and they are willing to sing, it can work nicely. But to teach a room full of people a brand-new text and tune, and then lead that song with no instrumental support, that takes skill. Surely skill that can be taught, but greater than is usually expected of a garden-variety parish cantor.

      2. @Scott Pluff – comment #34:

        But to teach a room full of people a brand-new text and tune, and then lead that song with no instrumental support, that takes skill. Surely skill that can be taught, but greater than is usually expected of a garden-variety parish cantor.

        It seems to me, then, that your common-or-garden cantors have not been properly trained. The skills and techniques required to do exactly what you are talking about are, or should be, part of the basic training of all cantors.

        What we may be reaping is the result of the training of the entire first generation of American cantors, which majored on vocal technique, scripture, liturgy and repertoire but provided almost nothing on the basic techniques of how to elicit a response from an assembly. I have said it here before, and I will say it again: at many workshops that I do, in response to questions I find myself doing remedial cantor training, and most of it involves how to galvanize an assembly.

        In similar vein, the Psallite music (post #28) is in fact designed first and foremost to be sung unaccompanied. It is “essentially vocal” music. In 99.9% of cases the accompaniments came later, and were provided for those who wanted/needed them. If your cantors can’t manage the music unaccompanied, it sounds as if they either don’t have the necessary qualities to be a cantor or were never properly formed to begin with. You don’t need to be a trained singer to be a cantor (although you do need to be able to sing in tune and in time, and have a voice that is pleasant without being operatic), but you do need to be someone whose first preoccupation is not so much with singing as with drawing song out of the assembly. Once you forget your own needs, it becomes much easier to sing unaccompanied… I have encountered many cantors who were good singers but highly introverted: they were good soloists but hopeless as cantors.

  23. I’d love to ask the Pray Tell reader Nathan quotes what is the acoustical environment in this very small, rural parish.

    Carpet? Low ceiling? Acoustical ceiling tile? Working amplification equipment? Instrument(s)? Shape of the room? Does the priest sing at all? Does he sing well?

    Is there a high school in town? Does it have a choir? Are any of the parish teens in the choir?

    Does the parish subscribe to Celebrating the Eucharist from The Liturgical Press [$600 for 100 copies]? Can it afford Sacred Song [$350.00 for 100 copies]?

    I’d really like to help this parish but I need some more information.

  24. We have had an occasional Sunday Mass when the accompanist was ill. I have a strong, on pitch, voice and so I just got everyone started with the gathering song. We skipped the Gloria because it was not an easy one to sing even with accompaniment. A cantor led the reponsorial psalm and Alleluia. We may have had silence during preparation but we did the Mass of Creation ordinary which people know very well. I intoned the Agnus Dei and lots of people sang since we use it every Lent. We also sand a familiar communion and closing song. Piece of cake. At daily Mass, I lead one of the gathering songs that everyone knows well….the Alleluia…..and The Great Amen. Sometimes we sing “where charity and love prevail” after communion (but not all the verses!).
    Speaking of singing all the verses. We always have to do that at priest gatherings because our worship guy picked that idea up at Collegeville many decades ago. I find it annoying. Yes, I’m aware that the composers were writing song poems which require all the words for full expression. That may make sense to musicians, but not to a lot of ordinary folks who just love to sing.

  25. The plight of this parish is food for reflection. In the US, we don’t have a people’s common chant repertoire. Well, we sort of do. We know the Snow Our Father and an Alleluia refrain. Lots of us know a Kyrie and it’s easy because we just repeat the leader, line by line. Lots of us know an Agnus Dei. Some of us (perhaps few of us) know a Sanctus. What we do know is essentially pre-Conciliar (which is fine) and not all of what we know is in the vernacular (which is fine). I think that’s the extent of the common a capella repertoire.

    My experience in working with cantors, echoing Scott Pluff’s comments in #26 and #31, is that relatively few of them are comfortable singing a capella, and surprisingly few of them are comfortable with psalm tones.

    Our common setting of people’s acclamations, from what I can tell, is the Mass of Creation, which is arranged for many combinations of accompanying instrument but isn’t typically done (in my experience, anyway) a capella. I suppose it would work fine sung a capella, particularly with good leadership. Probably that’s true of many mass settings. But the settings in wide use today weren’t composed to be done a capella as a first choice, and I’d think the sense would be that something is missing, that we’re lacking something.

    Overall, as a church, we’re just not very good yet at chanting the mass. We have quite a long way to go. The material is there for us to learn. I think there’s an opportunity for the church in the US. And at the risk of calling for something that lacks the organic quality, I think it would happen only with leadership from the top – if we and our leaders think it’s worth doing. Personally, I like the idea that small rural parishes, and weekday mass congregations all over, can sing the mass without an organist or a song leader, if that is their situation.

  26. The National Congregations Study consists of two waves of random samples of American Congregations. The first done in 1998, the second done in 2006/7; third wave data collection has just been completed and will begin to become available over the next several months. The data below were obtained from the website data for 2006/7.


    Since the random sample of congregations is obtained from a random sample of persons this data found many very small congregations.

    In the 2006-7 wave 46% of the congregations had only 5-49 people who regularly participated in the congregation. However because of their small numbers the people in these many small congregations constitute only 10% of people who participate in congregations.

    As you would expect most of these 5-49 congregations are Evangelical (49%) or Black Protestant (35%); only 3% are Catholic.


    The congregational leader was asked extensive questions about the most recent main service of the congregation, such as was there congregational singing?

    97.2% of all congregations had congregation singing including 96.5% of those with 5-49 people who regularly participate.


    As you might expect Catholics in general are the exception to this picture with 9% of Catholic congregations reporting the absence of singing at this most recent main service!

    The data is presented also in terms of congregational members. Only 4% of Catholics went a service without congregational singing so that lack of congregation singing does occur as we might expect in the smaller congregations rather than the larger ones.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #36:

      Some additional background data to aid discussion and interpretation. I have placed them as separate comments to facilitate reference.

      CONGREGATIONAL SIZE and % WITH CHOIR at last main service

      As we might expect the smaller the congregation the less likely there was a choir at this most recent main service

      5 to 49: 34%
      50 to 99: 50%
      100 to 249: 520%
      250 to 499: 60%
      500 to 999: 69%
      1,000 to 2,499: 67%
      2,500 to 4,999: 69%
      5,000 to 9,999 :67%
      10,000 or more: 100.%

      Notice however that having a large congregation does not inevitably mean that a choir is present at the last main service; it many cases that is not true except for the megachurches.

      1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #37:

        RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS AND CHOIRS at most recent main service This is the collapsed data, you can get more denominations on their website.

        ROMAN CATHOLIC: 72%

        Catholics may be lest adapt at congregational singing in small congregations because we are used to singing in a congregations where we have some help from a choir (or other musicians) and in many cases we may let the choir do the singing for us!

      2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #37:

        RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS AND NUMBER OF MINUTES OF MUSIC at most recent main service. Again the collapse into major traditions; more detailed data available on their website.

        Members exposed to 10 Minutes or Less of music

        ROMAN CATHOLIC 22%

        Members exposed to more than 20 minutes of music

        ROMAN CATHOLIC 18%

        We Catholics just get less exposure to music!!! Looks like this could really add up over time?

  27. The cumulative studies are available on the ARDA data site. It is more oriented to researchers who might want to download the data and analyze it. However it has more detailed questions that some people might be interested in.

    One additional question that I found interesting is “Was any music instrument used at this service?” Across the major traditions including Catholic the answer is very close to 90% for everyone. Since that is very close to the percentage of Catholics that have congregational singing , it suggests that perhaps Catholics because of their less singing experience and more dependence upon choirs cannot sing without a music instrument accompanying them while Protestants can.  

  28. I’d say to use the Graduale Simplex (or By Flowing Waters, it’s English equivalent) and the ICEl Missal chants. The former is perfect for smaller churches and are best a capella. The latter, while not the most exciting, fosters great participation, at least in my experience. Plus, propers are awesome, even if only seasonal!

  29. I would learn the Mass responses from the Roman Missal. They are very easy to sing with no accomanyment. Then in regards to music, have the resider just sing all the dialogue parts of the Mass, so there is constant music, but just no hymns.

    If you have no resources, there are many websites with solid catholic music which is NO longer under copyright. Get 20 or so hyms from these sites, print them out and use them. Most are very simple hymns that everyone already knows.

  30. Tho’ I very much appreciate Jordan’s POV as both valid and valuable, I’d like to echo another colleague’s (Noel Jones) similar POV with his admonition that a total missa lecta humbly offered is to be preferred to a Mass where music is deplorably rendered and distracts and detracts the ruminations of the congregants that Mr. Zarembo mentioned.
    I’m profoundly mystified that no one has yet questioned or mentioned (I could have overlooked it) the role of the celebrant in the OP’s anecdote, or in general, particularly by my fellow Californian, Dr. Ford. It seems to me that this is (according to V2 doc MS) the primary point of departure into singing at Mass: when the celebrant cantillates, the congregation obligingly, in my experience willingly, responds accordingly.
    Even should that celebrant be monotonal and can hold a recto tone, the sung dialogues are almost guaranteed to further solemnify the ritual with the simple responses to the collects, sursum corda, etc. And perhaps confidence could be fostered over time so that the taking up of the ordinary (that would be next) and then propers/psalmody/option 4’s could be likewise inculcated among the faithful. If the French can do this, can’t we?

  31. I would like, however, to take issue with the concept of an entirely spoken Mass without music. While this existed in Low Mass (the “mediaeval aberration” that I referred to above), there’s no such animal now. My reading of the documents is that they assume that there will be music at every celebration of Mass, without exception. A Mass without music is no longer normative.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #50:

      “the concept of an entirely spoken Mass without music… there’s no such animal now.”

      um, I think there is. Cause as I said earlier, all daily masses at my church are celebrated without music, and entirely spoken, except the Alleluia before the gospel (and sometimes, even that is spoken!)

      And as I also said earlier, I and dozens of others who participate in this “entirely spoken Mass without music” everyday, not to mention the four priests who take turns to preside over the mass, do not see it as a “medieval aberration.”

      So, yeah.

      1. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #51:
        More to the point, calling it a medieval aberration, no matter how much truth may lurk behind the polemical phrase, won’t do a significant positive thing to change anything. If anything, it’s self-subvertingly counterproductive. The rhetorical gesture gets in the way of itself. While academic or professional disputants can waste time and effort on such classical rhetorical gesturing, it doesn’t further liturgical reform on the ground in most places. (Even good courtroom lawyers know better than to play the Cicero or Cato gambit more than rarely.)

  32. It can be (but may not be, depending on the situation) a matter of priorities. A friend of mine is the music director at a small Episcopalian congregation–typical Sunday attendance 50-75. They do without a salaried church secretary or custodian, but do have a salaried music director and paid section leaders for their choir. Quality liturgical music is a high priority for them, and they are willing to sacrifice in other areas in order to afford it, knowing that good music doesn’t waft in with the incense.

    Part of the problem, it seems, is that many congregations believe they can have a music director who is a) high quality, b) available every Sunday and c) willing to work as an unpaid volunteer.

    In the real world, you generally get to pick only two of those three attributes.

    1. @Greg Merklin – comment #53:
      “Part of the problem, it seems, is that many congregations believe they can have a music director who is a) high quality, b) available every Sunday and c) willing to work as an unpaid volunteer.”

      Well, pastors have this illusion as well.

      They all imagine they can have Sr. Mary Benedict, only without the TB, only even more docile but as musically talented as the Angel Dudley. Even better if reminds them of Ingrid Bergman.

  33. I, a singer who can play one note at a time, would start here:

    The ICEL Glory to God demonstrates chanting a text to the wonderful psalm tone 4. You could chant all the sadder resp. psalms and ‘refrains’ to it for the next 2 decades.
    (music at
    accompanied mp3 mp3s.htm
    unaccompanied mp3 )

    An example of psalm tone 1 is here
    and then you can chant the happier half of the responsorial psalms.

    You can really enjoy 2 psalm tones, and the creativity to add small variations
    to emphasize text. If you want more, they’re in many places online like
    The simple clef-thing points to “do”; tone 2’s 3-leaf clover points to “fa”.
    Tonus Peregrinus is cool for the ‘vineyard of the Lord’ psalm, two different reciting tones, woo hoo

    Realize that even the simple gradual excellently suggested above changes entrance, offertory, and communion chants every month, roughly doubling your work load. A half dozen simple hymns might be easier. GIRM suggestions assume full resources are available for singing during the communion procession, so think very carefully before ignoring Jordan’s silence there; maybe the thanksgiving hymn afterwards fits better.

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