Non Solum: Singing at Daily Mass

The U.S. bishops’ 2007 document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship gives sound instruction on singing at daily Mass. (See the documentation below.) The basic thrust is that the place to start is with simple (perhaps chanted) Mass parts and acclamations, including perhaps the responsorial psalm. Hymns are in last place. But I get the impression that all this is ignored in many places. The weighty acclamations such as the Alleluia before the Gospel and the great Sanctus hymn are routinely recited, and if there is any singing at all, it is a few stanzas of a song or hymn at the beginning and end of the liturgy

That people think first of this type of singing probably says something about the innate popularity and accessibility of strophic songs, and anyone who seeks to inculturate the liturgy should pay heed. But yet, the liturgy has its own form and structure, and the singing should be based on this. Hence the bishops’ directives.

How do we bring the singing in line with the Mass, even and especially at daily Mass? What do you think?

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No. 115 states which parts of the liturgy deserve preference in the singing: a) dialogues and acclamations; (b) antiphons and psalms; (c) refrains and repeated responses; (d) hymns. 115a says this:

The Eucharistic acclamations (…Gospel Acclamation, the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Great Amen) … are appropriately sung at any Mass, including daily Mass and any Mass with a smaller congregation. Ideally, the people should know the acclamations by heart and should be able to sing them readily, even without accompaniment.

No. 116 says:

At daily Mass, the above priorities should be followed as much as possible, in this order: dialogues and acclamations (Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Amen); litanies (Kyrie, Agnus Dei); Responsorial Psalm, perhaps in a simple chanted setting; and finally, a hymn or even two on more important days. Even when musical accompaniment is not possible, every attempt should be made to sing the acclamations and dialogues.

 

16 comments

  1. I think it has to do to some degree with the style of the music. Many common Mass settings, even well known ones, are a little lengthy and complex. I suspect there would be more success with chant and simpler settings – myself I’m partial to the Psallite Mass setting, since it is simple, quick and very much like “sung speech”. For the antiphons, I favour metrical paraphrases, sung to well-known (by the congregation) LM or CM tunes, especially if there is no hymn that immediately suggests itself by reason of the feast/day.

    Of course, depending on the congregation, daily Mass-goers are not the most willing nor the best of singers – so spoken liturgies are often preferable to sung ones. Despite my own preference for singing, I find that the spoken early-morning liturgy has its own ‘charm’ and more audible participation than a few dominating (sometimes off-key) voices….

  2. David Hurd’s vernacular New Plainsong Mass was very effective for this purpose.

    It’s one reason that I believe a fundamental part of every parish’s reportoire for the Ordo should be at least one plainsong setting that does not need any accompaniment. Preferably one that can be widely learned and shared across regions. (Ideally, there should be a festal one as well.)

  3. I have found it easier to implement these ideas at daily Mass, rather than a Sunday Mass: doing anything sung at a daily Mass seems like an enhancement from a spoken Mass; trying to reverse those priorities at a Sunday Mass seems more of an upheaval. I agree that somewhat simpler Ordinary settings are desirable – the Missal chants, for instance. We will have music for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart tomorrow, with the Psallite Mass Gloria, Mass XVIII Sanctus, Missal MA and Amen and Latin Agnus Dei. I will sing the proper chants in English; psalm from the Lumen Christi Missal – that can be done unaccompanied, so I can go to the ambo; Mode VI Alleluia with proper verse. The main challenge toward implementing this prioritized order is that the first priority (dialogues) relies on the priest initiating it. Thus, if he doesn’t want to do it, any other music makes the priorities out of whack!

  4. It’s not hard to get simple chant going, whether in English or in Greek/Latin. The question is whether there is a cantor or group of singers who will be there regularly, and a pastoral vision to make it happen without too much suddenness. One could begin by chanting the Kyrie, the Alleluia (with verse), the Sanctus, the memorial acclamation, the Lord’s Prayer (perhaps with its doxology), the Agnus Dei, and the dismissal. Later, one could consider the responsorial psalm, although daily collections are not always easy to come by. A cantor or schola could eventually sing a simple setting of the entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons, such as the settings provided in Fr. Weber’s recently-published PROPER.

  5. For the propers, I am using a mix of Fr. Columba Kelly settings and Fr. Weber’s book. The Lumen Christi Missal sets all the daily Mass responsorial psalm antiphons – you have to point the psalm verses yourself. For Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter, there is also a book of responsorial psalm settings published by the Liturgical Press, authored by some guy named Fr. Anthony Ruff.

  6. I thoroughly disagree with the postconciliar meme that every Mass must be sung. Rather, let’s celebrate the weekday low Mass without any accompaniment! I hear the chorus now. “The low Mass was a concession for chantries and for a priest’s daily Mass without a congregation”. “Before the Council, many priests sped through their low Masses.” “The eastern liturgies have always been sung; the Roman rite invented said Mass out of convenience.” All of these points are true to some degree. And yet, we Romans have celebrated the low Mass for at least a millennium. Perhaps low Mass originated as an abuse (though I would strongly contest this.) Even so, low Mass is woven into the fabric of our liturgical consciousness. Fifty years cannot bleach this practice of unaccompanied said worship away.

    The low Mass, in either form, permits the congregant to become one with his or her innermost thoughts. The frailty of a person before his or her sin, the recognition of the need for redemption, a contemplation of the turba of saints which announce the coming sacrifice at the Sanctus: all of these aspects of participation in Mass carry an internal, intellectualized reflection or even contemplation. Certainly, it is a good idea to attend a sung Sunday Mass. The weekday Mass, however, is a contemplative preparation for the Sunday liturgy. Is this not best achieved in moments of silence and quiet, rather than bursts of singing or (dread) a cantor hired to interrupt the still of the daily Mass?

    Low Mass is an opportunity to better understand the self before the ex nihilo merciful Lord whose atonement for our sins abides with us in Mass. In the smartphone age, I fear that relatively few can sit still for forty-five minutes without “doing something”.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      Jordan,
      I can’t find any rubrics for celebrating a “Low Mass” in the GIRM. Your personal preference for a Mass without music does not override the practice of the Church, including the Pope. Music at weekday Mass is not required but GIRM says “Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing” (40), allowing for the fact that it is not always feasible.
      You say, “it is a good idea to attend a sung Sunday Mass”. The Church calls us to do more than attend. And the term “sung” seems to imply a degree of passivity on the part of the Faithful. Again, GIRM tells us that we are “instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together Psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles.” (39). As you know this practice is rooted in biblical public prayer going back at least 3000 years. Paul uses the term “sing together”, indicating that as a rule we are not just meant to be listeners.
      When you write “The weekday Mass…is a contemplative preparation for the Sunday liturgy” are you implying that the Sunday liturgy is greater/more important than the weekday one? What is the basis of this statement? I’m not aware of any sense of hierarchy when it comes to weekday vs. Sunday Mass. I always thought that every individual celebration of Mass was a source of grace that leads to salvation. And since, with the exception of certain prayers proper to Sundays but not used on most weekdays (Gloria, Creed), we pray the same text according to the same rubric how can you argue for a “contemplative preparation” on weekdays and a “non-contemplative” (fill in the blank) on Sundays?
      You seem to propose weekday Mass as a time for private prayer and recollection, but that doesn’t come across in the Missal or the documents.
      Finally, even the low Mass requires us to “do something” when we sit, kneel, stand and process, not to mention the responses.

      1. @Bruce Janiga:
        Bruce,
        I don’t understand your issue with the phrase “sung Mass,” and Jordan never implies any passivity involved. That phrase simply means that the Mass is sung, with all involved parties doing their part. Also, “attend” in this case simply means making the effort to go to the appointed place and time for Mass, which everyone does. You seem to be reading the active/passive stuff into something that was never intended that way.
        Isn’t there also an inherent hierarchy in the Sunday/daily Masses? Masses on the Lord’s Day are obligatory and necessary for the full Christian experience; daily Masses, while enriching, are not. So, yes, Sunday Masses are more important.

      2. @Bruce Janiga:

        Bruce,

        It’s important to know from the outset that I am staunchly traditionalist. My understanding of any Mass is filtered through a primarily Tridentine doctrinal lens, although I necessarily adhere to the new Catechism. Not surprisingly, the CCC often merely paraphrases Trent.

        In my family, “low” and “high” are shorthand for “said” or “sung with choir”. Perhaps many maintain this distinction out of brevity. This is not a refutation of the GIRM.

        While St. Paul’s exhortation is important, a ressourced understanding of Mass to the first or second centuries is not necessarily congruent with the organic development of Mass. The Greek recensions of the NT extant do not provide enough context for liturgy today. It is not enough to say that all song must be congregational because of Paul alone. The extremely polyvalent nature of extant scripture texts is quite fragile when applied to the social exigencies of Mediterranean antiquity. At no point may one clearly “prove” antique and late antique liturgical practices. The western choral tradition is well attested because it is an organic development through the accumulation of practice. Debates over whether a particle is ως or ὁς are usually fruitless. I am secure in the knowledge that the transition to choral traditions is a traceable phenomenon.

        My distinction between weekday Mass and the Sunday Mass is confusing. All Masses are Masses certainly. Even so, the low Mass often lends itself to inward reflection. High Masses encourage a more conscious focus on the sung ordinary and actions of the altar. Certainly, contemplation occurs at all Masses, but in different forms and stamina at different Masses. I find myself highly distracted at sung Mass; low Mass offers me time to trace intellectual circles in the sky of the mind’s eye.

        Often at low Mass I remain silent or move my lips to the rosary. More than enough present make responses.

  7. The only place where I have seen a daily Mass successfully implemented with with chant/music is one that maintains a standard MASS OIL format with the actual introit, gradual,communion/postcommunion chanted in recto tono. And yes, this is an ordinary form Mass that takes about 25-30 minutes.

    It starts at 550 am and usually has between 60 to 120 in the church. Not unusual, as it’s next to a slug lot in the metro area.

  8. I serve a weekday Mass with usually only a few people present, none of whom would describe themselves as singers. We sing the Alleluia before the Gospel, the Dialogue before the Preface and all the Eucharistic Prayer acclamations. And we usually begin with a psalm.

    We use the chants from the Missal which seem to me to be very flexible and durable, if not exactly great art music – but then I guess great art music is not the point.

    It’s not difficult!

    AG.

  9. In Papua New Guinea, in the Dominican College at the Seminary, we have found the Psallite Mass very helpful for getting everyone singing. It helps that the two priests are keen to sing. Once the congregation is used to singing, one can introduce something a little more ambitious. Our favourite is the “St Ambrose Mass” by Br Michael Herry. It is based on Kyrie IX. Sheet music and audio samples at http://www.maristmusic.org.au/gregorian-mass-of-st-ambrose/

    I recommend it!

  10. The daily Masses I’ve attended consist of the priest and a handful of people. Since I can’t imagine the people taking the lead, the priest would have to initiate any singing that might take place. The same priest who can barely croak out “through him, with him, and in him” on a Sunday. It doesn’t seem likely.

  11. We have music at all our daily liturgies. Even, when there is no organist, the people can sing the Roman Missal Chants with no problem. We usually average about 150 to 200 people at daily Mass. I guess we are fortunate here in Florida with so many who come! It’s actually fun to play for them, they really raise the rafters!

  12. “Musicam Sacram” suggests a “progressive solemnity” in Nos. 7 and 29, though I know that there is debate about the standing of this document as current liturgical law. It is more specific, it seems, however, than “Sing to the Lord.” GIRM for it’s part says, “Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are in principle meant to be sung [etc.]” I take from the Church’s rubrics a sense that singing is the norm, with provision for various reasons to speak instead of sing (read: remove music). I also see, based upon the rubrics, a tendency to flip the importance of musical elements, namely placing emphasis on the procession music, be it hymns or Propers, and then adding the Ordinary and finally the dialogues, responses, and acclamations. It seems the latter are of greatest import (and simplest to execute), and instead we ought to look at it as removing the singing of the Propers or “other liturgical chants (songs)” and then the Ordinary (which does not include the two longest elements in weekday Masses).

    My pastor also considers the weekday Mass a great way to introduce more singing to the parish, getting the regulars used to it before bringing it to the Sunday liturgies.

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