Pray Tell Poll: Should Presiders Chant the Dialogues and Orations of the Liturgy?

Should presiders chant the dialogues and orations of the liturgy?

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  1. And the faithful with our parts in that, too.

    For historical reference from Musicam Sacram (1967) that does have a vision that is not entirely irrelevant to the Missal issued in its wake – of course the practical problem was getting presiding priests on board with the vision, and the widespread failure ended up putting disproportionate emphasis on introit-offertory-communion as *the* effective musical foundation of the Mass (with the Ordinary becoming utility background that changed little week to week perhaps more to reduce the rehearsal burden on music ministries than burden on PIPs):

    28. The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation.

    These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.

    29. The following belong to the first degree:

    (a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.

    (b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.

    (c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

    30. The following belong to the second degree:

    (a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;

    (b) the Creed;

    (c) the prayer of the faithful.

    31. The following belong to the third degree:

    (a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;

    (b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;

    (c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;

    (d) the song at the Offertory;

    (e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

  2. Adding to Karl’s excellent points, can see the value of chanting but, to be honest, it only makes sense if the presider has the voice; the community can hear each word that is chanted; and the presider has the ability to provide some type of emotion, phrasing, etc.
    Again, to be honest, if that ability is not there, then what happens is a garbled mess.
    Would rather suggest that presiders learn how to lead the prayers, etc. with appropriate speed, tone, and enunciation that brings the prayer to life. Also, very rarely does a presider ever add the *rest* of the opening line after Let Us Pray – why is this almost universally skipped?

    1. +1
      I voted no mainly because it really isn’t a Yes or No question. There are a number of legitimate variables involved.

    2. I’m chanting “Amen,” though I’m not completely clear on “the rest of the opening line.”
      Is that the “Let us pray that…” of the Sacramentary, which was most helpful.
      The wording of the Collect in the Missal is often clumsy: “Let us pray. Grant, we pray,…”

  3. From Bill deHaas’ post:

    “*rest* of the opening line after ‘Let us pray'”

    What is that? I thought it was just ‘Let us pray.’

    On Sundays, I sing as much as I can, usually the Preface and sometimes parts of the Canon, more rarely the orations, always the dialogues/greetings. However, at my age my voice is not what it used to be.

    It seems to me that in the Latin West we have lost the art of cantillation. I was at a Syro Malabar Mass recently where the priest chanted many of the prayers. It was not what I would call ‘singing,’ (nothing to do with his voice, it was fine), nor was it what I would call ‘speaking’ but somewhere in between.

    It’s that ‘somewhere’ that we seem to have lost, so when we speak of singing or chanting the prayers, we are actually thinking more of our modern ‘singing’ register, which is nowadays limited to ‘singers’ and excludes those who ‘don’t sing.’ Hence, I guess, the reluctance of so many priests to sing the Mass.


  4. Alan – rest of prayer opening…..your response makes my point….review the sacramentary on any Sunday, Feast and here is what you will see (as an example):

    Opening Prayer
    Let us pray (that we will make good use of the gifts that God has given us) – the that phrase is almost never used???

    Have experienced excellent presiders/homilists who highlight those additions so that they are cited in the homily and make a consistent message – each prayer, scriptures, homily, any other prayer openings.

    You do raise another bugaboo for me. IMO, chanting part of the Eucharistic prayer only reinforces the bad habit of not seeing the whole/complete Eucharistic prayer as the community’s prayer – vs. splitting it into pieces and singing some but not the others. It goes along with celebrants who drag out the institution narrative and long, slow elevations which really is not part of our current Eucharistic liturgy. Again, focuses on an *object* rather than the communal action of prayer including calling down the spirit, blessing, etc.

      1. Did not realize that – another reason why the liturgical translation lost its way years ago.

      2. The Missale Romanum 3rd edition does not have them. I believe they were an inovation by ICEL, (presumably based on the ancient model of the Good Friday intercessions). A very good idea, but not one that should be introduced except at the top level in the Latin original. I found this comment by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. (Zenit 2012) :-
        “The prayer theme and the alternative Opening Prayer never formed part of the Latin Roman missal. They were original compositions made by the translators of the missal although subsequently approved by the U.S. bishops and the Holy See.
        Since these were not used in other English-speaking countries, and some of them were less than perfect as liturgical prayers, they have been dropped from the missal and may no longer be used.”
        NB Fr McNamara was mistaken however, in that the themes/intentions were used elsewhere, in England&Wales at least.

    1. I’d be a little hesitant about the ‘Eucharistic Prayer’ being such a unity that the same articulation is required throughout.

      The Roman Canon, and some other ancient Oriental anaphoras (to say nothing of the sequence of prayers at this point in the ‘Mozarabic’ Rite of Mass) is a collection of embolisms rather than a unified whole.

      The production of the Missal of Paul VI seems to have been guided by contemporary scholarly opinion that the EP should be a unified sequence of parts, a model taken from the developed oriental anaphoras. Thus EP’s 2 and 3 and in a more complete sense, EP4.

      As regards singing/chanting parts of the EP, the Roman tradition from the earliest evidence seems to have been to chant the Preface and articulate the rest quietly. As regards the Preface, that is still the case and the assumption in both Latin and English Missals seems to be that while the Preface may always be chanted, the rest of the anaphora will not necessarily be treated in the same way. It is quite permissible to chant parts and to recite others.

      As a matter of personal opinion, I don’t think it makes any difference to the notion that the Anaphora is the prayer of the whole assembly. That is clear from the first person plural speaking throughout. It is articulated by the priest in the name of, and with the verbal assent of, the assembly.


      1. Appreciate your analysis but, IMO, you summarize my point of view when you cite Bugnini/VII (there was a decision to unify the Eucharistic prayer) even though we know that it has been different at other time periods, rites, cultures.
        And, yes, am trying to offset the cultural knee jerk to single out the institution narrative and all but diminish the rest of the prayer.

  5. A presider in this area attempts to chant everything that is chantable. His chanting is completely unintelligible, not to mention painful for the listener. I am completely serious. It is so bad that the purpose actually seems to be to disengage the assembly. And that’s why I voted no!

    1. Good on you, Rachel. I too have heard celebrants croak and muddle their way through texts. Now that we no longer have the tradition of cantillation, it becomes ‘singing’ – some priests can, some cannot. I happen to think that is a pity, but it’s where we are.

      Mind you, I would have voted ‘yes.’


      1. “Some priests can, some cannot.” That is wrong. For one, let’s be charitable. Could it be that some of these priests need some coaching? Are they willing to improve? If so, let’s help them rather than complain about them on public forums. Everybody, barring the rare physical obstruction, can sing. Clinical tone-deafness is incredibly rare. The problem is conditioning, and frankly, the failure to emphasis it on every level of Catholic education, including many seminaries.

      2. Doug,

        I think that’s something of an oversimplification. Rather than blaming it on the priests and their lack of formation, I think you’d be surprised at how much tone-deafness and pitching difficulty there is around, and not just in the clergy. I have done a lot of work in this area, and some are susceptible of help through coaching while for others there is actually no real hope of improvement.

        There are also massive psychological dimensions to all this, and many priests don’t sing because they were told during their training that they couldn’t and have gone through their priestly life with that particular chip on their shoulder. Once again, sympathetic remedial help can change that with some priests, but not with others. The advent of the chants of the latest Roman Missal was an opportunity, and many more priests sing now than did before, in part because singing those texts makes it easier to ignore or disguise their deficiencies !

        Other seminarians will tell you that they came to seminary to learn to be priests, not to learn to sing. It’s quite difficult to persuade them that singing might be a necessary part of their skill set.

        In general, it’s much too easy, and erroneous, to say that almost everyone can sing, so they’d just better get on and do it. There’s far more to it than that.

  6. I chant the orations (except in Lent), but not the dialogues. I have a good voice, but I have to rearrange the wording to make the oration sing-able.

  7. I have been blessed with a good singing voice and thus have been able to encourage the faithful to sing the Mass rather than just sing at Mass. But I rarely sing the orations. Like chanting the gospel I simply believe this is a practice which resonates with relatively few Catholics. I am amused by those who suggest that such chanting belongs to our rich Latin Rite heritage. Yes, but almost exclusively in monasteries. The rest of the church endured the silent Mass in which an occasionally chanted “Dominus Vobiscum” was met with a silent response from the onlookers. So the practice of singing the orations goes all the way back to 1969 (perhaps a little earlier) but only by priests who could chant and loved doing so. Recited texts when actually prayed with devotion, rather than just “said” or “read”, represents a laudable practice. Can anyone of us be surprised that a blog that is populated by lovers of singing would tilt heavily towards chanted orations? I do not at all oppose the practice but I can not agree that they “should” be chanted.

    1. I think Father that culture plays a role here. In countries such as France, Germany, and Poland, presiders chanting the orations/preface is the norm, while in countries such as Italy, Spain, Ireland, it is rare indeed.

  8. I think Fr. Ruff gave an analogy that best demonstrates how chanting the dialogues is part of our tradition since the early Church in one of his videos. He said (and I don’t have the direct quote, but I use this analogy all the time in lectures on singing the liturgy) “That in ancient times for the people to speak and not chant a dialogue in the liturgy like “The Lord be with you…and with your spirit” would be like us today going to a birthday party and speaking the words of Happy Birthday to You instead of singing it or speaking rather than singing the words of Auld Lang Syne on New Years…it just wouldn’t make sense!”

  9. A number of things spring to mind.

    Firstly, no one has yet mentioned the phenomenon of ekphonesis,, treated extensively by Gelineau, that raising of the voice (but not yet singing, closer to cantillation) that lends importance to the texts it touches. The question, then, is which texts benefit from or require such treatment. In my book, blessings (e.g. during Holy Week) are obvious candidates. Orations — perhaps. Readings — perhaps on special occasions. Dialogues — that’s a different story.

    With all due respect to Anthony Ruff, his analogy, quoted by John Gaffney, falls down because Happy Birthday and Auld Lang Syne are not dialogues. The first is an acclamation, the second is a hymn. Both of those are sung forms which, indeed, don’t make sense unless sung. But a dialogue is something else.

    Unless it’s done well, the fact is that chanting “The Lord be with you”, etc, can come across as artificial or insincere. Adding music to what is or should be a very human exchange can actually erect a barrier between the people who are supposed to be communicating. As I say, it all depends on how it’s done. Certainly a quasi-robotic, parsonic chanting style, which is frequently met with, adds nothing to the dialoguing, and in my opinion takes away from it.

    Chanting came into being as an aid to audibility as the rooms in which Christians celebrated became larger. In these days of PA systems, that rationale is no longer present. The functional nature of chanting has become ritualized. Nothing wrong with that except when rituals are unthinkingly done without remembering their original purpose. And because music highlights what it touches, singing everything possible can reduce everything to the same undifferentiated level. Singing in the rite articulates structure, another fact that is often overlooked. The Orthodox, with wall-to-wall music, wouldn’t understand that, of course, but I think we need to be clear about precisely what we are going to highlight and what not.

    Because orations and dialogues are not the same animal, I would have voted Yes and No!

  10. Mr. Hawkins – do not want to re-legislate the whole ICEL, Vox Clara debacle but you say:
    “….they were an innovation by ICEL, (presumably based on the ancient model of the Good Friday intercessions). A very good idea, but not one that should be introduced except at the top level in the Latin original.”
    Suggest that this makes the *Latin original* into an absolute; a god. Liturgy is made for man; not man for the liturgy.
    We can debate about the Latin original until the cows come home and experts know that there is no perfect Latin original – it came about in bits and pieces and, in fact, was not one of the *original* Christian languages at all.
    Per Francis’s latest statement on translations, we also need to allow for acculturations, etc.
    Same goes with the opinion of McNamara – he appears to be on a quest for the *perfect* translation – whatever that means?

    1. I agree about the desireability of inculturation, including to the various strands of the English speaking world. My concern, which gets stronger (alas?) with advancing age, is about distorting the liturgy with unvetted words. The celebrant is given scope for brief explanatory words adapted to the congregation, beyond that I think words written into the official books should get rigorous scrutiny, and I do not think that in practice our bishops accept that degree of responsibilty, since there is no mechanism by which they might exercise it. Under the current rules, I suppose if this were regarded as an adaptation the ‘prayer theme’ would in theory receive that scrutiny from CDWDS.
      I also agree with St Jerome, perfect translation is not possible.

    2. Isn’t Latin one of the so-called languages of the cross? It’s rather difficult to get more Christian than that.

  11. Depends on the nature of the celebration – solemn Mass in a cathedral with all the trimmings – v – 7.30am Mass in a parish.
    Depends on the assembly – childrens Masses?
    Depends on the ability of the priest.
    We were fortunate to have an assistant priest who was a good singer and who carefully prepared what he sang. His singing of the prefaces really illuminated the text without being in any way showy, but then put the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer in the shade. That can’t be desirable.

    1. Also depends on the wording of a particular prayer. Some of them are so clumsy that to chant them renders them totally unintelligible. Such are much better offered by a carefully prepared and presented reading of the prayer. That, however, comes with its own problems.

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