Sunday Mass, No Singing

No congregational singing, that is. In the diocese of St. Cloud, where Saint John’s Abbey is, this is the regulation. The same is true in many places around the world.

Up until now, our monastery liturgies have been closed to the public. With just the monks in attendance, we have been singing everything like always – with monks 6 feet apart in the choir stalls and wearing facemasks. But when, starting this past Sunday, we wished to begin inviting the public to our Sunday Mass again, we held ourselves to the diocesan regulations prohibiting congregational singing. Though now only cantors can sing, we still wanted the liturgy to be as festive and participative as possible.

Here’s how we did it. (Here’s the leaflet.)

  • Entrance antiphon: Two cantors sang the proper antiphon of the Sunday in English chant from English Chant Propers (Liturgical Press, 2015), with one psalm verse and the doxology Glory to the Father… But we put the verses in Spanish – a nod to the increasing numbers of Hispanic monks joining our monastery. In these parts, we Catholics sing like Lutherans on organ-based congregational hymns, and it’s no fun having to give that up. But we have gradually introduced introits in Latin or English on special occasions over the years, so it doesn’t feel totally weird to have cantors alone do the processional chant.
  • Gloria: In Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles (Boston Archdiocesan Choir School, 1972), Theodore Marier wrote an intriguing recto tono Gloria setting in which the congregation sings the entire text on one pitch while the organ plays increasingly tantalizing chords. In 2012, Dr. Clint Kraus at St. James Cathedral in Seattle handily adapted it for the new missal text. It worked just fine (not least with our newly expanded Holtkamp-Pasi pipe organ) to have everyone recite rather than sing the text.
  • Responsorial Psalm: Congregation recited the refrain while the organ played Marier-like organ chords. Cantors sang the psalm verses in two-part (harmonized Meinrad psalm tone)..
  • Alleluia: I recall many years ago a British abbot remarking that he supports the liturgical reform and the involvement of the congregation, but truly misses the old Gregorian alleluias. The alleluias in the Graduale Romanum don’t fit the reformed three-year lectionary as well as the new cycle of texts, and I made my peace with never using the Graduale alleluias in this life. Until COVID-19. Only cantors can sing now? Make hay while the sun shines! The cantor sang the florid chant Alleluia unaccompanied. Then he led the congregation in reciting the Gospel acclamation verse – flip it, and find a new way to involve the congregation! Then, to make the lead-in to the Gospel reading just a bit more “up,” the cantor was accompanied by the organ on the repeat of the chant Alleluia. Incoherent compromise? Or best of both worlds? (I only played organ chords, not the melody, freeing the cantor to sing with semiologically free rhythms.)
  • Eucharistic Acclamations: Recited by all. For the Sanctus (music below), one monk played wood block on the word stresses, which made it a bit like the Hebraic “sprung rhythm” of the Gelineau psalm tones. Until the “Hosanna in the highest,” which had a big crescendo of an organ chord along with a tambourine shake – both ending with a bang. Fun! Simple recited MemAcc. Then, the congregation recited the Amen six times – two groups of three – with increasingly loud organ chords on the last syllable of each Amen, plus a bit of a musical exclamation mark at the end (music below).
  • Agnus Dei: recited by all in Spanish. It’s high time we start incorporating more Spanish into our monastic liturgies – we’re massively behind the curve on this. COVID-19 is a good opportunity to begin at the easier level of recitation. Then someday, when congregational singing comes back, we’ll be ready for sung versions of various Mass acclamations in Spanish. Somehow, reciting it in Spanish made it more interesting and engaging – at least for me.
  • Communion: no more Psallite refrains with congregation, alas. One cantor sang the English antiphon and verses from English Proper Chants. Then another cantor, who went to Communion first, sang the same antiphon in Latin chant from the Antiphonale while the first cantor went to Communion. What’s the Latin for tag team?
  • Postcommunion hymn: The hymn text “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” was perfect for the 14A readings. All stood to recite the text: cantors on stanzas 1 and 3, everyone on stanzas 2 and 4. Organ played light background accompaniment. This text is most often sung to KINGSFOLD. I didn’t want to play that melody directly, lined up with the text, for that could make it seem like singing to that tune was intended. Rather, I sustained chords and played little, suggestive melodic snippets here and there from the hymn tune to evoke its ethos.
  • And then, blessing, dismissal, and a loud organ postlude.

Reviews were generally positive, but mixed. (This is a monastic community!)

We’ll run it again this coming Sunday, with a few variants. Our Vietnamese student monks will sing the entrance chant in Vietnamese. At prep we’ll have organ and percussion improvisation on the Latin chant Qui manducat. That’s the proper communio in the Graduale this Sunday. Like last week, it will be sung in English and Latin … and, because one of the Vietnamese monks is now in my online Gregorian chant class, also in Vietnamese! The recited post-communion hymn will be “Almighty God, your word is cast.” That text is sung to so many different tunes, I’m not yet sure what the soft underlying organ accompaniment will suggest, if anything, by way of a tune.


Music: Eucharistic Acclamations



  1. The pastoral creativity here is amazing! Thank you for sharing these suggestions. I’m going to share this post with our music director.

    1. Dear Father A.

      Brilliant! Wish I could be there. We are trying a different solution here, but then we are a very mixed downtown parish, not a Cathedral or a Great Abbey.

      In Christ our hope,
      James the very least

      Dr. James Savage
      Choir of Hope Director
      Christ Our Hope Parish
      Director of Music Emeritus
      St. James Cathedral, Seattle.

  2. Thank you Fr. Anthony! This is full of great ideas. Sacred Heart in Owatonna has a very large Latino congregation so during this pandemic live-streaming history, we often sing bilingual Psalmody and Lamb of God settings in Spanish.
    One thing I have done with the Universal Prayers is reinstate the “bidding prayers” which have silence rather than verbal responses. I have a cantor from the balcony ask the assembly to pray in silence after each bidding. Each bidding is begun with pedal and evolving organ chords which stop and echo after “pray for the church”, etc….

  3. We have also been using the entrance and communion antiphons instead of hymns—or I suppose you could say that we’ve stopped using hymns instead of the entrance and communion antiphons.

    1. Fritz, do you know which setting? I have at hand Adam Bartlett, Samuel Weber OSB, Columba Kelly OSB, John Ainslie, and Bruce Ford. They’re all very good – in different ways.

      1. I’m not sure. But I could find out.

        I think they work well, particularly since we are simply processing from the sacristy at the entrance and only the priest and deacon receive communion at communion time (the assembly receives at the end of Mass, so they can exit the Church immediately–I know, I know, but it works logistically in terms of reducing movement during the Mass).

  4. The harsh reality of celebrating Lord’s Day Mass without music is probably the most troubling liturgical reality, among several, of the current situation. What you describe is certainly creative and careful. I wonder, however, if this is an unfortunate step in an unnecessary direction. On the Sunday you describe more than 700 people viewed the live-stream of the Abbey Mass. On previous Sundays, those participants experienced music as part of the worship. Now, for the sake of a few dozen people gathered in-person, those several hundred experience Mass without music. Is it a worthwhile swap. I know many parishes are still recording a Mass with music that is distributed to their at-home community because they believe music, while always essential, is even more necessary for those engaging in distanced worship. Regardless, St. John’s has offered a wonderful service to the church over these past several months.

    1. Tom, you raise good points. We talked a lot about whether to keep guests out and continue singing the congregational Mass music (which is better for the online viewers, and the monks prefer it), or to let guests in which means following the diocesan guidelines on no congregational singing. We opted for the latter, in part because campus will be gradually opening up from now until the students all come back, but it was not an easy decision.

      Let’s hope the guidelines change to allow congregational singing if all wear masks (which we require at St. John’s).

  5. Thank you for sharing what you are doing. I will sit with these and see how this might speak to our reality. We have the cantor sing everything and those that are present can hum along. It is great to hear them..,,..
    none of this is what any of us want. Just trying to make it work as best we can

  6. Reciting the psalm refrain whike a cantor sings the verses seems very odd to me. That is how it is done at the parish where I supply help, but it seems so “backward.” Maybe I am not just used to it yet.

  7. Our diocese did not forbid singing and so we have continued to praise God in song since our re-opening in late May. Since there are hundreds if not thousands of parishes who continue to employ congregational singing would we not have heard by now of “outbreaks” of Covid connected to that practice. I haven’t heard of any. In fact, the only outbreak I hear about is the one involving a large non-Catholic choral group in which one member with covid allegedly infected nearly 50 members. In fact, it is the only such case that seems to be referred to over and over by those who claim that covid is easily transmittable through the “aerisolization” created by singers at services. There is one such parish in this diocese which has chosen this path but in tuning in their live-streamed Mass there seem to be fewer people at Mass than mine where we sing. I will say that we don’t sing as much as we did pre-covid.

    1. Jack – There is that one outbreak for that one choir, but it’s so serious that I think it gives all of us pause. And it wasn’t just the infections (that you refer to), there were also two deaths among the choir members.

      But note that this tragic incident is *not* the only data leading to prohibition of congregational singing. There are various studies being done that show that singing increases the aerosol load and could contribute to the spread of the virus. I’m sure the science will continue to evolve as we learn more, but I wouldn’t want us to ignore the studies done so far.


  8. Hello, Fr. Anthony, On Sunday July 5, the Sunday Mass included the “Gloria: In Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles (Boston Archdiocesan Choir School, 1972) by Theodore Marier as arranged by Dr. Clint Kraus. I have searched for a source of this music, but to no avail. Can you tell me if it is available, and where? If it is no longer copyrighted, is there a way I can get a copy? In my small Maryland parish, the cantor sings the Introit, psalm, gospel verse and communion verses from various sources, but the addition of accompaniment for the spoken Gloria would certainly be appreciated.

    1. I have a PDF of a 1983 edition and can’t find that Gloria anywhere, and Clint Kraus isn’t listed in the index of Composers, Arrangers, etc. Could it have been in the 1972 edition and later removed?

      1. It’s #7 in the 1983 (second) edition of HPSC; the choral-organ edition has the harmonies by Marier (“T.M.” in the attribution usage of that hymnal).

        There is a similar treatment of the Creed at #12 (with Marier organ accompaniment) – but there are also *choral* accompaniment harmonies at #598 (also Marier but slightly different from #12) towards the back of the choral-organ edition. In my experience of that as a parishioner in the 1980s, that was a lucid approach to singing the Creed with full congregational participation that did not seem, well, monotonous.

        (I also have the prior choral-organ edition of that hymnal, and of Cantus Populi that preceded that, and the Pius X Hymnal that preceded that….)

    2. I seem to remember that it was also published in Worship hymnal, but whether I or II I do not recall accurately.

  9. Theodore Marier’s original recto-tono Glory to God was one of the compositions distributed by the “Composers’ Forum for Catholic Worship” in 1974. I have a copy, and the acknowledgement at the bottom of the page says: “Theodore Marier places this work in the public domain.”

    Does anyone here remember the Composers’ Forum for Catholic Worship? I’m fortunate to have most of their music in my collection. The music was published between 1971 and 1976 on a subscription basis. Robert Blanchard was executive director, and members of the board of directors included Ted Marier, Theophane Hytrek, and Columba Kelly, among others.

    Much of the music was quite substantial, and included works by Jean Langlais, Flor Peeters, Richard Proulx, Eugene Englert, Howard Hughes, and Theophane Hytrek, among others. A few pieces in the series have been republished by GIA, but most of it has unfortunately been forgotten.

    It was an exciting time for church music composition and experimentation. One of the most interesting works was a 1971 setting by Robert Blanchard of Eucharistic Prayer III for accompaniment and three equal voices (presider + concelebrants)!

  10. Great idea with the Gregorian Alleluias. (no congregational singing in Boston) I’ve adapted several with organ accompaniment. For the verse, we simply point it to the corresponding mode. I’ve truly enjoyed digging into these during these difficult times.

  11. Any change of status re: singing at Mass at Collegeville? Some parishes around us are singing but we are not. Haven’t seen anything updates.

  12. I’ve said it before and do so again today: We have been singing the Mass and at Mass for 6 months with no outbreaks of the virus traceable to having been present. There is still only the one story of a large choral group in Washington back in March that were singing together for more than two hours and during which a person with covid spread the virus to tens of others. The “science” says it is possible to spread viral particles by singing. Possible doesn’t mean likely.

      1. Fr.Ruff,
        All those reports appear to primarily deal with low church Protestants and anti-maskers. I am not sure they are comparable to most Catholic Churches.

        Here is a link to one study that indicates masked singers spread as much aerosols and droplets as ordinary speech.

        I know there have been spreads at Catholic parishes but I am not aware of superspreader events. Granted now that contract tracing has fallen by the wayside, Catholic parishes may be significant sources of spread for reasons partly due to singing or otherwise.

        Still outdoor services seem to be ideal with or without singing even in the bleak midwinter

      2. Devin, thanks for this. It’s helpful to know that it is anti-maskers that seem to be the danger. That danger would be equally present whether the anti-maskers are low-church Protestants or Catholics. So the question is whether the Catholic parishes are all being diligent about mask wearing. I wish that were the case but I hear reports of Masses with many or most not wearing masks.

      3. I have heard that a Latin mass community had to be told directly by the ordinary with jurisdiction that ongoing intentional failure of its ministers/attendants to comply with mask guidelines would be grounds for being forbidden to continue public celebration where they have been celebrating.

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