Resources: Mass without Congregational Singing

I reported earlier on how we do it at St. John’s Abbey during this time of no congregational singing. Here are some resources and some samples.

Theodore Marie’s recto tono Gloria, nicely revised by Clint Kraus, is here. It also works well with everyone reciting the text. It is in the public domain.

Here is the Responsorial Psalm for the coming Sunday. I set it up each Sunday for congregational recitation of the refrain in rhythm, then cantors sing the verses to a Meinrad psalm tone harmonized. We use an older Grail translation because the monks have that in their souls from the daily Liturgy of the Hours.

Hereis how we’re doing the Alleluia these days. I grab the melody from Gregor and Taube because it’s corrected there against the earliest manuscripts. Then I add in episemata (did everyone catch the Greek 3rd declension plural there?) as indicated in the lineless neumes.

FWIW, here is our leaflet for this coming Sunday.



  1. Do you have any idea who the Bishop consulted with before giving the edict on no congregational seating? I would hope he consulted a liturgist like yourself to weigh the risk-benefit. It’s been many weeks now that we have resumed masses with singing. No outbreaks that we know of. I haven’t read of any either.

    1. No, he didn’t consult with me. Nor would I have a lot to add since it’s a public health issue. As a liturgist I favor gathering and singing *if* it’s safe, but have no health expertise on whether it is.

      I’m glad there are no outbreaks at your place. There have been outbreaks in other congregations across the country who have gathered unsafely for public worship, as I’m sure you’re aware.


  2. Loyola Marymount’s Center for Religion and Spirituality ran a two part panel “Liturgy in the Time of the Pandemic” which included a liturgist and a priest with expertise in public health. It was helpful and what I took away was that, as much as it pains us, we (the congregation) should not be singing.

  3. I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better idea to build a non-metrical accompaniment to undergird the congregation while they speak the psalm refrain in a more natural way. What your setting reminds me of is the creepy sound that my choir makes when I ask them to count-sing something.

    But I’ve been wrong before. Let us know how it goes!

  4. Signing the verses by a cantor, then commual recitation of the refrain seems backwards to me. I understand the reason, just recite the whole thing, with soft instrumenta music in the background.

  5. I’m with Jack on this one. Sitting separately, wearing masks, and having proper ventilation in an uncrowded, large, airy space, all reduce the chances of transmission. (In a tiny, crowded church, this would be different.) I support all the precautions, but to eradicate congregational singing altogether — even a refrain or a response — seems excessive to me.

    1. I am with you on this, Rita! Our churches have been open for 2 months with everything sanitized and everyone masked and socially distant. I am the cantor and I am against the back wall of the sanctuary, at least 14 feet from the assembly! We sing what we are supposed to sing and we have had no one report being sick (with Covid19 – unfortunately, cancer and heart attacks still exist!) I would find it SO disheartening if we could not sing!

  6. Count me among those who would not enter into a contained church space with congregational singing at this juncture of time and place and circumstances. I would find that to be the antithesis of hospitality and head right back out the designated exit.

    And to say I ordinarily heartily support congregational singing would be an understatement, and I am more than aware of not only it being a profound loss now, but also a risk of future loss as well.

    I have yet to be persuaded that congregational singing indoors where a social mix of people (that is, who are not ordinarily in daily close contact with one another – last time I was in a community where composed of that was in college, but I am aware there are communities where such is the case) are gathered stagnantly for a sustained period of time is a prudent risk to which to subject congregants and ministers where I live (Greater Boston area). It may be prudent in places where contagion is sparsely evident. But not for now even in a space such as where I’ve chosen to go precisely because it is roughly equivalent in spacial volume to Westminster Abbey but with generally just a few dozen congregants spaced very generously apart and easy to clean hard surfaces everywhere.

  7. I will do as I’ve been directed. I pray that we will wake from the hibernation of not-singing. I don’t bother to put a timetable on that intercession because the only way I can affect it is to delay it into the future by doing stupid things. I can’t research it, nor can I afford to pay a pseudo-scientist to do a study that would find in my favor.

    Meanwhile, there are people singing at home, including mine. There is instrumental music to play. I suppose I could become skilled at various sub-genres of hip-hop. Maybe after I’ve developed a bit in freestyle, we’ll be fully awake for vocals with pitch and harmony.

  8. As long as the scientists continue to tell us that the aerosol produced by a single singer, let alone a choir or an entire congregation, can float in the air for 15 feet (and some say considerably further than that: 45 feet is another statistic I have read) and last in the air for half an hour or more, any singing at all in an enclosed space appears to be highly dangerous. It was said early on that just the Westminster Symphonic Choir would need a space the size of a football stadium with no one else in it, even with highly effective ventilation and air conditioning. Singing by widely spaced singers out of doors may be different.

    As a church musician and choral conductor, I understand absolutely how desperate some people are to return to singing in church, but the common good requires us to behave with consideration for others. Saying “We’ve been doing it for weeks and nothing happened” proves nothing. Perhaps you have just been very lucky. Others have not been so lucky, and the price has been paid.

    Pray for an effective vaccine!

    1. +1

      ‘ Saying “We’ve been doing it for weeks and nothing happened” proves nothing. Perhaps you have just been very lucky. ‘

      Luck perhaps depending on the density and type of local prevalence in people who decided to show up.

      So far.

      Be grateful.

      Even outdoor events with a socially mixed group in sustained proximity (that is, mingled from many “pods” of daily contacts) in a relatively small area are not unfree of risk. Here in New England, outdoor/yard parties are becoming problematic clusters of new outbreaks that may ramp up and require roll-backs from Phase 3 to Phase 2 reopenings.

      1. I spent the weekend singing along with my cantor, as I accompany them through a new Mask.

        I do not know enough about the science of it, but it is heavy cotton muslin; larger enough for me to breathe comfortably and did not alter the sound of my singing voice. It is secure under the chin, hand washable and so far as I can tell would trap any aerosol droplets or vapor coming from my large baritone voice. I have asked our Office of Worship to consider them as a possibility for small ensembles of singers.

      2. I wonder what the scientific research is behind a mask designed by theatrical costume designers.

      3. It is secure under the chin, hand washable and so far as I can tell would trap any aerosol droplets or vapor coming from my large baritone voice.

        While a mask may prevent the propagation of droplets, it has already been proved that aerosol can easily escape from all but the type of surgical mask that is sealed to your face.

  9. “…as far as I can tell, would trap any aerosol droplets…”

    Words we don’t want to hear from Pfizer: “We gave this new Covid vaccine the ol’ eyeball test and, as far as we can tell, it’s the cat’s meow!”

    And no, that’s not going to happen!

  10. Tuesday afternoon’s coronavirus update by Ohio governor Mike DeWine (who is very devout) included the following::
    …. DeWine said he would be sending a letter to Ohio’s faith-based community to share important health information with the state’s churches, synagogues, and mosques and to share ways to better protect their worshipers.
    [An image] shown by DeWine at Tuesday’s presser demonstrates the spread of the virus to at least 91 different people resulting from just one person with COVID-19 attending a church service. “It spread like wildfire,” the governor said.
    DeWine said that religious faiths are at the core of both the state and the country and thanked faith-based leaders for all that they do. However, he made clear he believes that it is vital to control the spread of the virus, including at religious services, that everyone wear masks, practice social distancing, wash hands, and while indoors, making sure there is good ventilation and airflow….
    1 person leads to 91 cases. It gives reason to pause….

  11. Governor DeWine’s comments assume that no one among the 91 individuals referred to might have contracted the disease from a source other than the “one person” at the church. I had Covid during June. All my staff and a few parishioners who thought they might have had sufficient exposure to me got tested. There were two individuals who tested positive, one of whom had the no symptoms version of the disease but quarantined for the proscribed time. A couple of other parishioners contracted it in July but have no idea how they may have contracted it and they were among those who had not yet returned to the church for Mass. They were active members of St. Vincent de Paul and there are no known cases stemming from that involvement.

    1. It is also noted that they are unclear, if the incident from June had members social distancing or wearing masks.

    2. The follow up/expansion to the Governor’s original remarks: A man with Covid-19 went to church in mid-June, then 91 other people got sick, including 53 who were at the service, according to Ohio’s governor.
      “It spread like wildfire, wildfire. Very, very scary,” Gov. MIke De Wine said Tuesday. “We know that our faith-based leaders want nothing more than to protect those who come to worship”….
      In the case of community spread from the worshipper at the undisclosed church, a 56-year-old man went to the service. A total of 53 people got sick and 18 of those churchgoers spread it to at least one other person.”
      I’m just putting the Governor’s remarks out there.

  12. A parish music director I know encouraged the people to hum along with the cantor. Brilliant, I think.

    1. Alas, we learned several months ago that humming produces just as much in the way of aerosol as singing, even when the hummer is wearing a mask.

      1. There have been so many parishes (in the States at least) that have been offering public Masses since the middle of May. Many of these are still singing. Wouldn’t there be ample reports by now if just being in church with many other people, or being in one where singing were a regular feature was sufficient for contracting and spreading Covid? The FACT that being in places where there are a number of other people; and that being in places where the people are singing MAY be associated with some accounts of transmission does not make those facts an indication of causality.

      2. Jack, there have been comparatively few Masses with assembly singing. Those that have had music have mostly had just a cantor and accompanist, maybe a couple of instrumentalists, no choir singing and no assembly singing. Most parishes are being extremely careful. No one wants to be cited as the cause of a new outbreak.

        It sounds as if your experience has been different, but I don’t think it’s typical. There are many Facebook forums where people have been giving details of what they have been doing or have been allowed to do. Most of them are as I outlined above..

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