Short Commentary: OCP’s Contemporary Mass Propers

File this under “Only in the U.S.:” OCP offers contemporary/modern musical settings of the entrance and communion antiphon – the introit and communio – for the entire liturgical year. (The texts are from the Missal, not the Graduale Romanum. The two  oftentimes overlap, but by no means always.)  View some samples here.

If you thought that the traditionalists on one side want more reverence, more tradition, more chant, and more introits and communios, but the liberals on the other side want contemporary ditties freely chosen by the folk ensemble for whatever pastoral reason, this new resource helpfully blows up that categorization. That’s why I write  “only in the U.S.” Something in U.S. culture, in the U.S. church, in the U.S. music publishing industry, makes possible this iteration of liturgical reform and renewal which is both deeply traditional and deeply engaging of contemporary cultures.

This OCP resource is both similar to and different from Liturgical Press’s Psallite project, which benefits from the freedom to chose antiphon texts that improve in places upon the Roman Missal, in a musical style that is simpler and more folk-like (in the older meaning of “folk”) and, to put it crudely, a bit less “switched on.”

Look for a future more extensive review here of Let Us All Rejoice: Modern musical settings of the Entrance and Communion antiphons..

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15 comments

  1. Because of the current* pandemic, in many jurisdictions there are severe limits on congregational singing. One approach to that has been to program propers precisely because they are less familiar in many places and thus less likely to elicit banned congregational singing. (It’s also weird to hear a popular hymn sung solo by a cantor.) This may be a good time to familiarize muted congregations with melodies that could eventually be picked up by them when muting is turned off, as it were.

    * Consider that there are likely to be more in the future. Global pandemics seem to happen roughly twice in a decades’ time. It’s just this time that the First World was fully and deeply captured. It’s not likely to be the last.

    1. The KISS principle. Those in the congregation probably have a Missal/misssalette, not a Gradual.
      It helps bring awareness that there are official texts for liturgical song, you don’t choose one because it is your girl friend’s favourite. I suppose we don’t know to what extent these flow from Archbishop Sample’s liturgical agenda?

    2. Mr Hawkins is correct, as is so often the case. Also, if memory serves, the Missal texts have *somewhat* greater likelihood of some greater resonance with the Lectionary propers. And, in the USA, they are expressly (since US adaptations for the 2011 GIRM) permitted to be sung in their proper place, not restricted to recitation in the absence of music.

  2. When they unveiled this project at the virtual NPM last summer, I was truly excited about this new resource but I have the same question now that I had then. I really wish they provided verses, either through composed or set to contemporary psalm tones. Maybe combine sources and use the verses from the Gradual Romanum?

  3. Looking forward to the more extensive review. Several interesting things about the musical examples presented here that are in contrast to the more folk-like and, dare I say, more traditional settings in Psallite. The limited ambitus is striking, but no more so than, say, the chants of the Simple Gradual and their imitators. This feature combined with a decidedly low tessitura, melodies that don’t really stand on their own (perhaps because they are simply hung on an idiomatic scaffold of arpeggiated and percussive accompaniment), suggests a certain style of privatized vocalization dependent on electronic mediation for success in the public forum, with which worshippers can identify privately but not corporately. I wonder what is traditional about that other than the text and the resulting form. The triad of cult, culture and art is not linear, but at least cyclic, if not multivalent. The making of art constitutes the cult rather than just adorning it. The comparisons offered here suggest to me an encounter of Christianity with a receptive culture on the scale of its early encounter with Hellenism. As open-minded and inclusive as like to consider myself, I can’t help feeling like a first generation Jewish Christian.

  4. There is a major problem with setting the antiphon texts of the Missal, and that is that they are not intended to be sung.

    Fr Pierre Jounel, who was a member of the Consilium working group for the original postconciliar revision to the Missal, is on record as saying that the revisers only retained the antiphons in the Missal at all in order that those who wanted to sing the Gregorian chant antiphons in the Graduale could continue to do so. His language was actually more forthright. He said they only did it “to placate the Gregorianists”.

    Further, he added that the Missal antiphon texts were not intended for singing as they stood, but were only there to remind us that we should be singing something at these points, but not these texts, or not necessarily these texts. In other words, the antiphons in the Missal are “placeholders”.

    Despite this, when the third edition of the Roman Missal was being translated, ICEL had an Antiphonary working group which produced a complete set of antiphon texts that were specifically designed to be set to music. In order to do this, they took certain liberties with the text, having received permission from SCDWDS/Vox Clara/ICEL to do so for the purposes of singability. In other words, theirs was not a formal-equivalence version but a dynamic-equivalence version intended to facilitate music.

    In the course of the preparation process for the new Missal, Msgr James Moroney, then working for BCDW and Vox Clara, discovered the rationale enunciated by Jounel. He immediately withdrew the Antiphonary portion of the ICEL Missal translation from the approval process being undertaken by USCCB, and set about producing another non-music-friendly translation of the Antiphonary. This second version of the antiphons was in fact never approved by USCCB but was simply added without comment to the Missal when all the other sections of it had received approval by the US hierarchy. The first translation of the antiphons was simply dumped.

    The outcome of this is that we now have a translation of the antiphons which is not intended to be music-friendly. And yet composers continue to labor at producing settings of texts which not only were never intended to be set to music but now exist in a translation which was not intended to be set to music either! The whole situation is bizarre.

    The late Fr Columba Kelly OSB produced a chant version of the Sunday and major feastday entrance and communion antiphons (OCP), and then Christopher Walker produced choral versions of them (also published by OCP). Now we have OCP’s contemporary praise-and-worship set as well. They all suffer from the fact that the Missal texts that they set are not designed to be set to music as they stand.

    Columba Kelly was sufficiently astute to realize that the antiphons would not be assembly-friendly, and so incorporated abbreviated antiphons into his project, an idea that has been picked up by a small number of other composers. Meanwhile, there are plenty of examples of chant-style settings of the propers out there which suffer the same handicap of restricting themselves to setting the actual Missal texts.

    As Anthony Ruff mentioned above, the Psallite project (Liturgical Press) took a different route, producing new antiphon texts — in some cases substantial revisions or paraphrases of what is in the Missal, in other cases new original texts reflecting one or more of the scripture readings of the day. It is now 15 years since the first volume of these settings appeared, and there are still many who have yet to discover them.

    1. Well yes “placeholders” for the Gradual, but also Bugnini says, placeholders for new compostitions –
      “The entrance and communion antiphons of the Missal were intended to be recited, not sung, and to inspire the creation of suitable songs in the vernacularReform p891

  5. The problem with seeking the intent of the law in the statements of one or two individuals is that the law is invariably a compromise. The law now allows us to sing the missal texts regardless of what one or more persons in the original legislating body personally intended.

    1. It all depends on where you are. For example, unlike the US, the version of GIRM 48 in the Missal for England and Wales and Scotland runs::

      This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or similarly by a cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of England and Wales / Scotland the Entrance Chant may be chosen from among the following: the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex, or another chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, and whose text has been approved by the Conference of Bishops

      Singing the antiphon from the Missal is not given as an option.

      1. What is supposed to happen, according to Bugnini, is that singable texts are written and locally approved, inspired by the Missal antiphons. I think that putting singable texts in the Missal would be preferable because simpler, at least for now, but that would mean an international style not locally inculturated.

      2. Couldn’t a musical setting of an antiphon from the Missal be considered “another chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, and whose text has been approved by the Conference of Bishops”?

  6. Late to this conversation but a few observations. It could be that OCP is “behind the times” because their archbishop is. It could be a directive. Or making a place in the market. The propers, either in the Gradual or Missal, are inadequate on five levels. One, songs-of-the-week were a bad idea in the 60s and 70s and remain so today. Two, limited texts–they need more options in the prophets, wisdom literature, and especially the New Testament. Three, they need a harmonization with the Lectionary–not a slavish yoke, but an awareness, especially over the stretches of ordinary time where the Gospels can and do give a direction. Four, more helpful would be a smaller and more focused repertoire. Not just a mindless drop of Psalm 34 in for Communion when the ideas run out. Five, what about a consultation with music ministers around the world rather than a top-down directive, be it from bishops, publishers, or whomever.

  7. Songs-of-the-week has been the underlying principle of the Gradual for over 1500 years, surely. But it is obvious from the complexity of the tunes in GR that they were not intended to be sung by anybody without training and rehearsal, certainly not by a congregation. GS is a move in the direction of simpler tunes and fewer texts. But I think we, or rather CDWDS, need to revisit the expectation of GIRM in terms of who typically sings what, and why them. If we expect the people in a communion procession to sing, sticking to one or two things (eg Psalm 34 or the Magnificat) is the only workable solution
    100 years ago Percy Dearmer concluded that an Anglican congregation should not be expected to master more than three Ordinaries, and that the anthemns (anthemn is derived from antiphon) should be left to a choir.

  8. Covid has “forced” many parishes to have the cantor or small schola sing, from one of the many collections available, a simple, chanted (often a capella) setting of the proper antiphons with their corresponding psalm found in the Graduale Romanum (the official book of sung propers) in which, quite often, multiple options for the Communion antiphon are given that are sung verses of the Gospel of the day according to the three-year Lectionary cycle (the Missal Communion antiphons do not share this marvelous theological connection between Word and Eucharist). What could possibly be more appropriate than hearing the Gospel sung while receiving Eucharist? Covid, as far as liturgy goes, seems to be a blessing in disguise since in many parishes liturgy is now more “simplistic” yet still “noble.” Hmmmm. I swear I have seen those two adjectives used somewhere else when describing Roman liturgy.

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