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Special Report
March 05, 2013
After years of neglect in many American parishes, chanted Mass propers are making a comeback, thanks in part to new online resources.
Members of the choir sing during the annual Christmas concert at St. Malachy's Church -- The Actors' Chapel in New York Dec. 13, 2010. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The publication of the new English translation of the Roman Missal has helped revive interest in the use of chant in the ordinary form of Holy Mass. The Roman Missal includes many more chanted texts than did the previous edition, allowing clergy and people alike to “sing the Mass, rather than merely to sing at Mass,” as Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the ICEL (International Committee on English in the Liturgy) Secretariat, said in a 2010 address.

The new Roman Missal includes a new translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which also has fostered greater interest in chant. Citing Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) and subsequent curial documents, the GIRM states that “the main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy.… Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Profession of Faith and the Lord’s Prayer, according to the simpler settings” (nos. 41-42).

When Catholics think of Gregorian chant at Mass, many tend first to think of chants associated with the Ordinary of the Mass—that is, the parts of the Mass that tend not to vary from day to day—for example, the Kyrie, Gloria, Profession of Faith (Credo), Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.

But there is also another set of chanted prayers at Mass: the propers, that is, five chants that are proper, or specific, to each Mass. The past two years have witnessed a revival of interest in the propers in parishes in the English-speaking world.

“I would contend that there are two primary reasons for the increased popularity of chanting the propers at Mass,” Father Dan Merz, associate director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CWR. “First, there is a renewed interest in the texts proposed by the Church herself for the Mass, as opposed to individual choices that may not coincide with the rest of the Mass as well. This goes together with the desire for more accurate translations of texts used at the Eucharist and the other liturgies of the Church. The entrance and Communion antiphons are often scriptural and serve as an official commentary or meditation of sorts on the Mass of the day, as opposed to hymns or songs chosen on the local level.”

“Second, there is a renewed interest in chant itself, including Gregorian chant,” he added. “Many Catholics grew up without any experience or knowledge of chant, and so there is a natural desire to uncover a part of the tradition that was lost—at least to them.”

In the Roman Missal (the liturgical book used by the priest at the chair and at the altar), there are proper antiphons and prayers for Masses on different days of the liturgical year: the Entrance Antiphon, Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, Communion Antiphon, and Prayer after Communion. The texts of the five chanted propers, however, are found not in the Roman Missal, but in another liturgical book, the Graduale Romanum (used by the schola cantorum, or choir), which, like the Roman Missal, was revised after the Second Vatican Council.

In his work The Reform of the Liturgy 1948–1975, published posthumously in Italian in 1983, Archbishop Annibale Bunigni, who served as secretary of the Consilium for the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1964-69) and secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship (1969-75), recounted that the Consilium entrusted the revision of the books of Gregorian chant to the Abbey of St. Peter of Solesmes, the French Benedictine monastery that has been a center for chant studies since its re-founding by Dom Prosper Guéranger in the 1830s. A revised Graduale Romanum was issued in 1974, and its introduction discusses the differences between the preconciliar and postconciliar editions.

The abbey of Solesmes has also published the Gregorian Missal, which contains the Order of the Mass in Latin and English, as well as the five proper chants of the Mass (from the Graduale Romanum) and the proper prayers for the Mass (from the Roman Missal) for Sundays, solemnities, and feasts of the Lord.

The five chanted propers in the Graduale Romanum are the introit (entrance chant), gradual, Alleluia, offertory, and Communion chant. The gradual holds the same place in the Graduale Romanum as the responsorial psalm does in the Lectionary. During Lent, the tract replaces the Alleluia chant, and during Eastertide, there are two Alleluia chants, the first replacing the gradual.

At times, the texts of the introit and Communion chant for a particular day in the Graduale Romanum differ from the texts of the Entrance Antiphon and Communion Antiphon on that same day in the Roman Missal, and the text of the Alleluia for a particular day in the Graduale Romanum at times differs from the text in the same day in the Lectionary.

The Graduale Romanum is not the only official liturgical book containing chants for use at Mass. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Graduale Simplex was developed by the Consilium in collaboration with the monks of Solesmes. The Graduale Simplex, issued in 1967 and revised in 1974, is the result of Sacrosanctum Concilium’s call for “an edition [to] be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in small churches” (no. 117).

In addition, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops requested in 2001—and received from Rome in 2002—the permission to allow for the singing of the Entrance Antiphon and Communion Antiphon from the Roman Missal. In the Church’s liturgical discipline, these two antiphons are typically intended for recitation when there is no singing (GIRM, nos. 48, 87).

Thus, in the dioceses in the United States, the GIRM lists several legitimate options for singing at the entrance and at Communion:

(1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting; (2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop (no. 48, cf. no. 87).

Cantus, the Latin word translated as “chant” in the fourth option, means “that which is sung,” Father Richard Hilgartner, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Divine Worship, told Catholic News Service in 2011, thus allowing for the singing of hymns—an option permitted in Musicam Sacram, the 1967 curial instruction on sacred music, which described hymns as a “custom legitimately in use in certain places and widely confirmed by indults” (no. 32).

In many parishes, this last option from the GIRM—the singing of a hymn—is the sole option at the entrance and at Communion that parishioners have experienced for several decades. Likewise, at the offertory, few Catholics have heard the option of an offertory chant from the Graduale Romanum, with most parishes legitimately singing a hymn instead (GIRM, no. 74). After the first reading and before the Gospel, most parishes use the Responsorial Psalm and Gospel acclamation from the Lectionary, rather than the chants from the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex, which are also legitimate options (nos. 61-62).

Most parishes in the English-speaking world, then, find themselves in a curious position at this juncture in liturgical history. On the one hand, the Church teaches that within the context of the ordinary form of the Mass, “the main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy” (GIRM, no. 41). On the other hand, another option, also legitimate, has become ingrained in the practice of most parishes. 

Practical aids to chanting the propers

“A desire to sing the proper texts of the Mass as encouraged in Sacrosanctum Concilium (nos. 116-117) and prioritized in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (no. 48) has become increasingly evident since the recent implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal,” ICEL’s Msgr. Wadsworth told CWR. “One of the obstacles to the practical realization of this desire is the relative scarcity of chant resources in English.”

“My first piece of advice to priests and their liturgical musicians is to consider that the advent of the Internet has revolutionized the manner in which music is published,” Msgr. Wadsworth added. “Publishers of liturgical music are no longer the sole source of materials for music in the Mass. Much music is available, and generally free of charge, through a number of important websites that enable composers and musicians to share the fruits of their labors with an immediacy that was previously unimaginable.”

“The new edition of the Roman Missal contains more music than any of its predecessors and that includes a certain amount of music for the singing of proper texts, particularly in Holy Week and certain other feasts,” notes Msgr. Wadsworth. “All of this music (including accompaniments) is to be found at the ICEL music page.”

Msgr. Wadsworth paid tribute to the Church Music Association of America for its work in making the Mass propers more accessible.

“One organization, above all others, has made this quest its particular project in recent years – the Church Music Association of America (CMAA),” said Msgr. Wadsworth, who described its website as “a splendid resource at the service of all who wish to sing the proper texts either in Latin or in English. Within this site there is access to a vast array of musical resources, all free for download and immediate use.”

Jeffrey Tucker, the managing editor of the CMAA’s quarterly journal, Sacred Music, told CWR that “the realization of the role of propers came only in the last few years” and helped overcome debates between proponents of different hymns.

“All of us came to realize that the debate over hymns was rather pointless,” he said. “The point of the Vatican II instructions was to proclaim the word. The word is already given to us [in the propers]. That was an incredible revelation. It changed everything.”

Msgr. Wadsworth says that several resources offered by the CMAA are “highly useful” for a parish “that might be making its first foray into the territory of sung propers” or that otherwise wish to foster Gregorian chant: Adam Bartlett’s Simple English Propers, Arlene Oost-Zinner’s Parish Book of Psalms, the Simple Choral Gradual of Richard Rice, and Father Samuel F. Weber’s “extensive range of settings.”

“We are certainly experiencing a Gregorian chant renaissance in our day, and we are very blessed to see a flowering of new musical resources that find their inspiration in the inestimable treasures of sacred music which the Second Vatican Council spoke of and exalted,” says Bartlett, director of sacred music at Saints Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix.

Bartlett, who has also developed the Lumen Christi Missal, told CWR that

many parishes are not yet ready to take on the full singing of these chants in their Latin settings, and it is for this reason that both the Simple English Propers (SEP, 2011) and the Lumen Christi Missal (LCM, 2012) were developed and published. The SEP sets the text of the Graduale Romanum, in English translation, for the entrance, offertory, and Communion for Sundays and feasts and is intended for beginning and average parish choirs to undertake the singing of the full proper of the Mass in simple musical settings that can be sung effectively each week. The LCM, however, is a book for Catholics in the pew, and it provides for them (among many other things) a repertoire of sung propers in English that can be sung by ordinary parish congregations with a sensitive and gradual introduction and with good catechesis.

Oost-Zinner told CWR that her intention in developing the Parish Book of Psalms was
“to write original, modal melodies for the short antiphons and use Gregorian psalm tones for the verses. The melodies are based on the flow and sound of the English text, similar to the way in which traditional Gregorian chant melodies arose from the Latin text.” Msgr. Wadsworth describes them as “attractive settings of responsorial psalms for use through the year.”

Father Weber, a Benedictine who is currently stationed at St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Santa Rosa, California and whose works are available online, told CWR that he is working on three books that will be published by Ignatius Press: The Propers of the Mass for Sundays and Solemnities, The Sunday Vesper Book for Parishes, and The Book of Responsorial Psalms, Gospel Acclamations, and Sequences for Sundays and Solemnities.

“The English antiphons [are] written in a chant style that grows out of the natural pattern and flow of the English text—and the polyphonic settings draw their musical ‘grammar and vocabulary’ from traditional Catholic Church music,” says Father Weber. “All the settings are for the approved English texts, however. The ‘atmosphere,’ if you will, that this music creates, is the same as that of the tradition of the Roman Rite, only using English words.”

Msgr. Wadsworth also recommends several other resources for introducing the propers in parishes. Referring to the archabbey in Indiana, he says that the “St. Meinrad monk and prolific composer and arranger of chant, Father Columba Kelly, OSB, has a number of useful resources on the monastery’s site.” He also notes that “Corpus Christi Watershed has a wide variety of resources that could be immediately helpful in a parish context.”

The Vatican II Hymnal, published in 2011, “might be an excellent way to help congregations follow the wishes of the Council and ‘pray the Mass,’” says Jeffrey Ostrowski, president of Corpus Christi Watershed. “This book contains simple Mass settings approved by the USCCB, the complete readings…and 100 percent of the Mass proper texts. With the Vatican II Hymnal, no matter how the choir sings the propers (in English, in Latin, using psalm tones, etc.), the congregation can always follow the prayers as the Council desired.”

“More than 200 beautiful hymns for the congregation were also included, since it is not always possible for choirs to be present at every single Mass,” adds Ostrowski, who told CWR that “a huge portion of the music provided by Corpus Christi Watershed comes from contemporary composers.”

Referring to The Anglican Use Gradual, published by C. David Burt in 2004, Msgr. Wadsworth said that “the musical experience of Catholics who worship in accordance with the Anglican Use is put at the service of the wider Church in [this] very interesting collection of chant.”

“Gregorian chant both in English and in Latin in the Catholic Church is on the upswing,” says Burt. “The Anglicans have a tradition of chant and hymns which has been successful for many years.”

Burt told CWR that “except for special occasions, the preparation of the traditional Latin chants from the Graduale Romanum is beyond the scope of most parish choirs. But the simpler chants in The Anglican Use Gradual and in Bartlett's Simple English Propers are quite within their reach. Combining these chants with congregational hymns is also extremely effective.”

“There are two further possibilities that offer the possibility of immediate implementation with minimum preparation and even the most modest musical resources,” added Msgr. Wadsworth. “There are a number of publishers that offer settings of proper antiphons using simple Gregorian psalm tones; the work of Lawrence M. Rutherford in his English Psalm Tone Propers would be an example of such an approach. The hymn-writer Kathleen Pluth has produced a collection of Hymns for the Liturgical Year which are often verse settings of introits or other proper texts that may be sung to well-known hymn tunes.”

“Since most choirs are unfamiliar with singing the totality of antiphons of the Mass, the beginning selection for this chant should be as familiar and simple as possible, that is, in the vernacular and using plain chant or psalm tones,” says Rutherford, whose English Psalm Tone Propers “fulfills both of these requirements, as they are an uncomplicated method of introducing chant to the Mass.” He said that his forthcoming work “is currently at ICEL and the USCCB for their permissions.”

“My interest in the proper texts lies in their ability to take evangelization to an even deeper level,” says Pluth. “Pastors are undoubtedly aware that some members of their congregations pray contemplatively. I believe that every Catholic is called to a profound life of prayer, to the contemplative life…God has wisdom to share with us, and the proper texts allow us to find that wisdom.”

Pluth and some of the other musicians and liturgists contacted by CWR recommend that any parishes that wish to implement the propers do so over time.

“The introduction of chant propers should be accompanied by education—not only of the musicians, but also of the congregation so that the people can appreciate the scriptural roots, historical tradition, theological significance, liturgical purpose, and pastoral value of these chant pieces,” says Dr. Paul Taylor, executive secretary of the National Liturgical Council, an advisory body established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. “From a musical point of view, proper chants (and ordinary chants) require proper training! Otherwise, poorly prepared and sung liturgical music can have a negative effect on the congregation it is meant to serve.”

“Whatever one’s preferences among these options might be, any decision should not be made based on one’s personal preferences, but on the common good of the whole parish and in dialogue with the appropriate members of the parish—for example, the music director, members of the choir, members of the liturgical committee,” adds the USCCB’s Father Merz.

“I think [implementing propers] is relatively straightforward: I always wonder why so little has been done to establish it in the 50 years since Vatican II,” says Msgr. Wadsworth. “We have an opportunity to do something about that now, and I believe that the effects would be immediately evident and the improvement to the quality of our celebration of the Mass very considerable.”
 
About the Author
J. J. Ziegler 

J. J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina.
 

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