Tuesday, June 15, 2010


As Wendy and I are preparing to adjourn from our jobs and attend this year's CMAA Colloquium on Sacred Music in Pittsburgh next week, I've been meeting with some of my musical associates who will assume "leadership" roles for the next two Sundays. In casual conversation with one of our cantors/accompanists, it was mentioned that my associate had a friend who heard from another parishioner that when our schola choir sings the Introit and Communio Propers (generally in English), that in this parishioner's opinion "the choir's just showing off, and the people can't join in."
Now, in charity, I don't know if that's totally a true representation of what was said, and were it true, that doesn't bother me. But it provided me with a reason to post on our parish website the following memo:

Some of our parishioners who regularly attend the 4:00 P.M. Vigil Mass, 8:30 A.M. and 10:00 A.M. Sunday Masses at Saint M’s might have wondered over the last two years: “What are those chants that the choir or cantor sings just before Mass begins with the Entrance Song, and the one right before the Communion procession?”
It’s also just as probable there are folks who have figured out the answers to that question without having asked myself, or another music minister or priest, and found the answer lies right in the Missal and the Breaking Bread Hymnal.
Those chants are listed, in bold print, as-
1- The Entrance Antiphon
2- The Communion Antiphon
The latter group of folks are more likely to attend daily Masses at our parishes, wherein they recite, not sing, those antiphons in place of an Entrance or Communion Hymn. So, they are aware that those “antiphons” are, if nothing else, prescribed elements of each Mass. In other words, they’re meant to be there.
What I would be willing to wager is that most parishioners, if asked, would not be able to identify the source term for these “antiphons.” That term is known as the Mass Propers. And what exactly does that mean and where did they come from? Well, actually, they’ve been an integral element of the Mass, in one form or another, since the very foundation of the Mass at the Last Supper and when Christ designated St. Peter to lead His Church, and the birth of the Church formally at the Feast of Pentecost.
There are many authoritative and legislative documents that provide all priests and the Faithful all the formal canonical “rules,” or rubrics, that are necessary to the celebration of Mass and other liturgies. One of the most important is known as “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal” or the “GIRM” in short.
The following is a brief excerpt from that Curial (Official Roman) document pertaining to singing at Mass:

The Importance of Singing

39. The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord's coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart's joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly, "Singing is for one who loves."48 There is also the ancient proverb: "One who sings well prays twice."

40. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.

In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together.49

41. All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.50

Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.51

Those portions of the excerpts from the GIRM instruction (#39…) that I’ve highlighted provide a fundamental insight into how music directors, cantors and celebrants are provided options that can be applied to local situations and customs, but that are legally valid within other prescribed documents guiding our worship practices. The one aspect of which most parishioners remain unaware is that liturgical document options are listed using hierarchical priorities. In other words, in an ideal celebration of a Roman Catholic Mass, the first option of what should be sung when would always be chosen. For example, in the above excerpt #41, the GIRM states the Lord’s Prayer should be sung when we have Masses with a diverse ethnic/linguistic congregation. Where does that come from? Another document, “Musicam Sacram (On Sacred Music)” 1967 actually states that of the portions of the Mass that rightly should be sung (or owned) by the assembled congregation, first and foremost comes the Lord’s Prayer! Who would have thought that the case in most American Roman Catholic Churches over the last two generations?
But I’ve illustrated that point to get to the explanation of the term “Propers.” As the Holy Father has said and written hundreds of times in his lifetime, the “song” of the Church is found in the Book of Psalms, period. Most of the Proper Antiphons, the Introit (Entrance), the Offertorio (Offertory), and the Communio (Communion) are from the Psalter, or the musical “calendar” of liturgical Psalms. Think of them exactly as you do the two and three year cycles of scripture readings. There are actual psalm (or scriptural) texts that are assigned to each and every Mass celebrated throughout the year to be sung, or at least spoken at every Mass.
As I mentioned earlier, however, the Church does provide a prioritized hierarchy of options for those three processional moments in Mass. The first and most ideal is the singing of the assigned Proper texts for the day or the ferial celebration. Then come two other options that involve substituting other psalm texts (which cannot be paraphrased versions, by the way, but approved text versions.) And the last option is known as “Another suitable hymn or song.” (In Latin, “Alius cantus aptus,” a different, apt/appropriate song.)
This last option has been acknowledged over the period of time since the Second Vatican Council as the pre-eminent musical expression of the Church, not only here in the U.S., but virtually around the globe.
Back in the day, when bishops, pastors and parishes initiated the “big switch” from the so-called “Traditional Latin Mass,” more appropriately named 1962 Roman Missal of Bl. John XXIII, to the “Novus Ordo,” or vernacular Mass of Paul VI, 1970, the singing of congregational hymns that were common at devotions such as Benediction, Novenas and Rosaries, were the convenient vehicles to engage Catholics in “active participation” through singing. Of course, portions of the Mass Ordinary, the Kyrie to the Agnus Dei (Lord have mercy …. Lamb of God) were also to be sung by the congregation.
The main point of this blog post is to let parishioners know that when the Entrance and Communion Proper Antiphons are sung, this is the practice that is most in keeping with the directives of the Church documents on liturgy. They are not regarded by the choirs, their directors or cantors, as opportunities for musicians to display their musical skills and prowess in front of a captive “audience.” The Proper Antiphons, sung, is a realization of thinking with the “mind” of the Church. And the way they have been reinstated into use here at St. M’s is in combination with the Entrance and Communion hymns.

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