Thursday, January 26, 2012


The most contentious aspect of the modern liturgy is which style of music to use. Many who are in the know say that it is not appropriate to have music during the Mass that uses "religious words set to a secular style of melody." By this I think we would mean melodies that sound like bar music if you removed the words or Broadway style of singing musicals. There could be other examples too, but I think we could refer to melodies that are meant more for entertaining and listening, rather than worshiping and clearly associated with worship.

Technically the music of the Catholic Mass is not hymnody but rather the singing of all the parts of the Mass that should be sung. This would include the official Introit and Offertory and Communion chants. Normally these are meant to be sung in a "Gregorian Chant" style or some modification of it including Polyphony and in Latin or the vernacular in the OF Mass. But it includes almost every other part of the Mass from the Sign of the Cross to the Credo, Eucharistic Prayer and final Blessing. This would include the singing of the Scriptures and Gospel! How many have heard that happen in an OF Mass?

What should be sung is normally what is not sung but rather an undo emphasis on hymns. Keep in mind though that in the Low EF Mass four hymns can be sung even though not a word of the Mass is sung--Opening, Offertory, Communion and Recessional. In the old days these were hymns borrowed from popular devotions and most Marian hymns so the selections had little or nothing to do with the Mass and the themes of the Scriptures. This is an aberration in the Latin Low Mass, but accepted practice.

At least in the High or Sung Mass of the EF, all that is suppose to be sung is--but it is permissible to do additional anthem. Our practice of a vernacular processional and recessional may or may not have been done in Pre-Vatican II times for the High Mass, but I'm not certain and so what we do here may not be kosher. But certainly additional Latin anthems were always sung at the Offertory and Communion even though these are not prescribed.

But back to the OF Mass as experienced by most and what they hear today in their parishes. The emphasis is on hymns, isn't it? And even the parts of the Mass can be set to secular sounding melodies, but these are more difficult to judge as appropriate or inappropriate. And the sad fact is that so many options of styles of music are incorporated into the Mass no one really realizes that there should be a distinctive style that is a bit more narrow rather than expansive. Most new music or music that is sung today would be better used in non-Mass, non-Liturgical experiences of prayer and popular devotions.

It is also permissible and the norm now that the official chants at the entrance, offertory and communion are totally discarded and legally so and substituted with hymns. Sometimes these hymns are of dubious quality and theology and the appropriateness for Mass may well be questioned, just as one might question the use of exclusively Marian vernacular hymns at an EF low Mass.

At St. Joseph we know chant versions of all the parts of the Mass in the vernacular and two other more modern settings known as the Mass of Creation and The Mass of Sing Praise and Thanksgiving both of which are enthusiastically sung by our congregation. However liturgical purists would show disdain for these secular sounding settings of the Mass.

All our hymns are accompanied by organ and thus are "traditional" in that sense but from a wide variety of sources, pre-Vatican II vernacular hymns, Protestant hymns adapted for Catholic use and modern Catholic hymns.

For over a year though, our cantor chants the official Introit as the Procession begins and segways into the vernacular hymn and the same is true of the Offertory and Communion Antiphons.

We have yet to learn an English Creed, but the days are coming for even that at our choir Mass at 9:30 AM.

Like religion and politics, the style of music in our churches probably should not be debated in polite company.


Marc said...

Congregation of Rites (from September 1958):

"English hymns are expressly permitted during a Low Mass, but in general expressly forbidden during a High Mass: Hymns in the vernacular are permitted at a Low Mass, on condition that their theme corresponds to the part of the Mass at which they are sung. This means that a theme of sacrifice or offering is retained at the Offertory, of thanksgiving, love of God or any similar theme at Communion time. However, the singing of vernacular hymns at a sung Mass or Missa Cantata is manifestly an abuse that can only be tolerated when backed up by a long standing custom that has lasted for over a century: They [hymns in the vernacular] are permitted at a Mass in chant only in the case of a centenary or immemorial custom, which in the judgment of the local Ordinary cannot prudently be suppressed…."

Pope St. Pius X's Motu Proprio on sacred music (Tra le Sollecitudini):

"7. The language proper to the Roman Church is Latin. Hence it is forbidden to sing anything whatever in the vernacular in solemn liturgical functions -- much more to sing in the vernacular the variable or common parts of the Mass and Office."

Those address the contents of the Mass, but not the processional and recessional.

As far as I can tell from my brief research, I think that, generally, vernacular hymns are allowed in both procession and recession at both the Low and High Masses according to the local custom in the United States, which has the force of law in this circumstance. However, I cannot recall ever hearing a vernacular hymn in any circumstance at the FSSP or Institute of Christ the King. Normally there is no processional hymn at all and the recessional seems to almost always be the Salve Regina chanted in Latin.

Interesting... I'm going to look more deeply into this!

Templar said...

"Can you quote those documents? I thought Vatican II abolished all history from AD 33 to 1965?"
-- Quoted from Father Aquarius Rising, Rector of Sister Xavier, Our Lady of Perptual Motion, Liturgical Dance and Concert Music Academy

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

What Johnny-come-lately to the church, meaning those born after 1964 don't know is that the most predominant Mass that Catholics experienced prior to Vatican II was the Low Mass on Sunday--it fact it was preferred because it was "SHORT!" Same reason why Requiem daily Mass was preferred to other types of Mass because the Requiem Mass is SHORTER than it's normal counterpart. So on Sunday most Catholics attending a Low Mass where nothing was sung but four hymns in the vernacular and usually Marian hymns or hymns from popular devotions were quite content to have this format for the revised Mass--hymns took front and center stage not the parts of the Mass and in fact most laity did not like singing the parts of the Mass, they want just the four hymns and the experimentation with new forms of hymns (folk and otherwise). This is where I think the renewal in music went off course--rather than taking the suburb model of how the High Mass was sung and applying that to the reformed Mass, the Low Mass model was chosen and hymns became the focus. And of course a total loss of the very clear distinction of low, high and solemn high Masses took place so much so that it came down to Mass with music or no music or some music--this was not renewal but disintegration.
The High Mass in the EF Form should inform us how to sing the OF Mass on Sunday, but with active participation of the laity and music that congregations can easily sing.

Marc said...

(I'm a Johnny-come-lately, so I'll ask some follow-ups for my own education!)

Father, interesting observations to be certain. It is a difficulty for all of us to recoup the traditions and customs of the Church as it existed in previous times because of the failure of one or two generations to properly hand down those traditions and customs.

I know you grew up here in the South, but with family in other areas and countries. Was it your experience that what you describe about Low Masses and vernacular hymns was the custom all over the place or just here in the South? It seems to me that, despite the Solemn High Mass being the "norm" and the Low Mass being a conciliatory Rite, there is a "personnel" problem for parishes to have Solemn High Masses due to their lack of proximity to a seminary. So, I wonder if different, more Catholic areas, would have experienced something different than what you describe.

Also, I wasn't citing those documents above to try to correct you in any way. It is fascinating to me how both now and then the Church can say something (do this, don't do that) and it can have very little effect in some areas. This continues to hold true for the music proposed for the OF Mass - there are many options, of which vernacular hymns are the last. Yet, surely that is the most common!

Finally, in my relatively limited experience with the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King, I have found that the Low Mass is not exactly short. Generally, the Mass is still an hour on Sunday (20-30 minutes on weekdays). I understand you are discussing what is likely a liturgical abuse wherein priests would rush through the Mass and, therefore, have a very short Low Mass with a deficient homily (at the Sunday Mass). The Solemn High Masses and Missa Cantatas I've been to are normally about 1.5 hours, which seems like about how long a Sunday Mass should be!

I agree with your final sentiment about the OF Sunday Mass taking its musical cues from the Solemn High Mass - where the priest has his parts to sing and we have ours. It seems like the music might be the place to insert a bit of Latin into the mix at the OF as there are less pronunciation embarassments for the people when singing as opposed to talking.

At any rate, I think St. Joseph generally has pretty good musical settings for the Masses. The additions of the chanted Introit and Post-Communion are quite nice. There is a good article on the New Liturgical Movement site today about the Vatican II hymnal, I'm not sure if you've seen that - it talks about the use of the Introit, etc.

Anonymous said...

Frajm: Spot on. I am more convinced than ever that the people have lost the purpose of the Mass in the performance. I could sit through a Haugen/Hass themed Mass a lot easier if the lyrics were not so full of pop theology.


Templar said...

To be honest, I am not a big fan of singing during the Mass at all. I mean for me in particular. I don't do it well, and I am constantly finding I can not match the pace or range of the choir, resulting in the opposite of the desired effect. I much prefer that the music of the Mass help me get experience the encounter with the Mystery, and for those reasons I prefer Chant sung by the Schola or Choir, and allow it to flow around me in an auditory sense as the incense does in a olifactory sense. Both used to take me out of my everyday and push aside that veil between Heaven and Earth for a little while.

As for the Low Mass being the preferred in Pre-Councilor days, I do wonder if the fact that everyone was fasting prior to Mass from Midnight forward, and Masses were held almost exclusively in the mornings didn't add in that desire for a shorter Mass. I will say that when I experience the Low Mass I am deeply struck by it's Noble Simplicity.

Anonymous said...


A determining factor in the old days is that essentially all Catholics attended Mass every Sunday. Furthermore, the obligatory Sunday Mass could be offered only on Sunday morning starting before noon--no anticipated or afternoon or evening Mass being allowed. These two factors together created quite a crush (north, south, almost everywhere).

So, in the typical city parish in order to accommodate everyone, it was necessary to offer Mass basically on the hour throughout the morning. The typical Sunday low Mass with sermon lasted about 45 minutes, so it fitted into an hour slot, leaving time for parking lot turnover.

So, of obvious necessity, every Sunday Mass was a low Mass, except the final Sunday morning Mass, which was the parish high Mass lasting an hour or more.

In regard to the daily low Masses which I attended, I don't recall black vestments every day by any means. But when the Mass was requested for a dear departed one, that meant a full-fledged black-vestment requiem Mass with its prayers for his or her soul (not just the Mass of the day with the name possibly slipped in somewhere, as now in OF daily Mass).

I wouldn't know what priestly preferences were, but I doubt that this was a determining factor. An assertion that it was would probably be just another example of the false polemics that are so common among a certain crowd, just like the claim that were 12-minute Masses, none of which I ever witnessed or heard of.

pinanv525 said...

Today's hymns:
"When I Reached up, The Lord Reached Down for Me."

"I'm Using My Bible for A Road Map."

"I Gave My Heart to Jesus and Left the Show Last Night."

"While I was Pouring Whiskey, Jesus Poured His Blood for Me."

These are real songs. I did not make them up. Now, those beat anything Haugen can come up with. LOL!

Anonymous said...

I've also noticed that Institute of Christ the King Masses tend not to have processional and recessional hymns (the only exception I ever experienced was "Come Holy Ghost" after a Pentecost Mass I once attended).

The situation is quite different in other parishes, though. My usual parish's EF High Mass has a vernacular processional and recessional every Sunday. They also frequently have a vernacular communion hymn. Locally, this was the common practice prior to the council (and was used continuously by the local indult and underground EF communities prior to 2007).

The most interesting things I've experienced musically at the EF are the total absence of propers at one church's weekly High Mass (the Mass starts with the Kyrie - no hymn, no introit) and the adoption of the standard OF practice of singing Alleluia nine times before the Gospel at another church that only does the EF a couple times a year for special occasions.

Anonymous said...

Pin, all great tunes for the Mass after party in the social hall. This morning I had a terrible Haugen/Hass Effect: I was playing 'Sussananna Gal', a tune about a woman who drinks and plays cards. There is a 'low part' chord progression that I some how modified slightly and suddenly found myself playing 'All Are Welcome (in This Place)'. Now I can't get the dang tune out of my head!!!!


Templar said...

All Are Welcome, and Gather Your People have been the standard processional hymns at one local Church since at least 1996. I can't even say the titles anymore without wanting to gag.

Marc said...

Personally, when I open the hymnal, I immediatley look at the bottom of the page for the year of publication and the hymn's writer. If it says anything beyong basically 1950 or the name Samuel Wesley (or really anything other than Traditional Catholic Hymn), I close the hymnal, fold my hands, and pray for the priests and the musical directors to have a change of heart. This happens pretty much every Sunday I go to the OF, it seems. Maybe these are good songs to sing, but not in relation to the Mass.

Anonymous said...

LOL!!! Marc I always check the attribution, too! My wife has gotten where she see's me looking and rolls her eyes when I point at it. There is a hymnal in a local parish that contains nothing that antedates 1990. In the forward Marty and David proclaim how far sacred music has come since the times they had to use unamplified guitars. It has a blue binder and it burns my hands to pick it up.


Marc said...

rcg, I get the exact same eye-rolling from my wife when she sees me close the hymnal!

She can see it coming, though, because she is a former Methodist. So, she knows these songs from the first note! Amazing how many Methodist hymns we sing (well, not me, but other Catholics)!