Thursday, December 4, 2014


The most controversial aspect of Catholic Liturgy is what music is sung. There are those who simply want the choir or schola to sing everything and the congregation to listen and participate inwardly, contemplatively.  And the music would be chant of its various forms, polyphony and the great classics for anthems that may be inserted here and there.

Then there are those who want contemporary sounding music (whatever that may be since contemporary is always and continually subject to change). Often this style of music mimics what is trendy in Protestantism's non-denominational churches and considered hip, whatever that means, since for me hip is the Beatles. Often this music is hard for the congregation to sing unless there is some kind of inane refrain they can sing over and over and over again.

I filled in at other parishes recently and found that I could not participate well in what was being sung because it was high and low and in the middle and the key used was not the normal key and the music was completely foreign to me and evidently to the congregation since few participated too.

My experience since becoming a pastor, first in Augusta and now here in Macon is that my parishioners do sing and sing well!

Why is it and what is common between the two parishes I have had since 1991?

1. We use a traditional hymnal (although there might be a few newer Catholic hymns in it and Protestant ones that Catholics now like). In Augusta it was the Worship Hymnal and it was in place almost 20 years until they purchased the newer Worship hymnal. They came to know the repertoire for hymns that are sung and they belt it out. No new hymns or hymnals are constantly being thrown at the congregation (retail run a muck in the Catholic music industry!) The same is true at St. Joseph, we only ask the congregation to sing what is in our hymnal. We now use the St. Michael Hymnal. There are some clunkers in the hymnal but the majority of hymns are singable and Catholic in theology.

2. The parts of the Mass that are sung are the same and newer ones are not instituted. The Gloria we sing is the Gloria Simplex by Proulx. This is the only Gloria we sing for the majority of the year and everyone knows it by heart and we do not need to follow the notes and everyone sings it. We also know (not by heart) the Jubilatio Deo version of the Gloria in Latin and for Easter and Christmas we know the Melodic Gloria which is a refrain version. I have come to dislike it and feel that the Congregation could actually sing the Melodic Gloria straight through without its refrains.

3. For the other parts of the Mass we know the Jubilatio Deo Mass parts in Latin and its English counterpart which is in the new Roman Missal. We sing the Latin version during Lent and the English version during Advent.  We also use the Mass of the Great Prophet, The People's Mass and the Mass of Creation. On the organ (at least to me) what some might call more contemporary such as the Mass of Creation sound perfectly traditional to me and everyone joins in singing these parts.

4. We do chant the propers but in plain chant and normally the cantor does it--I would love to develop this more for the congregation.

So the key to Catholics singing is consistency and forming a strong repertoire and keeping the same hymnal, traditional, organ accompaniment for years and years and years!


Pater Ignotus said...

A few questions, Good Father.

What is the "normal key" for hymnody?

Why do you find music that covers more than one octave unsingably "high and low?" You have a very good singing voice, by the way, and can cover at least two octaves

On your last vacation, when you were lost driving in St. Louis, did you blame the city for being unfamiliar to you, or did you say, "I don't know what I'm doing here?"

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

although people like the sound of it and admire it as our National Anthem, it is not worthy music and is most difficult to sing not only for the lay folks but professional singers--we all know how hard it can be especially if one starts to high or too low.

America the Beautiful is good music in terms of singability.

Much of the tripe that passes for liturgical music sometimes call contemporary is the Star Spangled Banner type, emotionally satisfying, difficult to sing and poor in quality and theology.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

BTW, if the regulars have a hard time singing it and I can't sing it, Houston we have a problem.

Anthony said...

Personally I think you should sing latin for parts of the mass all year.It's beautiful and spiritual to hear the Gloria, Santcus,Agnus Dei,the Introit in Latin.Hearing these beautiful words and melodies takes 1 away from the daily grind.We also can walk in our catholic ancestors footsteps and relate to the eternal true catholic church as it was centuries ago.I will never stop attending the 1946 Latin mass.

Pater Ignotus said...

God Father, could you describe what constitutes "worthy music"?

I would suggest that, while our National Anthem is challenging, it is musically impossible to start it " too low." You must start it very low, or else the "rocket's red glare" will be you musical Waterloo.

And if you think the Star Spangled Banner is "most" difficult, try the Queen of the Night aria from Die Zauberflote.

Orville Bluenbacher said...

Silence is golden.

Anonymous said...

I love singing, and I love singing religious songs, even the "tripe" ones, I'm sorry to say. The nuns in grade school used to say, "singing is praying twice!" I love to sing at Mass because I feel like I am praising God in a special way in song. There really is something to group singing that is authentic worship. Of course, when I attend the TLM low Mass there is no singing of any kind, and that's okay too.

But I'm from the generation that caught the tail end of "Sing Along With Mitch" on T.V., and our family used to watch it and, well, sing along! I know this is so old fashioned it's laughable, but I really believe we lost something as a culture when singing together in public went out of style and stopped. But I guess it's hard to sing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" as a group.

Anthony said...

Out of curiousity,do many people attend the first Friday mass at your parish?Bee I agree society has lost something precious by not singing or playing music together as families once did not that long ago.

John Nolan said...

The idea of the celebrant covering two octaves is ludicrous. The celebrant's parts are very simple since he has other things to do. The most difficult thing he has to sing is the Preface and that doesn't stray far from the reciting note. In a Missa Cantata without deacon or subdeacon he will have to sing the Epistle and Gospel which is perhaps more challenging but this is mainly concerned with pointing the text - the range (ambitus) is not great.

The Ordinary from the Kyriale belongs, along with the dialogue responses, to the assembly; the schola may lead by singing alternatim but since these parts don't change from day to day or Sunday to Sunday, congregations can become familiar with them.

The sung Propers were developed in the first millennium in a monastic setting. They are really the preserve of the schola cantorum and the more melismatic parts were reserved to a smaller group of even more accomplished singers, the cantors. Simpler Propers in which the assembly may participate are recommended in a parish context. These are now (at last) becoming available.

Congregations will sing familiar hymns but as a rule do not join in with the trite settings of Haugen, Haas, Schutte et al. despite their being given refrains which actually distort the text and are tiresomely repetitive. Simple chants are direct, non-repetitive, easy to learn and require no accompaniment. They are also eminently suitable for the liturgy. ICEL was at pains to adapt them for the vernacular of the 'new' translation (more accurately the first real translation) and they are an essential starting point if congregations are to 'sing the Mass'

Pater Ignotus said...

John - Good Fr. McDonald has a good voice that CAN easily cover two octaves. When he is SINGING, not CHANTING, having that range is a blessing.

There's nothing "ludicrous" about having a decent range for SINGING hymns. Sheesh...

To open another can of worms, I have often wondered if the monastic models of our liturgies -"The sung Propers were developed in the first millennium in a monastic setting" - is really the best model for non-monastic communities such as parishes.

Anthony said...

My favorite part of mass that is sing would be 'Asperges me Domine'

John Nolan said...

PI, you have once again missed the point. The celebrant should not be singing hymns - that's not his role. Whether anyone should be singing hymns at Mass is another matter. The Consilium which produced the Novus Ordo thought not.

I actually made the point that simpler versions of the Propers were more suited to a parish setting, since they can be in the vernacular and the assembly can join in.

Marie said...

In the vernacular OF, the priest is encouraged to sing with the congregation the Ordinary [the Gloria, Holy, and Lamb of God] and the four sandwich-filler hymns, even though he still has to recite the Propers.

Likewise, the GIRM says that Communion hymn should start at the Priest's Communion, not after. I think the reason is so that the priest and the faithful will feel "united."

In the EF, the Propers [hard to chant as they are] belong to the Scola, while the congregation is encouraged to sing the Ordinary.

But the Ordinary can also be tricky to sing because it's not always "Missa de Angelis" throughout the year. It's "Orbis Factor" for Sundays after Pentecost, "Lux et Origo" for the Easter Season, "Cum Jubilo" for Christmas and feasts of Our Lady.

Still, persevere with what's liturgically correct, and sooner or later you'll see it all fall into place.

There were members in our TLM congregation who complained that our Latin Mass is not like the Masses they remembered as children [silently praying the Rosary, with a lot of Marian hymns.] They said that's the Mass that they wanted, not what we now have with "too much" Latin.

But we didn't get discouraged by the complainers. We're now into our fourth year of TLM and I'm glad to note that there are less and less complaints.

More and more are now chanting the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei from the setting, "For Sundays of Advent and Lent," especially if we start with "Veni, Veni Emanuel" just before the Introit.

It's glorious.

Marie said...

"To open another can of worms, I have often wondered if the monastic models of our liturgies -"The sung Propers were developed in the first millennium in a monastic setting" - is really the best model for non-monastic communities such as parishes.

Pater Ignotus, you are not alone in wondering. I think the Monks of Solesmes agreed with you that they adapted at least the Gradual/Tracts and Alleluia verses into simpler psalm tones and tucked them in back of the Liber Brecior, however leaving the Introits, the Alleluia itself,and the Offertory and Communion antiphons intact.

Fr. Carlo Rossini went even further - He adapted the whole Propers for the whole year into psalm tones, which became popular among high school kids in my time.

So now Scola Cantori [Cantorums?] have three choices. 1. Psalm-tone only the Gradual and Alleluia verses? 2. Rossini the whole thing? or 3. Persevere with the monastic melismatic challenging orginals.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - The celebrant should be singing hymns. Entering, leaving, during the Taking Up of the Collection - if hymns are being sung, there is no good reason, short of his being tone deaf, why he should not participate.

Paul said...

Our music director composed the music to the "Gloria" and repeated a few things to try to give it a refrain.

For all the work put into it, it sounds like someone trying to sing the dictionary.

Is there a reason why GIA and OCP seem to own the Catholic Hymnal market? Could it be the number of copyrights owned by the respective publishers? Could it be that a certain former mid-west Jesuit group has an agenda to inundate the Sanctuary for decades with no end in sight?

If we are what we eat are we also what we sing?

Mr. C said...

I don't visit SOUTHERN ORDERS as frequently as I did years ago. I very much respect Fr. Allan's abilities as a pastor and journalist of the progressive growth of St. Joseph's. That said, I don't see that this particular post as having been a necessary addition to the reportage (sorry for the O'Reilly-esque term.) FRAJM's "bragg" (sic) assessing the quantity and presumably quality of singing in general at liturgies and other occasions, presumably, has obviously brought out the mockingbird instincts among some commentors, save for one, and in itself missed the point about the purpose of worship music in the first place. Worship music is by definition not to be a self-serving enterprise. It is appropriate to mention, recognize, praise, condemn or otherwise opine about the music itself, but that should presuppose that the author of an article or commentary has the credibility to reference such musical concerns. Absent that, all that will happen is one more trash heap of random, unversed opinion about darn near anything about "catholic music." There's nothing at all of value pining on about the tessitura of the national anthem (the same as Toolan's I am the Bread of Life), the functional fach (vocal range) of celebrants, remniscenses about former innovations that supplant chant, or whether OCP/GIA and the SLJ's "own" Catholic worship music. This is just silliness, and perpetuates arguments and moreso contradiction. Simple advice- know whereof you speak before you speak.

John Nolan said...

Liturgical music was an issue at the Council of Trent and at the the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath; it was an issue at the beginning of the 20th century and is arguably even more of an issue now.

I'm not sure what Mr C's point is - deciphering his turgid prose is like wading though treacle - but he is a regular contributor to the Chant Café which sees the subject of liturgical music as being of considerable importance, and encourages debate on the subject.

Before the liturgical changes of the 1960s the main complaints about the music in most Catholic parishes were that some of the hymns reflected a rather saccharine Victorian piety and were sung too slowly, and the Sunday Missa Cantata relied too much on the Missa de Angelis. The speed of vernacularization (1964-1967) killed off the sung Mass in most places and the four-hymn sandwich was slotted in faute de mieux. Anglican hymnals were plundered and contemporary faux-folk ditties of the Peter-Paul-and-Mary genre made an appearance.

Established musical traditions which had been carefully nurtured over decades were peremptorily ditched, organists and choir directors being overruled by clergy zealous for novelty; this even happened at cathedral level. Ironically, whereas the iconoclastic tendencies of the 1960s and 1970s can be rectified insofar as church interiors are concerned (at no small expense) music presents a more intractable problem, although the solutions are there and could be implemented at little or no cost.