Singing hymns instead of the propers?

Jeffrey Tucker of the New Liturgical Movement came across a reference to a decision of the Consilium (whose job it was to put Sacrosanctum Concilium into effect) regarding singing hymns instead of the propers of the Mass (i.e. the Introit, Offertory, and Communion antiphons):
What must be sung is the Mass, its Ordinary and Proper, not “something”, no matter how consistent, that is imposed on the Mass. Because the liturgical service is one, it has only one countenance, one motif, one voice, the voice of the Church. To continue to replace the texts of the Mass being celebrated with motets that are reverent and devout, yet out of keeping with the Mass of the day amounts to continuing an unacceptable ambiguity: it is to cheat the people. Liturgical song involves not mere melody, but words, text, thought and the sentiments that the poetry and music contain. Thus texts must be those of the Mass, not others, and singing means singing the Mass not just singing during Mass. (1969, Notitiae 5, p. 406)

While the GIRM does allow for hymns to replace the propers, one has to wonder why this permission for substitution came about, since it goes against the liturgical tradition and, as is seen from the Notitiae quote, the former legislation of the Church.

If the GIRM allows it, as the GIRM is promulgated by the Magisterium, then obviously it’s not against the liturgical tradition.

So, what’s the question?

The issue of the propers really didn’t phase me until I attended the Gateway Liturgical Conference and sat down with Fr. Samuel Webber, the director of Sacred Music for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He had already written compositions for the propers. That started me thinking about why music houses are not setting the propers to music, let alone publishing them for the use of the parishes.

When I was finally able to experience the propers first-hand during Mass at the Cathedral the next day, I was blown away. One thing is to hear them sung via satellite TV when a Papal Mass is being broadcast, but, it is quite another to hear it sung and actually join in on the singing. The worship aids (and I kept a couple of them for souveniers) had them. Even the Papal Mass booklets have them.

It’s interesting. I was initially disappointed because the Papal Christmas Eve Mass (Pope Benedict’s first as Pontiff), there was not a Christmas carol at the beginning. However, as I have watched them over the course of his papacy, the propers really do make sense: “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you” certainly is far superior to Joy to th World or Angels, We Have Heard on High.

You do raise an excellent question.

I meant to be speaking from the context of the promulgation of the revised Missal in 1969 (rather than here in 2009). Replacing Propers with hymns was contrary to the (now previous) liturgical tradition (which has been “handed on”, traditio), and as such it constitutes a point of rupture (although the degree is debatable). Strictly speaking, the new elements of the Missal of Paul VI, when it was promulgated in 1969, were not “tradition”, because they were not handed on but rather newly incorporated.

Why the change? What changed between 1969 (when this reply was made) and 1970 (or 1975) when the GIRM provided permission to replace the Propers with “another song that is suited to this part of the Mass, the day, or the seasons.” (1975 GIRM 26)

It’s one thing to revise the Missal to add some elements or remove some. The Pian Missal had a lot of revisions to it over the 400 years between it and the Pauline Missal. But it seems “out of character” for the liturgical tradition of singing the universal Propers – still being defended in early 1969 – to be supplanted as soon as late 1969 by a new practice of singing instead whatever hymns the local community (or its pastor… or its musical director) feels like singing.

If you read further over at CMAA, you’ll see that the problem was that singing hymns instead of propers was not new. It was fairly common to insert a vernacular hymn at the end of Mass, from a few centuries back or more, and gradually more and more hymns got shoved into Mass. Protestant hymn-singing wasn’t all derived from the Liturgy of the Hours.

On the other hand, the huge popularity of the silent Low Mass (and its necessity in persecuted places, like Ireland) tended to make people forget about singing the Propers. Propers were just a little line of scripture or poetry in the missal stuff for the day. The priest read it out himself; you may or may not have heard it. Unless you were going to a sung High Mass, you probably thought Catholic music was just hymns. So after a while, even if you did go to a sung Mass, a lot of times what you heard was hymns, and not even hymn settings of the Propers for the day.

So strong language was employed to try to encourage sung Masses, antiphonal singing, singing the Propers, and so on. But a lot of parishes would probably have ignored this and tried to continue with singing hymns, even if Vatican II hadn’t muddied the waters with so much going on and so many people claiming authority to change things with the Council as an excuse.

The point to remember is that the Mass does come with different special texts every day that set the stage for Mass (the introit) and link several different psalms (verses used with the antiphon for the introit, offertory, communion antiphons, etc.) both to the readings and to the action of the Mass. The soundtrack is already there, in chant, and you can also set the texts of the Propers in any musical style you like, or even just recite them as prose. But we’re supposed to hear these texts somewhere as part of every Mass, and we don’t. The Missalette is just about the only non-missal publication that bothers to print them, even, and even it doesn’t print the psalm verses to go with the antiphons. (I was pretty surprised to find out that psalms were even involved.)

Yes, the Church did give us permission to use what the English GIRM calls “another song”. (It’s actually “alius cantus aptus” in the Latin, and means “another fitting chant”. But the English translation was approved by the English-speaking bishops, so another song is allowed, here.) But a song is supposed to be the least preferred option, something you do only because you can’t do the normal stuff. Which is supposed to be the Propers.

I haven’t read the whole article on CMAA yet; thanks for reminding me. I know that the 1950s document Musicam Sacram gave permission for hymns to be sung in addition to the propers, but that’s about it.

And that was one of the “liturgical abuses” of the Extraordinary Form (at least in some countries), the over-popularity – bordering on normality? – of the Low Mass, as if the Low Mass is the ideal Mass.

A lead a young adult Bible study and I try to bring up the Introit from time to time (especially for days like Gaudete and Laetare Sunday). Back in September, the Introit was Christus factus est and the Second Reading (which is what our group is studying) was Phil 2, whence comes the Introit. It’s nice to provide that sort of education in tradition.

What’s baffling is that the Roman Missal (and the Missalette by extension) and the Roman Gradual don’t match up all the time. The Introit and Communion antiphons in the Missal (which omits the Offertory antiphon) sometimes differ from the Gradual; it’s yet another artificial and unnecessary distinction between “spoken” Masses and “sung” Masses.

I’m curious–for those of you who favor the use of propers instead of hymns, are they actually used in your parish? Do you have a music minister, or some other person who “organizes” their use and trains the musicians and teaches the congregation exactly what to do or not do?

I honestly think a lot of Catholic churches just have no idea exactly how, practically, to “do” propers. It has nothing to do with rebellion against tradition. It’s just ignorance. No clue.

I’ve noticed that a lot of musicians in Catholic churches are converts, like myself. We have never, ever heard propers and don’t know what they are, what the melodies are, if they should be played or sung acapella, if the cantor sings them or the whole congregation or the priest–it’s a question of practicality here!

And many of the musicians who are cradle Catholics were born well after Vatican II and have no idea how these “propers” work. The young music teacher at my parish’s school is a friend of mine, and she tells me that she is totally ignorant of traditional Catholic music (chant, responses, propers, etc.) .

I think if the people were taught, they would do. But unless there is teaching, there will be no doing. So who is supposed to do the teaching, and HOW exactly will it be done (before, during, or after Mass? in classes?)

Sorry to sound so anal here, but I’m just being honest about what I think the reason is why there are so few churches where “propers” are done. I’ve been Catholic for five years now and visited several dozen churches during travelling times as well as in my own city. All the Masses I’ve attended (OF) were reverent and virtually abuse-free (nothing serious–the priest might say something like “Go Bears!” at the end of Mass), and I’ve NEVER heard propers done, not even at the Cathedral in my city. So something is wrong here, and I personally think it’s ignorance of how to do it.

No, they’re not used at my parish. Yes, we have a music minister. He prefers the music from the Breaking Bread hymnal.

Yes, I agree. I would guess they also think the liturgy is “married” to OCP or whatever other publishers there are. So if something’s not in those music books, there’s a question as to whether it should be used.

There are English translations of the Propers, even set to (modified) Gregorian tones. But they’re not found in OCP missalettes.

This is nothing against you, but formation hasn’t been great lately. You were probably never told about the Propers because the people bringing you to the Catholic faith didn’t know about them either! How many musicians know what the Roman Gradual is? (Answer: it’s the official chant book for the Mass.)

Musicians knew what the Graduale and the Kyriale were before Vatican II (because they were taught about them). Few knew after Vatican II. Why? What changed? What wasn’t taught anymore, and whose idea was it to stop teaching it? It’s probably not worth trying to figure out what went wrong in great detail… rather, we should try to start doing it right again.

The Church Music Association of America does this sort of thing. They have sponsored a bunch of seminars across the country over the past year or two.

We use settings of the propers at my parish. This was implemented in September by the director of worship for the diocese. This has been a learning experience and have had growing pains. Firstly, because most parishes have not done the propers in years and most Catholics don’t even know what they are. I didn’t know either until I began my own studies of liturgical music. (I was a child of the 80s and 90s - nothing was “traditional” back then.)

I will say that the real chanted propers are beautiful and ideally, these are what should be at mass. But unfortunately they aren’t too simple to chant and so would take time to learn. But time is fine. The settings of the propers that the music director of our parish was instructed by the DofW of the diocese to use is a book which have simple, but really mundane and monotonous settings. They are all done in response - the congregation sings the “refrain” and then the cantor sings the verses - much like doing the psalm. Our parish is one which never uses ‘contemporary’ or ‘folk’ music. It only does traditional hymns, polypohony and motets. At first all motets and hymns were cut and only these settings were used. It was interesting at first, but even the priests and music ministers, along with the congregation found the settings so flat and non-inspirational, they then added hymns and motets.

These are my observations and observations of other colleagues currently going through the same growing pains:

I think what really needs to be done is true, jump-in-head-first training of all music ministers of properly doing the real chants so that it can be taught to the congregation full-force. Do it in the schools. Take the music teachers at Catholic schools, get them educated and have them teach the children. If the music teacher is classically trained - especially in voice - he/she will more than likely have some training in chant. I know I did from my own teachers and was able to teach simple chants to my students.

Basically, you can’t get the ball rolling without proper instruction. And I know it is much easier said than done. Most people do not like change. It’s very painful for some, so there will be “fighting” of this kind of change. Our music director has been slowly implementing new chants that are a little more complicated than what our parish is used to doing. We currently use Latin chant in our Latin OF masses, but they are very easy.

Another thing that needs to be done is that now there is a push for using the propers and an actual TRUE singing of the mass, rather than just sticking a hymn in partA, Part B, C, D, etc., is that if the real chants are truly too difficult for a congregation to learn, get the composers to start new compositions. It could be a whole new renaissance of sacred music. Cantica Nova puts out a catalogue of current composers who do some really gorgeous music for the Church. Who knows… we may actually start seeing settings of these propers for mass, soon.

What I find interesting is that the use of hymns is the very last sung option to be used as stated in Chapter II of the GIRM, yet almost every parish uses it, rather than doing the propers.

To give the farming parish I attended as a child and as an adult in our family’s second home credit, they actually used to recite the propers. The problem was, I just never knew that they were the propers until I was older. I just thought it was something “old-fashioned” that they never stopped doing - like their use of the pattons for communion. No parish that I knew of, other than that one back in the 80s/90s used pattons.

I’m in a men’s Gregorian chant group, and even we have trouble with the chants of the Graduale Romanum. We revert, at times, to the Graduale Simplex, but even that is a task when you are looking at new Propers each week.

One solution that I’ve seen work extremely well is to use the Gloria Patri tones and simply plug in the vernacular translations from the Gregorian Missal.

Be sure and use the pipe organ.

Well, be sure and send us a pipe organist.

Even though we can’t use these right now, here are some settings for the propers for Advent, Christmas and Lent that Fr. Samuel Webber of the Archdiocese of St. Louis wrote.

I personally heard some of his settings when I was in St. Louis and they are incredible.

There’s an English translation of the Graduale Simplex available: By Flowing Waters and it’s on sale! (check link). This translation is unnoffical but because of the “other suitable song” permission at certain points in the liturgy, you can easily use it at the entrance, offertory, and communion. It also includes a chant setting of the Mass in English and other chants. Did I mention it’s on sale right now?

This is helpful especially when a parish is just starting out doing the propers, but unfortunately because “By Flowing Waters” is very simple, it can be dangerously mundane and monotonous - not spiritually inspiring like the more complex chants if you do it for every part of the mass. (This was the book our parish was using. I didn’t want to mention it at first in my previous post, but since it was brought up in the thread, I thought I should weigh in on it from what went on over the months.)

I’m not saying it’s “bad”, per say, but even for those of us who are totally in favor of doing the propers and the use of chant, etc., these “By Flowing Waters” settings are not the best for only its use and no other music. I would suggest a good balance of these settings and then a hymn or a sacred motet if it is to be used, etc. That is what the parish is doing now and it is working out much better for all involved.

I suspected this was book you were talking about as well and only brought it up because the Graduale Simplex was brought up (and because it’s on sale :wink: ). The music in “By Flowing Waters” is simple because the Vatican meant the book it’s based upon, the *Graduale Simplex, *for smaller churches without fancy choirs. The melodies themselves are real Gregorian Chant melodies taken from antiphons from the Divine Office/ Liturgy of the Hours which are usually less complex than the antiphon melodies from Mass. It could be that that in adapting the *Graduale Simplex *to English, “By Flowing Waters” simplified the melodies a bit from the original and that’s what made it seem mundane, I don’t know. There are a couple of Cds out there from “By Flowing Waters” that give an idea of how translator/adapter intends people to approach the music.

The reason the chants of the Simplex/BFW are done in verse and refrain is because that’s how many of the of the proper chants were done originally. The choir would sing an antiphon, then (a) cantor(s) would sing a psalm-verse, the choir repeated the antipohon, then another psalm-verse, and so on. Just like the Responsorial Psalm. Over time all that was left was the antiphon although you see remnants of the original method in different chants. If you look at the Entrance Antiphons (Introits) for mass from old chant books, you’ll see they print it antiphon-psalm verse-Gloria Patri. The antiphon was then repeated. The G.S. & BFW attempt to restore the original practice. Even in the current Roman Gradual it suggests which psalm-verses to sing between the antiphon during communion. You can see the proper communion antiphons printed with their accompanying psalm-verses and music at this site: Communion Antiphons with Psalm Verses

I’m not saying it’s “bad”, per say, but even for those of us who are totally in favor of doing the propers and the use of chant, etc., these “By Flowing Waters” settings are not the best for only its use and no other music. I would suggest a good balance of these settings and then a hymn or a sacred motet if it is to be used, etc. That is what the parish is doing now and it is working out much better for all involved.

I agree that a good balance is needed. I’d also like to point out that while BFW offers a few or several mass “suites” for each season I believe one can mix-and-match antiphons from different “suites” within a season. Say for instance, if a particular antiphon is more appropriate to the day’s readings or better matches the corresponding antiphon from the Roman Gradual, etc. Another thing to try is to just add BFW to the rotation of the music you currently do, so for instancet a couple of weeks it could be a traditional hymn, then the next week an antiphon and psalm from BFW, then back to a hymn or even the proper antiphon from the Roman Gradual. I think whatever works best for you parish.

At the very least, I think music directors should inform their decisions by looking at the propers for the day so that even if a choir is unable to sing them maybe it could sing a hymn based on the psalm from which the antiphon was taken. Actually, I feel that before choirs even tackle the propers we should be singing the dialogues ('the Lord be with you. And also with you… etc…) but then we’d have to rely on priests to chant their parts too and I know that can be difficult.

I am aware of all of this and understand why everything was simplified. It’s a good resource in that regard. :slight_smile: I think for my particular parish when you go from doing traditional hymnody with text that actually match what is appropriate for the day’s reading, polyphony (during the mass with choir), and some really beautiful chant melodies, to only continuous, simplified antiphonal chants so that the congregation could also sing them, it really does seem mundane - for the musicians, yes, but especially for the congregation and the priests there. The choir, although not really liking it, was not really vocal about it. It was the congregation and the priests who were vocal. The musicians do a wonderful job with the antiphons, but for everyone, including the musicians, it’s too much of a “middling” thing, compared to what was done prior, which was also appropriate. It’s not bad and is appropriate, but it’s not great either.

That’s what the parish is currently doing now, switching things up. The director of worship for the diocese wanted to originally do it all or nothing when it began, so almost all of our choir’s repertoire was stopped. They did Palestrina, Tallis, Byrd, Mozart, etc. It was understandable for the beginning. Ours was the first parish in the diocese to do this and it was a way to get the people used to this change. But by three or four months of it, everyone wanted to also bring back the choral motets and wanted to sing some real hymns. They were missing the Advent and Christmas hymns and then the other traditional hymn melodies that we do at the parish. So, now I think there is a better balance of all of it.

I agree. We are very fortunate in our director who does all of the above and more. One of the things I really like in our parish is that, although we do use our hymnals, if there is text that really is totally appropriate for the day, but the hymn melody isn’t good or not familiar, the text will be printed in the weekly sheet and set to a hymn melody that the congregation knows. (Don’t worry, everything is properly done in regards to copyright, etc.) We aren’t held to just what is in the hymnal. We are also fortunate that, depending on the priest and if he can actually sing, we will often sing the dialogues. Our choir and the parishioners are very used to this, as it has been continually done for decades. Although, we’ve done it with some really bad singing priests. When I was in the choir, I remember the director really listening to the priest to see what actual note he is on (which can be really difficult if he is swimming all over the place) and then lead the choir to come in. Or working as a cantor (not singing into the microphone of course) but also knowing that if a priest is swimming all over, I have to be responsible to find the right note to start the response dialogue for everyone in the congregation to follow suit if there is no choir to help out the congregation. But I also understand that other parishes may not have any of that.

Hi Sarabande,
it sounds like you have a nice music program at your parish. If your choir was doing Palestrina, Byrd, & Mozart then “By Flowing Waters” wasn’t really intended for your kind of parish, at least not exclusively. I think all-or-nothing approaches are usually not a good idea, even if the goal is a good one. If anything, it sounds like your parish could teach other parishes a thing or two. You guys should write a book :slight_smile: .

Have you looked at any other resources for adding propers.? If language is an issue has chant settings of the missal propers in English. Simple Choral Gradual (pdf) also sets the missal propers in English, but in a choral style. There’s always the Anglican Use Gradual. It was originally intended for Anglican-Use Catholic churches and has the antiphons from the Roman Gradual in traditional-style English. Most of them are set to psalm-tones, but some of them are set to their proper melodies as well.

Awww… We are very fortunate with our music director/organist. He really is a gem and one of the most humble “gems” I know, as well as a very dear friend. The choir is all volunteer and many aren’t even musicians, but he does absolute wonders with what he has. It’s a mark of true genius (although he would never say that or believe it) because of what he can bring out of that choir. They do some difficult and beautiful music and do it well. I don’t know if an average director could do that with a typical volunteer church choir. But I could be totally wrong. I’m no where a genius, but I surprised myself with what I was able to do with my children’s choir, so I probably am wrong about my former statement. You just need a lot of work and love. His ability is also a mark of total commitment and love, since, like it is in many parishes that strive for this kind of music at mass, it’s an uphill battle. You’ve got to be very strong mentally and spiritually to persevere. I realize that more and more as I work in more parishes as a freelance musician and then just hearing what goes on in other parishes on these forums and from talking with colleagues who have to work in the conditions that they’re in. Anything that I can do to help our director out, I will do it.

I think what makes the parish a little different from others is that it is our diocese’s cathedral. More is expected with the music program from the cathedral and it has the added responsibility of being an example to the rest of the parishes. Those volunteers who sometimes travel an hour or more to sing in the choir do so because they love the liturgy there and believe in everything that the parish represents for the rest of the diocese. They love the music, love the Latin OF masses, the chants, etc. So, you’ve got a committed choir. Unfortunately, though, you sometimes get special masses in the parish which aren’t organized by the parish, so you will hear that hootnany stuff, and then a visitor who comes to that particular mass goes away thinking that that is how we celebrate our liturgy. It looks bad on everyone who is totally involved at that parish in all aspects of the liturgy every week. Anyway, that’s a tangent and has nothing to do with the thread.

I’d have to ask my friend about that, since I don’t plan the liturgy. I’ll send him these links. I know he is aware of the Anglican Use Gradual, although I’m not sure if the DofW is permitting it.

I posted this on the Traditional forum, but I thought this might be appropos because my friend who is the schola director and organist at this particular parish for their EF masses (this is not my parish nor my diocese, but one of some in the area which have started doing more traditional liturgy) is using the propers from the Roman Gradual. Anyone in the area is welcome to attend the two choral masses that are happening within the next few weeks and can hear the propers in this form:

Where: St. Peter Roman Catholic Church
Address: 43 W. Maple Ave.
Merchantville, NJ 08109
Time: 12:00

Pentecost Sunday
31 May 2009, Noon
Palestrina: Missa Brevis
Palestrina: Veni Creator Spiritus
Propers from the Gradual Romanum

On the organ:
Richard Strauss: Feierlicher Einzug
Samuel Adler: Festive Proclamation

Corpus Christi (External Solemnity)
14 June 2009, Noon
Hassler: Missa Secunda
Byrd: Ave Verum Corpus
Josquin: O Salutaris Hostia
Lawrence: O Sacrum Convivium
Propers from the Graduale Romanum

On the organ:
Gerald Near: Pange lingua
Marcel Dupre: Verbum Supernum

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