The Divine Command to sing, proper antiphons, and you.

Some of the faithful on this forum have suggested that it is not a requirement for the people to sing during the liturgy of the Mass. Some have said that the liturgical books lack an explicit command to sing and that nobody has to sing, especially if they dislike the song or the music or feel they have a poor voice or technique. Some have also suggested that the Church has no particular preference for which of the “Four Options” are chosen for liturgical music, that it is pie in the sky to think that the proper antiphons should be given precedence or even introduced at all when a parish has chosen hymns from a popular publisher.

However, there is ample Scriptural and documentary evidence to prove these premises false.

I am currently the facilitator of a Bible study in the Great Adventure series called “Psalms: The School of Prayer”. We are learning the significance of the Book of Psalms to Israel’s history and the Church. We are exploring the richness of the musical poetry offered by this book, learning its relationship to today’s liturgy, and moreover discovering that the Psalms are first and foremost prayers, powerful prayers to be used by Christians everywhere to express our feelings in praise and worship to the LORD.

Although this study is still in its preliminary stages, it has confirmed and strengthened my conviction that God commands us to sing in His praise, and that the proper antiphons are a priceless gem in the crown jewels of Roman Rite liturgy. Anyone who prays the Divine Office knows the significance and dignity of the Psalms, as they are a constitutive part of the Liturgy of the Hours. The book would be small indeed, and the prayers empty and hollow, if we excised the Psalms from their pages. Likewise for the Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the “source and summit of Christian life”, The Responsorial Psalm is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word, but it is merely the basis, a starting point, a kernel of prayer. The majority of the proper antiphons are composed from the Psalms. The ones which are not are drawn from other Sacred Scripture. The very nature of the antiphons is that of the inspired Word of God, of perfect prayer to our Creator.

Athanasius of Alexandria said that “the Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of the Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us.” In the liturgy of the Mass, the priest offers sacrifice and prayers on our behalf. He speaks for us to God. We actively participate by offering responses to those prayers and join in the prayer. Many of our own responses have a Scriptural basis; e.g. “Domine, non sum dignus…” But a unique thing happens when we recite the Psalms in the liturgy; we pray in a way handed down across millennia and preserved painstakingly by generations of Hebrews and then Christians. We pray in an inspired way that is approved and sanctioned by Jesus Himself. An even more interesting thing happens when we sing the Psalms: we echo the music of ancient Israel and we fulfill God’s commandment to sing His praises.

Jesus knew the Psalms and He knew them well. He understood their significance and power. Jesus’ first words in the synagogue are from Isaiah 61. Though not a Psalm, it is a canticle, and there can be no doubt that our Lord did not merely recite this passage, but He chanted or sang it. The Psalms were an integral part of His life of faith and they were a striking feature of His passion and death. He understood that the prefigurement of His incarnation and Gospel message were woven into the fabric of the Psalms and could not be separated from the story of salvation.


Part 2

As Christ is written into the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament, so is the Divine Command to sing. How many of the Psalms exhort us to sing? Can there be any doubt that we were created for this? Augustine says, “Singing belongs to one who loves” and he is oft-misquoted with “He who sings well prays twice”. It is plain that both of these maxims are true if we know the Psalms for what they are.

Is it sometimes impossible to sing from the pews? Yes, we may find that the parish has provided inadequate materials to follow or none at all. We may be deprived of the proper instruments which foster corporate singing. Or we may encounter a verse or line which is clearly heretical and threatens our faith. God does not ask the impossible, nor can anyone command us to sin. But these instances are rare cases and cannot be said to form a significant part of the worship experience of Catholics. When they occur, they should spur us to a greater appreciation for right worship, a deeper desire for rich and meaningful music, and a determination to provide education and catechesis for all the faithful, particularly the young generations, so that they might find the participation in the Mass that is their right and duty as Christians.

The texts of the Propers of the Mass “form a substantial and constitutive element of the liturgy, and I encourage a recovery of their use today”, says Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix. The unfortunate fact is that this must be a recovery because so much has been lost in 50 years. The momentum and inertia which favors banal hymns and pop/rock anthems and “folk music” is an established force in the culture of the Church today. But these songs are inherently inferior to the proper antiphons and psalms which are prescribed in three other options listed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Yes, some quote Sacred Scripture, and some even faithfully paraphrase the Psalms, but is such innovation necessary when constitutive elements have already been written by the redactors of the Roman Missal and its companion texts, the Graduale Romanum and the Graduale Simplex? It is difficult to sell this reasoning to people who are attached to their hymnals and major publishers, especially because now even the elderly have grown up with decades of this stuff and they feel more “spiritually nourished” by “On Eagle’s Wings” than any comparable chant or polyphony. They haven’t even been given the chance to experience the majesty and splendor of these styles, and choirs today are ill-equipped to provide the talents required to produce it.

However, I have hope for the future. As more people are given an opportunity to witness the Mass as it was meant to be sung, their hearts may be changed and softened. As more young seminarians experience sacred music and are taught the value of these liturgical elements, the pastors of tomorrow will be emboldened to make changes in the liturgy for the better. With support from bishops and from Rome, the Church can recover these precious jewels which she claims as her own.

Good posts, Elizium23.

What do you suggest in the meantime, while waiting for pastors of tomorrow to come along and make changes in the liturgy?

Do you suggest that Christians continue to disregard the Mass hymns, “pop/rock” anthems and folk music while waiting for the “proper” music to be restored to the Mass? And if so, how long should they disregard this music–a year? Ten years? Until they are near death?

Or…do you suggest singing heartily the music that the Lord has allowed to become established in His Church, and working patiently to help bring about the restoration of the more traditional music?

I hope you are advocating the second option above! :slight_smile:

We need to be faithful in “little things,” and according to you and others, the current Mass music is about as little as it gets! :smiley: It seems to me that to stand stone silent in the Mass and believe that we are being “reverent” or “faithful” is just wrong. We are being disrespectful to the Church and to the Lord by disregarding the music that He is allowing, and we are possibly leading others into sin by giving the appearance that we are deliberately ignoring or disparaging a portion of the Holy Mass.

If we truly believe that there is other music more appropriate to the Mass, then we need to work for its restoration. Working may include some words, of course, but by “work,” I mean becoming educated about traditional music and earning the credentials that PROVE that we are educated (in other words, music degrees and certifications and logging lesson time with credentialed teachers), establishing choirs and organizations in our communities in which we teach what we know about traditional music, and presenting forums, classes, seminars, concerts, recitals, books, etc. in which we actually present the music to the uneducated Christians and the public.

And above all else, we need to establish good relationships with our local parishes and diocese AND with the rank-and-file laypeople so that we will be welcomed with joy by others when we seek opportunities to teach and promote traditional Mass music in the parishes.

I hope this post is helpful to you and others. I agree with your posts, Elizium23, but I am afraid that many may use them as an excuse to drop out of Mass music and somehow think that by dropping out, they are promoting traditional music. They are wrong.

As with all things liturgical, our opinions are fine, but the liturgical authority is episcopal. One simply must listen to their bishop whether it is the instruction they like the best or not.

One must realize that in the pre-Vatican II days, the congregation did not sing. The choir did, and unless it was a dialogue Mass, the congregation did not respond, the altar boys did.

It still hasn’t sunk into our culture that the congregation should sing.

And it’s probably an awful lot to ask of them to sing highly melismatic antiphons whether in Latin or the vernacular. I say this as a lover of Gregorian chant who sings in a schola.

There’s a reason why the simpler options are licit and allowed. Pride of place for Gregorian chant does not mean Gregorian chant in every place. After the council the Vatican also promulgated the Graduale Simplex as a complement to the Graduale Romanum. The former is much simpler and draws antiphons mainly from the Divine Office, with psalms recited on their simple Gregorian tones rather than the solemn ones in the Graduale Romanum.

But even that may be too much for the average layperson in the pews, which is perhaps why I have never heard the Graduale Simplex in use anywhere. The more complex Graduale Romanum is used often in monasteries and also by some able lay choirs in parishes. But it requires quite a bit of training, and even the ordinary in chant is beyond the abilities of most parishioners unless the very simple settings are used.

We have a clear obligation to sing just as we must make the spoken responses. If we sing badly, then practice. If the resources are lacking, petition for them. If we cannot sing the words with a clear conscience, then make a complaint to the proper authority. But it is a spirit of obedience and worship to God which compels us to participate. It is not merely the call of Vatican II to fully conscious and active participation, it is the Divine Command in Sacred Scripture which directs us to praise God with all our being.

[BIBLEDRB]Psalms 50:16-17[/BIBLEDRB]
[BIBLEDRB]Psalms 103:33[/BIBLEDRB]
[BIBLEDRB]Psalms 46:7-8[/BIBLEDRB]

There is much more where that came from. Here are 41 verses about singing in the Bible.

The hymns that are often used at Mass, the other music of which I spoke which is not the proper antiphons, is not entirely deficient. You can often find paraphrases of sacred scripture and uplifting tunes and exciting harmony. I am partial to old-fashioned Protestant four-part hymns which I find easy to sing. As long as the competent liturgical authority sees fit to offer us this kind of music in preference to others, we should subordinate ourselves in obedience to their decisions. And that means singing like we mean it.

It is not that I think that traditional hymns and songs should be completely overthrown in favor of antiphons and chant. While the latter types should have “pride of place” there is certainly still space in the liturgy to feature other styles as well. I just believe that the frequency thereof should be greatly reduced. Perhaps for a special liturgy such as a funeral, pastoral sensitivity demands that we use hymns and songs instead, because the family has requested it. This is something that is permitted by the rubrics and liturgical authority so we should recognize this flexibility and be prepared to respond to the needs of the people.

I have been a choir member in various parishes for 14 years. And almost never have these choirs sung chant, polyphony or proper antiphons. I am largely untrained, except for some musical experience in high school playing an instrument. But others have remarked on my talent, and it is this that I give back to God by singing His praises. I use my skills, time and talent for His greater glory. This thread is about my personal opinion. My bishop happens to share this opinion, but so far my parishes have not followed suit. I believe this can change, but it will all happen in God’s time. The kind of music I advocate for needs grassroots support, because there is much opposition when it is introduced, and pastors take notice of complaints. So be an evangelist. Share my words with others. Teach them what the Church calls for in her documents, and what Sacred Scripture teaches us about singing, prayer, praise and worship. Everyone should be able to share fully in the rich gift of our liturgy; it is our patrimony and our treasure to be guarded jealously.

That makes sense. Growing up in a Baptict church, the culture was the opposite it was so cultural that everyone sing, the closest thing anyone did to not singing was moving their lips and singing under their breath.

Elizium. You have unraveled the beautiful relationship between the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass. Praying the office will lead you to appeciatethe proper antiphons. We SIng the entrance and communion propers as they appear the the “Missalettes” to simple chants. We all sing them with the congregation, every week for a few years now. We sing at a good clip and take our cues from the word rythms. Here is our music. The choir may sing an alternate more elaborate setting of the same antiphon. The verses ( the psalms) at the entrance and communion really sound like you hear Christ praying in the Church.
I think we must remember that the Gradual Romanum. with its Latin propers was the fruit of Vatican II and is the first option.
It’s not hard to elminate 2 hymns from the Mass. There is plenty of time for our favorite hymns

Half the problem is tinkering.

Once we get used to some musical setting, someone decides it has to change, to be more complex. Then, after we get used to that setting they do it again, change it and make it even more complex. When asked why we changed, all the music director says is, “Father wanted a new setting.” Eventually even the Sanctus turns into some gigantic polyphonic mess and after they figure out that it is all too complex, they take us back where we started, a nice simple chant.

It is the obsession with complexity that bother’s me, and the constant need to change.


Great, someone brought up music! Vatican II produced some documents on music; INSTRUCTION ON MUSIC IN THE LITURGY (Musicam Sacram) March 5, 1967, also a LETTER TO BISHOPS ON THE ,MINIMUM REPERTOIRE OF PLAIN CHANT APRIL 1974. The second of which had a pamphlet of Gregorian chant called Jubilate Deo. So singing is an important part of Catholic worship. Without pointing fingers however, I occasionally encounter bloopers in Music books at Mass. Songs written by leaders of the reformation, or from groups as diverse as the Shakers, a movement that died out in America long ago! These are from books that are approved for use in the church! It seems to me there is a void that could be filled by Catholic publishing houses, which could produce authentic Catholic Hymnals. :smiley:

I have an awful singing voice. I did not sing in church before because my voice is so bad. However, since I returned after being gone for years, I sing. I just hope I am drowned out enough. I really want to sing, but I was not gifted with a good voice. In fact, I have damaged vocal chords from surgery, years ago. I have a harsh, raspy voice.

Where I grew up, we sang in church well before Vat II.
I do not and will not disrespect the Mass by singing pop slop and recycled Protestant songs, while ignoring the Sacred Treasury of music handed down to us by the Church through the ages.
When I visit a church where Catholic music is sung, I sing with every thing I have got.

Does anyone frequent
It’s wonderful resource on what could be (and should be) sung at Mass.

I have been there a few times, as well as They are both excellent resources even if you don’t agree to their understanding of the liturgy.

[FONT=“Georgia”][FONT=“Garamond”][size=][FONT=“Garamond”]Here are links for English propers.
This is a genre of cutting edge creativity in the Church today.
About 100 years of research into chant has brought life back into this treasure of prayer.[/FONT][/size][/FONT][/FONT]

1.Entracne chants from the Missal by Fr. Kelley of St Meinrad.
2.Communion propers from the Missal by Fr. Kelley of St Meinrad.
3.Other propers from by Fr.Kelley @ S.t Meinradclick on the Fr… Columba TAB
4.The Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett
5 Illuminaire Publications Propers by Adam Bartlett
6. Fr, Samuel Webber’: Selection from his Gradual
8. THE ST. MEINRAD PSALM TONES. can be easily sung by a congregation, even without pointed text because they are designed so well for English.

*]voice modern notation
*]Chant notation

9. simple congregational proper chants used each week along side popular hymns

One of the problems is that the so-called pop slop is more likely to be Catholic penned whereas the great traditional hymns are Methodist and Anglican. Books authorised by the Bishops include both genres.

The great traditional hymns and chants that I was taught as a youngster in Catholic school were virtually all of Catholic origin.
A great deal of the pop slop I hear sung now is written by defrocked Catholic clergy or Protestants.
In my parish traditional Catholic hymns and chants are rarely, if ever, sung.

Except for France and Germany, hymns were only admitted to low mass in the 1950s so there was not a reportoire of traditional Catholic hymnody for the mass to draw on. The hymns that Catholics sang were written for the Liturgy of the Hours and not for mass, which is why the Bishops admitted those by non-Catholics to be sung. I would be interested to know what Catholic-penned traditional English hymns you used to sing

Luckily my parish does sing traditional hymns - 75% are Methodist or Anglican in origin.

Just to add to my last post, I went back for curiosity to my 1960s hymnals. It confirms what I suspected that almost all of the material is non-Catholic in authorship or translation.

All of the following traditional hymns were written by non-Catholic authors:

All People that on earth do dwell
Come let us join our cheerful songs
O Worship the King
Praise my soul the King of heaven
Praise to the Lord, the almighty
Draw nigh and take
Let all mortal flesh
The Lord’s my shepherd
Forth in thy name O Lord I go
Now thank we all our God
O Praise ye the Lord
Hail to the Lord’s annointed
O Come, o come Emmanuel
Hark the herald angels
In the bleak midwinter
Once in Royal
While Shepherds watched
All hail the power of Jesus Name
To the name that brings salvation
As with gladness men of Old
Lord Jesus think on me
Sing my tongue the glorious battle
My song is love unknown
When I survey
All glory laud and honour
The King of Love
Come Down O love divine
Holy, holy holy
Alleluia Sing to Jesus
Jesu Lover of my soul
Forty days and forty nights
Lord they word abideth
Love Divine all loves excelling
For Mary, Mother of Our God
Sing we of the Blessed Mother
For all the Saints
Jesus Good above all other
The Church’s one foundation
Glory to thee my God this night
The day thou gavest
Abide with me
All creatures of our God and King
As pants the hart
Be thou my guardian and my guide
O God our help in ages past
Christ is made the sure foundation
Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Fight the good fight
Jerusalem the Golden
Let us with a gladsome mind
Come ye thankful people come
O thou who at the Eucharist did pray
Lo he comes with clouds descending
Hail to the Lord who comes
Ye who own the faith of Jesus (yes!)
We pray thee heavenly father
King of glory, King of peace

In fact, the few Catholic penned hymns were written by former Anglicans Fr Faber, Matthew Bridges and Edward Caswell and all had their origins in Anglican hymn books.

Most of our great hymns were Latin, not English. and included many Eucharistic hymns, especially those of Aquinas, such as “Adorote Devote”… An example of a great English hymn we used would be “Holy God, we praise Thy Name”, Many other English and Latin Catholic Hymns were seasonal in nature, especially at Christmas and Easter time. Great Marian Hymns in English, Spanish or Latin such as the “Salve Regina” were often used.
We actually sang the Sunday High Mass. choir and congregation sang the ordinary parts, choir sung the propers of the day. Hymns were often used at the Offertory after the proper was sung, during Communion, and at the recessional.
Low Mass was said reverently in Latin rather than sung. Rarely a priest might cut corners and rush daily Mass, but this was considered scandalous. Most serious Catholics had and used missals to follow the Mass. Hymns were used sparingly if at all at low Mass except for Sundays and feast days.
Although they are in our missalettes, I have never heard a Introit, Offertory, or Communion proper said or sung at my current parish for several decades. The songs sung here at Mass now are mostly relatively new copyrighted music from publishing houses. There is no money to be made by using traditional music.

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