Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Every now and then, Catholic Culture will send something useful to my inbox. Today's mailing started with this (emphasis mine):

St. Augustine said that he who sings prays twice. But it is probably not that aspect of singing which causes many Catholics to be deeply concerned about the type and quality of music they are asked to sing at Mass.

Two different kinds of musical settings are frequently used in the sacred liturgy, the singing of various parts of the Mass and the singing of hymns. The hymns typically used at Mass are the Processional, Offertory, Communion and Recessional hymns. Did you know that these hymns are supposed to bear a relationship to the Mass texts?

In all actuality, hymns are the last of the four (soon to be only three once the emandation gets approved by Rome) options given for use at the Introit, Offertory, and Communion, according to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Another unfortunate note is that though there are a number of musicians, myself included, who do know that hymns are supposed to bear a relationship to the Mass texts, unfortunately a much higher number of musicians (as well as many pastors, liturgists, composers, and publishers) either don't know, or focus only on the readings, or simply don't care.

Further in the e-mail I received, Catholic Culture leaves a link to an article by Susan Benofy, called Singing the Mass -- We Cannot Say that One Song Is as Good as the Other. The link actually points to the article in their own website. However, that story first appeared in the November 2007 Adoremus Bulletin.


With no mechanism for episcopal review in place, composers produced a constant stream of new music — and publishers strenuously promoted it through their publications and workshops. For many reasons, this “contemporary” music for use in the liturgy virtually supplanted any other kind, in the decades following the Council. As a result of this musical “rupture”, the “rich patrimony of faith” of the Church’s musical heritage was all but lost.

Thus, the chaos we have today.

The Consilium’s response was very clear :
That rule [permitting vernacular hymns] has been superseded. What must be sung is the Mass, its Ordinary and Proper, not “something”, no matter how consistent, that is imposed on the Mass.

The Proper of the Mass was to be sung. This ruling was utterly ignored, however. Almost forty years later the average Catholic at Sunday Mass will join in singing “something” at the Entrance, at Communion and perhaps the Offertory. Almost never will the actual texts prescribed for these processions be heard.

Of course not. You hear All Are Welcome or Gather Us In instead, or Anthem (I don't mean a good choral anthem here, but Tom Conry's infamous ditty which makes you lose count on the number of times the word "we" is sung before the first chorus is done).

Now, let's look at Ms. Benofy's rightful assessment of the infamous OCP planning guide, Today's Liturgy, which I've taken issue with more than once on this here blog. In fact, the group that passed themselves off as a search committee for the job interview that I flopped on mentioned that they like to use Today's Liturgy as their bible when it comes to music selections.

Today’s Liturgy usually lists 4 to 6 suggested hymns for each of several parts of the Mass, and there is a code to indicate when a selection corresponds to a prescribed antiphon or reading. There is only one Sunday (the 24th in Ordinary Time) when any of the suggestions for the Entrance correspond (in the compiler’s opinion) to the Introit antiphon. On that day the antiphon is from the Book of Sirach:

Give peace, Lord, to those who wait for you and your prophets will proclaim you as you deserve. Hear the prayers of your servant and of your people Israel.

The hymns that are alleged to correspond to the antiphon are “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”, whose text is based on Psalm 103; and “Rejoice the Lord is King”, which is based on the Christus Vincit. Neither has any real connection with the antiphon from Sirach.

In some cases the suggested hymns are very far removed from the substance and spirit of the prescribed text. Consider, for example, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The prescribed antiphon from the Missal (and Gradual) is: “If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt, who could endure it? But you are forgiving, God of Israel.”

This is a verse from Psalm 130 (129) whose first verse, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord”, is the prescribed psalm verse for the Introit. This is the text the Church proposes to congregations to “introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season”.

What does Today’s Liturgy suggest for the Entrance hymn on this Sunday? First on the list is “Sing a New Song” by Dan Schutte, said to be “based on” Psalm 98. The refrain has us “singing alleluia”, and in the first verse we “dance for joy” and play “glad tambourines”.

Now you know why I don't use their planning pages.

Seriously, Ms. Benofy knows what she speaks. Read the whole thing. It's really good!

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