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Proper Chants as Models of Liturgical Hymnody, by Fr John-Mark Missio

Proper Chants as Models of Liturgical Hymnody, by Fr John-Mark Missio

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This wonderful paper explains the background of the issue with regard to Mass propers.
This wonderful paper explains the background of the issue with regard to Mass propers.

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Published by: Church Music Association of America on Jun 06, 2011
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We now turn our attention to comments from the American Conference of Catholic

Bishops in the years that followed the start of the Second Vatican Council.

71

Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgical Apostolate (BCLA), “The Use of the Vernacular
at Mass,” in Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal. Statements of the Bishop’s Committee on the
Liturgy
, ed. Frederick R. McManus (Washington: USCCB, 1987), 27.

72

Music Advisory Board of the Bishops’ Commission on the Liturgical Apostolate,
“Music in the Renewal of the Liturgy,” May 5 1965, in McManus, 34.

73

BCLA, “English in the Liturgy: Part II,” in McManus, 40.

32

In “The Use of the Vernacular at Mass” (November 1964), the bishops express their

concern that despite the use of the vernacular, the general lack of familiarity with the scriptures

would be an obstacle to a full and proper understanding of the liturgy. The biblical language of

the scriptures, so rich in symbolism, would be lost on many. Praying the Psalms as Christian

prayers is singled out as an example of such difficulties.71

In “Music in the Renewal of the Liturgy,” (1965), the American bishops spoke of the

“urgent need” for music in the vernacular. Musicians are encouraged to write music that is “true

art”, and it is emphasized that it must be well-suited to the “distinctive accent and rhythm” of

English. It begins by recognizing the “inadequacies of adaptations into English of music written

for other languages and other cultures.”72

There is no discussion of the texts; perhaps the

disappearance of the Propers had not yet been envisioned.

In “English in the Liturgy: Part II” (February 1966), there seemed to have been some

enthusiasm from official quarters that Proper psalmody was going to work:

Leaflets, booklets, and books are now available so that the four proper chants of
Mass may be sung or recited by the people or a group of people or by a choir....
The three processional chants of Mass – at the celebrant’s entrance, at the
preparation of the bread and wine, at the communion – may be supplemented by
psalm verses, as has been frequently recommended in official documents. In fact,
the brief antiphons become clear in the structure of Mass only when they are sung
or recited as refrains to psalm verses.”73

However, in “Church Music” (1966), they acknowledge the “more pressing need for

74

BCLA, “Church Music,” in McManus, 44.

75

BCLA, “Liturgical Renewal,” in McManus, 75.

76

BCLA, “The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations,” in McManus 96.

33

musical compositions in idioms that can be sung by the congregation and thus further communal

participation.” Yet it warns that even in special groups such as youth gatherings, “the liturgical

texts should be respected. The incorporation of incongruous melodies and texts, adapted from

popular ballads, should be avoided.”74

(It is not clear if this refers to Propers or the Ordinary.)

In “Liturgical Renewal” (1967):

The present need is for better liturgical education and, thus, a more profound
understanding of the spirit and purpose of renewal. A deeper knowledge of the
Scriptures and a better biblical orientation are essential to this educational process.
... Sometimes, the present liturgy seems to include abstract and irrelevant
elements.... We should try to make the liturgy, especially the Eucharistic liturgy,
as concrete and contemporary as possible.

There are many means to this goal: the use of introductory comment by a lay or
clerical commentator; the selection of texts when there is free choice, especially
sacred songs, refrains, and responses; efforts to set the biblical readings in proper
context....75

There is some irony in this call for a better scriptural context and better familiarity with scripture.

Singing scripture could have done this; yet the songs are seen rather as a priority item to make

the liturgy as “concrete and contemporary as possible.”

In “The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations” (BCL November 1967), which was

a response to the publication of Musicam Sacram, it appears that there was hope that the

Graduale Simplex might succeed in translation: “It is planned that further recommendations and

guidelines will be published when the texts of the Simple Gradual and other alternatives to the

present liturgical chants become available in English.”76

However, the authors express concern

that exclusive use of Psalms will be problematic:

77

McManus 100-1.

78

McManus 102.

79

McManus 103.

34

The liturgy, by its nature, normally presupposes a minimum of biblical culture and
a fairly solid commitment of living faith. Often enough, these conditions are not
present. The assembly or many of its members are still in need of evangelization.
The liturgy which is not meant to be a tool of evangelization, is forced into a
missionary role. In these conditions, the music problem is complex. On the one
hand, music can serve as a bridge to faith, and therefore, greater liberty in the
selection and use of musical materials may be called for. On the other hand,
certain songs normally called for in the climate of faith (e.g. psalms and religious
songs), lacking such a climate, may create problems rather than solve them.77

In the accompanying recommendations, there is a significant change in the order of precedence

for the choice of processional chants, as hymns are mentioned first, then Psalms, and no mention

of either Graduale. One cannot help but feel the irony that the term “proper” is now used in the

context of function, rather than something proper to a given day or season:

2.d. Recommendations for the celebration of the entrance rite: 1) The musical
setting of the entrance song should help the celebration tone of the entrance rite.
There are a number of possibilities: the hymn, unison or choral, or both; psalms in
various settings with or without the refrain.78
[Offertory: ]The proper function of this song is to accompany and celebrate the
communal aspects of the procession. The text, therefore, can be any appropriate
song of praise or of rejoicing in keeping with the season.79
[The communion song ] should foster a sense of unity ... [and] can be any song
that is fitting for the feast or the season; it can speak of the community aspects of
the Eucharist.

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