QUAERITUR: Is Latin chant forbidden unless congregation can sing?

A reader asks:

My priest recently mentioned that there is a document (he does not remember what it is called) that forbids the use of choir lofts and the singing of Latin chants unless the congregation is able to sing along. Do you know of any such document? It can’t possibly be so…

No.  It cannot be so.  It isn’t.  That would be absurd.

The priest’s fundamental problem here is that the priest thinks that "active participation" means that everyone has to be able to sing everything.  Listening is somehow not "active participation".   That is the priests fundamental error.

I suspect you won’t get him out of his mindset, especially if he is over, say, 60.

But you might ask Father to read aloud and then explain the following paragraphs from the Second Vatican Council’s liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium:

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. …

54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

Why isn’t he obeying the Second Vatican Council?  Why can his congregation sing Gregorian chant?

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21 Responses to QUAERITUR: Is Latin chant forbidden unless congregation can sing?

  1. Rob in Maine says:

    I used to attend Sacred Heart in Portland, Maine, where there are many Hispanic brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a noon Mass in Spanish. Also, during the English Mass, responses were often sung in Spanish, particularly the “Lamb of God”.

    I don’t speak Spanish. Would the anti-Latin crowed say that I was gyped out of Mass? I think not. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (and my brother IS a rocket scientist) to figure out that “Cordero de Dios, tú que quitas el pecado del mundo;” means “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world” which means “Angus Dei, qui tolis pecata mundi.”

    If you’ve said it once, you’ve said it centumgeminus, Father; “They must think we’re stooooopid.”

  2. teaguytom says:

    We just had the opposite happen at our EF community. Somebody other than the Chaplain posted a letter saying it was forbidden for the congregation to sing anything except the recessional and processional hymns. The schola was the only one allowed to sing any other part of mass. Popes from St Pius X on have promoted singing the ordinary. Seems there extremes on both sides of the aisle on this.

  3. Mitchell NY says:

    Very sad and difficult this Priest’s response…Obviously people are asking, perhaps he whould start a workshop in order for his parish to be able to learn. Too many Priests out there (and lay faithful) are still picking and choosing which parts of Vat II to respect and obey. What is even sadder is that we have to mention or even think of the biological solution. I wish the Vatican would come out and correct some of these things more often and with more teeth. That seems in the best interest of the people and the universal Church. That seems in line with Vat II as well.

  4. TJerome says:

    This priest is a left-wing loon who doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about what the documents of Vatican II have to say. He is a moron. [I think I don’t like your vocabulary choices lately. Time to self-edit before posting. I don’t want to do it.] By his reasoning, one should never attend Opera.

  5. Patikins says:

    I’ve heard the claim about choir lofts before. I vaguely remember some document that says choirs should not be “hidden away” or some similar language and some modernists Catholics interpret that to mean that the choir must be up at the front. Does anyone know what document this could be? Thanks in advance.

  6. Fr Matthew says:

    Maybe someone should invite him to a Mass at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I went to papal ceremonies there many times when I was studying in Rome, and the choir sang Gregorian chant and polyphony quite a bit. The congregation participated in some of the more well-known chants and hymns, but there were times when we were quite obviously not expected to sing along. Granted, there was no choir loft properly speaking, but the choir was set apart in a more or less elevated location.

    And, of course, the congregation IS able to sing along if the music director takes the time to teach them. Some older folks probably still remember the chants anyway. I saw this once when I was in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC (back in the summer of 1991). I was discerning my vocation at the time. The Franciscan priest I was traveling with offered the sacrifice of the Mass in Latin (Novus Ordo) ad orientem at one of the side altars. We used the Missa de Angelis, and a congregation spontaneously formed from passers-by, and they joined in the chants. There was no problem at all.

    I guess some people just thing that Gregorian chant is just toooo haaaarrrddd… Personally, I think it has ineffable beauty and universal appeal. Anyone can learn at least the basics. I learned my first few lines of chant when I was in fourth or fifth grade – at the same parish where we also sang John Denver and the Beatles at Mass and had liturgical dancing on at least one occasion. It was the early 80’s… We also had to sing “There’s a butterfly on your shoulder”, about how we are all special and should be happy. It made me want to gag. Too bad we didn’t do more Gregorian chant!

  7. TravelerWithChrist says:

    Fr Z, I think you are hitting the nail on the head with your comment about “active participation”.

    I’ve been researching and running across this “active participation”. In pre-Vatican II, active participation wasn’t extraordinary ministers, lectors, and all sorts of ‘physical’ involvement. It meant that we participate by being present and lifting up our prayers with those of the priest. (add to/correct me if I’m wrong).

    Now, lay ‘active involvement’ doesn’t just mean the above mentioned; no, now women want to be the priests who stand front-and-center in persona Christi (only they’re NOT). We have done ourselves a disservice.

    Someone once said these people are wanting attention, that may be true in part. I was once a extraordinary minister in my teens – because I was supposed to be ‘actively involved’, not for attention. In masses we hear a plea, not so much for money, but for more TTT (time, talent and treasure). In many parishes, the priest becomes the manager and he calls on the parishioners for the work that used be done by the priest… We have turned our parishes upside down. I think we’re getting back on track, but the process is difficult.

  8. Rich says:

    The music directors at the church I used to go to use to get almost hostile with the congregation in trying to “encourage” us to sing. The problem was though that they kept changing songs around on us every Sunday, so almost every time the songs were new to us. The music directors had a couple favorites like “Christ be our Light”, “Hosea”, and “Servant Song”, which we heard more than once throughout the year so that more than like ten people could sing them. But most of the time the congregation couldn’t “actively participate” because it was the first time they had seen or heard the songs. This was a situation very much like that described by the reader, only I’d say on the different end of the spectrum since most of the songs we were singing were out of that fat OCP supplementary hymnal (perhaps the music directors wanted to give the parish its money’s worth by using near all the songs in it). I am sure situations like the one I experienced can be found in other parishes, yet for some reason I don’t think in these instances pastors would be making the same excuse that we can’t sing the songs unless everyone can sing along.

    If the music directors at my old parish had told the congregation they were going to start Gregorian chant at Mass (hypothetically speaking, of course) and gave us a smaller selection of hymns to use from one week to the next, there would have been much more “active participation” going on after a few weeks than I ever saw there.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    I was under the impression that the congregation was to learn the propers and sing those, and not just listen, although listening is participation. However, this is a small quotation from From Musicam Sacram:

    34. The songs which are called the “Ordinary of the Mass,” if they are sung by musical settings written for several voices may be performed by the choir according to the customary norms, either a capella, or with instrumental accompaniment, as long as the people are not completely excluded from taking part in the singing.

    In Mediator Dei, the concept that participation is also listening and praying is clear. But, singing is emphasized. 191. As regards music, let the clear and guiding norms of the Apostolic See be scrupulously observed. Gregorian chant, which the Roman Church considers her own as handed down from antiquity and kept under her close tutelage, is proposed to the faithful as belonging to them also. In certain parts of the liturgy the Church definitely prescribes it;[171] it makes the celebration of the sacred mysteries not only more dignified and solemn but helps very much to increase the faith and devotion of the congregation. For this reason, Our predecessors of immortal memory, Pius X and Pius XI, decree-and We are happy to confirm with Our authority the norms laid down by them-that in seminaries and religious institutes, Gregorian chant be diligently and zealously promoted, and moreover that the old Scholae Cantorum be restored, at least in the principal churches. This has already been done with happy results in not a few places.[172]

    192. Besides, “so that the faithful take a more active part in divine worship, let Gregorian chant be restored to popular use in the parts proper to the people. Indeed it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers, but let them fully appreciate the beauty of the liturgy and take part in the sacred ceremonies, alternating their voices with the priest and the choir, according to the prescribed norms. If, please God, this is done, it will not happen that the congregation hardly ever or only in a low murmur answer the prayers in Latin or in the vernacular.”[173] A congregation that is devoutly present at the sacrifice, in which our Savior together with His children redeemed with His sacred blood sings the nuptial hymn of His immense love, cannot keep silent, for “song befits the lover”[174] and, as the ancient saying has it, “he who sings well prays twice.” Thus the Church militant, faithful as well as clergy, joins in the hymns of the Church triumphant and with the choirs of angels, and, all together, sing a wondrous and eternal hymn of praise to the most Holy Trinity in keeping with words of the preface, “with whom our voices, too, thou wouldst bid to be admitted.”[175]

    Also, I was taught in a class on Church music and liturgy the reason the choir loft was placed in the back of the church was to allow women to be in mixed choirs, as only men were allowed in the front choir.

  10. TJerome, what does Mass and liturgical music have to do with opera?

  11. pattif says:

    Getting people to sing Gregorian chant doesn’t seem to be very hard at all. At the Solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, on the Sundays in August (presumably at other times, but I can vouch for August), a completely random congregation of mixed nationalities produces a reasonable rendering of Missa Orbis Factor; this is achieved by the simple expedient of handing out little booklets with the words and Gregorian notation (which I find easier to follow than normal musical notation), and the provision of some leadership from the (skeleton crew) choir and Director of Music.

    On the Feast of the Dedication of Santa Maria Maggiore the congregation (including the usual collection or Roman housewives, augmented by a sizeable proportion of the 50,000 altar servers who were in town) happily took full part in the Missa de Angelis, as did the congregation at the Patronal Feast of San Lorenzo on Monday night.

    As a side note, the Romans seem to keep in practice by singing Salve Regina at the drop of a hat – for example, at the end of last evening’s Mass in the Chiesa Nova, the congregation of a dozen or so launched into it, apparently spontaneously.

  12. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Its hard to say where this priest is ‘coming from’ because there IS a lot of confusion on the rules. Anybody in the chant world trying to re-institute the ‘real’ traditions can attest to this. Don’t be too hard on the priest. Remember priests have NOT been taught anything substantial about music in the seminaries for YEARS. True scholars of church music and art are very rare. The failure is in the lack of education/immersion for clergy and music directors, and regular laity.

    When the ambiguous language of Vatican II gave the impression that we could sing what we wanted at Mass, people MISSED the directive that any choices that were not chant were to be subject to approval by the Diocese. Advisory boards were supposed to have been set up in every diocese to support pastors in this subjective selection of music. Guess what, these scholarly advisers never materialized. In our diocese, we have one overworked priest, Secretary of the Liturgy and a buncha other stuff, who couldn’t possibly manage such a barrage of questions, if anybody even knew he existed for that purpose.

    In regard to Latin, here’s where I think the confusion is:
    When singing the PROPERS [Inroit, Collect, etc] of the Mass, a trained and practiced choir/schola sing them. These chants are waaaay difficult, and even most scholas couldn’t possibly sight-read them. The music and text change daily, just like the Mass propers!

    So NO you wouldn’t want the congregation chiming in on Propers or trying to ‘read’ them on the spot.

    When singing the ORDINARY [Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, etc] of the Mass, a cantor and/or the choir/schola can lead them. Eventually the congregation catches on after repetition. Once the congregation is familiar enough, once the priest intones em, ordinaries could be sung without any cantor or choir at all. This learning curve can be sped up using the more common Mass settings, such as the Missa de Angelis.

    So YES, the congregation can sing known Ordinaries without a choir.

    A basic rule we mustn’t forget: if the priest doesn’t sing, NOBODY sings. Not necessarily the whole Mass, but little pieces at a minimum. Remember, the priest is in charge, LOL.

    So this priest is half right!

  13. chironomo says:

    I suspect the “document” or documents he is speaking of are Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musicam Sacram, or at least what he heard from others that these documents said. That is how this whole thing got started. “I heard that SC said that choirs were banned”(SC 118)… “I heard that chant could only be used if the people can sing along”(SC 54)… even though the cited sections only mention those issues and have nothing to do with what they actually say.

    This is apparently one of those Priests who took the “Vatican II means what we want it to mean” approach.

  14. chironomo says:

    I’ve heard the claim about choir lofts before. I vaguely remember some document that says choirs should not be “hidden away” or some similar language and some modernists Catholics interpret that to mean that the choir must be up at the front. Does anyone know what document this could be? Thanks in advance.

    That would be the now-defunct “Music in Catholic Worship”, sopecifically paragraph 38 as follows:

    38. The proper placing of the organ and choir according to the arrangement and acoustics of the church will facilitate celebration. Practically speaking, the choir must be near the director and the organ (both console and sound). The choir ought to be able to perform without too much distraction; the acoustics ought to give a lively presence of sound in the choir area and allow both tone and word to reach the congregation with clarity. Visually it is desirable that the choir appear to be part of the worshiping community, yet a part which serves in a unique way. Locating the organ console too far from the congregation causes a time lag which tends to make the singing drag unless the organist is trained to cope with it. A location near the front pews will facilitate congregational singing.

  15. chironomo says:

    Of course, Music in Catholic Worship was completely wrong in most cases…

  16. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I was struck in what Supertradmum quotes from ‘Mediator Dei': “alternating their voices with the priest and the choir, according to the prescribed norms.”

    Could someone enlighten my darkness as to the ‘norms’ about the sort of antiphonal alteration between cantor/choir/schola and ‘congregation’ in the ‘Gloria’ and ‘Credo': ‘they’ seem to sing everything, ‘their parts’ louder, with ‘us’ more softly on ‘our parts'; Are ‘we’ permitted to do likewise, vice versa (I do not want to offend anyone, but I hate to miss vocally participating in, e.g., “Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur, […]”)? Where can I read more about this matter?

  17. Patikins says:

    Thank you, Chironomo! That is exactly the document I was thinking of. Was there another document that made it “defunct” as you say? Or was it overturned by some sort of dubium?

  18. Supertradmum says:

    I have not contacted them, but I would guess that the priests at St. John Cantius in Chicago would have all the information we need here, or at least the current guidelines. I phoned them several years ago about a question regarding the use of English hymns at the Processional and they gave me the spot on answer I needed. English hymns end as soon as the priest reaches the sanctuary. http://www.cantius.org/

    As to all the mentioned documents, one does see some contradictions but it seems to me to be a problem of language, and what is missing, more than what is stated clearly in Musicam Sacram, Mediator Dei, and Sacrosanctum Concilium, the last which I had assumed most, if not all, schola or Latin choir members had read or at least been introduced to on choir retreats, or classes.

  19. There have been two offical documents released by the USCCB that supersede Music in Catholic Worship (MCW was not an official document of the USCCB, it was a committee report): Built of Living Stones and Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. (The final text of SttL is not available on the web, as far as I can tell; the USCCB has it available for purchase on their web site. I found an older version here

    Built of Living Stones is less important for music, both because it is concerned primarily with architecture and also because it cites Music in Catholic Worship, which was superseded by . However, it does contain the following two sections which bears upon the place of choirs in church:

    The Place for the Pastoral Musicians
    § 88 § Music is integral to the liturgy. It unifies those gathered to worship, supports the song of the congregation, highlights significant parts of the liturgical action, and helps to set the tone for each celebration.108

    § 89 § It is important to recognize that the building must support the music and song of the entire worshiping assembly. In addition, “some members of the community [have] special gifts [for] leading the [assembly in] musical praise and thanksgiving.”109 The skills and talents of these pastoral musicians, choirs, and instrumentalists are especially valued by the Church. Because the roles of the choirs and cantors are exercised within the liturgical community, the space chosen for the musicians should clearly express that they are part of the assembly of worshipers.110 In addition, cantors and song leaders need visual contact with the music director while they themselves are visible to the rest of the congregation.111 Apart from the singing of the Responsorial Psalm, which normally occurs at the ambo, the stand for the cantor or song leader is distinct from the ambo, which is reserved for the proclamation of the word of God.

    § 90 § The directives concerning music found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the guidance offered by Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today112 can assist the parish in planning appropriate space for musicians. The placement and prayerful decorum of the choir members can help the rest of the community to focus on the liturgical action taking place at the ambo, the altar, and the chair. The ministers of music are most appropriately located in a place where they can be part of the assembly and have the ability to be heard. Occasions or physical situations may necessitate that the choir be placed in or near the sanctuary. In such circumstances, the placement of the choir should never crowd or overshadow the other ministers in the sanctuary nor should it distract from the liturgical action.

    and the following:

    The Liturgy of the Hours
    § 115 § The Liturgy of the Hours is the public, daily prayer of the Church. Recognizing the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours in the life of the Church,135 many parishes are rediscovering the spiritual beauty of the Hours and are including Morning or Evening Prayer in their daily liturgical life. Although there are no specific spatial requirements for the celebration of the Hours, the focal points of the celebration are the word of God and the praying assembly. An area of flexible seating can facilitate the prayer of a smaller group divided into alternating choirs. The importance of music in public celebrations of the Hours suggests that the place designated for their celebration should provide access to necessary equipment for musicians, particularly cantors and instrumentalists who accompany the singing community.

    The bolded section above (my emphasis) suggests a set up similar to the choir area of many monastery churchese, and some Catholic cathedrals (Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ comes to mind) and many Anglo-Catholic Anglican churches, with a choir stalls within the altar rails but short of the altar.

    Built of Living Stones also quotes the GIRM, where it says:
    no. 312: “In relation to the design of each church, the schola cantorum should be so placed that its character as a part of the assembly of the faithful that has a special function stands out clearly. The location should also assist the exercise of the duties of the schola cantorum and allow each member of the choir complete, that is, sacramental participation in the Mass.”

  20. Supertradmum says:

    Thanks Stephen, but according to some traditional priests who have given workshops, the schola, if it is mixed, is never in the sanctuary. A men’s schola can be in the front, or on the same floor as the sanctuary, according to these priests. Old churches with true choirs in the front, of course, may be used, but the Protestant idea of a full choir in the front of the Church does not seem to be ok. Comment?

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    But…then people would never learn the Latin. Oh wait. I think that’s the reason he thinks they shouldn’t be allowed to hear it.

    Of course, he doesn’t remember what the document’s called. He “forgot” to name it when he made it up, because if it “had a name” we’d google it, and of course, being a modern guy and all, he knows that.