QUAERITUR: “Vamp till ready” during the “Lamb of God”

From a reader:

It seems that recently our parish, at the direction of or with the consent of our priest has changed the wording of the Agnus Dei.
Apparently, saying “Lamb of God” three times is boring and silly so now we are to address the second stanza to the “Bread of Life” and the third to “Jesus, Prince of Peace”. I fully recognize that Christ is clearly and fully addressed as any of these three titles, but isn’t the Agnus Dei the Lamb of God and only the Lamb of God? Furthermore, I was taught years ago that the reason for the threefold recitation of Lamb of God was to indicate Christ’s perfection as the sacrifical lamb without blemish. No one else seems bothered by this, but I am just irked by what seems to me to be unnecessary tinkering with a beautiful part of the Mass. So, Father Z., am I out of line, or is this unnecessary at best or even improper? Thank you for your guidance and perspective.

Not everything that seems silly in the Ordinary Form, or Novus Ordo is illicit.

A USCCB document (not having a recognitio from the Holy See) suggests that during the singing of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) additional “titles” can be interjected while the “fraction rite” is going on.  That is, as long as the priest and sacred ministers are arranging and preparing the Hosts for distribution, these additional Christological titles can be interpolated into the singing of the “Lamb of God”, provided that the first and last thing sung is always the “Lamb of God”, the final ending “grant us peace”.  I think, however, that is to be done in addition to singing the first two verses as is, not instead of.   If they are not singing the first and, at the end, the final verse as written, they may be straying from the rubrics.  Again… this suggestion of the USCCB document, does not seem to have the official approval of the Holy See.  Therefore, it seems not to be entirely licit to do this.

The 2000 GIRM 83 says: “The supplication Agnus Dei, is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. [NB:] This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace).”

In the combox, below, a commentator points out that GIRM 83 says that the text of the Agnus Dei itself may be repeated.  GIRM says nothing about adding additional titles.

My own view is that silence is a good thing during Holy Mass.  When you are finished singing the actual text of the Agnus Dei, why not just be quite instead of vamping till ready?

“To vamp”, of course, is the verb used by musicians to describe repeating a phrase over and over again to fill time until moving on.   Think of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.

This Agnus Dei thing is sort of a liberal liturgist’s is sort of a liberal liturgist’s … is sort of a liberal liturgist’s Take Five.

Of course in the Roman liturgy we have always been able to extend a musical moment during Holy Mass when we use Gregorian chant simply by adding psalm verses, or looping back to the antiphon or parts of the antiphon.

The Kyrie and other parts of Mass were often sung with “tropes”.  Here is an example of a troped Kyrie.  You can hear the interjected verses.

The Agnus Dei was text that was sometimes troped.

Hmmmm …. Dave Brubeck seems to have gotten it liturgically right after all, and that “troped Lamb of God” you are hearing actually has a bit of a pedigree in the history of Church music.

The drawback is. of course, that the interjected titles for the Lamb of God could get pretty silly, couldn’t they.  Imagine how a liturgy committee could go to the zoo with that opportunity.

Best to avoid that.  Silence is golden.

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29 Responses to QUAERITUR: “Vamp till ready” during the “Lamb of God”

  1. Gregorius says:

    Sounds just as irritating as the Agnus Dei I’m now used to hearing, where they interchange English and Latin. It makes them sound like they know neither Latin or good taste.
    That chant video sounds nice, btw.

  2. Philangelus says:

    The drawback is. of course, that the interjected titles for the Lamb of God could get pretty silly, couldn’t they.

    You mean like the time one of my choir-mates changed “Jesus, Bread Of Peace, you take away the sins of the world” with “Jesus, Piece of Bread”?

    Later on, we decided it still kind-of worked, but we all hoped God has a sense of humor about that sort of thing…and to this day, I still can’t hear anyone sing “Jesus, Bread of Peace” without flipping it around in my head. :-(

  3. wmeyer says:

    Of course, what Brubeck did was arguably more inspired than the notions of most liturgy committees….

  4. benedictgal says:

    A quick look at the 2002 GIRM (USCCB) reveals that:

    The priest breaks the Bread and puts a piece of the host into the chalice to signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the work of salvation, namely, of the living and glorious Body of Jesus Christ. The supplication Agnus Dei, is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace).
    ——-

    Now, the key statement here is that the invocation “may be repeated as many times as necessary”, not that additional titles/invocations can be added. Unfortunately, Sing to the Lord, the USCCB document on music, is the one that makes the suggestion for these additions, even though SttL does not have the recognitio from the Holy See.

  5. jt83 says:

    as I was not yet born when Brubeck’s song topped the charts, I remember hearing it’s signature 5/4 riff for the first time while in an undergraduate course on the history of jazz. I remember turning to my friend saying, “hey this is the same as that song, ‘Sing of the Lord’s Goodness’ that we sing at mass.” I never thought of liturgical music the same way again!

  6. AM says:

    366. Cantibus in Ordine Missæ positis, v. gr. ad Agnus Dei, non licet substituere alios cantus.

  7. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Apparently, saying “Lamb of God” three times is boring and silly so now we are to address the second stanza to the “Bread of Life” and the third to “Jesus, Prince of Peace”. I fully recognize that Christ is clearly and fully addressed as any of these three titles, but isn’t the Agnus Dei the Lamb of God and only the Lamb of God?\\

    As Fr. Z pointed out, troping the Agnus Dei with phrases such as seen here is found in many plainsong mss. Usually the Kyrie was troped (as can be seen in the Liber and Kyriale), but sometimes other major movements, including even the Gloria was troped.

    Whether this is a licit practice now, I don’t know.

  8. I thought I read somewhere in RS that this “Prince of Peace” etc ab libbing was to cease?…no need to improve the Church’s formulae

  9. dans0622 says:

    I agree that silence is golden. In addition to this issue, there is also the occasional organist who, e.g., keeps holding that last note for 5 seconds, thinking Father will be done washing his fingers, but he takes his time. So, the note is held and then Father drops the finger towel and the note is held longer. Then, Father, being neat and tidy, has to fold the finger towel perfectly, causing that note to be held even longer. Etc.

  10. teaguytom says:

    jt83: I concur about “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness.” I can’t ever hear Dave Brubeck without thinking of that song. I heard it multiple times by the music director on organ and/or folk group and it had that jazzy dance beat to it just like “Take Five.” You can close your eyes and picture Ernest Sands with a piece of paper writing notes as he listens to a 45 of “Take Five” on his portable Victrola. Sorry Ernest, but leave the Jazz to Brubeck and Mel Torme and start writing some chant settings or polyphony.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBaR9YpcJac
    Yes, we HAVE progressed into a Golden Age of liturgy. :(

  11. robtbrown says:

    I’ve been a Brubeck fan since the mid 60′s (he became Catholic in 1980). During Time Out the Quartet had Paul Desmond on alto sax, Joe Morello on drums, and Gene Wright on bass. Desmond was the composer of Take Five.

    A few years the Time Out album came Time In, with the superb 40 Days.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8PQBYEkHHg

  12. Supertradmum says:

    This mutilation of the Agnus Dei is not new. We sang it like this at Notre Dame between1980 and 1984. The Vatican asked people to stop doing this, and in the some dioceses, the bishops have written to the priests about this. I am truly surprised it is just being introduced in contradiction to Vatican guidelines. Such an Old Story resurfacing is pathetic.

  13. AM says:

    Strictly speaking tropes are insertions into the sung text, which comment on it or extend it. It was particularly in the Kyrie that this was done (and, I believe, the names given to the Mass settings in the Kyriale, such as “Lux et Origo” or “Fons Bonitatis” reflect tropes that used to be part of the Kyrie with that melody.

    The practice of adding extra lines to the Lamb of God is just that, adding extra stuff to the rite. It’s not allowed. (Compared to other frequently-encountered things that aren’t allowed, it seems fairly inocuous, mind you. Unless the musicians start inventing completely looney additions …)

  14. AndyMo says:

    Strictly speaking tropes are insertions into the sung text, which comment on it or extend it.

    Correct. Historically speaking, this has been done with the Agnus Dei in some time and places. However, like you say, other tropes have been added to the text like this:

    “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, Bread of Life, have mercy on us.”

    Note that the “trope” is in addition to, not instead of, the invocation of the Lamb.

    All that said, Redemptionis Sacramentum forbids adding to or changing the texts of the Mass. Since RS does have official weight, whereas Sing to the Lord does not, I would say RS has the official say here.

  15. ejcmartin says:

    Unfortunately this “vamping” is all the rage in many of the parishes in my diocese. It goes along well with the standing during the consecration. Normally I just kneel at the third Lamb of God and pray.

  16. Mindyleigh says:

    At our parish, we recently started singing, “Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us; Jesus, Bearer of our sins, have mercy on us; Jesus, Redeemer, Redeemer of the world, Grant us Your peace, grant us Your peace.”

    I still can’t sing it without imagining a liturgical committee sitting down and comparing versions and deciding which ones they like best. There is such LIBERTY in Liturgy…”plain, old, boring Liturgy” exactly the way it’s written, not with all these human preferences thrown in. I love our parish and how the Liturgy is treated all in all, but this one aspect distracts me.

  17. jeffreyquick says:

    My understanding was that tropes were banned at the Council of Trent. Counter-REFORMATION! HELLO! Do we really need another one?

  18. rhetoric57 says:

    Can anyone remember who drew the Max cartoons? [That's in a different thread, but it was an Italian named Luigi Pericle Giovannetti.]

    • Incidentally Jamie Cullum had a long interview on BBC Radio 2 on Tuesday. In the UK you can still catch it with the BBC’s iPlayer; there’s also a Paul Gambaccini interview on Radio 4, which will be available for six days..

  19. rhetoric57 says:

    Whoops, should have mentioned the interviewee was Dave Brubeck.

  20. scaron says:

    *Love* Brubek. But of course, “Take Five” is Paul Desmond’s song. He shines like a radiant jewel.

  21. Do what I do. Just tell your brain not to remember any invocations but “Lamb of God”. If people push you, sing the whole thing in Latin by mistake. Heh.

    Seriously, though, there are advantages to being an easily frazzled person. Your subconscious does tend to get rid of things that make you nervous. You might not like how it does it, mind you, but it’s usually effective. (And I have sung in Latin by mistake, which I guess is better than accidental Old Church Slavonic….)

  22. TJerome says:

    The Agnus Dei as described here is silly. You’d have to be brain dead not to be able to deal with the traditional rendition. On the other hand, liturgical progressives believe everyone is brain dead.

  23. TJerome says:

    The Agnus Dei as described here is silly. You’d have to be brain dead not to be able to deal with the traditional rendition. On the other hand, liturgical progressives believe everyone is brain dead.

  24. Thom says:

    I’ve often heard psalm verses interspersed with repetitions of the Communion antiphon (in the old mass). Is there a standard method for doing this? I’m mostly wondering where in the Liber do you find the verses and how do you know which psalm tone to sing?

  25. Fr. Basil says:

    \\This Agnus Dei thing is sort of a liberal liturgist’s … is sort of a liberal liturgist’s … is sort of a liberal liturgist’s Take Five.\\

    I heard a setting of the American BCP liturgy–with the Agnus Dei, btw, though the 1928 BPC never included it–by Dave Brubeck.

    ** I’m mostly wondering where in the Liber do you find the verses and how do you know which psalm tone to sing?**

    The texts of the Ps vss would be taken from the Psalter, I guess: Vulgate or Pius XII Psalter ad libitum. The Liber and Graduale indicate the various tones of the Propers and includes the corresponding Psalm Tones for Mass, which have a slightly different form from the Office Psalm Tones.

  26. According to my seminary music director, the only acceptable invocation is “Lamb of God”, the reason being that it’s the only one in the Missal. The hymnal might have “extra” titles, but the Missal doesn’t, so we can’t use them.

  27. AM says:

    I’ve often heard psalm verses interspersed with repetitions of the Communion antiphon (in the old mass). Is there a standard method for doing this? I’m mostly wondering where in the Liber do you find the verses and how do you know which psalm tone to sing?

    The tone for the antiphon is in the Gradual or the Liber. The psalm tone is the “Gloria Patri” (i.e. Mass) tone in the same mode as the antiphon. Suitable verses are not specified in the Missal, but apparently can be chosen solemnitati et actioni liturgicæ congruens according to the useful Versus Psalmorum et Canticorum, which also actually proposes verses and prints them pointed for the cantor.

  28. K. Marie says:

    @Philangelus: It does sort of work in the sense that pre-transubstantiation the Eucharist is just a piece of unleavened bread. I’m just not sure how most priest’s even the most liberal of wack-a-doos would react to it’s use.