QUAERITUR: Priest singing more during TLM

This question came via e-mail.  I am against pressed for time, so I will let you all take care of it.

Good question, though!

Fr. Z.,

Please help, if you deem this question worthy of a broader audience.

The priest who celebrates the extraordinary form for us has a beautiful singing voice and knows by heart much of the plainchant.  He is newly come to the Tridentine rite and wonders why it should be the case that the priest intones the Gloria but does not continue to stand at the altar to sing the remainder of the prayer.  He has the same question in regard to the Credo.  For the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, he knows that this is not practicable because of the many prayers the priest is offering at the same time.

My question to you: Has there ever been provision or permission for the priest to sing the Gloria and the Creed from the altar, with the choir, rather than taking a seat on the side and waiting out the choir?  And if there has been no provision, is there a particularly convincing theological or rubrical reason why he should not do so?

I am reminded of a story told by the late Msgr. Richard Schuler.  He knew an old German priest at a rural parish who liked to get the higher stipends for High Masses.  Problem: no choir.  No problem!  He would do all the parts himself! 

He would from time to time let the people know, "Und now I am ze chvior", and then would sing for a while.  Then, "Und now I am ze priest."  And so forth.   Funny and really not to be done. 

In the words of the immortal Gracie Allen, "People are funnier than anyone."

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  1. For the Dominicam Rite the instruction that the celebrant
    was to sing the Gloria and Creed with the choir rather
    than recite it quietly, caome on Dec. 30, 1964. I suspect
    that the Roman Rite made the change a bit earlier. Not
    before 1962, though, I suspect

  2. George Festa says:

    I was wondering the same thing. This is only a High Mass rubric as all the prayers are recited by Priest and server at a Low Mass. It took a while to get used to this custom, but after a few more High Masses it became “normal” to me.

    What is disturbing sometimes is where the music and the Mass are not in synchronization at Solemn High Masses – especially when polyphonic music is used. I’ve only attended a handful of these anyway and mark it as my own preference for plainchant verses polyphony.

  3. TNCath says:

    I always though it odd that there was that duplication of the priest reciting the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei while the choir “did their thing.” I don’t see why it wouldn’t be ok for the celebrant to chant the parts.

    I’m with George Festa on the lack of synchronization at Solemn High Mases where polyphonic music is used. I prefer the plainchant as well where the congregation and celebrant can join in the singing. This would have been my only criticism of the use of polyphony for the Mass parts during the Papal visit as well.

  4. Mark M says:

    There may be a possible compromise, in that, I have noted Priests “singing along” with the credo and gloria, after they have the footpace (either standing in front of the altar, or at the sedilia).

  5. Fr. Pasley says:

    It’s not about the priest and his beautiful voice. The priest is the servant of the Sacred Litury, not the center of attention. That is what gives us so much trouble in the OF in these days. Why must the priest intone the Gloria, read it silently and then go to the sedilia —BECAUSE THE RUBRICS SAY SO. It is pure and simple. Please do not be creative as in most OF Masses.
    Why? Because the priest is the “alter christus” who stands in the place of Christ and offers the sacrifice. The choir represents the people and the choirs of angels who adore God and offer the sacrifice with and through the priest. Also the priest needs some time to also be quiet and absorb what he is doing.
    The Bottom line however —–Why must it be done – because that is the way it is. A very hard concept in our, hyper, overactive, creative, questioning, I know better world.

  6. The indicated practice appears to have been approved by the PCED, No. 40/97, 26th March, 1997:

    2.a) This Pontifical Commission sees no difficulty in the celebrant and ministers joining in the singing of the plainchant Gloria and Credo together with the schola cantorum and the congregation instead of reading them privately as directed by the Ritus Servandus. This usage was already admitted by the Church a relatively short time after the publication of the 1962 Roman Missal. The same holds true, mutatis mutandis for the Missa Cantata.

    b) This Pontifical Commission sees no difficulty in the entire congregation’s singing of the Pater Noster in all sung Masses.

  7. Fr. Pasley says:

    I’m sorry but I need to make another point. When asking questions about the Sacred Liturgy, many people today ask questions from the perspective of what they know – the Ordinary Form. And so, In the Ord.Form we do this or that – why can’t we do this or that in the Extr. Form. We judge the EF from the Perspective of the OF. BUT NO!!!!!!!! Hermaneutic of Continuity —– The new must be molded according to the Tradition. The EF has been here, for the most part for approximately 1500 years – The OF about 40 years. The question then should not be, “why can’t we do this or that in the EF, but why, after 1500 years are we allowed to do this or that in the OF.
    The Ordinary Form was reduced to the least common denominator, in many instances, because of pastoral reasons. In other words, dumb it down because people can’t do it. Let us try to do the EF the way it is supposed to be done. Let’s not make flimsy and hasty decesions because of convenince or to take the path of least resistance. Aim to do what is called for and what is right. It will be difficult and challenging, but we should be moving up to the ideal not down to the easiest common denominator.

  8. totustuusmaria says:

    First of all, as noted above the PCED allows it even stating that it was allowed prior to 1962. I’m not sure that it’s thus a good idea simply because it might make people think that the Traditional Mass is being transformed into the Novus Ordo.

    I don’t mean to say by this that there’s anythign inherently wrong with the practice. In fact, my opinion is that it was precisely the reduplication of the such things as the glory and the credo that the council meant to eliminate by the phrase useless repitiion. It doesn’t seem that the quite (and private) recitation of the gloria never has a point. At polyphinic Masses where the priest is unable to sing along or the gloria is quite long or the priest can’t sing for some other reason, it seems that it is better that he say it than that he and the people be united in its common chanting. But it seems to me that the common chanting of it by all brings a nice united between altar and people.

    I, of course, will do what the Church wants. That’s just my tentative opinion.

  9. John Spangler says:

    I agree totally with Father Pasley’s comments.

    While personally I would like to see the Pater Noster chanted in unison by the whole congregation and the congregation joining in with the servers for the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar at a sung Mass, I have come to realize that alerting the existing rubrics of the 1962 Missal is a very perilous course, and I regret that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has gone down that path. I am concerned that the pending instruction will introduce practices into the 1962 Missal that will result in so many options that there will be little uniformity in the rite preserved. This will alienate and hurt faithful traditionalists who have struggled to preserve the Traditional Latin Mass for over thirty years and will further complicate reconciliation with the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre and his successors.

    As to the Low Mass, it is disappointing that existing norms for the Dialog Low Mass are not being utilized fully where the 1962 Missal is being restored. These were established by Pius XII in 1958 in the instruction De Musica Sacra. The totally silent Missa lecta should not be the form for Sunday worship. The provision of the Second Vatican Council that steps should be taken so that the faithful can recite or sing in Latin the parts of the Mass that belong to them is a clear statement of what Mother Church wants and should not be ignored.

    The wise Latin maxim “Festina lente” was disregarded after the Second Vatican Council and appears also to have been forgotten — or abandoned — by the PCED.

  10. Pope Evaristus, Martyr says:

    The Fortescue book (“The Mass: A study of the Roman Liturgy”) explains the answer to the question. The rubrics to the 1962 Mass are so wonderful and awesome: let us not change them! Let us do what the Church asks!

  11. Christine says:

    In the Mass we are entering Sacred Time. I think this is symbolized by the priet, the people and the choir actually praying the same things but
    at different times and different voices. I have always thought that the duplications were a partial cause of the splendor of the EF. You are weaving in and out of time.

  12. John Spangler: The totally silent Missa lecta should not be the form for Sunday worship.

    Many do not agree. Including the Supreme Pontiff’s who authorized more congregational participation.

  13. David Kubiak says:

    The silent prayer of the priest while the choir is singing the same thing is a reflection back from the Low Mass onto the High, which is ironic, since of course the Low Mass is a mediaeval abridgement (and, it must be admitted, an impoverishment) of the High allowing for priests to celebrate privately during the week. The pre-Vatican II Congregation of Rites was clearly on the way to eliminating these sorts of repetitions, as for example dispensing with the celebrant reading the Gospel while the Deacon is singing it.

    People have talked a lot about the potential ossification of the 1962 missal, which is not desirable in my view. To allow the celebrant to sing with the choir and the people with the priest at the ‘Pater Noster’ is to me an example of valid organic development.

  14. eft says:

    Comment by Henry Edwards — 6 May 2008 @ 7:11 am
    … PCED, No. 40/97, 26th March, 1997 … This usage was already admitted by the Church a relatively short time after the publication of the 1962 Roman Missal …

    Comment by totustuusmaria — 6 May 2008 @ 7:50 am
    … as noted above the PCED allows it even stating that it was allowed prior to 1962 …

    NO. First the 1962 Missal publication, then the usage tweak.

    Given the PCED info and the Fr Augustine info, the research boundaries are specified. It would be interesting to find the appropriate document (crush the “it says somewhere something like …”) and see what it actually says as well as what else is addressed therein.

  15. eft: A photo copy of PCED 40/87 — which was written in English and from which I extracted literally — is available at


  16. Timothy Clint says:

    The Priest is the Alter Christus who prays the Mass and leads us in prayers to God. The Tridentine Mass should not take on the character of the New Mass where Priest and people stand and sing together. After all the Priest is not and should not be a preformer at Mass.
    It belongs to the people to sing the Ordinary parts of the Mass. Yet as often happens the Priest while sitting at the sedelia sings along with the choir. Though not over them in volume.

  17. Franzjosf says:

    Christine: Beautiful description, and I agree with you; it is part of the beauty in my opinion.

  18. Ken says:

    As far as the post-1962 novelties that have been cleared by PCED, a very simple case can be made that they are all null and void as of last year.

    “It is, therefore, permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church.

    “We order that everything We have established with these Apostolic Letters issued as Motu Proprio be considered as ‘established and decreed’, and to be observed from 14 September of this year, Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, whatever there may be to the contrary.”

    These quotes are from the motu proprio — notice the reference to the 1962 missal does not include the tinkering of 1965, 1969 or post-Ecclesia Dei, which would be “to the contrary.”

    Just follow the 1962 missal. Please.

  19. Cerimoniere says:

    The 1962 rubrics require that the celebrant recite quietly what is sung by the choir, including the Gloria and Creed. They do not require him to sit after doing so. To my knowledge, there is nothing that would preclude him from then joining in with the choir and congregation for the remainder of the chants, once he has read them, whether he remains at the altar or goes to the sedilia.

    As to the Commission’s responses from 1997; they are rather curious. It sees “no difficulty” in not observing what the rubrics require? Well, if the rubrics do require something, not observing it is obviously problematic. Or is this rather non-committal phrase actually intended to be an indult, authorizing something that wasn’t previously allowed?

    I have yet to meet someone who can show me where in the Commission’s published faculties it has the power to do this; certainly before the publication of “Summorum Pontificum”. It seems the safer course is actually to do what the Missal prescribes, pending a clearer revision of the rubrics or permission to deviate from them.

  20. I’m really shocked that there are people responding here trying to make the case that we don’t have to listen to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei or that they are somehow overstepping their authority because they don’t like what that commission is saying. Really? The people appointed BY THE POPE don’t have the authority to speak on this? Why? Because it doesn’t jibe with your personal view of the way things should be done? The Extraordinary Form of the Mass is not frozen in one particular time. THAT is part of the reason the Pope issued his Motu Proprio. It is a part of the continuing Tradition of the Church and, as such, slight adjustments will be made to the missal and to its rubrics…as has always been the case from Pius V down to 1962. Why does the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei make these clarifications and adjustments? Because the Pope says so.

  21. John Spangler says:

    John Spangler: “The totally silent Missa lecta should not be the form for Sunday worship.”

    Father Z: “Many do not agree. Including the Supreme Pontiffs who authorized more congregational participation.”


    With respect, Father Z, these folks are rejecting the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the bishops of the Church, with only a handful dissenting, and confirmed and promulgated by Pope Paul VI. How do you reconcile their position, which I hope is not yours, with these provisions of Sacrosanctum Concilium:

    14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pet. 2:9, 4-5) have a right and obligation by reason of their baptism. … Therefore, in all their apostolic activities, pastors of souls should energetically set about achieving it [i.e., full and active participation] through the requisite pedagogy.

    19. With zeal and patience pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful and also their active participation, both internal and external, taking into account their age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture. By so doing pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God, and in this matter they must lead their flock not only by word but also by example.

    27. It must be emphasized that rites which are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, should as far as possible be celebrated in that way rather than by an individual and quasi-privately.

    This applies with special force to the celebration of Mass (even though every Mass has of itself a public and social nature) and to the administration of the sacraments.

    28. In liturgical celebrations each person, minister, or layman who has an office to perfrom, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy.

    30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons, hymns, as well as by actions, gestures and bodily atttitudes. And at the proper time a reverent silence should be observed.

    54. … Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

    I do not see how a Catholic who accepts the Second Vatican Council and its teachings can legitimately argue that a silent Missa lecta should be the form for Sunday worship. No one should be compelled to respond at Low Mass but to deny those faithful who desire to participate, it seems to me, is depriving them of a right recognized by Holy Mother the Church, who expressly desires this end.

  22. Spangler: I misread your comment. In my haste I thought you were arguing against congregational participation during celebrations of the TLM.

    At the same time I will repeat what said before: Many will not agree with you, even though Popes approved more (vocal) congregrational participation.

  23. Cerimoniere says:

    I take it that Fr. Selvester’s comment is directly partly at mine, so I will reply.

    The various dicasteries of the Holy See are appointed by the Pope with specifically delineated authority, contained in the various decrees governing the operations of the Roman Curia. If one of them were to attempt to act outside that authority, unless the action were specifically approved by the Pope, then that would indeed be beyond the competence of that dicastery.

    To my knowledge, the only grant of authority to the Ecclesia Dei Commission from its inception until “Summorum Pontificum” was in the motu proprio “Ecclesia Dei” itself. This granted the Commission faculties to do many things, such as establishing religious institutes and societies of apostolic life with the right to use the 1962 books, regularize clerics from the SSPX, sanate marriages celebrated before SSPX priests, and so on. I don’t think it gave the Commission any power over the liturgy itself, which would therefore have remained in its normative place with the Congregation for Divine Worship.

    If anyone knows to the contrary, I would be very interested to learn more. In the absence of anything further, I would guess that the officials of the Commission simply felt that they had a general pastoral oversight over the use of the traditional liturgy, started receiving dubia and answered them according to their lights. That wouldn’t make them binding, as far as I can see. Perhaps the Pope knew this was happening; perhaps not.

    In any case, “Summorum Pontificum” provides that the Commission will continue to exercise its function (i.e. as defined under “Ecclesia Dei”), supervise the actual provisions of the new “Motu Proprio” and will also have “the form, duties and norms that the Roman Pontiff wishes to assign it.” We shall see what these new duties may be that the Holy Father may assign in due course, no doubt.

  24. In my experience, fully active and consciously prayerful participation is equally possible at a silent or a vocal (dialogue) low Mass, at a plainchant sung high Mass or at a solemn Mass with polyphony. Though it is easy to see how folks without personal familiarity with all these various TLM forms might find this difficult to understand, not having personal experience and knowledge on which to base their opinions.

    Indeed, I hope my own interior participation is just as actively prayerful at a quiet daily Novus Ordo as at a TLM with bells and smells. About the only Mass that I find a real challenge to prayerful participation is the typical Sunday Novus Ordo with a cacophony of disparate sights and sounds, activity and motion that distract powerfully from the liturgical action of the Holy Sacrifice itself. (That is, the local parish version of the Washington debacle.)

  25. David O'Rourke says:

    The solution to this problem is very simple. Pray the black and do the red. Perhaps it would be a logical development for the celebrant to join in singing the Gloria etc. instead of just reciting it but we’ve had the Motu Proprio for less than a year and already many of you are sounding like the “do your own thing” priests of the past forty or so years.

    As for the priest joining in with the chant after he has recited the Gloria I have my doubts. The rubrics of the Traditional rite did not encourage the priest to add his own things and I remember being taught that it was forbidden for the priest to even say “My Lord and my God” when he elevates the Host. It would be too easy for priess to start adding in other things of greater or lesser appropriateness.

    Anything good carries with it a price and people and especially priests are going to have to learn the discipline of the Extraodinary Form even in the most minute detail. If possible, get a hold of the Book “The Celebration Of Mass” by J. B O’connell which came out in about 1964. It is written for the 1962 Missal. Read the chapter telling how the priest is to celebrate Low Mass. The required precision in the smallest detail seems completely alien to us these days but that is what makes the Traditional Rite so unpretensiously beautiful.

  26. Michael says:

    “I do not see how a Catholic who accepts the Second Vatican Council and its teachings can legitimately argue that a silent Missa lecta should be the form for Sunday worship”

    Other than perhaps item 54 which you cited, I do not see how a silent Missa lecta (by which, I presume you mean that the congregation does not audibly respond) fails to comply with any of the other provisions. Surely you do not mean to suggest that “active participation” by definition means “out loud” and are you certain that “active” is a good translation?

  27. Maureen says:

    Um… I think the priest was asking a question, and nobody has answered it except with the rubric. (Which is indeed _an_ answer, but not the same category of answer as the question.)

    So — what does Fortescue say about why the priest moves?

  28. Joy says:

    Interestingly, in Appendix A of ‘The Celebration of Mass’ (A study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal)by O’Connell, on page 593, active participation is addressed. The final sentence tells it all.

    “The participation of the faithful is complete when, in addition to the internal participation and the external sharing by voice and action, they receive Holy Communion.”

    Full and actual participation=receiving Holy Communion

    What more could anyone ask for?

  29. John Spangler says:

    Joy, I agree totally with your quote from O’Connell but re-read it, please.

    “The participation of the faithful is complete when, IN ADDITION TO the internal participation AND THE EXTERNAL SHARING BY VOICE AND ACTION, they receive Holy Communion.” (Emphasis added.)

    A silent Missa lecta does not give the faithful an opportunity to fulfill “their right and obligation” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14)to participate fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by responding to the priest with the servers and joining with him in the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei.

  30. jv says:

    An interesting note from the life of St Philip Neri. His last Mass was said on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and it is reported in an early biography that: “On coming to the Gloria in Excelsis he began to sing, which was a very unusual thing for him, and he sung the whole of it with the greatest joy and devotion.”

  31. Peter says:

    It would be interesting to do the historical research to answer this question: did the priest/sacred ministers initially sing the Gloria & Credo with the choir/faithful? If they did, what was the origin of their not singing except the intonation ?

    David Kubiak suggests one possible line of questioning – low Mass reflecting back on the rubrics of solemn Mass.


  32. Ken says:

    I do not know why people keep referring back to the pastoral council of the 1960s to clarify what the 1570/1962 missal means. It’s a sad fact, but there are indeed things that have been done and said in the last forty years that do not “jibe” (to use someone’s word here) with the traditional Latin Mass. If someone is going to point to a Modernist document that requires everyone to compete with the choir and altar boys, then one can also point to the document that allows female altar boys and communion in the hand.

    We’re certainly not two Churches, but we do have to recognize the traditional Mass operates under different rules than the novus ordo. I fear some people think perfect harmony can be attained with the same rules, which I believe is impossible.

  33. Cerimoniere says:

    “An interesting note from the life of St Philip Neri. His last Mass was said on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and it is reported in an early biography that: “On coming to the Gloria in Excelsis he began to sing, which was a very unusual thing for him, and he sung the whole of it with the greatest joy and devotion.”

    This is indeed true. However, a special thing that S. Philip was inspired to do only in his last Mass (certainly a Low Mass, by the way) isn’t really a guide for what priests should generally be doing now. S. Philip was also compelled to say Mass privately for many years at the end of his life, because his ecstacies grew beyond his control. The server would put out the candles and leave for a couple of hours. This isn’t something we’d generally encourage either :)

  34. Michael says:

    “A silent Missa lecta does not give the faithful an opportunity to fulfill “their right and obligation” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14)to participate fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by responding to the priest with the servers and joining with him in the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei.”

    I take it then, that your answer is Yes. According to your interpretation, a Catholic cannot participate in the Mass unless he audibly responds to the Priest with the server and audibly recites the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei.

    Obviously I disagree with this, but have you really considered the implications of what you say? If you are correct, since Sacrosanctum Concilium speaks of a right and obligation, those who attend a silent Missa lecta have not fulfilled their Sunday obligation.

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