A citation concerning the use of hymns at Mass

Gregorian chantThis citation from NLM is really useful.

Bugnini’s own Consilium in 1969 offered the following instruction, consistent with the Vatican II emphasis on chant over vernacular hymnody. As printed in 1 Notitiae, 5 (1969), p. 406

That rule [permitting vernacular hymns] has been superseded.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. Because the liturgical service is one, it has only one countenance, one motif, one voice, the voice of the church. To continue to replace the texts of the Mass being celebrated with motets that are reverent and devout, yet out of keeping with the Mass of the day amounts to continuing an unacceptable ambiguity: it is to cheat the people. Liturgical song involves not mere melody, but words, text, thought, and the sentiments that the poetry and music contain. Thus texts must be those of the Mass, not others, and singing means singing the Mass not just singing during Mass.

Sacred music is not an add on to the liturgy.  It is liturgySacred music is pars integrans in the sacred liturgy, that is, an integral part or, better integrating part of the whole of liturgical worship.

Thus, music for Mass must be sacred and it must be artistic.  The texts sung must be sacred and relevant to the liturgy of the day.  It must be composed and performed in the best manner possible, a truly artistic way. 

Pastors and church musicians should… must… rethink the "four hymn sandwich".

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  1. Pastors and church musicians should… must… rethink the “four hymn sandwich”.

    What about a four-drum sandwich? My parish just added a percussion section to our most well-attended Mass.

    Father, can you elaborate on the authority of this document?

  2. FrCharles says:

    We have a lot of education to do in this area. I have spoken to each of my pastors about this in my ordained life thus far, and every one of them has met me with disbelief, as if I was making a proposal from another world and something that I made up.

  3. TNCath says:

    Amazing, isn’t it, how certain “instructions” are somehow overlooked and others are emphasized, depending on how convenient they are.

  4. MargaretMN says:

    I understand the four hymn sandwich problem, where the music takes away from the Mass, but I don’t understand how hymns must be from the Mass, or parts of the Mass, sung. That means that hymns taken from the psalms from the Gather hymnal that people around here seem to hate so much are fine, if used for the responsorial psalms but hymns like O Sanctissima, Faith of Our Fathers etc. are not since they are not explicitly using the words of the Mass. Maybe I just need more education on the structure of the Mass.

  5. TJerome says:

    I guess this instruction got lost. I’m actually shocked the Consilium issued this. My pastor, a big-time lefty of the spirit of Vatican II kind, would claim it was a
    forgery or something. Tom

  6. southern orders says:

    As a priest, I’m perplexed too. I agree that it is correct to sing the proper introit; offertory antiphon, and communion antiphon. We do this at the EF High Mass we have once a month on Sunday. We have not implemented it for the OF Mass, except chanting the simple antiphon in the sacramentary. But even if we did sing the approriate introit and offertory, I believe it still pastorally suitable to sing a metrical hymn in addition to the official chanted text, to sing an additional motet at the preparation/offertory and the same for Holy Communion. And since nothing is prescribed for the recessional–by all means sing something that is suitable. This is possible in the EF, why not the OF. Just sing the official parts too. So, Faith of our Father, the beautiful Latin motets we have, like Panis Angelicus, Ave Verum Corpus; O Sanctisima and the greatest ever English ones “Be not afraid” not to mention “Hosea” could still be sung.

  7. Eilis says:

    If the choir are not capable of singing the Proper (yet) at an EF Mass should they refrain from singing altogether? We have a very small group (5)of passable singers but no director so have been doing the sandwich thing trying to select something relevant.

  8. TJerome says:

    southern orders,

    I frequently attend the OF celebrated in Latin, ad orientem, at St. John Cantius in Chicago. The practice there is to sing the Introit (without a hymn following). The offertory verse is sung but it is often followed by a motet, and the same thing happens at Communion. The recessional tends to be a vernacular hymn sung by all. You may wish to consider that.



  9. Kimberly says:

    Usually the name Bugnini makes my brain go numb. I’m surprised.

  10. RichR says:

    We sang the Introit today at an OF Mass. The men’s gregorian chant schola that I’m in tried some motets by Victoria and Baini, too. Then we sang congregational hymns for the Offertory and Recessional, Praise to the Lord the Almighty and Come Holy Ghost. The parish organist was so excited when I told her not to pick any hymns written later than 1900 A.D. It’d clash with the chant too much.

    I think that hymns have their place. If we had sung everything, the people would have just listened. That’s not bad, but when people are used to singing something, they would expect a little.

    Ordinaries were in Latin, too.

  11. Virgil says:

    From where did the phrase “four hymn sandwich” come? Who first used it?

    Personally, I find it a delightful image, since such hymns typically emphasize the MEAL aspect of Eucharist over the SACRIFICE aspect.

    But in the metaphor, what are the hymns?
    – I assume that they are the slices of bread, since there’s one at the top (a “gathering song”) and one at the bottom (a “song of going forth”) and a couple in the middle like a Dagwood.
    – Or are they, in fact, the meat of the sandwich: the bread being the entrance procession, the Liturgy of the Word, etc?

    But again, WHO was the first to use this metaphor?

  12. fr. Jordan says:

    I think this topic is most pertinent. The lack of instruction, especially among the clergy, is so profound that regaining the practice of singing the Mass is a long walk. In my new parish, where I am also preparing a lot of the music, when I try to have this discussion with my fellow priests – I hit a brick wall. Few see the value of using the texts of the Missal; they argue against chant in English or Latin; they insist the people will not sing the chant. It is the perception of music as purely utilitarian and not as the handmaid of the Liturgy.
    The more we can get away from the use of hymns for the sake of music, the better our Liturgy will become.

  13. A solution I have implemented is to select (if available) responsorial psalmody that corresponds with the scripture contained in the antiphons. Usually the responsorial psalm does not match the antiphon text, but it comes reasonably close. Today the selections did match, with some interesting implications.

    For Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the offertory verse is Psalm 92:2:

    Bonum est confiteri Domino, et psallere nomini tuo, Altissime.
    “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing in honor of your name, O Most High.”

    Our hymnal contained a setting of this psalm with the antiphon, “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you,” so the choir followed up my chanting of the Gregorian offertory with this modern setting.

    The Communion antiphon was Psalm 30(31):

    Illumina faciem tuam super servum tuum, et salvum me fac in tua misericordia: Domine, non confundar, quoniam invocavi te.
    “Let your face shine down upon your servant, deliver me in your mercy. Lord, let me not be confounded, for I have called upon you.”

    The only settings of this psalm in our hymnal contain the antiphon, “Father, I put your life in my hands,” which is assigned to Good Friday. But this psalm also happens to connect with the first reading and the Gospel reading for today (the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth, a prefiguring of the Lord’s Passion). So we used it. It’s not quite like abandoning the Alleluia on Septuagesima Sunday, but to the attentive believer, it has a similar effect.

    In short, there is opportunity in the Ordinary-Form liturgy to use responsorial psalmody at the Offertory and Communion in accord with the original Gregorian antiphons, which themselves have verses assigned to them in both forms of the Roman Rite. See this PDF (for the Offertory verses) and this page (for the communion verses).

    (Here is the music list for our Masses for this Sunday. Our weekly worship aids highlight the scriptural citations of all propers and music selections, so attentive worshipers may see the connections.)

  14. Susan the Short says:

    I believe the phrase, “four hymn sandwich” was originally coined by
    Juan Hamonrye.

  15. david andrew says:

    I am faced with a unique situation. I serve a very traditional Polish parish that on the one hand is clearly a fertile ground for the advancement of the “reform of the reform,” if not the implementation of the EF, but at the same time steeped in stubborn resistance to change.

    Unfortunately, some traditions are very pernicious and ethnic parishes are notorious for being resistant to change. Indeed, we not only use the “four hymn sandwich” approach, it has long been their custom to sing Christmas carols and “kolendy” for the hymns up until February 2. It is also common at the Polish language Mass for a kolenda not unlike “Angels We Have Heard On High” to be sung in place of the Gloria, only because the refrain contains the words, “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” This dates back to the preconciliar abuse of the choir singing their own music while the priest recited the Ordinary and Propers, the belief being that the Mass was valid and licit if the priest recited the correct prayers and formulas, the music having little to do with it.

    Add to this a weekend assistant priest who refuses to sing the Gloria in favor of recitation (despite knowing the wishes of the Pastor in this matter), and often insists on the use of the old chestnut “Keep in mind” as sung the response to the mysterium fidei, and who agitates against any change that would increase the use of Latin, chant or indeed even the establishment of the “Benedictine” altar arrangement (never mind ad orientem worship), and I find myself swimming very hard upstream indeed as music director and organist.

    On the other hand, I am thankful that the only instrument used in the church to accompany singing is the pipe organ, and that despite the above problems the congregation is familiar with the Ordinary in Latin and can sing a cappella with ease. The Pastor has systematically removed the remaining vestiges of “contemporary” music from the congregation’s repertoire, and we’re poised to begin a brick by brick move toward liturgy and music that is in keeping with the Mind of the Church.

    The struggle to do what is right (as set forth in the documents of the Church and the example of the Holy Father) in the face of those who resist or willfully defy Pastoral or Episcopal authority can be heart-breaking, stress-inducing and demoralizing. I can only hope that we’re in the darkest time just before the dawn.

  16. TJerome says:

    Fr. Jordan, your brother priests are dead wrong about chant. I was pulled out of the altarboys in the 1960s to be a cantor, which began my 40 years plus experience as a cantor, soloist, choir member, and choir director. The congregation sings its very best when chant is used. I began years ago to use simple Gregorian psalm tones for the responsorial psalm. They sign it far better with simple chant tones than with Haagen/Haas type stuff EVERY TIME (in contrast, much of Haagen/Haas is highly unsingable). They also sing the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei in Latin beautifully. Your brother priests are either biased, ignorant, contumacious or condescending (kind of in the vein of Bishop Trautman). And you can share this email with them. Tom

  17. ssoldie says:

    Could this 1 Notitianes,5 1969, been rewritten after Cardinal Ottavaianti submitted his letter “Critial Study” to Pope Paul VI, in 1969? On music in Austin Flannery Vatican Council II pg 55-18, pg 78-10, pg 125-20, there is NO mention of Chant over venacular hymnody. Interesting isn’t it?

  18. Andy F. says:

    As soon as somebody figures out how to implement these instructions without the congregation feeling “hijacked” from their hymns, let me know. Prayer, I know, is the first and most important step. Btw, in case anyone knows me or where I work is reading this, I mean this statement as a general question for discussion here and not about anything specifically in my particular parish.

  19. Andy F. says:

    BTW, for those of you using “Baking Bread,” the Introit and the Communion Antiphons are printed in the Missalette that accompanies the books in most parishes. This year, the spine (insert jokes here) is purple.

  20. Hans says:

    That is all well and good, but I’m with Rich Leonardi in asking:

    Father, can you elaborate on the authority of this document?

    It’s hard enough getting the GIRM followed in at least some of its details in my parish (and it is far better at it than many I know) without bringing ‘some document’ from 1969 into play.

  21. jlmorrell says:

    Did someone in this comment thread just call “Be not afraid” one of the greatest ever English hymns?

    Wow! I’m at a loss of words.

  22. vincentuher says:

    I wish note what a blessing Shawn Tribe and Jeffrey Tucker are to the English-speaking Church as well as all of those fine people who write for NLM.

    Since these days I seem to think of everything in connexion to ‘Anglicanorum coetibus’, I would like to offer that it was the Anglican reluctance to sing anything that was not Scripture or derived from Scripture which led to the beautiful form of Anglican Chant for singing the Psalms, and as the writing of hymns developed from first translating Office Hymns and other material from the Sarum Use, the shape of Anglican music drew from the continuity of the Sarum material but first and foremost relied upon the Psalter — which is the Church’s first hymnbook — as well as the rest of Sacred Writ.

    While there have been great changes among Anglicans, I do think their original focus on singing the Scriptures is one that is helpful for the Catholic Church at large. When we speak of chanting the Introit, Gradual, Tract, Offertory, Communio, we are speaking, for the most part, of singing the Sacred Scriptures collected together for a particular Mass or for a particular Sunday in the liturgical year. As the Canon of the Mass is rich in Scriptural reference, the Proper and the Lectionary readings further ground Holy Mass in the fertile soil of the Holy Bible. Surely, all Catholics can see the priority that should be accorded to singing the Scriptures in the Propers rather than songs with pop texts that do not arise from Scripture or the Magisterium of Holy Mother Church.

  23. John F. Kennedy says:

    I’m also at the parish with Rich Leonardi. The problem as I see it is that SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, the GIRM and the USCCB’s “Sing to the Lord” are so open ended, they permitted anything.

    Now in our Parish, USCCB documents always takes precedence over any non Vatican publication and and old copy of “Notitiae” would carry no weight especially since it contradicts the GIRM (among others).

    From “Sing to the Lord,” “90. Many other instruments also enrich the celebration of the Liturgy, such as wind, stringed, or percussion instruments “according to longstanding local usage, provided they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt.” Is Jimmy Hendrix’s Amazing Grace appropriate? Some would argue yes. These documents do not frame the question of what is sacred music and what is it’s purpose. Likewise, what is not sacred music. I detest the whole, “I know it when I hear it” approach.

    The GIRM “48. The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.” It gives EQUAL weight to ALL four options. Even if one was preferred over the others, having the option the lowest choice will be taken.

    What we need from the Pope is a clear cut guide of what is appropriate and what is not. Should there be a “Contemporary” Mass? I don’t know of one spelled out in the GIRM, but that doesn’t stop most parishes from having one and warping the sense of the sacred in the souls of the people.

  24. An American Mother says:

    vincent, coming from an Anglican background I agree with you 100 percent.

    I was VERY apprehensive about converting, not for any theological reason, but because of all the horrible things I had heard about Bad Catholic Music.

    Fortunately, in this parish none of that is true. We actually use four-part Anglican chant for the psalms (now if we could just get Cranmer’s Psalter sneaked in here . . . ) and we seem to have finally gotten rid of Haugen in favor of a chant-based set of Mass parts composed by our music director. Still a few of the awful hymns, because the old retired hippies in the congregation might stroke out if forced to go cold turkey. But thankfully we are phasing those out too, haven’t heard “Here I Am, Lord”, “Be Not Afraid”, or “Eagles’ Wings” in months. Just good old German hymns and the better sort of English hymns that made the cut in the Episcopal Hymnal (1982). More chant is on the way – brick by brick.

  25. …and the USCCB’s “Sing to the Lord” …

    It is worth remembering that this document has no authority over the liturgy whatsoever as it did not receive a recognitio from the Holy See. Indeed, it wasn’t even submitted, arguably a tacit acknowledgment that it would be rejected. That said, it is routinely cited as an authority at this parish and presumably others.

  26. JimGB says:

    At my parish, we have the regular “sandwich,” with an emphasis on hymns that, to the extent possible, track the readings of the day. However, since the end of the Christmas season, we have had “City of God” as the recessional hymn at least twice. Arrrgh!!!
    We have also had “Sing a New Church,” which every time I hear it now I can only think of giant sock puppets, thanks to a video aired some time ago on this and other websites!!

  27. Prof. Basto says:

    It seems that, unfortunately, this instruction by the Consilium, published in a 1969 edition of Notitiae, is no longer authoritative.

    Sadly, the law currently in force has re-established the loophole for using hymns in place of the propers, a practice that the above quoted Consilium instruction attempted to end.

    The current norms regulating this question are found in the GIRM, and, unfortunately, the editions of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal issued after this 1969 Consilium document allow replacing the propers with hymns as an option.

  28. Dave N. says:

    “Thus, music for Mass must be sacred and it must be artistic….”

    These are two extremely well-stated, succinct principles for thinking about liturgical music that I think almost anyone (even a pastor or parish liturgy committee) should be able to get their heads around. Excellent.


    Profane is the antonym of sacred; profane is the category of something NOT holy, something from the realm of the common or everyday, something not set aside, not dedicated to God. Here style does matter a great deal, IMO. If the music you’re hearing at Mass stylistically sounds like something you’d hear on top-40 or CCM radio, at a Broadway musical (apologies to David Haas), or a Barbara Streisand concert, it’s not sacred music–it’s pop. For all his other failings I think sociologist Emile Durkheim was definitely onto something here–there’s an ingrained need in humans to recognize distinctions between sacred and profane. If we fail to keep the two separate, eventually that which is sacred simply becomes profane and things begin to fall apart.


    Those providing and planning the music for Mass should ask themselves: “Is this musical piece absolutely the very best product of Western culture that our parish is capable of offering as a gift to God?” Is the style of the music and accompanying text beautiful, poetic and expressive of our faith? Pop music, while not inherently evil stylistically–i.e., I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it per se–is nevertheless from the transient, disposable part of our culture which is always in search of the new and trendy. (C.f. here, disposable “hymnals.”) Sacred music, in INTENTIONAL contrast to the music we hear every day, MUST be drawn from the enduring cultural tradition–that which has been culturally judged to be of high quality over a very long period of time. If everything you’re hearing at Mass has been written in the last 50 years, there’s an obvious problem.

    And it’s difficult to think of any rationale wherein “Awesome God” ever falls into this category.

  29. TonyLayne says:

    Andy: NLM has an hour-long video on the CMAA’s 19th Colloquium which was held last year. One of the participants talked about a 10-year plan of integrating small changes in separate parts of the Mass over time. Perhaps that’s the most reasonable way of doing it–gently leading the people into these changes rather than throwing a whole new(?) approach at them wholesale. Y’know, brick by brick.

    Here’s the page with the video if you want more: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2010/01/sacred-beautiful-universal-full-movie.html

  30. An American Mother says:

    Dave – Amen! Amen!

    I tend to apply the “hundred year test” to music and literature. Maybe a 200 year test for music would be a better idea!

  31. Henry Edwards says:

    TJerome: Fr. Jordan, your brother priests are dead wrong about chant. ….. The congregation sings its very best when chant is used.

    This is one of these rare matters not of opinion, but of observable fact. Surely every congregation, bar none, sings chant with fuller participation — plain chant being so much easier for amateurs than metrical polyphony — than the usual 1970’s hymns, which are not structured for congregational singing, and which are not well and enthusiastically sung by any Catholic congregations I have observed.

    In my local parish, a quite typical one in which there is the usual tiny but vocal minority opposed to Latin, the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are sung in a more full-throated way than the vernacular hymns, which have always attracted vocal participation by only a minority of Sunday Mass attendees.

  32. Andy F. says:

    So nobody but TonyLane wants to deal with my question? Btw Tony, I actually watched that video last week. That’s good stuff. I’m beginning to wonder if people are reluctant to put their money where their mouth is around here.

  33. TJerome says:

    Henry Edwards, thanks for the affirmation. Those vocally opposed to Latin aren’t really faithful Catholics but cafeteria Catholics. They could care less
    what the Church teaches because “it’s all about them.” Tom

  34. TNCath says:

    I think a good way to begin the use of chant for the Introit, Offertory, and Communion is to begin with the Introit, perhaps just the antiphon, followed by a couple of verses of a hymn, followed again by the Introit antiphon. The same could then follow suit with the offertory and communion antiphons. In time, then, the verses to the antiphons could be sung by the choir and eventually the hymns phased out.

    Just remember, folks, it took us 40 years to get us into the liturgical mess we have now. It may take us another 40 years to see some real progress.

  35. Gail F says:

    A band in our area called “Romans” (www.romanscatholic.com) sings a lot of the songs used at mass in a sort of 1980s rock style. I don’t like all of them, but several on their album “High Fidelity” are really great — when sung by a professional with professional arrangements and accompanied by a professional rock band. There is one my husband said his parish played all the time when he was a kid, called “We are Yours” (Take our bread, we ask you; take our hearts, we love you; take our lives, oh Father, we are yours…) that I really like, and one called “Sing Out Earth and Skies” that I have always hated, but they give it a sort of middle-eastern arrangement and do something with the verses that I don’t know how to explain, but it’s very cool, and the song is great. My point is not the merits of the songs as music per se, but that they work as rock songs versus as droned by unenthusiastic amateurs accompanied by a piano or organ, which ought to tell you where they belong — sung by a band (if anywhere) and not at mass.

    I don’t understand why professional musicians write music that people can’t sing, and why anyone publishes it for use at mass. Shouldn’t that be one of the top criteria?

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