Ecce advenit!

I really liked this post at NLM which you can read in full over there:

Most every Ordinary Form Masses for Epiphany this Sunday will begin with "We Three Kings."

The practice is so common that many people might be under the impression that this hymn is integral to the Roman Rite. In fact, it is not. To use this hymn as the entrance is a substitute – the last option permitted in the rubrics, presumably only to be used when no other choice is possible – for the authentic Introit, which is Ecce Advenit.

The text translates as "Behold the Lord the Ruler is come: and the Kingdom is in His Hand, and power, and dominion. Give to the king Thy judgment, O God: and to the king’s Son Thy justice."


There is no better time to begin this orienting process than at the very start of Mass. Replacing the proper with a hymn delays this orienting posture until later – and thereby subtly inhibits us from coming together in directed prayer.

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  1. Singing Mum says:

    In total agreement with this post, I also would not choose ‘We three kings’ for Mass on the Epiphany. One reason is that the main text does not give direct praise to God. The verses, more like a pageant song, are self-descriptions of the three kings.

    Do I think it is awful to sing ‘We three kings’? No, I just think there’s a more appropriate place for the song- its perfect in a Christmas play or pageant, for example.

    We will sing the Introit for Mass. Its a shame to miss out on it, as Epiphany has some of the coolest propers, IMO.

  2. Andy F. says:

    Pandora’s box has been opened. Option 4 is approved. To assert that we are being inhibited from our duty to God by Mother Church seems to me to be thin ice.

  3. WGS says:

    and who says there were three kings, magi, wisemen? Not the Bible. Three gifts, yes.

  4. WGS: I think Leo the Great suggested there were 24…. nisi fallor

  5. Dr. Eric says:

    “Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
    Gold I bring to crown Him again,
    King forever, ceasing never
    Over us all to reign.

    Frankincense to offer have I.
    Incense owns a Deity nigh.
    Prayer and praising all men raising,
    Worship Him, God on high.

    Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
    Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
    Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
    Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

    Glorious now behold Him arise,
    King and God and Sacrifice.
    Alleluia, Alleluia
    Sounds through the earth and skies.”

    I’m not sure how it could be asserted that there is no mention of praise and/or worship to God in this hymn. Not that I think that the propers shouldn’t be sung, they should. But this is one of the few songs that are even sung on secular radio that still mentions what Christmas is about.

  6. Fr Peter says:

    Although – as must be the case for any Catholic who wishes to be loyal to the Magisterium – I generally agree with your posts, Father, on the issue of hymns and Introits I fear that I am unable to do so. Without going in to the merits or otherwise of this particular hymn, or denying the banality of many modern hymns, I think that it is unfortunate that the liturgical and catechetical value of hymns tends to be greatly undervalued by traditionalist Catholics.

    We ought, of course, to be aspiring to liturgical excellence everywhere, but sadly such excellence is currently the exception rather than the rule. Badly sung Introits really do not represent any advance over badly sung hymns. For every lay worshipper who is capable of appreciating – in Latin – the subtle nuances of the Introits of the kind to which you refer, I would respectfully suggest that there are a much larger number who are not. On the other hand, many of the latter category might well be more open to, and benefit from, the teaching given by good hymns. I therefore believe that it would be better for us to strive to improve the quality of the hymnals, rather than to push for the replacement of hymns by Latin Propers.

    One of the fruits of the Oxford Movement was a blossoming of hymnody, with many fine translations from the Latin as well as many new works. Some of the most prominent converts, such Newman and Faber, were notable hymn-writers. On the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, the Anglican clergy found that hymns were an effective tool for instilling Catholic doctrine into the minds and hearts of their people, especially when these were accompanied by tunes of musical merit that they enjoyed singing and which enhanced the beauty and dignity of the liturgy. And, of course, the Salvation Army has long used hymns as a tool of Evangelisation, and has refused to let the devil have all the best tunes.

    Now, I would submit that our current situation is somewhat similar to that of the Anglo-Catholic clergy of the nineteenth century: we have got to “re-Catholicise” those parts of the Catholic Church which have virtually ceased to be recognisably Catholic. And we have got to teach Catholic doctrine to children with whom our only point of regular contact is the Sunday Mass. Without becoming disproportionately long, the homily can probably not bear the full weight of this, and I think that it benefits from the support of appropriate congregational hymns in the vernacular. And, whether the Mass is in the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form, in many cases this might well be more beneficial to the people than listening to – or attempting to sing – chunks of Scripture in Latin in the form of the Propers. Indeed, the use of appropriate hymnody instead of – or as well as – the Propers might actually help to ease the reintroduction of the Extraordinary Form.

    In our present lamentable situation we surely have to make best use of all of the liturgical tools that the Lord puts into our hands. Without intending any disrespect to Tradition or to the Rubrics, I suspect that in many parishes the introduction of appropriate congregational hymns in the vernacular will be more efficacious than that of the Latin Propers, and that the former ought therefore to be given the higher priority.

  7. Dr. Eric says:

    Fr. Peter,

    I would like to propose a compromise here, on the New Liturgical Movement website they have links to composers who have composed beautiful versions of the propers in English.

    Fr Peter, please visit this link and scroll down to see the introit in a few English settings.

    Your Unworthy Son,

    Dr. Eric

  8. Andy F. says:

    Fr. Peter is very right when he mentions badly sung Latin Introits. It is a challenge to sing Propers in the appropriate vocal style.

  9. Singing Mum says:

    Again, Dr. Eric, its not awful, not by any means. While praise to God is given, it is oblique, not direct praise. It is descriptive. Agreed that its one of the better (text-wise) things you hear on the radio. But that doesn’t mean its the best for Mass. This song is more suitable for a pageant (a worthy thing in parish life!) than a piece fitting to replace the Introit, or any of the other propers.

    I agree with you about simplified English propers. The only fear is that singers will not do the required work because there is always a less demanding alternative. The culture of ‘take the easier option’ has permeated the Ordinary Form for too long.

    And if we are to take seriously that our greatest treasure in the sacred arts is sacred music, then losing the repertory of Latin propers would be an enormous loss. Not that I think you are proposing this, only that its something to bear in mind when considering options.

    Andy F., agreed that Pandora’s box is open in the OF. Even so, option 4 is the lowest option because it is the least preferred. ‘We three kings’ would never be on par with an Introit. Its just easy and familiar, so people do it, with gusto and often badly.

    But its true about poorly sung propers. The challenge of singing well is why skilled singer directors should be hired to train choirs and scholas. If we put a priority on that, there is no excuse for not singing propers well on a fairly regular basis, even in the OF.

  10. Singing Mum says:


    After nine years of music school, entailing endless listening hours, etc., I sometimes want to shout from the rooftops about how truly special the Gregorian propers are. As a body of music, they are unique in form and melody, and possess a free rhythm wedded to (mostly scriptural) text.

    So, forgive the shout, intended with great joy and gratitude-


  11. Dr. Eric says:

    Fr. Peter,

    Here you go full pdfs of the graduals:

    After looking at these, using these propers would make the OF more like what I observed during the Divine Liturgy where we had to bounce back and forth from the Missal to the back of the book where the Troparia and Kontakia were. It seems that these are ancient movable parts of the Liturgy.

  12. Dr. Eric says:

    I just have been reading through these graduals, I have to say that it is proper and just for us to use these at Holy Mass. Why are we not using them? I feel cheated.

  13. Supertradmom says:

    Sadly, our parish has already dropped any Christmas carols. On New Year’s Day, the hymns were an odd collection, including sad “Gather Us In” sorts. I assumed the choice was by the woman who led the singing and the weird grouping reflected what she knew. Sigh for the Latin Mass and proper propers.

  14. An American Mother says:

    We usually sing carols either as part of what is affectionately called the “pre game show”, or after Mass, although we did get the Three Kings on the Sunday before Epiphany, as the offertory hymn IIRC.

    Carols do have an important function as Fr. Peter suggests.

    One wonderful example was when we had a joint Vespers service with the local Greek Orthodox Cathedral in mid-December. After Vespers was concluded, the Greek choir and our visiting parish choir together sang well-known Christmas carols, and the congregation joined in. A place at which we could all meet with happiness, good feeling, and hopes for more such events in the future!

  15. California Girl 21 says:

    Fr. Peter,

    For the past couple of years, we at St. Margaret’s in Oceanside, CA, have sung the introit propers in English, in hymn form.

    The book we use is “Introit Hymns for the Church Year” by Christoph Tietze. From the Foreword:

    “These metrical adaptations of the proper introit texts assigned to feasts and seasons of the liturgical year…will certainly help promote the recovery of the proper chants….Christoph Tietze employs a format that combines two of the possibilities: versification of the introit antiphon, psalm verses, and doxology, adapted to fit familiar hymn tunes.”

    The melodies include such well-known favorites as Forest Green, Hyfrydol, and Kingsfold. (Well, most people recognize the melody itself, if not the name.) Even the less-familiar tunes have been quickly picked up by the congregation, which sings along quite well without needing to be “taught” each week’s song by the choir.

    I highly recommend this introit hymn book to any parish wanting to reintroduce the “entrance psalm” to the people.

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