Hymns versus the actual antiphons designated for Mass in the Roman Rite

There has been some discussion here of late about the Introit v. hymn debate, as well as the general issue of the use of hymns at Mass instead of the actual antiphons designated by Holy Church for use each day.

I saw at NLM an interesting post abut this.  My emphases and comments.

The editor of GIA’s new edition of Worship [A book which I am sure many of you have in your parishes.] has some comments concerning why the core of Catholic music for the Mass – the Propers – makes no appearance in the massive book now being published for the Mass. It is a mystery, isn’t it? A huge hymnbook for Mass even though that Mass has few hymns at all as part of its structure, and those it does have are intrinsic to the rite and appear in the normative music book for the ritual, the Graduale Romanum[That puts it succinctly.]


PRAY TELL: [Which is a liberal leaning liturgy blog, our of St. John’s Collegeville, MN.  Get this question….] Traditionalism is on the rise in the liturgy, [NB: It’s an "-ism".] and some people are talking about more chant, fewer hymns, more proper antiphons, and the like. Will Worship 4 bend to meet any of these new needs?  [Or will Worship remain rigid and inflexible.]

BOB BATASTINI: Like Worship 3, there will be a fair amount of chant, but certainly not enough for those who desire to move heavily in that direction.  [Those who want to move in that direction should simply ditch the editions of Worship they have and not buy the new one.  There are other, better books.]

Regarding the hymn versus introit matter, though “some people are talking,” by far, the common practice in American parishes is, and for almost fifty years has been, to begin the liturgy with a hymn. [In spite of the indications of the Second Vatican Council that Gregorian chant as the first place and that the Church has antiphons in the Missal, and there are officially published books for those antiphons.] Worship 4 is being designed to give those parishes the best collection of hymns published since Vatican II. [Same old same old.]  In an effort to merge hymn singing with [get this…] the intent of the introit antiphons, [the "intent"?  What would that be?  The Church’s assigned antiphons can be seen, but not heard?  You can look at them in the Graduale but not sing them?  I think the Church’s intent is that they should be sung.  Am I wrong?] Worship 4 will include the most developed hymn of the day compilation ever assembled. [Gosh!] The work of fine contemporary hymn writers is being wedded to well-known tunes from throughout the hymnic tradition, offering a hymn closely tied to each Sunday of the three-year Lectionary. [For heaven’s sake.  Try the Graduale.]

We can imagine other versions of this Q&A. Some people are saying that houses should be made of brick to withstand the weather and last longer. What do you say? I say that all houses today are made of mud and this is why we continue to do so. [SKIDOOSH!]

I mean no offense in the analogy, truly. But it is an undeniable fact: [Perpend:] parishes are not doing the right thing as regards music in the Roman Rite. [Well said.] The Mass is not a gathering of believers united to sing their top favorite songs. [I think the little combo stuck up in the front of the church suggests something else.] There is a time and place for that, and Mass is not it. If you want to see the music for the Mass, you have to look at the Roman Gradual or some other book that contains the propers (which can of course be in English).  [Though with less success, in my opinion… so far.]

Are we seeing (to quote a friend) an attempt to make ignorance of tradition the new tradition?

Why would a Catholic publisher continue to subsidize bad praxis? [Ummm… follow the money?]  I guess it depends on the raison d’etre of the publisher. As the editor says in his last answer: "I often loose patience with the institutional church…"  [Ummm… follow the money?]

By the way, the USCCB gave this publisher the legal monopoly to the Psalms of David, which allows this publisher to charge parishes and convents and monasteries money for singing. If you don’t pay, expect a visit from the lawyers. [Yep … follow the money.]



What does never hearing the language of our Rite mean for our Catholic identity?

What does never hearing the actual music for our Rite, with the assigned prayers in the form of antiphons, mean for our Catholic identity?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. vincentuher says:

    As a hymnwriter it surprises many that I am an enthusiastic supporter of using the Propers. My Anglican heritage included singing both hymns and the chanted propers, and I believe that mix remains ideal for former Anglicans coming into the Church through the new Ordinariates. For the Roman Rite in general, rediscovering the Propers and chanting them would be a splendid rediscovery of the contextual use of Scripture as well as a return to continuity of practice with generations upon generations of Catholics. Living in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston there are an enormous number of ethinic groups with Mass celebrated in many different languages throughout the metropolitan area. I have often thought how marvellous it would be if all of us chanted the Propers and used them in Latin at archdiocesan celebrations of Holy Mass. What a beautiful expression of unity in Christ in His One Church!

  2. Elly says:

    This topic makes me sad- both because of my new awareness of how much most Catholics, including myself, have been missing out on, and also because of my awareness that the songs I grew up with and loved are not the right thing. If I had the choice I would gladly choose the right thing, but I would still miss the songs that were for most of my life, all I knew.

  3. From my understanding, hymns in the Roman Rite were to be a part of the Divine Office and processions (Candlemass, Palm Sunday, Corpus Christi, etc.). In the pre-VII days, hymns were allowed during the Low Mass when the prayers of the priest were “in secreto” (Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Offertory, Communion). This evolved into the “Four Hymn Mass” and continued into the revisions of the Roman Rite in the Mass of Paul VI.
    I think we should return to the Propers assigned to each Mass, whether in the Gregorian chant or in the English (provided they are approved texts). The problem right now is that the Graduale Romano and the English texts do not conform to one another at times. Even using the book put out for the singing of the Propers (Simplex?, I believe) is not the answer.
    Praying the Sacred Scriptures in the Propers is the way to go. A hymn here and there, fine. But the “praying Church” has been deprived of the real riches of the Roman Rite for far too long.

  4. stpetric says:

    When did the habit take root of using the introit antiphon by itself, rather than as part of the traditional unit of antiphon, verse, Gloria Patri, antiphon?

  5. jasoncpetty says:

    PRAY TELL: What has been your biggest joy working for the Church?
    BOB BATASTINI: Celebrating the liturgy.

    So he’s a priest, too?

  6. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I’ve had this discussion countless times with fellow Catholics, musicians and non-musicians. Unless one seeks out knowledge, as I did, by reading the actual Church documents and the old ‘black list’ of forbidden hymns, they remain ossified in their EXPERIENCE.

    Frustrating discussions, arguments drove me to research the specifics of why certain hymns were ‘bad’ which led me to the stunning discovery that hymns don’t even belong at Mass!

    Added to this is the belief that Latin [or other church languages] and chant are boring and unfulfilling. Folks don’t understand that this music is praying [praying the words of the Mass]. On top of that, they’ve heard bad choices done badly. Hard for the common man to see through that, I’ll admit.

    Apparently its an unknown concept that God tells us how He wants us to worship Him, how He wants the Liturgy, how words and music are supposed to sound. Just as God described to us the specifics of worship in the Old Testament, God today speaks through the Church to define these things. It really isn’t up to us!

    Two things have to happen: education of the badly-formed clergy and the laity, and a complete change of how the Mass is experienced. This includes teaching folks what the Mass is. I have met very few people who really understand the Mass and how to assist, as well as the power and role of the priesthood. Understanding liturgical music is rooted in comprehending the Mass, and cannot be grasped without this.

    As long as the wrong stuff is done at Mass, people will continue to think that’s the way its done, and that this absurdity is the way it should be.

  7. @nazareth priest: As I understand it, the differences between the English proper texts for the Entrance and Communion antiphons in the OF Missal (and missalettes, etc.) and those in the Graduale Romanum stem from the fact that the former were intended for use during spoken Masses. (This also seems to explain the lack of an Offertory Antiphon in the OF Missal.)

    The antiphon-psalm pairings as found in the Graduale Romanum or another setting (cf. GIRM) is to be retained for Sung Masses as the most preferred option for the minor/processional propers (i.e., Introit, Offertory, Communion). The major propers (Gradual, Alleluia/Tract) have largely been supplanted in practice by the Responsorial Psalm and Gospel acclamations as found in the Lectionary (still a first option).

    @stpetric: Good question; the answer depends on local practice. Note also that the Offertory and Communion antiphons have verses assigned to them as well.

  8. Catholic South says:

    If we accept that the “ideal” would be the Gregorian propers at EF and OF Masses, we also agree that the GIRM allows for other options though, it should be admitted that the options allowable in the GIRM are not entirely clear as option 3 for the Introit, Communio and Offertorio, for example refer to “an approved list” of “suitable” hymns that does not exist, at least for those of us in the USA.

    Another available option, at least for the introits, are the “Introit Hymns” by Christoph Tietze and available through World Library Publications (http://www.wlp.jspaluch.com/11865.htm). This collection sets an English translation of the proper introit (along with a doxology) to familiar/traditional hymn tunes such as DUKE STREET and OLD HUNDREDTH. I honestly wonder why these are not utilized by more parishes, but I suspect that there is some ignorance of their existence.

    I know that this is not the “ideal,” but using a collection such as this is certainly something within the grasp of almost any U.S. parish and it has three huge pluses: 1) it allows people to use the Church-chosen (and CORRECT) antiphons for the introits each Sunday, 2) people are already familiar with the tunes so that they are more likely to sing and/or 3) it would avoid the possibility of a knee-jerk reaction among the average parishioner that a move to strictly Gregorian introits could create.

    If I had my way, someone would give the proper offertorios and communios the same treatment (translated into English and set to familiar/tradition hymn tunes) and all three would be combined into one volume (along with an appendix of some extra, traditional hymns) made for the pews. THAT would be something that ALOT of parishes would benefit from, IMHO.

    What do y’all think?

  9. chironomo says:

    I seem to get beat upon every time I start down this road, but this is an area where some very definite legislation is either needed or those currently in force need to be enforced. And by enforced, I don’t mean that parishes are “ordered” to sing chant. I mean that publishers that call themselves “Catholic” be brought into conformity with the Church’s liturgical guidelines. Instead of “mostly songs” and a few chants, the books should be “mostly chant” with a few songs. And those touring workshops with the big “stars” of liturgical music? What excellent opportunities to train a new generation of liturgical musicians in singing the music of our liturgy rather than selling the latest octavos and CD’s. It could be done…. I have yet to see irregular readings inserted in the lectionary portion of these books. They can listen and obey Church law when they have to. They just haven’t been required to and they’ve found a nifty way to make a profit with this loophole.

  10. Patrick J. says:

    While Bob Batastini is a committed VII guy, and by some measure a “progressive,” he is not a nut job, and would probably be fairly representational of most “attend church every week and sing in the choir” members and their “this is where we live” philosophies regarding liturgical practice.

    Bob, whether you agree with him or not, (and in many cases, I don’t) is a very nice and sincere man, who for years ran really what amounts to your typical American small to med. size business.

    I decry this attempt to depict him/GIA as some sort of greedy corporate mogul/pig. This is off base, off putting, unworthy of this otherwise fine blog and just inaccurate, no matter what one thinks of the current state of affairs in any and all matters liturgical, even if one one wants to bring into the discussion the administration of the copyright of the Grail Psalter in the U.S. (GIA is the agent/administrator only, not the copyright owner which is the Conception Abbey).

    This is just a confused, apples and oranges and orangutan thrown in for good measure, discussion, and when one is talking about someone’s reputation, especially, in Christian charity, this type of sloppy, intellectually lazy casual observations are unacceptable, in my humble opinion. Please rephrase, re-annotate, or retract.

  11. Patrick J. says:

    I will be sending this same message (above) along to the “source” as well, as I certainly will grant that its main impetus, and thus errors/mis-characterizations, lies there, but certainly the editor here did nothing but add to that.

  12. @Catholic South: Option three is “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.” Verses from a metrical psalter, sandwiched by a straight rendering of the proper antiphons to simple psalm tones, could be a pastorally viable solution and easier to execute for all involved. But that is the call of the Bishops’ Conference or Diocesan Bishop ultimately. It is certainly more ideal in terms of applying the inspired Word of God and in keeping with the intent of the first option.

    My only critique of the Tietze work is that the translations are less than felicitous often enough to be jarring. But it’s certainly nothing I could have accomplished.

    If a combination of metered and unmetered choral partsong may be considered for the propers instead, try looking for Richard Rice’s Simple Choral Gradual, which would fall under GIRM’s first option (the “other setting”). The melodies are simple, which will challenge the choir to render them effectively. I am considering proposing this to the pastor of the parish I serve.

  13. Thank you Aristole for your very fine commentary.
    As for me, I am just sick and tired of all these options.
    Let’s just return to the Latin Propers. I understand the need for the vernacular (as does Pope Benedict XVI) for the readings; but why are we monkeying around with everything else?
    Just a comment from the “peanut gallery”.

  14. JaneC says:

    I have often wondered why there aren’t more settings of the Proper texts suitable for congregational singing. Chant is the music of the Church, and should be done more, but for hundreds of years composers found inspiration in the Church’s official texts and made new settings of them, and they are beautiful and suitable for liturgical use. Where are their modern equivalents?

    Tietze’s Introit Hymns are a good start, though as Aristotle notes, the translations are not always good and I’m not partial to some of the hymn tunes he used. But settings could be made with better translations, possibly unmetrical ones, in the correct format of antiphon with verses (rather than setting the antiphon texts and verses all to the same music, as in Tietze’s hymns). But the publishing companies seem only to publish the work of composers who choose to mangle psalm texts or just make up their own texts, which 99% of the time are theologically and artistically inferior.

    Composers, where are you? If you write decent things based on the propers that my choir can sing, I’ll buy.

    I’d love to do only chant every week, but we are a small parish and lack the talent to do all the chant Propers every week at every Mass.

  15. jeffrey-NLM says:

    We’ve really lost 40 years of time with diverted energy that could have gone toward Latin and English propers. Some people thought my post was intemperate. I don’t know. It’s seems like it is time for truth.

    Thank you, Fr., for posting this!

  16. Patrick J. says:

    Yes, it is time, and I agree with your main point, i.e., let’s do liturgy correctly. By all means. But we don’t need to create bogeymen, or at least we should avoid assigning motives (nefarious?) to actions that are themselves not so clear cut in their propriety. I think just a little more care is in order when we “name names.” I am pretty sure you would agree as you step back a few feet. Thanks for the vision and the fire.

  17. kbf says:

    Fr Z, when ARE you going to learn? It isn’t an “Introit”, it is a “Gathering Song”! (sic)

  18. Genevieve says:


    I feel the same as you and the conclusion I’ve reached is that those hymns we grew up with are appropiate for the domestic church. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who plays piano and is interested in hymnology. Not everyone has that, but why not add the hymns you love to your devotions at home?

  19. >>Composers, where are you? If you write decent things based on the propers that my choir can sing, I’ll buy.

    Young composer here, trying to do my part — I’m new to the scene and I’m thankful for the growth and learning I’ve experienced over the past year. We are blessed here in St. Louis to have Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB, director of the Institute for Sacred Music established by Archbishop Burke a few years ago. I just started meeting with and learning from him, and with his help we had beautiful sacred music at the liturgies for this past weekend’s Marian Conference for which I led the music ministry. Mostly simple English chants for the antiphons, but I did take a Latin chant from Missa I from the Simplex for the offertory antiphon for Sunday’s Mass. It was so beautiful to hear 1200 in the congregation singing the texts specified for the day. On Sunday we used Tietze’s metric hymn as our introit.

    As a composer, here’s my question — where can I find, translated into English, the official texts for the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion antiphons with psalm verses for all the Sundays of the Church year? And will these translations be changing soon with the new translation of the Missale Romanum? If I had a compendium of all these texts, I could more easily get to work composing propers. In the meantime I will continue my learning with Fr. Weber and a young, devout priest at my home parish who recently formed a Gregorian schola.

  20. mjballou says:

    Arghh! Of the Latin propers, the Introit and Communion antiphon are probably within the reach of most choirs. I’ve been in parishes where the introit was sung and then followed with a processional hymn. That worked and no one became hysterical. The Communion antiphon can be sung with a few psalm verses, then followed up with a motet/anthem. No one needs to sing at the offertory. And we can live without the “sending forth” hymn replacing it with a spiffy recessional (as appropriate to the season, of course).

    The vexation lies with the responsorial psalm, but I have no solution to offer there. The traditional graduals are for experts. While they might work at a special Cathedral or some such Mass, you’d have to use a psalm tone in most parishes. (By the way, psalm tones propers are infinitely preferable to badly sung works in the Graduale Romanum.)

    And I’m perfectly happy if most things are sung in a dignified English translation or metrical verse. For those who live in the land of “This Little Light of Mine,” it would be a blessing.

  21. @Matthew Baute: You are blessed to have close access to Fr. Weber!

    As far as seeing official English translations for the antiphons of the Graduale Romanum go, I believe that’s anyone’s guess. Have you asked Fr. Weber? I would love to receive that compendium as well, preferably with Creative Commons Attribution licensing. In the meantime, I just go with public-domain translations and my own very limited Latin ability.

    I assume that the Revised Grail would be the translation to use for the verses attached to the antiphons.

  22. everett says:


    This is something I’ve always wanted to get implemented in a parish I attend, but have yet to gain the support to do so, and ideally would want to find an organist or pianist, which is also troublesome. Its in english in standard musical notation, which will be less intimidating to most, while still introducing them to the idea that there’s far more to the history of music in the Church than “Gather us In” and “Sing a New Church”.

  23. Hans says:

    While I would have no problem with using the antiphon from the Roman Missal. It would certainly save me a great deal of time and work selecting “suitable liturgical songs” for (most of) the weekday Masses in my parish, but the author is overstating his case in saying (as I read it at least) that there is no place for an Entrance hymn other than the antiphon. Consider paragraph 48 of the GIRM (emphasis added):

    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. 55

    If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. above, no. 31).


    On the other hand, if he wants to argue about the suitability, or lack thereof, of a great many of the songs and hymns the publishers foist on us, I’m all there. I just fold over pages that have nothing on either side of them that could ever be useful, and a large fraction of the pages is folded over. Indeed, long stretches of pages are folded over en masse.


    I have found, everett, that there are only two ways to change the music in a parish: be the pastor or join the choir.


    Thanks for the helpful link, Catholic South. Ironically, our (very good) organist is an attorney for WLP.

  24. Geoffrey says:

    The antiphons in the Missal have got to be the most ignored item of Catholicism… along with indulgences!

    I remember when I attended daily Mass once in a different parish once and the congregation recited the Entrance and Communion antiphons. I was completely blown away!

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