PODCAzT 115: Singing the Eucharistic Prayer; Fr. Z sings and rants

Inspired by a reader’s email question, I dug out my volume of the Ordo Missae in cantu to talk about and then sing the Roman Canon, 1st Eucharistic Prayer, in Latin.  So, this is also a PRAYERCAzT and an ASK FATHER answer.

I had a question in my email today:

I recently attended a Mass where the celebrant sang–in a crooner’s voice–the entire canon, including the Consecration. This wasn’t chant or plainsong. It sounded like Dean Martin. Would something like this meet with official approval?

As part of my answer, I will sing for you the Roman Canon using the Ordo missae in cantu.  I’ll insert here the name of the Pope and some hypothetical bishop, John, and go from there.

Vote for Fr. Z!Singing the canon can be done in the Novus Ordo.  Whether you should or not is another question.  It makes Mass longer, of course.  Also, if you have orchestral or polyphonic settings of the Sanctus and Benedictus you have the whole question of whether or not to do what was done traditionally, that its have the celebrant continue with the silent recitation of the Canon while the Sanctus is being sung, and then, after the Sanctus is concluded continue with the consecration sung aloud.  Then return to the silent recitation while the Benedictus is sung, until singing aloud the doxology.  That is in keeping with the way things were done for centuries and it works.  The rubrics, however, militate against this.  It would be good to have a deeper discussion of the value of having a silent Canon, at least from time to time.  Joseph Ratzinger suggested this in one of his books and I think he would not have changed his mind.

Also, if there are priests out there who are determine to gripe about the new translation, I suggest they start using Latin.

This is a “how to” project, for priests.http://www.wdtprs.com/podcazt/11_01_16.mp3

Some older PODCAzTs:

114 11-01-07 Sing those Litanies!
113 10-12-12 More winter poems
112 10-12-08 Winter poems
111 10-12-23 4th Eucharistic Prayer; don Camillo (Part IX); digressions included
110 10-08-19 Learning the Roman Canon in Latin for Seminarians
109 10-08-17 A dust up in ancient Carthage and parishes that schism
108 10-07-23 The new translation of the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer; Fr. Z digresses and rants
107 10-07-01 Most Precious Blood and your sins; Interview with Fr. Finigan
106 10-06-25 John Henry Newman’s Kindly Light

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, PODCAzT, PRAYERCAzT: What Does The (Latin) Prayer Really Sound L and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JayneK says:

    The subject line “Fr. Z sings and rants” evoked for me “WDTPRS: The Musical.” :)

  2. Jayne: Don’t expect any liturgical dance.

  3. lousaint says:

    I wonder if the “crooner canon” the questioner heard might have been the setting for the preface and Eucharistic Prayer 3 (maybe it has settings for the others, but that’s what I’ve heard) that is part of the Mass of Creation. That’s the only non-chant setting I’ve heard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others. With the right kind of voice and some piano tinkling the background (as it’s often done), it can take on a certain show business feel, even if well-intentioned.

    I’m pretty sure that having piano accompaniment is not licit, but I don’t know about the setting itself. I know that it’s never felt appropriate to me. Even if it’s not all that flashy, having the priest singing anything other than the humble tones of chant feels too much like an applause-inducing “solo”.

  4. amicus1962 says:

    Singing the EP in a crooner’s voice like Dean Martin attracts unnecessary attention on the human abilities of the priest. I experienced such a Mass many years ago. The effect on me was that I listened more intently to the words of the EP out of awe for the priest’s singing ability. In restrospect this was not really a good thing because I was listening to the priest much like a spectator in the audience watching and listening to a gifted singer. The focus of my attention was on the singer and the singing; the words of the EP became secondary, overwhelmed by the human awe directed towards the crooner.

    I prefer that the priest not sing the EP at all. I see no reason or need for it. There is already too much singing at Mass.

  5. Mike says:

    I’ve heard this crooner-type stuff before, with tinkling piano. It’s really difficult to take.

  6. Hidden One says:

    “Singing the EP in a crooner’s voice like Dean Martin attracts unnecessary attention on the human abilities of the priest.”

    Sometimes even the chanted Canon attracts one’s ears to the celebrant. By no means does that make crooning better than chant, however!

  7. “I prefer that the priest not sing the EP at all. I see no reason or need for it. There is already too much singing at Mass.”

    Singing and chanting the prayers is the basic form of Mass, just as it was apparently the basic form of the prayers at the Temple in Jewish times. It’s been pretty standard through the ages to choose Catholic priests from among those young men who have good voices, as well as being healthy and intelligent. Voice training and music classes used to be a must for future priests, both in seminary and even in childhood if possible. (Hence all the “choir schools” at cathedrals, which were designed to lead into seminary for many of the boys.)

    If anything is iffy, it’s that there’s so much talking and whisper-talking at Mass instead of singing. Low Mass is still something of an innovation in the EF, historically — only a few hundred years old. You might even call Low Mass the OF version of the EF. :)

    Certainly the various other Rites don’t use nearly as much talking as the Latin Rite has come to allow; and a lot of the Eastern rites are pretty much all singing and chanting all the time, for hours and hours. A spoken Mass is sort of the odd-Mass-out. :)

  8. Oh, and the basic form of the readings is to chant them. Reading them in a spoken voice is also weird and different, historically speaking. Singing and chanting is just intrinsically more holy, in the opinion of most religions that have ever existed, though whispering is a strong minority.

    Of course, you might argue that much of the holiness lies in the fact that singing carries across large spaces better, in a world without microphones and stereo speakers. Unless you want to go to a drill-sergeant voice, plain old talking isn’t going to cut it. (Which is why Greek theater masks included little megaphone mouths, even though Greco-Roman theaters were so good in their acoustics.) But today’s Mass of talking and being heard only works with today’s churches and electronics — or an extremely small group of people in a very small space.

  9. teaguytom says:

    I would argue for having a silent canon in Latin. Less ability for the Priest to ad lib the vernacular words and he can’t croon Dino. I remember seeing a clip of a priest on youtube “crooning” the EP. It wasn’t pretty. I have been reading about the modern origins of the out loud canon. It began with the German reformation. Luther’s one time friend, Andreas Karlstadt was excommunicated with Luther and worked on a “reformed communion meal” while Luther hid in the castle. The first thing Karlstadt did was speak the Canon in German instead of Latin and then yelled the Consecration out loud to the people in German. This very much mirrors the contemporary idea of the out loud canon in vernacular. It began with the reformation.

  10. mdinan says:

    Here in Rochester, when the Bishop sings the Mass of Cremation (err…creation), we call it
    Bishop Clark: The Musical!

    The problem lies not with singing the consecration, but with musical instruments accompanying the Eucharistic Prayer. THAT is not allowed.

  11. TNCath says:

    Actually, Father Z., I think the singing of the consecration at the Novus Ordo may enhance reference and mystery, even in the vernacular. It also guards against ad libbing as well. However, I think singing the Eucharistic Prayer works much better when done ad orientem.

  12. TNCath says:

    CORRECTION! I think the singing of the consecration at the Novus Ordo may enhance REVERENCE and mystery, even in the vernacular.

  13. Margaret says:

    I’ve heard the EP both crooned and chanted within the last six weeks or so. The crooning just made me cringe– the priest certainly had quite a fine voice, and the pianist was no slouch either, but it immediately felt like “Mass: The Broadway Musical,” rather than the foot of Calvary. That was the first time in my entire life I wished for the canon to be silent. Hearing it chanted properly, however, was quite sublime.

    As an aside, I think there is a lot of merit, humanly speaking, to chant whatever can legitimately be chanted. In the period before printing and literacy were wide-spread, strongly associated a set of spoken words with a melody helped people to remember it. Even now, I would be hard pressed to simply sit down and start typing the text of the Salve Regina cold. But as soon as I start singing it, the words just come flowing out…

  14. MAJ Tony says:

    I always look forward to the EF Preface chanted Tonus Solemnior by Fr. Magiera at Holy Rosary in Indy. Fr. Magiera was a professional opera singer in Europe prior to becoming a Priest in the FSSP. Mind you, Fr. doesn’t overdo it, keeping it reverent, but he has put the skill of his former work to excellent use in his true calling. When I hear the preface chanted as such, I feel, as when hearing the propers of the Mass chanted, as if I’m a step closer to heaven. If you’ve ever been blessed to attend a Byzantine service, such as a Byz-Ruthenian or Ukrainian Greek Catholic Divine Liturgy, which is completely chanted, it’s an altogether different, more otherworldly experience, in my mind, than a typical EF Low Mass or most all OF Masses. I was blessed to have an uncle get married in a Ukrainian church, and attended Holy Week 2005 at St. Gabriel the Archangel Byz-Ruthenian in Las Vegas, there being no EF apostolate there at the time.

  15. Faith says:

    Since I am not sure of chant, maybe the crooning was chant. My parish use to have a Korean American priest and he use to chant/croon the Eucharistic Prayer. It made me pause and wonder why he did that. His concentration told me that it was because this part of the Mass is important. I paid more attention and listened. There was a slight Oriental tone to it. I liked it and looked forward to it when he celebrated.

  16. Henry Edwards says:

    Margaret: I’ve heard the EP both crooned and chanted within the last six weeks or so. The crooning just made me cringe– the priest certainly had quite a fine voice, and the pianist was no slouch either, . . .

    Hmm . . . Redemptionis Sacramentum”

    [53.] While the Priest proclaims the Eucharistic Prayer “there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent” [GIRM 32], except for the people’s acclamations that have been duly approved, as described below.

  17. Margaret says:

    @Henry– I know! I’m painfully aware. It was sort of a Catch-22– the vocal setting of the EP was sufficiently complex that it would have sounded a little baffling without a harmonic accompaniment underneath it. Yet there shouldn’t be a harmonic accompaniment. Hence the setting should have stayed as a sketch sitting in a composer’s notebook somewhere…

    As I said, it immediately felt like the performance of a show tune. Priest, front and center, miked up, facing his audience…

  18. JaneC says:

    There has been, for several years, a notated English Sacramentary for sale from Priory Press, called “Missa Cantata.” The chant tones used match those of the Missa in Cantu (this was deliberately done). I attended Mass at a university for four years at which this sacramentary was used. The whole Mass, not only the Eucharistic Prayer, was sung. It was very beautiful, as beautiful as an OF Mass using that translation could possibly be. I confess, we did also have a silent canon on one occasion, when we sang a Haydn Mass. Even on that occasion, the consecration was chanted.

    It wasn’t “crooned,” except on the occasions when one particular priest came. This particular priest always eschewed the usual Eucharistic Prayers in favor of the odd “Swiss Canon,” in a bizarre musical setting that we suspect he wrote himself. There was no keyboard accompaniment, but it was most definitely not chant. Even now, in my nightmares, I still hear him crooning…”Christ opens the Scriptures for us, and breaks the breaaaaad…” *shudder*

  19. Father G says:

    The Roman Missal (Sacramentary) in English does have a setting for chanting the Roman Canon in Appendix III (page 1027). It doesn’t cover the whole canon, only beginning right after the commemoration of the living and ending right before the commemoration of the dead.
    I use it for solemnities, feasts, and some Sundays Masses.
    Parishioners have responded positively, finding it reverent and leading them deeper into the sacredness of the Mass.
    I never look at the people when I chant it.

  20. All throughout the 1970’s at my home parish, the priests usually chanted the various Eucharistic Prayers in English, unless they were tired or hoarse, and they also chanted the other Mass prayers reasonably often. I just figured that was how you do it. It’s certainly easier and faster to intone “Let us pray with confidence to the Father, in the words Our Savior gave us” than to speak it. And as noted above, it’s memorable. I could probably chant a lot of the priest’s parts if I were half dead and asleep, and I certainly never set out to learn The Official Priest Chants of Vatican II.

    As the movie “The King’s Speech” pointed out, the continuity of putting words on the same tone alleviates a lot of pronunciation and flow difficulties.

    Our current pastor has gotten some guff for chanting, which I don’t think he ever thought was anything radical or even noticeable. (He’s certainly not Fr. Trad.) Apparently some few people were so unfamiliar with chanting the Mass prayers that they thought he was putting on airs. Sigh. As if. The man has a voice like a big bass frog and a lot of vocal age problems. But he knows how to chant like a priest should. Fortunately, “some few people” haven’t stopped him from doing the normal ordinary thing.

  21. Fr. Basil says:

    Quite right, suburbanbanshee. The whole notion of merely saying holy words (whether prayers or scripture) in an ordinary speaking voice in public is unknown to every religious expression except to Western Christians, including Protestants, which they inherited from the low mass.

    The pastor of the Eastern Catholic parish I attend chants all the prayers recto tono (with a few that are clearly the private devotional prayers of the priest) beautifully!

    Even among the Orthodox, where the Anaphora has recently been uttered aloud, it’s still chanted.

    As far as “crooning the canon”, it could be that the priest simply has a poor voice.

  22. jarthurcrank says:

    Our pastor sings the Mass of Creation for EPIII most Sundays. At the Latin mass, he typically sings the words of consecration though I believe he has, on at least one occasion in another place, sung the whole EP in Latin. My hope is that, when the new missal comes out, he’ll ditch the Haugen in favor of the ICEL tones. (Never thought I’d write THAT sentence!)

    Another question: will ICEL ever come out with the Tonus Solemnior in English? That truly would be magnificient. Years ago, when I was an Episcopalian, our liberal Episcopal rector adapted the Tonus Solemnior to the Prayer Book preface, so it can be done!

  23. Henry Edwards says:

    Especially for someone who’s never heard the Mass chanted in Latin, one of the the best $0.99 MP3 downloads Amazon offers is

    Abbey Solesmes: Mass of Holy Thursday

    The entire Mass—from the introit to the Pange Lingua recessional, including Readings I and II and the Gospel—chanted in Latin by the monks of Solesmes. Not a single word of vernacular anywhere.

    The Roman Canon is expecially impressive, with various combinations of concelebrants heard at various points, and the consecration in a more solemn chant.

  24. joanofarcfan says:

    If the priest has a tin ear, it sure makes the most sacred part of the Mass very painful.

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