What does Sacrosanctum Concilium 116 really say?

I saw on Sandro Magister’s site today a piece about Gregorian chant making a come back, a come back promoted by Benedict XVI himself through the Congregation for Divine Worship – whose brief he modified – and through his own ars celebrandi.

This got me thinking about several things which have been obvious over the years and a few which have been obscured.

First, the Council said that Gregorian chant was the characteristic music of the Roman liturgy.  That fact has been entirely ignored.  Also, the very purpose of liturgical music has been obscured.  It is not simply ornamentation or accompaniment.  Sacred music for liturgy is prayer, it is liturgy.  Therefore, the idiom of the music must be appropriate for liturgical action and the texts must be liturgical texts and sacred texts.  This has been widely ignored for a long time, with the result that there is great confusion and shoddy music everywhere.
It could be useful to pull apart that paragraph from the Council’s Sacrosanctum Concilium and have a closer look.

The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, states this about Gregorian chant:

116. Ecclesia cantum gregorianum agnoscit ut liturgiae romanae proprium: qui ideo in actionibus liturgicis, ceteris paribus, principem locum obtineat.

The Latin of SC 116 is often rendered as

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

This isn’t a bad translation, but it is weak.  To my ear it doesn’t convey the force of the vocabulary which sounds like legal language having to do with property, possession, heredity.  This is a powerful declaration about something being a prized possession, even the most prized of all, since it is in the “princeps locus” the “first/chief/most distinguished place”.

Latin agnosco means a range of things, having to do with “knowledge” and “recognition”.  Thus, as the esteemed Lewis & Short Dictionary (everyone should have their own hard copy of this, by the way, for use even when the power goes out) informs us, it is either a simple recognition of something that we have known before, and then logically it means “as a result of this knowledge or recognition, to declareannounceallow, or admit a thing to be one’s ownto acknowledgeown”.  Think of, for example, a father acknowledging the legitimacy of a child and thus making that child an heir, or troops obeying a general, or a person admitting that an object or deed is his.

Something that is proprius is “not common with others, one’s own, special, particular, proper”. It has to do with one’s own property.  It can have an overtone of permanency and peculiarity, in the sense of being special or characteristic, not in the sense of being strange.

Obtineo is a compound of teneo, “to hold, keep, have in the hand, etc.”.  Thus, obtineo is “to take hold of” in the sense of take possession of, but also in the sense of “demonstrate” or “prove”

A locus is “a place, seat” a “lodging”, “a place, locality” and then, “a topic of discussion or thought”, “the grounds of proof”, a “passage in a book”, an “opportunity, cause, occasion, place, time”.  You get the idea.

That qui – referring back to cantus – with the subjunctive down the line gives us a characteristic result clause.  In other words, the nature of the thing referred to in the pronoun leads to a conclusion down the line.  Chant is of such a nature that X results.  In this text the conclusion is strengthened enormously by ideo, “therefore”.  The Council Fathers weren’t fooling around.  They wanted to make this forceful and clear by using a construction that emphasizes the character, the nature of chant, and then producing a conclusion, all using juridical language.

That phrase “ceteris paribus” is juridical and philosophical language.  It is an ablative absolute which provides a statement of conditions contemporary with the time of the verb. It means, “other things being equal”, which is to say, “in normal circumstances” or “leaving aside the special situations”. For example, we might say that every four years, ceteris paribus, we have a leap-year and add an extra day to February. However, every 400 years we have to omit leap days. Thus, we say that, ceteris paribus, every four years there is a leap year, with a nod to those rare (from our perspective) times when there won’t be.

More on that point of rarity.  When we read SC 116 “latinly”, it says that, barring something out of the ordinary, Gregorian chant is the first type of sacred music that is to be used in the Roman liturgy, because the Church claims and acknolwedges and declares Gregorian chant to have the “first place” among all legitimate types of sacred music. Just as when a father recognized a first-born son that son became the principle heir, to be preferred over even all other legitimate children, so to the Church places Gregorian chant in the first place over all other types of sacred liturgical music. At the same time, there are rare occasions when something other than Gregorian chant can be used.

Let’s pry open SC 116 with a literal rendering:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as characteristically belonging to the Roman liturgy, with the result that, therefore, other things being equal, in liturgical actions it (Gregorian chant) takes possession of the first place.

If you aren’t praying with Gregorian chant, 50 years after the Council, then you are 50 years out of step with the Council mandated in the strongest terms.

The Council Fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium go on to talk about the use of other kinds of music and they provide a welcome flexibility.  But none of those other provisions eliminates or supersede or mitigate what SC 116 says.  In other words, we shouldn’t justify the use of Gregorian chant.  The Church has done that for us.  We have to justify the use of something other than Gregorian chant.

It is time to start asking what we are going to do about that.  The upcoming Year of Faith seems like an auspicious moment to take stock of this and do something about it.  Gregorian chant will foster greater continuity with how Catholic have worshiped over the centuries, it will bring us into harmony with a serious mandate of the Council Fathers, and it will bring a greater sense of the transcendent to our liturgical worship.  The way we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe.  Gregorian chant is liturgy, not decoration.  Using Gregorian chant will do something to our Catholic identity.  This is an appropriate goal for the upcoming Year of Faith.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Just think, 50 years ago every little parish must have had a choir who could sing the chant. If they could learn it then, they can learn it now.

  2. We could start by firing heterodox `Gather“ and other liberal hymnal loving music ministers, and replacing them with younger and/or more orthodox ones in parishes. 2nd, trash the older hippie song hynmals, especially in Canada the CBWIII (with a foreword and contributions from that laicized Raymond Lahey to boot).

  3. wmeyer says:

    Fr. Z, you have just nominated yourself to produce slavishly literal translations of at least the 4 constitutions, if not all 16 documents of the Council. ;)

    I, for one, would be delighted to read translations I could trust. You could publish them as e-books, and the revenues would support a whole farm of Macs for you! I would certainly prefer to buy them over the other available books.

  4. acricketchirps says:

    Actually, in 3 of every 4 centuries’ terminal years we eliminate the leap day.

  5. Andrew says:

    I like the explanation in my dictionary which reads:

    Agnosco et Cognosco a plerisque ita distinguuntur, ut Agnoscere dicamus ‘olim notos’: Cognoscere ‘prius incognitos’.

  6. josephx23 says:

    Legisperitus, is it really so that every parish had a Gregorian-chant-fluent schola 50 years ago? I wasn’t around then, but I’ve gotten the impression that a non-sung Low Mass was the norm before the Second Vatican Council (hence the difficulty of “why Catholics can’t sing.”) I’d like to know from people who were around whether sung masses were the norm in illo tempore, as it were, or have a good source that provides an account of the state of things before the Council.

  7. heway says:

    jospehx23 – I was around and you are quite right. Had a beautiful European cathedral style church, but no choir. Morning Mass was an organist who squeaked out the Kyrie, etc. Sundays, the congregation sang the Gloria and a few English songs. Going to a Catholic all girls school (in the orders’ Motherhouse), I was a member of the choral group and of course, the chapel was filled with chant. Our choral director was a Juillard grad. But Legisperitus did not live in my city. such wonderful choirs were in convents, monasteries…but not small parishes.

  8. DanW says:


    I am going to be 65 this year. I was from a small town in Iowa about 20 miles from Dubuque and we had at least one sung High Mass and at least a couple of Low Masses every Sunday of the year and usually but not always at least 2 Low Masses every day during the year, one of these in the chapel or the Sisters that taught at the grade and high school. I was a member of the choir while I was in school, and we had no problem learning the chants. I really miss it and sometime cringe when I go back home and have to listen to what they have now. Also all of the nearby parishes did the same.

  9. OrthodoxChick says:

    Can someone who was either around before and after Vatican II and/or is well studied regarding it explain to me how it came to be that we strayed so far away from what Vatican II intended? I mean, did this happen overnight, or was there a period of time in the 1960’s when the NO/OF was celebrated almost the same as the EF (excepting that it was spoken in the vernacular rather than Latin)? It seems to me from my memories of Mass as a child in the 1970’s that it really didn’t take very long to completely change the Mass because I never recall any Mass in my childhood parish being akin to an EF in English. I understand the social, cultural hippie/flower child atmosphere of the 60’s in this country, but I don’t know if that same atmosphere was present in the Church prior to and during Vatican II. And even if it was, was that just in the U.S. or was it happening to the whole Church in Europe and worldwide?

    I can’t figure out how this happened. How is it that I have been cut off and alienated from the proper liturgical expression of my faith for my entire life, all while remaining a member of the Catholic Church?

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  11. Elizabeth M says:

    Whenever I hear someone criticize Gregorian Chant I am reminded of a family reunion I attended several years ago with my father’s family. Most of them are old order Amish and one non-Amish uncle asked them to sing. A man stood up and clearly proclaimed that if they did, it would be out of worship and praise to God and not intended for entertainment. Everyone agreed and about 30 seconds in my mother and I recognized how close the melody was to Chant. Now, if the Amish can understand the importance of song in worship and cling to its roots, why can’t we Catholics?

  12. wmeyer says:

    Orthodox Chick: “…did this happen overnight…”

    Essentially, yes, it did. I was in SW Michigan then, and the Latin Mass was simply removed. There was some delay after the close of the Council, but I remember a church offering a folk mass in what may have been late 1966 or 1967, and the altar was so hurriedly created that it was unfinished plywood.

  13. Cathy says:

    Please, hurry! Sometimes our liturgical music disturbingly reflects the era of advertising jingles. I can’t help but hearing in one repeatedly used during the Easter season that makes me think more of a soap commercial than prayer.

  14. wmeyer says:

    Cathy: There is one musical arrangement of the Agnus (in English) which always makes me think of a jingle.

  15. Andrew says:


    Vatican II closed in 1965. I was 19. Immediately, a lot of strange stuff was being done, (such as putting a picnic table in front of the marble altar) all in the name of the “spirit of the council”. I didn’t know what to make of it all. Catholics are taught to accept authority so generally they will not object. By the time I started to read the actual conciliar documents, all I could do was scratch my head. It would take too long to recall specific episodes: I will just mention two things.
    1. There is no document permitting the wholesale turning around of the altars and subsequently turning the Mass into a dialogue between the priest and the congregation.
    2. The new code of canon law prescribes that all priests of the Latin rite must know Latin very well. For the most part, that particular canon is being ignored just about everywhere.
    If you can answer why that is, perhaps we can start answering your other questions.
    Over the years I have come to one conclusion: these rapid changes did not happen without the tacit approval of the highest ecclesiastical authorities. There is no way it could have happened otherwise. In my childhood up to my 19th year I have never seen a piano or a guitar in a Catholic church, I have never seen a church locked during the day, I have hardly ever seen a church without a priest in the confessional, I have never seen any musicians anywhere else but behind my back in the choir, I have never seen a priest strolling around delivering a homily, not to mention ladies with purple wigs handling the sacred species, polyester vestments, applause, raising of hand to the ceiling, all kinds of wires and microphones and bright lights … I think I better stop now.
    (When is the SSPX coming to town: please hurry.)

  16. Cricket says:

    My Catholic memory goes back exactly 50 years, to my First Holy Communion in the fall of 1962. I believe the first session of the Second Vatican Council had just convened. I remember beautiful sung Masses ’til about 1964, WITH standard hymnody of the day, withOUT Chant. (My diocese was considered “progressive.”)

  17. Cantate says:

    Go to http://www.adoremus.org Search under the name Susan Benofy for the two-part series published, I believe, in 2010-2011: “The Day the Mass Changed: How it Happened and Why.” Also at the same source, same author,” Buried Treasure” in five parts. You might also read Wiltgen’s book: “The Rhine Flows into the Tiber;” Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “Trojan Horse in the City of God.” There are others. The changes that were forced upon us at Mass after Vatican II were no “accident” nor “coincidence.” I am convinced that the devastation was planned. Fortunately, things are changing for the better in some places, albeit slowly, back to what the Church INTENDS for its proper liturgical worship. Thank you, Fr. Z, for this excellent article!

  18. acardnal says:

    Can someone familiar with blogs please explain a “pingback” which I can see on this site periodically including this post.

    [When some other blog or website links back to one of this posts, I receive an alert, with the address of the page where the link occurs. I have started approving more of these “pingbacks” (I think this is imagery from SONAR) with the hope that we can interconnect more. I probably send traffic back to some of the other bloggers.]

  19. In light of your comment on the meaning of ceteris paribus, Father Z, I wonder whether a rendering like

    116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as characteristically belonging to the Roman liturgy, with the result that, therefore, except for/in special circumstances, in liturgical actions it (Gregorian chant) takes possession of the first place.

    might be less susceptible of misinterpretation (deliberate and otherwise). I’ve long thought that the translation “other things being equal” was–since they, whatever they are, never are–a major loophole that vitiated the force of this statement.

  20. Cantate says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf, thanks for this article.
    RE: “It is time to start asking what we are going to do about that.” I have heard from a few sources that the Congregation for Divine Worship will eventually have a committee specifically for liturgical music. It cannot come too soon, in my opinion. Do you or anyone “out there” know anything about this committee? Oremus!

  21. Henry: I think that gets at an important dimension of what “ceteris paribus” is doing there. Of course, you turned the sock inside out.

  22. MAJ Tony says:

    Actually, there was a transitional period from 65-69 where there was an English Missal that was a minor modification of the 62, in English, with no prayers at the foot of the altar or Last Gospel, among other things, but still kept the Roman Canon. I found Missals in the St. Meinrad library dated 1964 that had English inserts within. Next I get back, I’ll take a look and verify what those inserts contained, but it might have been new EPs. they were in pretty good shape, so I don’t know that they were used very much.

  23. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I think that something dynamic is lost by making Gregorian Chant as something other than the subject of obtineat, e.g. is to be given. I take it as, “is to hold securely to.” I might also translate princeps as chief or foremost, which I think is even stronger than “first”.

    I think that there is also a corollary to this section of SC, namely, if the way that you are contucting liturgical action is done in such a way that Gregorian Chant is incongruous or out of place, you are conducting the liturgical action in the wrong way. [Nicely done, sir.] I’ve heard people say that Gregorian Chant would not fit in with the way mass is said in a given parish. To which I say, then there’s something wrong with the way that mass is being said.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  24. josephx23,

    Another (perhaps redundant) answer to your question about the normal Mass experience prior to Vatican II. Being a migrant student and academic in those years, I attended Mass in small to medium sized towns and cities in 8 or 10 parishes in 4 states and dioceses in 3 regions of the country before the post-Vatican II changes set in. Every parish, whether small or medium–none of mine were large–had an adult choir that sang at least the ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) in decent Gregorian chant; the propers (introit, offertory communion) were often sung in passable psalm tones. Moreover, virtually every parish had a school whose children’s choir could and did do the same.

    However, it is also true–as certain liberals like to emphasize–that the beautifully sung high Mass was not necessarily the normative Sunday experience of most Catholics. The typical parish had a couple of priests and several low Masses preceded the principal parish Mass–a late Sunday morning sung high Mass. This was necessary because, at that time, no Mass could begin after noon on Sunday–and there were no anticipated Saturday evening Masses–so all these Sunday Masses had to be fitted into the morning. Since most parish populations were several times the seating capacity of the church, and virtually everyone attended Mass every Sunday, time considerations dictated that only the last Mass be high, and that the preceding Masses, usually scheduled on the hour, were low Masses lasting less than an hour, so the parking lot could be cleared after each one.

  25. Cantate says:

    Father Z: I found the answer to my question above. It is within Sandro Magister’s article itself. A committee on art and music is indeed intended, but there seems to be a tussle between two sides.

  26. Jim of Bowie says:

    Henry Edwards,
    I’m 70 years old and that’s exactly the way I remember the typical pre-VII parish.

  27. JayneK says:

    I was amused to see Fr. Z’s remark about the need to own a Lewis and Short. I just asked for one for a birthday gift recently and it’s on its way.

    [I hope they used my link to get it for you!]

  28. Tall bald deacon says:

    I am wondering if the documents of Vatican II, or at least some of them, were written in such a way that there was “something there for everyone.” At least in the sense that you could point to some paragraph or phrase to support your position, traditional or modernist. It would seem that the Holy Father’s hermeneutic of continuity v. a hermeneutic of rupture will, of necessity, be necessary to ultimately clarify the true meaning of the conciliator documents. I’m also wondering if any of us will be alive to see the process complete.

  29. SonofMonica says:

    Henry Edwards — Fascinating, thank you!

  30. OrthodoxChick says: Can someone who was either around before and after Vatican II and/or is well studied regarding it explain to me how it came to be that we strayed so far away from what Vatican II intended? I mean, did this happen overnight, or was there a period of time in the 1960?s when the NO/OF was celebrated almost the same as the EF (excepting that it was spoken in the vernacular rather than Latin)? It seems to me from my memories of Mass as a child in the 1970?s that it really didn’t take very long to completely change the Mass because I never recall any Mass in my childhood parish being akin to an EF in English.

    At the turn of the last century, Pope St. Pius X warned the Church against modernism, what he called the “synthesis of all heresies”; his alarm was such that he required catechists and clergy to take an oath against modernism — a requirement that was done away with around the time of the Council. He saw that the enemies of the Church were working to destroy the Church from within. But the oath against modernism did not keep the modernists from remaining and accumulating power in the Church: one shudders to think of the men who, taking the oath, nevertheless adhered to modernism, and so began their priestly lives with an act of perjury. Modernism essentially denies the supernatural, and so throughout the 20th century, the secularism that increasingly dominated the world outside the Church crept in, gradually eroding Catholics’ sense of the supernatural and paving the way for the wrenching changes for which the council was merely a pretext.

    So although the changes seemed to happen overnight, they were in fact preceded by decades of preparation. Thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the new form of the Mass is valid, and so the Church has not been deprived of the August Sacrifice; but one seriously wonders whether the changes to the liturgy, and the disobedience to council directives, would have been possible in a world where Catholics, and especially priests, were strongly aware of the supernatural and our duty to view all questions in the light of eternity.

  31. St. Epaphras says:

    OrthodoxChick: Yes, there was a period of time in the 60’s when the vernacular Mass was about like a translation of what is the EF today. Some differences but very close, and the calendar was (I think) the same. I have that missal. Someone else will know more on the subject of that interim period.

  32. St. Epaphras says:

    -2 points for writing “interim” and “period” together on previous post. I meant the time period after 1965 but before the NO went into effect.

  33. Jim of Bowie says:

    The document, Inter oecumenci, dated Sep 26, 1964 called for vernacular translation of the Order of Mass, omission of Psalm 42 from the prayers at the foot of the altar, omitted the Last Gospel, suppressed the Leonine prayers and changed the communion formulary to Corpus Christi amoung other things. It resulted in the Ordo Missae of 1965 which went into effect March 1965. It was the 1962 Order of Mass in the vernacular as modified above, except the canon was still in Latin.

  34. Andrew says:

    Jim of Bowie:

    “Inter Oecumenici” no. 57 permits the introduction of vernacular for Masses celebrated with a congregation, adding however that:
    “Missals to be used in the liturgy shall contain besides the vernacular version the Latin text as well.”
    Then under No. 59 it states: (repeating what Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 54 stated)
    “Pastors shall carefully see to it that the Christian faithful, especially members of lay religious institutes, also know how to recite or sing together in Latin, mainly with simple melodies, the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass proper to them.”

  35. Andrew says:

    Jim of Bowie:

    I would like to add also that the Latin text of Inter Oecumenici renders the “mainly with simple melodies” as “adhibitis modis simplicioribus” which I take to be a reference to Gregorian chant. Which is not equally conveyed by our English “simple melodies”.

  36. The Cobbler says:

    “The upcoming Year of Faith seems like an auspicious moment to take stock of this and do something about it.”
    I think we all know what moment it is…

    I’m not joking. Well, okay, I am, but it’s one of those serious jokes.

    Someone posted on the other thread about the dialogue Mass a history that cited sources more or less from Thomas Aquinas through Pope St. Pius X to the effect that…
    1) High Mass as it has been through the millenia is the standard for Latin Liturgy,
    2) Low Mass is really Private Mass,
    3) Although there are many specific roles served by the minor orders et cetera, many of the responses and much of the chant that has been taken on by those with clerical/ministerial roles were only taken on because of the consolidation of participants in Private Mass (for just a priest and a server), and for the majority of the Church’s history would have been participated in more broadly,
    4) Operatic choirwork was no more part of the old High Mass standard than near total lack of response or chant by the people,
    5) The condemnations of people taking up parts of the Mass proper to the priest or for parts being said out loud that should not be were directed not at any and all responses by the people, but at movements to have everyone saying the canon or have the priest praying the “secret” aloud, etc.

    I need to follow up all the references involved, but it seems from this that the whole thing both in SC and in the famous directive that the people “should know and pray the parts of Mass that belong to them” all get at the same thing, and something quite different from any alleged reform we’ve heard about anywhere else: that the people do have a part and it is not mixing up lay and clerical roles, it is not singing whatever happy slappy mush they feel like, it is not socializing (as the aspies in another recent thread noticed seems to permeate the Novus Ordo), but niether is it joining the operatic choir or else letting the choir do all the vocal prayer… rather it is chant. The people have a part and it is chant. Am I understanding this right? (Of course, the article was focused primarily on defending “dialogue”, but the whole High Mass thing and the emphasis on how the prevalence of the Low Mass damaged the tradition of chant… strongly suggests the importance, y’know?)

    Of course, I must do some further research both to verify that all these sources were taken in context and so on and so forth, and to better learn what parts belong to the people.

    I do, however, have a basic grasp of the chant thing — I have done plenty of it (though my range of experience in terms of the different tones is somewhat limited) and can tell you from experience that it not only has the highest beauty to difficulty ratio of any music in existence (which is only secondary, since beauty isn’t the primary purpose of Liturgy, although its primary purpose guarantees that if it is authentic it will be beautiful — and thus the dopey happy slappy stuff that ain’t beautiful lacks objective authenticity, however heartfelt it may be), but that if one isn’t going out of one’s way to sing especially fancy stuff but rather simply chanting it connects one with God in a way that I’m not sure anything else does — a way that fittingly prepares for the Eucharist, which I know connects one with God in a way _nothing_ else ever could… Chant before and in the presence of the Eucharist is the fitting musical royal carpet of the King of Kings. And it’s not even hard*!

    *I judge hard by whether you can throw together a bunch of young men who can sing pretty much on key and get it to “work” in terms of that whole connecting with God thing and the beauty that comes with it. Those who suffer from genuine tone deafness would find it prudent not to take part, but I can’t see anything else that would make it too difficult to at least try and gradually learn.

    If my further research finds that this sense is anything like right, then I know what needs to be done. Chant is simple, there is no massive preparation of skilled musicians necessary to introduce it. Chant is basic, there is no magic preperatory prerequisite necessary before one can even attempte to introduce it. Chant is clear, it cannot by the mere fact of itself be conflated with liberal/progressive/modernist conflation of priestly and lay roles so long as the people know which parts are theirs and which parts the priest will pray on their behalf (silently and frequently as in the old form or not)**. There is simply no reason to wait rather than to take it back, not as something we grasp in greed, but as something we are called to in duty and honor — as we have been told so many times***!

    **And if it could, why would liberals fear it so?

    ***And if I’ve heard Pius X and Pius XII on this more often than older teachers of the Church, well, I do intend to get to the bottom of all those references from the article.

    Perhaps I’ll be back before you know it to tell Father that he should add to his bumpersticker swag, and perhaps the start of a t-shirt swag line:


    …Or maybe I’ll start a blog devoted to pulling out all the in-context quotes about this and make that its theme? Ideas, ideas.

    Oh, and as a final note… I’m not purposely lumping everything other than chant in with the mushy dopey stuff. If you sing Faith of Our Fathers at Mass (randomly picked from my memory of the old-fashioned Latin Novus Ordo parish at which I used to attend), my only comment would be that it’s even better to sing the chants for the various parts of Mass — but even then you can keep Faith of Our Fathers for the opening procession, if we aren’t going to go back to blessing everyone while singing the Asperges Me and Vidi Aquam.

  37. Kathleen10 says:

    I feel very grateful there are so many “watchers” and knowledgeable Catholics out there. I am almost completely in the dark about this topic, but I’m thankful you all are on the job. Make sure to pass along your pretty phenomenal knowledge about our faith to someone, because what you know is important.
    I realize this is a sensitive question, but it is something I have often wondered. I know that John Paul II and our Holy Father participated in VII. I would appreciate your insightful perspective on either of them as far as say, participation and promotion of VII, did they want to bring about “modernism”, did they have a very different way of looking at the Latin Mass, Gregorian Chant, and other more traditional aspects of our faith? I realize these are big topics, but I have often wondered what the general opinion is, of the two.
    I love the Latin Rite and Gregorian chant. We don’t have it in our area. I never understand why not. There is so much going on, obviously, that I have no idea about. I don’t know how you all learned all this. I congratulate you for it. Too bad we can’t download information to brains yet.
    Thank you in advance, for any thoughts.

  38. OrthodoxChick says:

    I’ll second Kathleen10 in thanking all of you for sharing your knowledge and links to videos, articles, etc. so that I and others can become better educated. Cantate: I was left stunned by what I read in that 2 part article by Susan Benofy that you referred me to.

    The Cobbler: Here’s my suggestion. In addition to Fr. Z’s bumper stickers promoting Chant, I have another idea to toss out to you. All it takes is a smartphone and a computer to videotape a good choir chanting. Upload the video chant to your pc and if you’re running windows, you’ll have windows movie maker (quicktime for those with a Mac). With both movie maker/quicktime, you can add lyrics right onto the chant video in both Latin and English (assuming you know and can translate Latin). Then post them here at Fr. Z’s place (and at Fr. Z’s YouTube channel, assuming he has one. If not, he can start one), and you’ll begin to educate us all about chant in no time at all. Get one to go viral and then even non-Catholics will learn to appreciate it. Wasn’t there a brief Chant pop fad back in the 1990’s for a little while? No reason why it can’t happen again!

  39. ghp95134 says:

    Fr. Z: A significant question regarding your Amazon.com button.

    From the side panel: “Using this search box to buy your stuff also helps Fr. Z.”
    And you, Fr. Z, who writes: [I hope they used my link to get it for you!]

    Father Z, at times I have to make purchases for the lab using a government purchase card, and often I go through Amazon.com. Recently I’ve not been making a lot of purchases, but this month I’ve easily spent $2,000 at Amazon.com for scientific books, hardware, and other things for the lab. If I use your link, how does that help you? [I get a small percentage of the sale when people use my links or go into amazon with my search box. It does not increase the cost to the buyers. I am not notified about purchases. I can see what was bought (I rarely look) but I cannot in anyway see who bought things or where they are or what their purchasing method was.] I’d like to use your link to help you, but I have to be certain none of the government funds get redirected directly to you or your account. … do you receive purchase points, credit, etc.; and, are you notified as to what purchases were made?


  40. NoraLee9 says:

    I was 5 when the Council ended. I lived across the street from St. Margaret’s Church. Around the end of the council, a new Father, a young priest, was transferred in. He had the old church torn down and a new brick edifice built. The “stained” glass had no pictures. There was no high altar. There were semi-modern statues of Sts Mary and Joseph on the walls up front, and there were live candle stands in front of those. There was an altar rail- it’s gone now.
    With the destruction of the Old St. Margaret’s, many folks left for the big city of Cortland, a mile away. Many of my mother’s friends simply left the church (I remember Anne Pepper saying that she didn’t leave the Church, that the Church left her) with the promulgation of the 1965 missal. Eventually the new father left the priesthood to marry- He had been waiting for more changes, and possibly a married priesthood. When that didn’t come, he split. Father “A” followed him. I always got the sense that Father A would be happy to go back to the 1962 Missal. Many of the parishoners who were waiting for more of the fresh air from V2 to blow through were disappointed. The folks who had left, however, stayed out. They found a retired priest to say the older Rite for them. Eventually the SSPX came and set up shop 30 miles away. Many of the folks who loved the young V2 priest left after he did.
    Father A retired and the current priest, who has been there since I graduated college (can you imagine? 32 years?) put some better statuary in, but ripped out the altar rail, and placed the choir up in front, along with one of those awful running water Baptismal fonts. St. Margaret’s also has a screen for a slide show.
    My mother passed away during the same year I endured the “dancing altar-girl Good Friday Massacree,” and so I was already making my way towards attending, exclusively, what it now called the Extraordinary Form. I was also learning what the Catholic Church really teaches (and has taught, since its inception). Sister Malice (pronounced Maa- leece- I can’t make this stuff up) had convinced mom that being cremated was just fine. She sat with my brother (who left the Church in 1982 for the Evengelicals), my sister (a member of the pantsuit army of EMHCs) and I, to help us plan the service and pray…. While in the back office down in what used to be the classrooms, I noticed that there was a very pretty stained glass window. When I asked, I was told that it was salvaged from the original St. Margaret’s Church….

  41. robtbrown says:

    NoraLee9 says:

    Eventually the new father left the priesthood to marry- He had been waiting for more changes, and possibly a married priesthood. When that didn’t come, he split.

    I know of at least one seminary in the US c 1970 that encouraged seminarians to date, in anticipation of the end of the rule of celibacy. And I know a monsignor who some years ago was rector of the minor seminary here (now closed). He resigned, telling the archbishop that he was fine running a seminary but didn’t want to referee the seminarians dating.

    There were men working in the formation of diocesan and religious priests 30+ years ago who were speaking openly of the inevitability of women’s ordination. Not if, but when. In fact, I knew one man who had interviewed with a Northeastern diocese who was directly asked by the vocation director whether he was in favor of women’s ordination. When he replied negatively, he was told that he would not study for that diocese.

    [I tried to make this entry about SC 116.]

  42. Sam Schmitt says:

    Dr. William Mahrt, president of the Church Music Association of America, has an excellent article on just this topic here:

  43. OrthodoxChick says:

    Here’s a link to audio tracks of some Gregorian Chant. These are free from copyright (ie. they are in the public domain). That means that anyone can use them and distribute them freely (not for profit) as a way of promoting Chant.

    Can someone tell me what the middle 2 tracks are? I can’t hear what words they’re chanting in Latin to figure it out. I know the first track is the Kyrie in chant. The last/4th track is the Sanctus in chant. But I need help with the 2nd and 3rd tracks.

    Anyway, here’s the link:



  44. robtbrown says:

    Kathleen10 says:

    I realize this is a sensitive question, but it is something I have often wondered. I know that John Paul II and our Holy Father participated in VII. I would appreciate your insightful perspective on either of them as far as say, participation and promotion of VII, did they want to bring about “modernism”, did they have a very different way of looking at the Latin Mass, Gregorian Chant, and other more traditional aspects of our faith?

    These are impressions gained from 8 years in Rome (incl many conversations with clerics who were influential in the Vatican) and a lot of reading.

    Modernism, in so far as it directly undermined doctrine, was favored by neither man.

    JPII: He was a conservative. Thus, on liturgy he would likely have been opposed to the vernacularization and the structural changes (e.g., versus populum, shortened Offertory, etc) after VatII. Those things already having been done in 1978, he wasn’t the sort to try to reform the liturgy. Despite his strong personal presence, I don’t think he had the temperament of a reformer.

    In addition to his constant defense of Catholic morality (esp. sexual morality) and his work in bringing down the Soviet Empire, his great gift to the Church was, IMHO, being a Polish oak standing tall against the attacks on doctrine, outliving the liberals.

    BXVI: A more complex figure. Behind a very mild demeanor is a man of extraordinary intelligence and courage with more of a reformist temperament. He favored vernacular liturgy during Vat II. As a young theologian, he went into the Council an ally of Rahner but had separated himself by its end. Within a few years after the Council, he realized that many of the Vat II activists were actually out to destroy the Church. Since then he has been a bulwark in defending Catholic doctrine and Latin liturgy.

  45. Pingback: Hermeneutik der Kontinuität – Ein praktisches Beispiel | Kreuzfährten: Wahrheit statt Mehrheit

  46. Cantate says:

    Orthodoxchick, May 24

    The second track is a sacred polyphony rendering of the Agnus Dei. Sacred polyphony is based upon chant.

    The 4th track is the chant Dies Irae, a sequence which is sung at EF High Mass funerals or recited by the priest at Low Mass funerals. (I didn’t listen to the whole thing.)

  47. OrthodoxChick says:


    Thank you! Should I assume that sacred polyphony, although it contains the word “sacred” in the title, should not be used at an EF Mass because it is only based on Chant but is not actually Chant? If so, I would think that to have it at a NO Mass would at least be an improvement over the old fogie folk band that my parish presently has.

  48. Cantate says:

    Orthodox Chick: Don’t assume such! :-) Sacred polyphony is indeed happily and correctly used at a High or Solemn High EF Mass (and some NO Masses as well). You will often hear it in the Ordinaries (Kyrie,Gloria, etc.) and in a motet sung after Holy Communion. Propers (introit, gradual, alleluia, etc.) are usually sung in Gregorian chant, although there are some polyphonic settings of propers as well.

    Yes, the old fogey folk band (and the new-fogey wannabe-hip folk bands) are hard to cope with. I don’t go there–haven’t for years and years. I hope that the intended Music and Art Committee (that the Congregation for Divine Worship intends to establish) will take up this matter. That music is NOT liturgical.

  49. OrthodoxChick says:

    Since I am clueless about chant and polyphony, can you recommend some prayerful chant cd’s that I could go purchase? Or maybe Fr. Z has a link to some from here? I’ll check it out in a few minutes. I am spending this Memorial weekend setting up a family “altar”. Not a real altar, obviously, but that’s the term I’ve heard given to it. My Italian grandmother, now deceased, used to use the top of her dresser/bureau as an altar. She kept her Bible, missal, prayer books, and prayer cards from others who were deceased, there, along with her votive candles and statues of Blessed Mother and her favorite patron saints. She would get down on her knees every day, even as a woman in her 80’s, and say her rosary and other daily prayers kneeling in front of her domestic “altar”. If you wanted to make her really angry, all you had to do was try interrupting her when she was in prayer. If anyone in the family arrived to visit with her, we waited until her prayers were finished. She did not stop or even pause for anyone.

    She went to her eternal rest peacefully in her sleep, after a nice home-cooked meal and when my grandfather and father found her the next morning, already gone on, she had the biggest smile on her face and it remained there during her wake.

    With all of the things I’m reading about on this blog about heresy and apostacy, it has reminded me thatmy grandmother obviously treasured her prayer time and it’s high time I followed her example much better than I have been. So, I would love to have some nice chant that are actual prayers used during the liturgy playing in my own little prayer “chapel” at home. It will help me pray as I learn them.

    Any suggestions?

  50. OrthodoxChick says:

    BTW, I may have falsely presumed that you would all know that this prayer area I’m working on in my home is in addition to (not in lieu of) consistent Mass attendance. It dawned on me after I posted my last comment that you all deal with so many off-the-wall loonies that you might not realize that I’m NOT proposing establishing my own “home church”. I’m sure that some whackadoo somewhere has already done that and still has the nerve to call themself a catholic. I’m trying to step up my prayer life in the home for myself and my children but I plan to do it strictly by The Book.

    Just wanted to clarify that…

  51. The Cobbler says:

    When it comes to chant tutorials… What’s Jeffrey Tucker’s chant website again? Isn’t that the go-to place for such stuff?

    Re. sacred polyphony: what I gathered from what I’ve read so far (and I haven’t got to the following up of research yet, I’ve been busy all week) is this: you know how some people say chant is nice but it’s better not to have it unless the people have taken the trouble to become good at it beforehand? More or less they’ve got sacred polyphony mixed up with chant. Chant is simple and doesn’t sound all that bad when even amateurs do it (and frankly, even if it did sound bad, the beauty isn’t itself why it’s in Mass). Chant Mass and get people to expect to pick it up, and not a few of them will without any training. And if not all of them do right away, it’s still the default/standard/first-place manner of the congregation’s praying most of their prayers of the Mass. Sacred polyphony on the other hand is appropriate for Mass, but doesn’t have that essential character chant does and therefore should be avoided if it would reduce the congregation to silence due to its being notably harder to just plain pick up.

    For what it’s worth, I can also tell you that, on top of chant sounding better live, sacred polyphony is really difficult to record well at all due to the interplay of the different voices. Maybe not impossible — somebody who’s an expert in recording could better discuss that — but whereas chant recordings might not make you realize that it sounds hardly anything like it sounds live (I’ve yet to hear chant through speakers/headphones that sounds interesting, whereas I have yet to hear chant in person that sounds boring, despite much of what I’ve heard in both instances being technically the same!!), polyphony would be fairly to extremely likely to make you wonder if it sounds like that in person (depending on whether it was recorded such that the voices all blend into each other nicely even thoguh not in the way they’re meant to in Church, or such that you can tell the multiple voices and the microphone[s] aren’t playing nice with each other).

    At least, that’s my opinion. Having sung both chant and polyphony, I have to say both are awesome. I love that sacred polyphony — which is kinda like multiple-voiced chant with the voices coordinated with each other, although the basic rhythm is usually more complex and the melody has to be by virtue of the multiple voices and it not being mere harmony — can make me, as a bass singer, feel as though I’m really doing stuff in the piece even though I still feel like I’m down there providing support — it feels like the support is important rather than secondary. Totally different from, say, the tuba section in an orchestra (no offense to tubamen, I’m sure you’re essential too, but you don’t often sound as important to the theme as the violins or even the second violins).

    Again, like beauty, that’s really secondary to the act of worship itself. Chant is important because it’s one of the traditional ways the people, led by the choir (priestly or lay), would pray the Mass. (And by “one of” I mean I’m not saying anywhere in the Mass that isn’t chanted is strictly clerical; reception of Holy Communion comes to mind…) It is beautiful because of its objective order, and it is our proper way of participating, but it’s not about us getting to participate in something beautiful — it’s about us giving the most fitting we are able to God.

    All this being the understanding of some choir member who reads blogs about this stuff, of course.

  52. OrthodoxChick says:

    I’ll check out Jeffrey Tucker. Thanks!!

  53. AnAmericanMother says:

    Here you are!
    Jeffrey Tucker is the editor of their quarterly journal. He also gives seminars on learning to chant, and I was privileged to attend one at our parish. He knows his onions!
    Our choir does both chant and sacred polyphony – the latter mostly the Renaissance classics (especially Palestrina) but with a lot of the English Renaissance composers (Byrd, Tallis, etc.) and a few moderns who are respectful of the classical tradition.
    One very beautiful motet that we are working up now is the Tallis Audivi vocem de caelo — especially interesting because it alternates polyphony with the old Sarum chant (which is similar to Gregorian but in a somewhat different style – it runs in triplets almost exclusively).
    I’ll note that we don’t have any recordings of the choir because our director agrees with the Cobbler that setting up the mikes is problematic and we’re going to have to hire a sound engineer when we can afford one!

  54. wmeyer says:

    AnAmericanMother: I am increasing jealous! I am going to have to pay a visit. You’re at Holy Ghost? I’m about ready to scream from being inundated with Haugen and Haas, and guitar and… yes, really… drums.

  55. acardnal says:

    Yes, Jeffrey Tucker is THE man and sacramusica.com is THE website. I saw a documentary on one of their conferences on EWTN, if I recall correctly, and it really impressed me!

  56. acardnal says:

    I concur with Henry Edwards description of the pre-V2 Masses on Sundays as I remember them: usually one High Mass and several Low Masses due to logistics.

    I would also point out as, Henry Edwards stated, the “choir” sang/chanted the Ordinary NOT the laity in the pews. The CHOIR had a formal liturgical role just as the priest and altar boys do.

  57. AnAmericanMother says:

    The first track is indeed a Kyrie, but it isn’t chant. It’s a polyphonic setting, sounds late Renaissance to me (in other words, more Palestrina-ish or Victoria-ish and not as early as Ockeghem or Josquin). Took a YouTube tour of the most likely suspects and didn’t hear it — but, seriously, if you listened from now until Christmas you couldn’t get through all the Palestrina that’s out there, let alone the others.
    You can look on Amazon by searching for “Gregorian chant” and find a wide variety of offerings (some from when chant was the “in” thing so the covers are a bit startling). The Benedictines of Santo Domingo de Silos have made several albums. The Cistercians of Stift Heiligenkreuz come recommended by the Holy Father. The Mystic Monks have cut an album – they are not professionals and it’s a little uneven, but it is by and large quite well done and just shows that you don’t have to have a major recording contract to chant. And for a change, chanting by nuns (like the Abbey of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Avignon) is a completely different sound and very beautiful. I would listen to some of the track samples and see what sounds best to you.
    A selection of polyphonic motets might also be a good choice, something like “The Essential Tallis Scholars” which is a survey of the Big Names with for some reason one secular madrigal tossed in . . . As far as performance, the Tallis Scholars have a perfect but somewhat dry presentation, but the Clare College choir, the Cambridge Singers, and the Westminster Cathedral choir are all splendid and there are lots more good groups that I don’t recollect at the moment. Again, listen to the samples and see what style appeals to you the most.
    I’m sure others will have recommendations because taste in music is so personal.

  58. acardnal says:

    I have several cd’s by the Cambridge Singers and really enjoy them! You can listen for free to samples on Amazon, too, of many of the suggestions offered by AnAmericanMother.

  59. OrthodoxChick says:

    Wow! Thank you for all of the suggestions. That should keep me going for a while!

    I’m getting jealous of your parish too (like wmeyer). Any chance you live on the East Coast?

  60. AnAmericanMother says:

    It’s Holy Spirit, actually – Northside and Mt. Paran – come by and see us, the choir sings the 10:00 a.m. :-)
    We’re dropping back to “summer choir” after Pentecost, which means simpler music and no weeknight rehearsal (that will mean More Chant of course), but tomorrow is going to be a big day as it is the patronal feast, and we are singing a modern setting of Veni Sancte Spiritus, composed by our music director. It’s chant-based, with some very beautiful a cappella elaborations from the choir in the middle sections, but the organ is likely to pin you against the nearest wall occasionally. . . . I think we’re going to do the sequence itself, as well as a Beethoven motet and something or other for a choral prelude, maybe the Byrd “Ave verum”.
    Or maybe not. One of the fun things about this choir is that we are very flexible and the program for the Mass may change depending on who shows up, who’s saying the Mass, or just how the weather is that day. And I will say that we make better music than another choir I was in for years, where the music was planned out a year in advance and everything was very regimented and strict.

  61. AnAmericanMother says:

    We’re on the north side of Atlanta, GA, just within the city limits. Come see us any time you change planes here :-)
    It’s a pretty good size parish (I think we’re the largest in the city proper except for the Cathedral) and while we don’t have the EF here we do chant the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin every First Sunday. And we sing a lot of Latin because most of the best Catholic music is in Latin, and of course because Latin is much easier to sing than English. Only Mr. Byrd and Mr. Tallis really perfected the art of marrying English text to music, although I have to put in a minority opinion in favor of Mr. Thomas Weelkes, who was a difficult person but a genius of a composer and is in my best books right now after singing his Alleluia – I heard a voice.

  62. I know that John Paul II and our Holy Father participated in VII. I would appreciate your insightful perspective on either of them as far as say, participation and promotion of VII, did they want to bring about “modernism”, did they have a very different way of looking at the Latin Mass, Gregorian Chant, and other more traditional aspects of our faith?

    On Benedict XVI, I hesitate to quote the New York Times article on the subject, because it is full of distortions. But, if you’re able to bracket that, here’s a link. Even if not, here’s the money quote:

    “It is said that he had a shock and he became a conservative, but this is not true,” Professor Seckler said. “He didn’t become a conservative, but he understood that every reform brings out a bad spirit as well as a good spirit and that he needed to be more discriminating, that he had been naïve in his way of thinking.”

    I haven’t found a source for John Paul II during the council, but he’s was probably even solider during the council. In any case, Benedict XVI, having had been confreres with Hans Kung during the 1960s, would need a defense sooner than JPII would.

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