And another thing about the Holy Father’s Mass for Christmas… GRADUAL!

During the Holy Father’s 1st Mass of Christmas last night, something happened which everyone should know about.

Instead of a “Responsorial Psalm”, the schola and a cantor sang the Gradual.  No congregational singing for that.  People were given the opportunity to participate by listening.

What a blessed relief.

The Holy Father is leading by example, of course.  Let the iron grip of exclusively congregational singing be broken!

That said, if you want an example of how not to sing Gregorian chant, in my opinion, listen to the cantor who sang it during the Holy Father’s Mass.  Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t horrible.   To my ear he was singing the melody and not the text.  Gregorian chant is the singing of a text and the text needs priority.  Also, far too much vibrato in his voice for Gregorian chant. It needs to be a little less “spiffy”.  Those of you out there singing chant, don’t “Caruso” it up.  Keep your vocal fireworks out of the way.  Sing the text… let it move along at a pace that makes what you sing actual speech with meaning.  Don’t bog down.  Figure out when to breathe so that you are not breaking the sense of the text you are singing.

You can hear the Gradual at about 37:00 in the on-demand video at the Vatican website.

The booklet for the Mass is HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    And, now a word from Pope John Paul II:

    Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.

  2. Elizabeth D says:

    Bishop Morlino after Midnight Mass at the Cathedral Parish in Madison, WI, addressed to choir director, “and thank you ____, if I closed my eyes I would have thought I was listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”

  3. It just keeps getting better and better.

  4. You will not be surprised, I’m sure, Father Z, to hear that we had the Gradual sung in place of the dreaded Responsorial Psalm at both of the Novus Ordo Masses on Christmas morning in Blackfen… the English words arranged to a simple psalm tone, but it was wonderful!

  5. teaguytom says:

    Even when Domenico Bartolucci was maestro, the Sistine chapel choir had a modern tradition of adopting the late 19th c. operatic singing style. You can still hear it in their singing style. The men and boys all try to solo sing rather then in unison. Just listen to when Tu Es Petrus is sung. They try to out-sing the words down the nave. Let’s stick with St Pius X and say no to opera in the liturgy.

  6. acardnal says:

    Diane at Te Deum Laudamus, thanks for that quotation. I saved it! I was looking for something like that from Popes other than Benedict XVI.

  7. lethargic says:

    Vibrato is “spiffy”? I’m sorry, I thought it was a crutch for a weak diaphragm … ?? No music scholar here, obviously.

  8. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    acardnal – that whole ad limina address I linked to is worth reading… about 10 times.

  9. netokor says:

    Forgive me Father, for in vanity I have carousoed. Thank you for the reprimand. Next time I have the privilege, I promise to be truly humble. God bless you, Father Z, and Merry Christmas!

  10. “Let the iron grip of exclusively congregational singing be broken!”

    As it surely was, in this splendid Mass, which even a rather traddy type I know thought quite wonderful. Indeed, I don’t recall any congregational singing at all, as such, from the silver trumpet fanfare and Tu es Petrus processional right through the Mass, until after the Mass when a Christmas carol was sung during the processional from the altar to the nativity crib.

    Moreover, all the choral music heard during the Mass was exclusively chant–the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, etc), the propers (introit, gradual, etc), and offertory and communion psalms (not just the brief antiphons usually heard)–with not even the usual Latin motets and additional choral selections, all the additional music during Mass being instrumental, a small orchestra and the trumpets and brass placed–for the first time, the announcer said, on opposite sides of the balcony around the dome high above the altar area. The first metrical music heard was after the communion, when a spectacular arrangement of Adeste Fidelis (by the Anglican composer, David Wilcox, I believe) was played and sung in Latin. I myself was perhaps most touched by the Credo, when pope and all knelt for a special and moving arrangement of the Incarnatus.

    Thus the congregation was afforded an opportunity for actively receptive and reflective participations throughout the whole liturgy.

  11. Simon_GNR says:

    Fr.Z, I sympathise with your views about vibrato – but I’d go further and say that I utterly detest it: it is quite simply an abomination! I can’t listen to it without feeling nauseous. Let it remain in the opera house where it belongs, and where it will never trouble me. As a boy I was an (Anglican) Cathedral chorister for three years and we were never taught to sing vibrato – it is completely inimical to the dignity of liturgical music.

  12. optimist says:

    To be fair, there are two reasons (possibly) to feel sorry for the guy. One, standing up to sing solo and a capella before the Pope and the whole world in that setting would make anyone nervous, and when I sing while nervous I tend to get ‘shaky’. Also, and more seriously, I think it’s always a mistake to have the propers chanted by a single voice. They are not solo pieces. Two or three men from the schola on this would have done just as well.

    But all in all, a wonderful demonstration of how the Mass is to be celebrated! More chant, please!

  13. Gail F says:

    That sounds great to me. No matter where I go, the responsoral psalm is usually the WORST piece, musically speaking. The arrangements are awful and the poor person who cantors often cannot sing the notes. My parish uses an arrangement where the cantored part (sometimes a solo cantor, sometimes the choir) signs a chanty sort of thing, and then the rest of us sing the “chorus” — which is set to contemporary music (sorry, I don’t know the term) and it is so jarring to go back and forth that I really, really hate it. I would SO much rather just do it without music at all.
    That said, we had a dreadful song today, CHRISTMAS, called “Child of the Poor.” Dreadful music, dreadful words, and a dreadful alternation between it and “What Child is This.” Worst. Christmas. Music. Ever. You can hear it here:

  14. jesusthroughmary says:

    “Worst. Christmas. Music. Ever. You can hear it here:”

    This made me laugh. It’s like, “Oh, this tastes HORRIBLE! Here, try it!”

  15. PJMurray says:

    The music at the Holy Father’s Mass last night was really beautiful and the quality of the music gets better and better. The choir actually sings in tune now! Perhaps the monks of Solesmes can coach the schola to better sing the timeless chants of the Church?

  16. sallyryan261 says:

    As a new kid here (okay, I’m 60…) I cannot help but wonder at a feeling that the congregation should not sing….should Participate by Listening. [You might re-read the top entry more carefully.] Please forgive me, but God gave me the gift of a voice to praise and worship through song and chant and I use it…not as a cantor, but as one in the congregation. Yes, all vocal music needs to be done appropriately whether song or chant.. I heartily agree with that. But, please don’t ask me to be silent when I can give back to the Lord he has given to me.
    Also because I believe in being truthful…I was born and raised a Methodist…with its wonderful heritage of hymnody. I became a Catholic during Advent 2011…I crossed the Tiber (or as it is here in Gettysburg…crossed High Street), came home to the Church and am still filled with the joy and wonder of the Liturgy- whether written, spoken, chanted, sung or read. Thank you for your patient understanding. Merry Christmas. (And the music at our Mass last night was all magnificent, worshipful AND well done by all.)

  17. Warren says:

    Besides the vibrato, the problem with the performance of the Gradual concerned the cantor’s sense of rhythm. He played far too loosely with the chant rhythm.

    That said, good to see/hear the return of the Gradual.

  18. This is another area where the faithful need catechesis. My poor pastor has lost track of the number of times people have complained after my parish’s gorgeous choir Mass, “but, but, but there wasn’t enough SINGING for the PEOPLE! I felt like I was at a CONCERT! “

  19. HighMass says:

    Merry Christmas/Boun Natale a tutte….

    OH only that God Would let us have this Holy Pope For Many Many More YEARS….

    What A Blessing he has been For ALL OF US!


  20. Viva il Papa! To be fair it wasn’t the worst chant I’ve ever heard executed…I do agree that chant should be done by more than one person.

    Gail F, I agree, the Responsorial Psalm is the worst piece of music (and often the most disjointing) that a parish manages to pull off. I’ve never like the Responsorial Psalm during the Liturgy…

  21. Peter G says:

    On a slightly different thread,wasn’t it great to see His Holiness wearing the Fannon again.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    I hope this is a trend that continues. There is too much singing by the congregation and not enough time for reflection. My hope is that songs after Communion would stop. We can pray for mutual enrichment.

  23. Harold says:

    My parish choir sings the Gradual every Sunday at the principal Mass. They have done this for years. That said, I actually prefer the sung Responsorial Psalm!

  24. Athelstan says:

    “but, but, but there wasn’t enough SINGING for the PEOPLE! I felt like I was at a CONCERT! “


    This is (one more reason) why I pray for priests.

  25. Mike Potemra says:

    I was delighted to see that the Pope made use of this Gradual! We had the same one at Midnight Mass at my high-church Episcopalian parish, St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church on the Upper West Side in NYC. It is actually our custom, at our main Choral Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, to use the Introits, Graduals, and other chant propers of the Roman Missal, in Gregorian Chant modes, and our choir does them excellently.
    It’s a Roman tradition that deserves conservation. I was fascinated when Kurt Cardinal Koch raised the prospect of a “hybrid rite” a couple of years ago, integrating the best elements of the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo Liturgy, because such a rite could be very close to what we do at our parish: Gregorian introit, gradual, etc.; classical Mass settings in Greek/Latin; Eucharistic prayer ad orientem — BUT that same Canon pronounced audibly and in hieratic English, and the richer post-Vatican II Lectionary.
    The recent retranslation of the English Roman Catholic Mass prayers has already brought them closer to the rhythms of our Cranmerian collects. This is a step in the right direction.
    I know people like us are regularly condemned for “aestheticism,” but at our Midnight Mass I felt very strongly that beauty in worship is a reaching out toward, a gateway to, our God. I don’t condemn folk Masses, rock Masses like those in Cardinal Schoenborn’s Vienna, or even the (generally fictional, I suspect) “Clown Masses.” As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote many years before becoming Pope, there are as many ways to God as there are people, and who knows how many find God in these ways? And yet I think our particular Western tradition is a glorious one and should be encouraged….

  26. Jason Keener says:

    I give the cantor credit because I don’t think I’d ever be able to do such a long piece in front of the Vicar of Christ with the whole world watching and not have it all come apart. Having said that, I agree that more attention has to be put on the text, breathing in the right places, and singing with more legato or in a way that is less choppy and “notey.” Overall, I think the music is getting better at St. Peter’s Basilica. I hope the choir and schola will continue to work on achieving a good choral blend. At times, certain voices of the choir stand out too much as if they are in a competition to see who can sing the loudest.

  27. Skeinster says:

    EF here, but back in the day also hated the Responsorial Psalm, for the reasons above, but also b/c having to concentrate on ‘when to come in’ (usually by watching the traffic directing hand signals of the cantor) precluded any absorption of the psalm selection itself. One of those occasions where ‘participation’ defeats the purpose of the liturgy.

    And what High Mass said…

  28. cyejbv says:

    @jesusthroughmary ‘ This made me laugh. It’s like, “Oh, this tastes HORRIBLE! Here, try it!” ‘

    THAT made ME laugh. Especially because I clicked on the link. You know, just to make sure the milk was spoiled.
    It feels kind of good to laugh rather than sigh about, and I’m being generous with this term, the music in many parishes today. So thanks for the laugh. It was even out loud!

    Hear, hear St Philip of Neri: “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”
    :) Indeed.

  29. Will D. says:

    Gail F. I’ll see your “Child of the Poor” and raise you “Mary, did you know?”. That monstrosity was the 2nd communion “hymn” at my parish for the Christmas Mass at Night. It was sung call-and-response style by the female choir director and a male cantor.

    I’m actually surprised we didn’t get “Child of the Poor,” our choir director has enjoyed inflicting it on the congregation during the last several Christmases. There’s still time, of course.

  30. AngelineOH says:

    We were treated to the theme from “Polar Express”, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and other overemoted at the Children’s Mass we attended, all accompanied by a rock band and teen choir. It was horrendous, and I didn’t feel like I even was at a Mass.

  31. acardnal says:

    Wow! That is terrible, AngelineOH. If I was you, I’d write my bishop.

  32. uptoncp says:

    Am I not right in remembering that the number of cantors is (was?) supposed to vary according to the day? One on ferias and lowest ranked feasts, two for middle ranked feasts, and four for the highest days – which certainly includes Christmas!

    And, Optimist, the members of the Sistina should be quite accustomed to such occasions. You don’t hear the boys of Kings College wavering in the worldwide broadcast of their Nine Lessons.

  33. jesusthroughmary says:

    “Please forgive me, but God gave me the gift of a voice to praise and worship through song and chant and I use it…not as a cantor, but as one in the congregation.”

    I will venture to say that most people do not receive such a gift, and those who have received it should give it back to God not merely as one in the congregation, but by joining the choir.

  34. Precentrix says:

    The Capella drive me nuts. The purity of English choral singing (which the Anglicans pinched) and a clear tenor for chant any day… but even Eastern-European ‘gusto’ works liturgically. But not opera. Please, no wobbles, be ye soprani or tenori! Nerves are no excuse.

    Maybe I’m biased. I used to sing in semiological style before I learnt to read the little red bits in the triplex. Probably because it sounds more… musical. After all, the squiggles are someone else’s interpretation. But… chant needs… light. Clarity. Which… oh… claritas. Glory…. hmmmm……

    That said, there are men with good singing voices. There are men with good voices for chant. They aren’t always the same people. Interpretation aside.

    Still… well done for singing propers.

  35. benedetta says:

    Always found the responsorial psalm difficult — can neither concentrate on the Psalm nor the response.

    Some ordinary form “choir Masses” have the choir so polished that they are rather performing and people can neither enter into it by singing themselves nor by listening prayerfully. It’s the wow factor and the element of performance, and in many urban environments the talent is plentiful and oftentimes paid, not composed of the faithful who pray the Mass along with the congregation.

    As much as I like to sing, I have grown weary of the hymn sandwich of congregational singing in the ordinary form. It seems that very rarely can a liturgist hit on everyone’s preference so it winds up being very superficial in an attempt to not offend anyone’s aesthetic sensibility.

    Whereas according to VII one cannot go wrong with chant which has pride of place in the liturgy, or sung propers. This for the ordinary form, according to Vatican II. These are deeply rooted in the tradition and sense of beauty in the Church, and are more or most appropriate (as opposed to ditties or congregational hymns) to the Mass. They are also so incredibly beautiful, in their prayers and chants, and most of all, appropriate to the sacred time of Mass. I should think the ordinary form could be beautifully elevated by losing the hymn sandwich, and having one congregational hymn at processional or recessional.

    When I have attended the ordinary form with the hymn sandwich and given my propensity to sing and the inevitable human attraction to it and its activity, I find that I tend to leave Mass not thinking of the prayers of the day or season, nor of the homily, nor of the sacred mysteries, but, of a refrain of one or more ditties or hymns sung. And in some cases I would rather not remember said ditty, at all, and in some cases it is innocuous, and in some cases, not at all bad but not on the whole the underscoring of the sacred mystery, nor readings, nor prayers. Very problematic, I think. I understand how people so used to singing can’t dream of anything else but once it is experienced one finds that, far from falling asleep, being bored, or not participating, one is all the more energized and filled with the good things the Lord brings us in His Mass.

    Very happy to see and hear the Gradual at this Mass with the Holy Father. Thanks Fr. Z!

  36. Gail F says:

    Re: congregational singing: I like what Benedetta says — “As much as I like to sing, I have grown weary of the hymn sandwich of congregational singing in the ordinary form. It seems that very rarely can a liturgist hit on everyone’s preference so it winds up being very superficial in an attempt to not offend anyone’s aesthetic sensibility.”
    I like to sing. I like to sing at Mass. I like to sing good music. I like singing in a group who knows how to sing good music. Mass makes me feel, sometimes, physically ill because of the music. Okay, that was a slight exaggeration but only a slight one. I know that this in some ways does not speak well of me. I deal with it by sitting in the side aisle rather than the main aisle, making sure to pray before Mass that I pay attention to the prayers of Mass and not to the music, saying the sung prayers quietly rather than singing them, and reading Magnificat. It helps. The music is not always bad, and sometimes listening to it rather than singing along makes it easier to be part of it. Sometimes singing does. I don’t know if any music directors think about things like this but I wish they would. I imagine they are all trying earnestly to do their jobs, but that they see their jobs as picking a variety of music.
    And yes, sometimes a really great choir “performs” rather than sings the Mass, and that also makes it impossible to either sing or pray.

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  38. Precentrix says:

    I hope the people who oppose professional singers/musicians ‘performing’ the Mass realise that this should not, per se, be an objection to offering stipends to musicians/singers in exchange for their (our) services. Some of us rely on this to support ourselves, and if we were offered something by the Church wouldn’t have to go over the road and work for the heretics. At the same time, I don’t see why it is ‘wrong’ to give a fantastic, polished ‘performance’ of suitable music in a suitable style, rather than for the choir to sing badly in the the context of the Liturgy just because it makes other people feel better. In my experience directing the professionals, I was pretty mortified if we didn’t sing well, because I wanted to offer the best to God. Though the odd bit of mortification is good for the soul ;-).

    Likewise, you’d be surprised at how many people enter the Church after having sung there, as atheists or Protestants, for a few years.

    I agree those who do the singing/playing should realise that this is not a concert. That applies as much for choir directors as for the singers. They should also, if they don’t share the Faith, at least be respectful during Mass/Vespers/Whatever, which in some cases is not the case.

  39. JonPatrick says:

    I think one thing that would help diminish the tendency of choir singing becoming a performance would be for the choir to be singing from the choir loft in the back of the church (if there is one) rather that as is common in many Ordinary Form Masses, up in the sanctuary in front of everybody. It also is yet another diminishment of the concept of the sanctuary being a special place reserved for the ordained and those appointed to assist them i.e. altar boys.

  40. benedetta says:

    Precentrix, not advocating that music be poorly sung at all, just not in favor of the hamming it up so very common these days. A particular type of polish, I guess I should say. And have heard choirs very advanced in technique and yet lacking in the essential, the prayerfulness, the spirit of faithfulness, a quiet recognition that no matter what the composition or the preparedness that in the end it still does not supplant the sacred mysteries. Music should glorify the sacred mysteries, not compete with it.

  41. Precentrix says:


    A good singer is able to sing in different styles, I hope…

  42. benedetta says:

    Precentrix, yes, one would hope.

  43. Makemeaspark says:

    As a cantor and Chorister, I find myself torn on this. I am enjoying very much the addition of more and more Chant in our N.O. masses here, and i am about to attend the Chant Intensive in Macon in a couple weeks, so that I am better prepared to be a part of the majesty of the faith.

    However, my personal goal is that the Word of God be heard and understood, whether it is a reading or a psalm/scripture in any form. The highest praise I can receive is that you understood every word of the psalm and that you understood the scripture more fully because of my obedience to God and the Church. I have suffered through some of the most beautiful performances of chant that a human voice can utter and understood nary a word!

    My plea here is: Whatsoever thou singest, sing it CLEARLY and enunciate it in clear English/Latin please! I recently participated in an E.F. mass where the Latin was sung so fast that I could not recognize it, even with the words right in front of me.

    My conundrum is that since I was a small child I have loved to sing and go home disappointed when the mass is all done by the Choir or the Cantor/s. I am willing to set aside this love for the love of my Savoir. However, I don’t think it is fair for ME to be the Cantor and subject all the participants in the mass to my hegemony.

  44. Precentrix says:

    I think my compromise is to teach the congregation the Ordinaries in chant, with schola/cantors for the Propers… and only on very solemn occasions sing polyphonically. Though faubourdon/fabourdon/discant and generally messing with things are encouraged. Oh for a real choir school to run!!!

    But wait. I’m a girl. Pants.

  45. Granny says:

    Can’t seem to find the mass at the Vatican website… I don’t suppose someone could post a direct link??

    As to music at Mass… Less please! Why can there be no silence for prayer? I love music, especially liturgical music, but please let us have some silence too, most especially at Communion time. One hymn then please please silence so I can spend quiet time with my Lord. Quiet organ music… okay… but the singing is such a distraction! Not to mention that people race back to the pew, chewing the Body of Christ like a potato chip, so they can grab the hymnal to sing never spending one quiet moment in thanks.

  46. RichR says:

    I agree with JohnPatrick, a choir loft tends to neuter the Caruso family.

    As to Makemeaspark’s concern about no one understanding the Latin Gradual, I would consider it irresponsible to sing such chants without giving the people a worship aid with translations of the Propers. That’s what my men’s chant group does every time we do Propers for a parish we visit.

  47. Michael J. says:

    From what I understand of what Church Music is supposed to be, it is not meant to be distracting, or to keep attention away from The Holy Sacrifice Of The Mass, but to put one in a prayerful mood that accentuates the Mass, not over powers everything. And I now often hear the word Cantor used. I have heard of Jewish Cantors, but never Catholic Cantors. Choir directors, lead vocalist, or soloist I have heard used, when did Cantor become the norm, or am I just mistaken, which is a strong possibility? And I agree, no operatic type singing in Mass, whether it be the Extraordinary Form of Mass, the Ordinary Form of Mass, or any manner in which the Mass is Celebrated. And please, no singing leaders, or men/women, who are at one of the podiums leading the congregation in singing, but so overpowering everything it actually prevents people from singing themselves.

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