The rediscovery of dignity in Sacred Music

I have in the past mentioned Sr. Joan Roccasalvo, CJS, who has some intelligent things to say (about which I agree for the most part) about sacred music.  She has another offering at CNA, to which I want to point you.  The title of the entry is “‘Oriented toward gregorian chant’? What does this phrase mean?”

Some excerpts.

To begin with, music of the liturgy must sound different from street music, music of a rock concert, music sung in a discotheque, or music for the movies. It differs from the sounds typically associated with romantic music. It is prayer that is sung, prayer that bears the imprint of silence. Orientation toward Gregorian chant involves melody, rhythm, types of sound and harmonization.

Do I hear an “Amen!”?

There is a renewed emphasis in two main directions, both essential to the full participation of the faithful in the Mass. First, we are witnessing a renewal in singing the Mass. This means singing the Ordinary parts: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. There are eighteen Mass settings of Gregorian chant Ordinaries in the Liber Usualis, the liturgical book containing the complete Latin settings of Gregorian chant for every Mass of the year. The easiest Mass settings are Mass XVI and Mass XVIII which can be sung during Lent and Advent.

Second, there is a renewed interest in singing the Proper (changeable) parts of the Mass in English because of the rich texts from the Old and New Testaments. Post-conciliar years saw many parishes drop the prescribed Proper parts of the Mass: the Entrance or Introit, the Gradual, the Communion.


There is a growing revulsion among pastors, clergy, and laity at the use of missalettes to which most parishes subscribe. [Another “Amen!”?] More and more, they see them as a bad investment, a waste of parish funds, already stretched to the limit. These flimsy, disposable paperbacks must be changed a few times a year for the entire parish community. The cost is prohibitive.

These shabby, unattractive throw-aways with God’s word printed between the covers would make a rabbi gasp in disbelief, for the Torah is encased in precious jewels. So too is the book of the Gospels in the Christian East. In the Roman Rite, the Sacramentary and Lectionary are reasonably attractive books. What image does a missalette project? Texts are printed on cheap paper, and most music is unsuitable for worship. “We are teaching ugliness to our Catholics,” writes Alice von Hildebrand, dismayed. Why shouldn’t the faithful hold in their hands a beautifully-bound book containing the word of God from which to sing?


I will take this a another step.

Let the sacred liturgy be mainly in Latin, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said, and let people have their own well-bound translation of their choice.  The Council also said that pastors should make sure their flocks can both sing and speak the parts that pertain to them in Latin.  True unity in true diversity, not the anti-Pentecost Tower of Babel we have going now!  In some dioceses Holy Mass is celebrated in dozens of languages, little communities segregated from each other.  In some parishes there are multiple languages.  I applaud the choice of a parish priest about whom I recently wrote to switch the Spanish language Mass in his parish to a Traditional Latin Mass.  That was a good choice not merely because we need more celebrations of the TLM, but because the Latin language can unify different communities within the community.  They can pray together.  Solutions can be found for the sermon.  But they can all be on the same page when praying.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JARay says:

    This is a wonderful support for those who really support the sacred in the Mass. I really do hope that Pope Francis is not oblivious to the the sacredness offered to God in truly solemn, dignified, worshipful music during Holy Mass.
    I would also like to point out that dignity, respect and worship can also be supported in writing the Holy Mass with a CAPITAL M.
    There is a word “mass” and some cannot tell the difference between a mass of flowers and the Holy Mass!

  2. Dear Fr. Z,

    Was not the 1965 Roman Missal what the Council Fathers considered to be the Reform of the Liturgy? How then did the Novus Ordo end up being the norm, other than the fact that someone slipped it past Paul VI?

  3. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Sr. Joan was required reading in my Liturgical Music class in seminary. Her book is The Plainchant Tradition of Southern Rus. While this text deals mainly with Carpatho-Russian chant, there are many references to Gregorian chant in the text as well. It is well worth the read.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Orientation toward Gregorian chant involves melody, rhythm, types of sound and harmonization.”

    Harmonization?? Rhythm?? Perhaps she means, “Orientation towards Gregorian chant involves orientation away from rhythm, types of sounds, and harmonization.”

    She must have studied Chant differently than I did (the professor I studed with received awards from the Vatican for his work and is well-known) or else I misunderstand what she is saying. No chant was harmonized until the 11th-Century and even then, it wasn’t thought of as harmonization, but, rather, co-incident singing. Rhythm? Mensuration wasn’t worked out until the 13th-Century. We still have no good idea about how Chant should be metrically organized. We know a great deal about the macro-structure of Chant, but very little about the micro-structure.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need a return to Gregorian chant, but I get a little irritated with people who associate Chant only with what they find in the Liber Usualis or a Graduale. These forms of chant are, at best, an approximation to what Chant would have sounded like in 1250 A. D., filtered through the opinions of a particular Benedicine monastery. It is a good start, but the musicologist in me cringes when people talk as if Chant has always sounded like the recordings they hear. The history of Chant is very complicated and there are gaps in our knowledge.

    I don’t want, however, to make the good the enemy of the best. Chant, as a class of music, however imperfectly realized, is the music, par excellence, for the Mass. It was developed almost exclusively within a context of prayer and has very litte application outside of it. Almost any other types of music that has been used has at Mass have secular connections that render them an impure example of the focus that a man, with mind and voice, should have on the worship of God.

    The Chicken

  5. The Masked Chicken says:

    Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat…Again?

    Let me try that last sentence, again:

    Almost any other types of music that has been used at Mass have secular connections that render them an impure example of the focus that a man, with mind and voice, should have on the worship of God.

    The Chicken

  6. The problem is that we are still in a time when pastors and bishops actually brag about how many different languages are used for Mass as if it were a mark of honor. Of course, they don’t include Latin when they count the number of languages. But times are changing and the old guard is still on the way out.

  7. contrarian says:


    Man, this is speaking my language.

    As a former confessional Lutheran, my childhood hymnal still sits on my shelf. It’s a beautiful book, meant to outlast me. It is filled with hymns (with the harmonies written in, as Christ intended) by brilliant, long dead authors, set to music and arranged by brilliant musicians–Bach, Praetorius, et al.

    Lutherans go to Catholic churches and are horrified by the music. Horrified. As a musician myself, I leave VII masses shocked and dismayed–habitually.

    A Lutheran pastor friend of mine who has attended many VII Masses over the years always tells me that there’s no way the Roman Catholic faith could be the true faith, since God would not let his mass be filled with such offensive, idiotic music. I don’t have a rebuttal.

    (Of course, I could tell him that at least in the Catholic church, our prayers are richer and more doctrinally orthodox. Then again, when comparing the prayers of my confessional Lutheran church with my VII church, this isn’t true either.)

    I still know about 150 or so Lutheran hymns (as every Lutheran child does), and I sing a few of them to my children at night, along with traditional Catholic (Latin) hymns.

    The idea of having children learn these idiotic hymns they sing now in VII masses makes me laugh. And cry.

  8. netokor says:

    Gregorian chant is truly a most sublime prayer. It elevates. It never intrudes as it is part of the Holy Mass. I don’t take for granted the privilege of attending the Latin Mass on a weekly basis. What a blessing!

  9. scholastica says:

    “The problem is that we are still in a time when pastors and bishops actually brag about how many different languages are used for Mass as if it were a mark of honor. ”

    And they brag about how many music forms are used at their masses (chant, folk, rock) all at the same place, so there’s something for everyone! ( I complained after having to endure a drum solo during communion meditation and that was the pastoral response). Fortunately, that drummer at least has converted in his music tastes during mass and even blogs about it occasionally.

  10. iPadre says:

    If you search Sister’s name in Google, she has a number of great posts on Sacred Music.

  11. Hidden One says:


    God permits but dislikes such music in His Mass. Perhaps you should point out to your friend all of the times that God put up with the Israelites, at least for a time. Then blame a whack of the bad stuff that has happened to the Church in the last fifty years on inappropriate music in worship.

    And then throw in something about God-loving ex-Lutherans being wonderful at fixing musical problems at Mass.

  12. Lepidus says:

    While I agree with everything being said about the music, what alternatives are being proposed for the misselette? Our parish did away with those maybe 5 years ago, or so…and I mean “did away”. No replacement other than the (Marty Haugen – based) hymnal. The advantage (from the priest’s perspective) is that now most people don’t know when he’s not saying the black or telling them to do something other than the red – and the people just blindly follow as their told. The official statement is that you’re supposed to listen to the readings, and not follow along. Great in theory – practice, not so much. Having something to follow helps to keep your mind from wandering. (It happens!). Also, when you have bad acoustics, a priest with a difficult accent, or just getting old and can’t hear that well any more, you can still get the readings.

  13. An American Mother says:

    contrarian –

    You and me both! As a former “high church” Episcopalian, I was absolutely horrified by the music when we arrived at our new Catholic parish. And it’s considered one of the more orthodox outfits in town – – but Robert Shaw was about as “highbrow” as it got.
    Thank the Lord & St. Cecilia (who was probably annoyed by my constant importuning) we got a new music director who plays the organ like an angel (or Handel ;-) ) sings beautifully and composes his own work. We do lots of chant and Renaissance polyphony, as well as what Sr. Joan refers to as “chant based” modern music. You couldn’t get any more modern than our music director’s setting of “Veni sancte Spiritus”, but it’s all based on the chant and keeps circling back to it. Sounds like a few spare angels’ feathers are drifting down from the roof . . .
    We can’t seem to get rid of the awful hymns out of the back of the missalette, though. I guess when people are used to that stuff you have to throw them a bone now and then, lead them along gently to accept and appreciate better music.

    chicken, dear chicken . . .
    unfortunately you are playing chess, while the average congregation around here isn’t even playing checkers – they’re still at the fox-and-geese stage.
    We can’t dump them off the deep end into musicological speculations about what chant “really” sounded like (which is as much a theory as that of the good monks of Solesmes, just different).
    At least the Liber has a system, and we can teach it, and it has some points of contact with what any mildly musical members of the congregation have learned. I came to the Church with a fairly good musical background (piano from age 7-17, choir from age 6 on, beginning in a very good Episcopal choir school and finishing with 25 years in a touring/broadcasting choir) but I had never tried to read Gregorian notation. I can’t say I’ve mastered the details, but I can read it. If there hadn’t been a system for me to take hold of I don’t know what I would have done.
    We get some musicology in choir practice, but the congregation would just go “Huh?” Our music director writes the chant out for them in modern staff notation, it still scares them.
    Make haste slowly and don’t terrify them.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    Excellent post, Fr and this needs to be taught in EVERY seminary in the world. But, it is not….

  15. SwanSong says:

    Every time I darken the doors of a Roman church (in the UK) I seem to hear the Missa de Angelis. Its ubiquity is quite depressing – though not as depressing as folk groups or nuns with guitars, of course! From what I’ve read ‘De Angelis’ is a compilation of chants from several different centuries. In the Anglican church we have a setting of the Mass by John Merbeck which in its ubiquity was our equivalent of de Angelis.

    As a boy on holiday in France (pre Vat.II) I often heard the 17th Century Masses of Henri du Mont; I recall the Messe Royale in particular. Since few churches can ever hope to have a choir capable of singing renaissance polyphony, the challenge is to find music which is both dignified and capable of being sung by the congregation. Another challenge is to have several different setting simply for the sake of variety.

  16. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Chicken,

    while it is as always great what you write, I do not think a “secular connection” renders a music style “impure” (your word) for Mass. (Nor is the guitar.)

    As for me, I respect Chant as what is perhaps to be called standard, and something actually to be present in everyday parrish life; but then I’ll stick to the classical compositions (which if I’m rightly informed heavily drew from the secular opera), the Schubert Mass so dear to the German people (“to thee, to thee o Fahather come I with johoy ahand sorrow”, etc.), the marching songs of the “Ein Haus voll Glorie schauet” and “Fest soll mein Taufbund immer stehen” type, and (yes) also some room for what is around here called “nuns (?) with guitars”, provided the text is orthodox.

    Catholic means comprising all valuable things (which includes some emotionally refreshing guitar songs with a jolly rhythm), and the Council of Trent itself declared that Chant is not the only thing there is (though it, admittedly, was convinced of that by the very high-style Missa Papae Marcelli).

  17. jaykay says:

    Contrarian: “there’s no way the Roman Catholic faith could be the true faith, since God would not let his mass be filled with such offensive, idiotic music. ”

    I hope his tongue was well and truly lodged deep within his cheek when he said that :)

    In regard to the “missalettes”, here in Ireland this term is used – and has always been since they were introduced in the early ’70s – to describe the basic A4 sheets issued each Sunday (or Holy Day) with the Mass texts printed on them. As far as I’ve seen, the Dominicans and the Paulists seem to have the market cornered. I’ve no idea what they cost but probably not all that cheap, as they usually have a colour element – in the case of the Paulist ones that our parish uses this is the banner across the top, in the appropriate liturgical colour (nice touch), and usually some artwork of very indifferent 70s-type quality… you can guess. And of course there’s another prominent hangover of confused 70s ecclesiology viz. the large headline “THE PEOPLE’S MASS”.

    One of my gripes is that, to save space, they never include any of the propers. I am saddened that these prayers are never included as I think printing them could have been such a help in the acceptance of the new translations.

    I do indeed appreciate St. Joan’s point about theses books and I personally would always go for a good Missal (e.g. the CTS) although being in the choir that’s not really an option for me, burdened as we are with 3-4 different books and folders. Still, while not ideal, I do think they are a step-up from the disposable weekly leaflets that we have, which to me really summarise the casual approach which has damaged the liturgy so much over the years. We go from the rear gallery to the altar to receive Communion after Mass, and it’s quite sad to see the amount of these leaflets lying on the floor, just trampled on. I don’t think people consciously intend to be disrespectful in this, of course, but it points to a big problem. Or one of the big problems.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Of course, though that is thank God a rare thing, the German movie Vaya con Dios (which is presented in Church youth pastoral, go figure) proves that good chant is unfortunately compatible with heterodoxy.

  19. jjjorge1 says:

    Speaking of traditional music – did everyone notice the super traditional chanting of the Gospel in Greek at the Papal Installation Mass? This is how that was done – back in the day – before Latin was IMPOSED on the entire Roman Church.

    I’m happy to see that the program of the members of the Society of St. Pius I is being implemented at the highest levels in the Vatican.

    See our position statement here

    :) :) :) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :):) :)

  20. Choirgirl says:

    “In some dioceses Holy Mass is celebrated in dozens of languages, little communities segregated from each other. In some parishes there are multiple languages.”

    Pre Vatican II, Mass was in Latin, but in large centers of immigrant populations, “national churches” had the same results — which illustrates that, historically, having a Latin Mass in and of itself doesn’t automatically direct a congregation towards the melting pot. In addition, with the current stress within the Church regarding culture (and by no less than B16), it seems that one language/ one type of music for all Masses vs. different cultures are mutually exclusive propositions.

  21. majuscule says:

    Ah, The Problem of the Missalettes…

    Last Sunday I was tasked with replacing the misselettes with the new ones that begin on Palm Sunday. (No daily Mass at our mission church.)

    I had done this with the previous issue and boxed those up along with last year’s music issue and written “recycle” on the box, hoping someone would get the idea. That box was still under one of the pews. So I ended up with two issues of misselettes to get rid of deal with. Now I realize these were made to be disposed of. They have not been blessed. They are not sacramentals (erm…are they). But I kept thinking of the praying that had been going on all the months these items had been sitting there…can prayer be absorbed by paper…?

    I finally loaded the boxes in my car and drove up to the local elementary school where our community recycling bins are located. At least the books were heavy enough to weight down the flying loose stuff in the paper bin.

    I tried to turn them so the covers were not facing up. It just didn’t seem right to subject religious looking items (no matter how ugly the cover art) to center stage in the recycle bin for all the recycling community to see.

    Oh well, and to dust you shall return…

  22. SwanSong says:

    This link is pertinent to the topic:

  23. Choirgirl says:

    @ SwanSong

    “Since few churches can ever hope to have a choir capable of singing renaissance polyphony, the challenge is to find music which is both dignified and capable of being sung by the congregation.”

    Thank you.

  24. Some quarters have expressed concern regarding the possibility of harder times for the TLM. However, is there now perhaps more reason to wonder about the emphasis to be placed on the continuing recovery of sacred music and the reform of OF ars celebranda?

  25. New Sister says:

    @ JARay – agree! Big “M” for the Holy Mass and “C” for Holy Church!

  26. contrarian says:

    Hi jaykay,

    As to my Lutheran pastor’s belief that the Catholic Church is a false church and this is proven by its ubiquitous liturgical silliness and banal music:

    “I hope his tongue was well and truly lodged deep within his cheek when he said that :)”

    Ha ha! Well, he’s Lutheran, and he thinks the Catholic Church teaches error. So, I’m sure he half believes it. Unfortunately his ‘half-belief’ is confirmed for him as true every time he wanders into a Catholic mass.
    I half believe it too, when I’m in a sour mood (usually the first five minutes after attending a VII mass).
    I snap myself out of it, though.
    I have to. I’m Catholic. :(

  27. New Sister says:

    @ majuscule – I am often conflicted about how to dispose of old “Magnificat” [and now “Laudamus Te”] magazines, for the point Sr. Joan makes, “throw-aways with God’s word printed between the covers would make a rabbi gasp in disbelief.”
    I would like to leave them out at Drs offices, etc., for people to find, but fail to be that organized. Sometimes I recycle (seems wrong); most end up in the fireplace.

  28. DCMArg says:

    Not TLM, but I like the following video of Bp Liam Cary:
    Novus Ordo can also be beatiful. I think solemnity, however, is “hard-coded” in TLM (which is very good). Sometimes I feel solemnity is up to the celebrant in Novus Ordo.

  29. albinus1 says:

    To begin with, music of the liturgy must sound different from street music, music of a rock concert, music sung in a discotheque, or music for the movies. It differs from the sounds typically associated with romantic music.

    This is a good reminder that music used at Mass in many parishes wasn’t always wonderful before Vatican II. My mother grew up with — and misses — songs such as “Mother at Your Feet is Kneeling,” “On this Day O Beautiful Mother,” and “Mother Dear, O Pray for Me.” They’re pretty, but as Thomas Day remarks in Why Catholics Can’t Sing, musically these songs are really Gilded Age parlor ballads on a par with “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”


    No replacement other than the (Marty Haugen – based) hymnal. The advantage (from the priest’s perspective) is that now most people don’t know when he’s not saying the black or telling them to do something other than the red – and the people just blindly follow as their told. The official statement is that you’re supposed to listen to the readings, and not follow along. Great in theory – practice, not so much. Having something to follow helps to keep your mind from wandering.

    It could be worse. I’ve been to parishes where the missalettes have been replaced with text and music projected onto big jumbotron screens. Ugh!

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    I didn’t mean to sound high-falutin in my earlier comment. I was trying to figure out what Sr. Roccasalvo meant when she wrote about harmony in Chant. I was thinking out loud.

    As for Chant being hard to learn, well, in theory, it is no harder to learn than any other piece of music. Heck, if 10th-Century monks could learn to sing by having the Chant-master pointing at joints on his hand (the Guidonian Hand), then we, being more musically savvy, should have less problems. The rub is that people are less sensitized to music, today, than they have been in centuries, because of the tripe that often passes for music. The thing is, Chant expresses complete thoughts in a dignified fashion. The sort of, “Oh, baby,” music heard by most people, today, makes learning to sing Chant much harder.

    I can see where learning to read square-note notation on a four line staff might be difficult, but that really is a matter of training and practice. If I thought it would help (and I could afford the registration fee for developers), I would make an iPhone app that would play square music, so that people could enter a phrase or a whole sheet from the Liber Usualis and hear how it sounds. The programming is not difficult, since there are open source programs for computers that could be easily adapted, such as Lily Pond. Heck, we could input the entire Liber.

    Now, that would a good project for a Traditionalist. Android already has such a program (well, not as complex) called, iChantGregorian.

    The Chicken

  31. Anna says:

    I had a dear friend, God rest his soul, who was in WWII, he said that one of the most comforting things when he was overseas was being able to attend Mass, which was just like home.

  32. An American Mother says:

    SwanSong, Choirgirl,

    “Since few churches can ever hope to have a choir capable of singing renaissance polyphony, the challenge is to find music which is both dignified and capable of being sung by the congregation.”

    A thousand times NO!

    Who started the rumor that ALL Renaissance polyphony is TOO HARD? You might as well say that “few churches can ever hope to have a choir capable of singing Gregorian Chant” because some of the more elaborate melismatic chants are too difficult.

    There is plenty of scary-hard polyphony out there, by the usual suspects, but even the usual suspects wrote good solid polyphony suitable for parish choirs. Our music director points out that a lot of this music was written for just that situation – small parish choirs. Really good singers were not any thicker on the ground in those days, and just like now most of them went to the cathedrals and the big parishes. But a composer has to earn a living, and the volume is in the smaller parishes.

    I’m thinking specifically of many short motets by Byrd and Tallis, as well as Morley and Farrant and Weelkes (o.k., I’m pushing it with Weelkes; he can be tough but OH my goodness his work is lovely). Or Victoria. Even Palestrina – “Sicut cervus” or his “Magnificat primi toni” – the liber primus, not the elaborate one – which I sang as part of a pickup choir for a wake, on 2 days notice and 15 minutes rehearsal with 10 other singers that I had never sung with before, except my husband who was a good sport. Like to killed us all but we got through it with strong but tasteful support from the organist, and didn’t disgrace ourselves. We did have a REALLY good tenor soloist thank heavens.

    I think my husband is a good example of what a very average singer can do if he tries. He has no background in singing AT all — played in a marching band in junior high and high school, so he can read music and keep time, but he’s primarily a guitarist. He always thought he couldn’t sing, and wouldn’t sing, but when we converted the handbell choir needed another ringer, and I had never run handbells, so we cut a deal . . . that was in 2005. And look at him now . . . we sang the “Cantique de Jean Racine” 2 Sundays ago, he was the ONLY bass by some horrible chance, and he sang right out with all the good technique our choirmaster has taught him, and he sounded great (with a little support from the tenors when they could manage it).

  33. An American Mother says:

    Dear chicken,

    I seem to be taking both sides of the argument today! :-)

    What I meant was, we can’t take them along too fast. But what I also meant was, we can take them along. I don’t think simple chant or simple polyphony is beyond the reach of an average parish choir. Good instruction is needed. Dedication is also needed. But that’s always the case.

    And I agree with you that pop music isn’t doing us any favors. But what is really hurting us is the removal of music from the curriculum in school, and the death of the idea that every child should take music lessons (when I was around 9 years old and being MADE to practice, I would have cheered, but in retrospect this is a very bad thing).

    I REALLY like your idea of an app – that ought to draw some people in who ordinarily don’t think about chant very much.

    I wonder if the folks over at Musica Sacra/ CMMA might be interested in a proposal from you.

  34. Giuseppe says:

    Sister Joan Roccasalvo ROCKS! I met her when I was in college.

  35. majuscule says:

    @New Sister– I too have old Magnificat magazines. With the beautiful cover art, prayers and meditations they are very difficult to let go of. I gave some out when I was helping with our CCD/catechism class (or whatever they call it now). The younger kids were really pleased to get them, but I still had more.

    I like your suggestion of burning if they can’t find a suitable home. We heat with wood…

    Well, I digress. We are probably off the subject unless you count the hymns in the Magnificat.

  36. The Masked Chicken says:

    I have a program on my computer that will play musical score that are in PDF. The Liber is in PDF format for anyone to download (want a link?). The thing is, the four line staff and square note notation has to be manually entered into the code. I could do it, since the code is open source, but it would be better if a person who does Object Oriented Progamming does it. I do more proceedural coding. I am sure it would sell a million copies, just like iBreviary.

    We have a couple of people who read this blog who work with databases and computer science. Why don’t we do the thing and route the download payments to Fr. Z?

    The Chicken

  37. The Masked Chicken says:

    For those who want a copy, here is a link for the PDF Liber Usualis from Sancta Missa:

    The Chicken

  38. The Masked Chicken says:

    For all your Church music needs:

    The Chicken

  39. Choirgirl says:

    @ An American Mother

    I’m nowhere near a professional level, so I feel that chant has had enough thrills, chills & spills for *me*. It’s fun and pretty. On the other hand, Polyphony…(runs and hides behind these guys.)

  40. Mary Jane says:

    Great discussion here! I sing in a few choirs at our parish – the women’s schola, the choir, and the smaller polyphony choir. We’re working on Allegri’s Miserere Mei Deus for Good Friday – awesome piece.

    Chicken, you said, “Heck, we could input the entire Liber.” Just wanted to mention, for those who don’t know, that there is an iPhone/iPod/iPad app on iTunes right now called “Liber Pro”. It’s a fantastic app. It doesn’t teach you how to sing Gregorian Chant, but if you already know (or are planning on learning) Chant, it’s a great app. It’s basically the Liber without the 20lbs to carry around. :) Plus bookmarks and other neat stuff.

  41. One of those TNCs says:

    In defense of “missalettes”:
    1. I get the readings – all of them – and without having to paw through the huge “Gather” or “Journey Songs” song books to find them, or have to wonder what they were because of a poor reader or inadequate/not working sound system.
    2. All of the priest’s parts, and all of the laity’s responses are there – beware, priests who ad-lib!
    3. Since my missalette is my own, I can mark it up, underlining passages or prayers that inspire me.
    4. It is light weight and fits into my purse. I can easily take it anywhere.

    It’s easy enough to ignore poor artwork, easy to skip reading the oft-times banal blurbs at the beginning of the Sunday readings, and my parish does not use the music in the missalettes. My parish buys only a few dozen, mostly for “small faith communities” use, and they are free for the asking. The only real problem lies in how to dispose of them later. A fireplace works.

  42. AnnAsher says:

    with the week for Christian Unity coming up, I anticipate being geographically surrounded by Babeling liturgies. I say again and again that we don’t need “spanish mass” “german mass” “polish mass” we just need Latin. But most Oridnary Form goers still look at me like I am crazy. Not sure how to convince those who love the OF to embrace Latin.

  43. AnnAsher says:

    RE: a purse size companion. If you all haven’t seen yet, I want to share with you a wonderful discovery that was shared with me recently. Laudamus Te is a TLM version of something like Magnificat for OF. It is a lovely little volume, includes Mass readings and propers, Daily Prayers/offerings/meditations.

  44. Ah, yes. Missalettes. The disposable Word of God. Since his letter to the clergy, which touches on this, has been posted by Fr. Z., I can only ask “What would St. Francis do”?

  45. ckdexterhaven says:

    Amen on the missalettes. Would it kill the publisher, Oregon Catholic Press, (Sister Joan is too nice to name names) to place oh, I don’t know….SACRED ART on the cover? Holy mackerel, the art they have on this editiion is indecipherable. With the thousands of pieces of sacred art that have come down through the ages, OCP stays in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Those decades are dead, man.

    Our priest ordered the St. Michael Hymnal a couple of years ago, and it is a dream. Just lovely. I can never thank him enough.

  46. albinus1 says:

    In case anyone is interested, here is a site where you can get free PDFs of the Liber Usualis in modern G-clef notation. The whole thing consists of 18 PDFs; each PDF consists of 100 pages.

    It’s better to learn to read the Gregorian notation, which isn’t that difficult to learn; but some people are intimidated by it, so this might be a good first step to introducing Gregorian chant to people who are put off by the Gregorian notation.

  47. Lepidus:

    As far as how to replace the missalettes, there are several options:

    > Proper hymnals; I’m sorry to hear it ends up being “Marty Haugen” stuff; but then, the music in the missalettes isn’t all that great either. Sometimes worse.

    > Hymnals sometimes come with the cycle of readings. The downside is that they tend to be very bulky and heavy, and people may find them uncomfortable to hold.

    > People can have their own “hand Missals.” What if a parish, in preparing to get rid of missalettes, arranged for good quality hand Missals to be available for parishioners to purchase? Even if the parish bought people their missals, my guess is the parish will still come out ahead.

    One other problem with missalettes; sometimes, for legitimate reasons, the readings won’t match the missallete (if the parish or diocese observes a feast day, or you’re having a permitted votive Mass, or special occasion Mass that the publisher knew nothing about). In that case, if you don’t tell people before you begin Mass, you will hear the distinctive “flip-flip-flip” sound of hundreds of fingers flipping perplexedly through missalletes, trying to find what you’re reading.

    Another problem: the missalette publishers largely mean well, but they sometimes get the liturgy wrong; either they fail to mention options that can be exercised, or they sneak in little options that don’t have any authority. It is a little annoying, as a priest, to have to explain why I’m not doing what the missalette says, when I’m doing something the Missal says is perfectly proper.

  48. Blaise says:

    Surely the alternative to missallettes is for the congregation to purchase family missals (I like the CTS one) and the parish to purchase an appropriate hymnal full of Gregorian chant. Or buy the Gregorian missal.
    Swansong – where I go to Mass in London a hint of the missa de Angelis would be like manna in the wilderness.
    Chicken thanks for the links and app recommendation

  49. MAJ Tony says:

    DCMArg says:
    Novus Ordo can also be beatiful. I think solemnity, however, is “hard-coded” in TLM (which is very good). Sometimes I feel solemnity is up to the celebrant in Novus Ordo.

    Were that it were true. If it were true, the NO would have been a. a much more difficult sell, and/or b. much more like the TLM that we are blessed to have in the few places we do have it.

    As for the difficulty of chant and sacred polyphony, I’m with An American Mother. Especially now with the resources we have online, it is a mere excuse. One can listen to music online and follow along on your score for free, or find a relatively inexpensive resource like ($5/mo) that has sheet music of some very good, and not particularly difficult, sacred music (including Gregorian chant) that one can acquire and even have recordings of some of the polyphony to use to learn and rehearse separately on your own time. That is how I am able to meet my musical requirements for Sunday Masses.

  50. Bressani56 says:

    Sister Roccasalvo’s point is that a new book has solved all these problems. Our parish has been using the Vatican II Hymnal for about a year and it has made a huge difference since it has all the propers in English.

    This video explains:

    And here is what Sister’s full article says (please consider reading her entire article):

    The Vatican II Hymnal is the first hymnal since the Second Vatican Council to include the texts of the sung Propers for every Sunday and major feast. A newly-minted missal, it is beautiful to look at with beautiful music notated within. A parish community can feel proud to hold this splendid example of the Church’s treasury of sacred music, both traditional and contemporary. The paper is of the highest quality with a resilient binding, the designs, beautifully appointed. It has the readings for all Sundays and feast days – the complete cycles, A, B,C. Here is music for the new evangelization. Vatican II Hymnal serves as a musical ambassador for Christ.

  51. Kathleen10 says:

    Absolutely agree with every word, Fr. Z.
    On an unrelated note Fr. Z., I mentioned to someone the other day, your blog, and also mentioned “Talk Like Shakespeare Day”. What day of the year will that be celebrated in 2013? I do not want to miss it.

  52. Kathleen10 says:

    By the way all, what interesting discussion!

  53. Gail F says:

    “Magnificat” is printed every month, on inexpensive (but not awful paper) and is beautiful. It’s not only being a paperback that makes typical missalettes so awful!!!!!

    I’ve seen the Vatican II Hymnal but haven’t used it — it’s a lovely thing.

    ChoirGirl: I was in a madrigal choir for a summer when I was studying abroad in college, and have never sung before or since — I can carry a tune but I’m no singer. We all had such a good time! Most of the songs were in Italian and I don’t remember them, but we did sing “The Silver Swan” by Orlando Gibbons — five part harmony with some notes so high that screeching was always a definite possibility on my part. But the 20 or so of us strangers all sounded pretty good together by the end of six weeks. I also used to belong to a medieval history recreation group, and people in the group who had once belonged to a “club within a club” used to burst into Renaissance songs from time to time, and any of the rest present would join in. I particularly remember a time when five or six of them started singing “Pass time with good company” in harmony while cleaning up after an event. Yes, there’s a lot of difficult music in the world, but these two experiences taught me that ordinary people can sing a lot of supposedly hard things when they have an enthusiastic director.

    Contrarian: I’m a lifelong Catholic and I am horrified by our music.

  54. Evovae says:

    Chicken, choirgirl, American Mother, et al. in the subthread:

    I gather we all agree with what American Mother said: “I don’t think simple chant or simple polyphony is beyond the reach of an average parish choir. Good instruction is needed. Dedication is also needed. But that’s always the case.”

    I think we all would also agree with Chicken in not wanting to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

    Still, I think it bears repeating that Gregorian chant is hard, mainly because it’s so easy to do it badly. You can’t really get away with that as easily in polyphony, since people do need to know their parts and chords need to line up. In other words, you know what you’re aiming for, and if it’s not working, then it’s really bad and everyone knows it.
    Not so much with chant, and that’s the main thing I’m worried about. Sure, you can learn the basics of the notation from the introduction to the Liber Usualis and get all the notes right, but because so much of it is text-driven and lacks an regular metrical beat, the appropriate phrasing and style is a real challenge for contemporary Western ears. And that kind of thing is all the more important in monophony because you can’t hide behind the direction written into the music as with polyphony.

    That said, I think it’s perfectly possible to have all parishes do the Ordinaries, since the texts are (or should be) familiar and the melodies are simple and/or repetitive. But it can’t just be chant for chant’s sake, musical mumpsimus, as it were. It has to be introduced well so that the congregation’s musical habits are well formed from the start, and you don’t end up with things like slow-as-molasses chant or nonsensical phrase breaks.

  55. Luvadoxi says:

    contrarian: As a former Lutheran myself, I feel your pain. Oh boy, do I ever feel your pain. I’ve sung in choirs and played musical instruments, and when I joined the Catholic Church I was just in shock. And I’m especially shocked by how people don’t see a problem with it. Catholic laity are treated like slightly slow-witted children. There aren’t even harmonies in the hymnals. A song like Gather Us In–I start to sing it and then just stop….it’s unsung-able. I mean truly, I studied music and I am unable to sing it. Plus it’s just stupid.

  56. Luvadoxi says:

    I meant…unsingable, of course.

  57. Luvadoxi says:

    I have a general question: remember a year or so ago when the new translation of the missal came out–for a couple of months there was no modern music because the musicians (Haugen, Haas et al) had not written it yet. For that glorious period, we had some sort of simple chant. Having grown up Protestant I know nothing about chant. I don’t even know what propers are when you all talk about them. But this chant our congregation used, and it was *easy*, and very soothing. Then, the music director chirpily told us, “Don’t worry, after the new year we will have modern music again!” For awhile there, I thought I was in Camelot. Then, the dream ended. But it wasn’t difficult to sing–what was that? I got the feeling it was something the US bishops approved. It was wonderful while it lasted.

  58. Pingback: The 12 Steps up the Mountain of Pride - Big Pulpit

  59. CharlesG says:

    @Luvadoxi: I imagine what you are referring to are the missal chants of the ordinary, which are chant melodies actually written into the altar missal in the new translation. Some dioceses did require them for a period of time. The Archdiocese of Boston required them until January of 2012.

  60. Gail F says:

    Luvadoxi wrote “Catholic laity are treated like slightly slow-witted children. There aren’t even harmonies in the hymnals.” So true! I think many Catholics who attend a service at Protestant church with more traditional music are often surprised to hear the congregation singing such “hard music.” In a time of felt banners and theology-less homilies, we get fake folk music and pretend spirituals (I love real folk music and real spirituals). The overall effect is that “the people in charge” think anything else is JUST TOO HARD for poor, ordinary people to handle. Knowing people in parish councils and on worship commissions, I realize that is not their intent. However, that’s what they actually accomplish.

  61. SwanSong says:

    “In quires and places where they synge” – Parish church attendance in the UK is steadily declining, but in the Church of England there is one area of growth. Statistics show that the numbers of worshipers in cathedrals is actually increasing! Why should this be? I can only speculate, of course, but one factor may be the quality of the music in Anglican cathedrals. England is blessed (and I use the term advisedly) with an ancient choral tradition which somehow survived the Reformation; most Anglican cathedrals have fine choirs of boys (and in some places girls) supported by adult male singers, and Evensong is sung daily. Most cathedrals also have ‘sung Eucharist’ on Sunday and Holy Days, which to the naked eye looks very like a novus ordo sung Mass and these are always well attended. I’d like to believe that people are attracted by the fine music and polished, generally conservative, liturgy they find in our cathedrals. Generally speaking you don’t get patronized in a Cathedral!

  62. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Evovae,

    You wrote,

    “And that kind of thing is all the more important in monophony because you can’t hide behind the direction written into the music as with polyphony.”

    The thing is, much more so than with polyphony and contrary to what many people say – that Chant is Heavenly music – Chant is a music of the people. It is a cry of the heart for God. It is the sinner’s recollection of the Heavenly music he heard when he was first called in Baptism. Chant, for all of its otherworldliness, really touches the Earth in a way few types of music do. It is meant to be sung by imperfect humans and it will often sound like it is song by a choir of cattle, but as Charles Ives once remarked, “My God! What does sound have to do with music?” Literally, almost everyone who sang Chant in 11oo A. D. had no musical training beyond, perhaps, Boethius’s re-working of Ptolomy’s second century treatise, Harmonics. The majority of monks learned intervals and learned, essentially, what we would call, today, sight-singing, but the pitch and intervals were based on non-equal temperament, so the Chant would not have sounded anything like what it does, today. In fact, because Chant was sung without a pitch center, except that provided by the Chant-master, the pitch would probably not even be stable (most monasteries did not have organs or even pitch pipes). There was also, literally, no concept of mensuration (measures and beat subdivisions). The Chant-master most probably kept time by his pulse or even a candle, so there is built-in rubato.

    The Chant we sing, today, is a spoiled and polished version of the real muscular Chant that was sung before 1700 A. D., when Rameau developed his modern theory of chords and tuning. In other words, don’t stress so much that the congregation sounds like a herd of drunk sheep when they try to Chant. That is how Chant always sounded until modern times. It has always sounded like a Klingon smells – earthy, peaty, with just a hint of spice. If you can get the congregation to sing Chant like Klingons, then, no matter how bad a recording it might make on the Billboard chart, I’d say you are off to a good start. It will only get better (and by that I mean less authentic and more modern) as time goes on and people start connecting Chant sound to what they hear in everyday modern (as in popular) music.

    So, just Chant. God will be pleased no matter how it sounds if the heart is pure and things will gradually get better.

    The Chicken

    P. S. For those who don’t know, Evovae’s name comes from, Euouae, which is the abbreviation used in the Liber Usualis to denote the tones of the Gloria Patri and occurs in place of printing the whole Gloria.

  63. DCMArg says:

    Maybe I was not clear. I’m a computer scientist, and I cannot avoid to be geek sometimes :)
    “Hard-coded” is a programming term. “Hard-coded in TLM” means that solemnity is embedded in TLM, in its gestures, texts, chants. I feel that NO and the use of vernacular language (sometimes) leads to a loss of solemnity, which is up to the celebrant to be preserved. I think in the video of Bp Cary consecration is properly addressed, even when it is NO and versus populum. And he is singing, which is very rare in my city.

  64. jflare says:

    So, in part we’re discussing how we should handle providing a music resource that isn’t gaudy, but can still be used by the “general public”. Well, at our church, we’d hoped that someone might publish an updated version of a Ted Marier work, Hymns, Psalms, and Spriritual Canticles (HPSC). Sadly, that didn’t happen. We have an out-of-print version of this for our parish and use if frequently. ..We also use LOTS of sheet music and Mass guides.

    I can certainly echo the sentiments about choirs with too much stuff to handle; I’ve literally had to deal with four separate resources to find the music for one Mass, usually for Christmas or Easter. Thankfully, our director finally hired an assistant, so we now have a better chance to have everything on sheet music and prepared early. This way, we need merely each page through our choir binders as we go through Mass.

    If that’s not an option, I’d recommend the Adoremus Hymnal, or perhaps the Gregorian Missal. The former offers several Mass settings in both English and Latin, the latter offers the settings in Latin. Either one might be quite useful. Provided we ever get a budget put together, we may wind up buying the Adoremus for the parish. We’ll see.

    A friend of mine had wondered aloud 5 years ago why neither OCP nor GIA offered a missalette in Latin. We decided that even if some have grown weary of the humdrum English versions, there’s too little demand for the Latin type.

  65. Cantate says:

    Ah, missalettes! I noticed Fr. Augustine Thompson’s remark: “the disposable word of God,” which is exactly what I have called them–even to my pastor a few years ago–and even suggested that the parish buy a quantity of OF hand-missals for parishioners to purchase at a discount. Our pastor has twice suggested recently to the congregation at our weekly Sunday TLM that we should invest about $60 each for our own copy of the 1962 hand-missal. (Currently most people use the red paper-back missals published by Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei; said missals are pretty dog-eared and worn now, after several years’ use—and they look messy in the pew-racks, you see. ) I don’t know how many people have followed the pastor’s advice. However, said pastor did NOT advise the OF congregations of our parish to buy THEIR own hand-missals! This parish still uses We Celebrate missalettes, in English and Spanish. Missalettes in general should go into the dust-bin of liturgical history! Since missalettes are such a cash-cow for the publishers, I don’t expect disposal of the Disposable Word to occur any time soon.

  66. Bressani56 says:

    As far as I am concerned, the OF congregational Missal problem is solved by the following:
    Vatican II Hymnal (Complete Readings and Propers)
    Lumen Christi Missal (Complete Readings and Partial Propers)

    The EF problem has been solved by this (now being sold in the FSSP Bookstore):
    Edmund Campion Missal (Complete Readings and Propers)

Comments are closed.