Musicam Sacram: Last of the Norms (32-36)

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In this post, we cover the final five sections of part III of Musicam Sacram, concluding a section that covers liturgical music norms for the Mass. 

First, the Consilium affirms the practice of substituting for the antiphon+psalm combo designated for use at the first three positions of the four-hymn sandwich:

32. The custom legitimately in use in certain places and widely confirmed by indults, of substituting other songs for the songs given in the Graduale for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion, can be retained according to the judgment of the competent territorial authority, as long as songs of this sort are in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast or with the liturgical season. It is for the same territorial authority to approve the texts of these songs.

The principle behind this practice is to encourage a singing assembly. I’ll again note that the much-maligned music of the St Louis Jesuits was very much in keeping with these principles. They continued the antiphon+psalm format for much of their music. While the musical merits of their work can very well be debated, there’s no doubt that the structure of the SLJ songs more closely adopts the traditional Catholic form than hymns. 

33. It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.

The Consilium speaks of the psalm, and includes it in the orbit of assembly singing:

The song after the lessons, be it in the form of gradual or responsorial psalm, has a special importance among the songs of the Proper. By its very nature, it forms part of the Liturgy, of the Word. It should be performed with all seated and listening to it—and, what is more, participating in it as far as possible.

MS does address the issue of choral setting of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). How the people would be partially included is left to the discretion of good liturgical and pastoral judgment. It would seem to me that the Sanctus might be the very last option for choral-only singing.  

34. The songs which are called the “Ordinary of the Mass,” if they are sung by musical settings written for several voices may be performed by the choir according to the customary norms, either a capella, or with instrumental accompaniment, as long as the people are not completely excluded from taking part in the singing.


The Consilium gets into some particulars, including the dawn and advocacy of the practice of the “responsorial Gloria.” The communal singing of the Sanctus is deemed “preferable.”

In other cases, the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass can be divided between the choir and the people or even between two sections of the people themselves: one can alternate by verses, or one can follow other suitable divisions which divide the text into larger sections. In these cases, the following points are to be noted: it is preferable that the Creed, since it is a formula of profession of faith, should be sung by all, or in such a way as to permit a fitting participation by the faithful; it is preferable that the Sanctus, as the concluding acclamation of the Preface, should normally be sung by the whole congregation together with the priest; the Agnus Dei may be repeated as often as necessary, especially in concelebrations, where it accompanies the Fraction; it is desirable that the people should participate in this song, at least by the final invocation.

The Lord’s Prayer:

35. The Lord’s Prayer is best performed by the people together with the priest.[Cf. Inter Oecumenici, n. 48.]

If it is sung in Latin, the melodies already legitimately existing should be used; if, however, it is sung in the vernacular, the settings are to be approved by the competent territorial authority.

“Low Masses” should include music. The Consilium completes the four-hymn sandwich by mentioning the song “at the end of Mass.” They also suggest that a Eucharistic theme alone is not sufficient to include a song.  

36. There is no reason why some of the Proper or Ordinary should not be sung in said Masses. Moreover, some other song can also, on occasions, be sung at the beginning, at the Offertory, at the Communion and at the end of Mass. It is not sufficient, however, that these songs be merely “Eucharistic”—they must be in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast, or with the liturgical season.

It’s a lot of ground to cover. What do you think? 

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to Musicam Sacram: Last of the Norms (32-36)

  1. Gavin says:

    Regarding point 34, I don’t think this says that the people have to be able to sing the Ordinary, since that’s not what it explicitly says. It does say, “as long as the people are not completely excluded from taking part in the singing.” I would interpret this as meaning so long as the people still have something to sing, such as the preface dialogue, etc. I’d be willing to grant your point about the Sanctus if it weren’t for the fact that this (besides the Gloria or Kyrie) is the only part of the ordinary that CAN be extended. Have a long Agnus Dei and it just seems out of place. I’m not arguing from liturgical law, but just common sense: the choral Sanctus WORKS. Obviously I would never make it anything more than a rare occasion, but it’s still the best place for a Mozart setting or whatever.

  2. Gavin, given the structure of this section of MS, I would take “taking part in the singing” to mean “taking part in the singing of the ‘Ordinary.'” I think excluding the people on a rare occasion from the Sanctus would need to be balanced by encouraging their singing in another part or parts of the Ordinary. It’s not that explicit, though, so I can see how it seems to leave the door open a certain bit.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read MS, but I can see how many classically-oriented church musicians might be discouraged that this document seems to shut the lid on a full choral ordinary.

  3. Pingback: That Pesky Responsorial Gloria « Catholic Sensibility

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