More on Participatio

The neoparticipatio folks are at it again, dredging up six-year-old articles that weren’t that good to begin with. A canon lawyer takes a shot at choral renditions of the Mass ordinary. I wouldn’t have been impressed had I read the article in 2000. And I’m not impressed today.

If you’re looking at liturgical law, you can’t confine yourself to the legislative documents alone. In the Roman Catholic Church we have the Roman Missal. It contains rubrics–the print in red that tells you how to celebrate Mass.

The rubrics tell us that the acclamation after the preface, the Sanctus, is sung or recited by the priest with the people. I think a case can be made for an occasional choral presentation, although I don’t ever envision it happening in my parish. But a parish choir performing a choral Sanctus as part of the regular musical fare? That’s a liturgical abuse by any definition. The moral of the story: never send a canon lawyer to do a liturgist’s job.

The Musica Sacra blog posted a link to this brochure yesterday. It commits the same error: overlooking the rubrics. It also does a poor job of explaining the Vatican II principle of participation, citing Sacrosanctum Concilium 14, but overlooking 21, 26, 28, 30, 33, or even the sister document to Musicam Sacram, Eucharisticum Mysterium, which devotes section 12 to explaining participatio a bit more.

Sadly, the hermeneutic of resistance is alive and well.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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15 Responses to More on Participatio

  1. Liam says:

    I will say that there are more traditionally-minded folks who appear to acknowledge this.

    Also, there are hybrid approaches: having the choir sing the “heaven and earth are filled with Your glory” and/or “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord” phrases, which seems within the rubrics, though a rigorist could argue that the rubric for the Gloria expressly permits such an antiphonal approach (to permit, for example, the choir to sing the middle section) and that the rubric for the Sanctus does not mention it and therefore it’s not clearly permitted. Sensible shoes come in handy.

  2. Cantor says:


    I will admit that the article on the choral Sanctus seems a stretch, but the assertion that GIRM necessarily overrides MS doesn’t seem substantiated.

  3. Cantor says:

    IOW, if you can articulate why GIRM trumps MS, I would appreciate reading it. I have passed the article on to some more mainstream liturgy people, who are not impressed with it, but I haven’t yet found a good explanation for why GIRM trumps MS.

  4. Liam says:

    The reason is that the particular and later modifies the general and earlier, in legal terms. MS is a general statement, that did not have the reformed missal in mind, and to the extent that missal has specific rubrics to the contrary, they control. Otherwise, there would be no point in having such rubrics. That’s not the Roman way.

  5. Liam says:

    Allow me to add that holding on to this reading of MS as trumping the GIRM is singular way to reduce the credibility of one’s cause.

    Progressives were taught this kind of lesson, many times over; some have resisted learning.

    Proceed with caution.

  6. Cantor says:


    But is the mandate in the GIRM an explicit denial of the previous law? I forget the actual conditions that need to be satisfied for a specific law to override a general one. ISTM that MS proposes two options, while the Missal proposes only one.

    I think it is fair to say that the framers of the post-V2 Missal intended to jettison the practice of the choir singing the Sanctus alone. Allowing the Gloria to be done by the choir was probably a concession. I think it’s also likely that, in the event of another reform of the Missal, this will probably change, since the liturgical “climate” (or, at least, HH B16) seems less insistent on congregational singing these days – small surprise, really, since it was new and exciting in the 1960s, but it’s old news for us now.

    I don’t know that MS was necessarily ignorant of the new Missal. It probably was largely completed by 1967, in at least a blueprint. There are things in it (e.g. prayer of the faithful) that reflect an awareness of the reform.

  7. I’m not appealing to the GIRM, my friends, although I think it adds weight. The Missal itself says the people sing the Sanctus. Liturgical law is expressed in rubrics, not in the instructions alone.

  8. Cantor says:

    By GIRM, I mean the intro to the Missal, i.e. the Missal itself. For this discussion, I am (hopefully correctly) regarding the two as interchangeable.

  9. Gavin says:

    If I hear “participating at Mass is not like participating at a soccer game” one more time, I’m going to break into “We are Called”. :P Seriously, I think we would agree that the ideal realization of the reforms is for the congregation to sing, and those that insist that they remain silent for all but “et cum spiritu” are violating the spirit of the reforms at least. While I, even given the opportunity, would never utilize a choral sanctus on a regular basis, I don’t know that it could be called a full-out “liturgical abuse”. Or at least, I wouldn’t say it’s as serious as using crackers and purple kool-aid at Mass. I’d probably agree (admitting ignorance in the matter) that the spirit of the reform would suggest the people sing the Sanctus, but I wouldn’t say that people should flee to the Bob Hurd church rather than be caught at the nasty illicit Mozart church.

    Another topic springing from this is what if the vocal participation of my congregation during the Mozart Sanctus is just as quiet as during the Vermulst? Is it really that much of a difference between a congregation that won’t sing what’s in the hymnal and one which is inwardly participating? I’m not suggesting we just give up on getting people to sing. However, is anyone really banned from singing along with the Mozart Mass? At a concert, this would be incredibly rude, but at Mass, I guess they could join in if they wish to. I’ve done this at Tridentine Masses, usually to the annoyance of my fellow “participants”. How is that different from when I introduce the Vermulst People’s Mass (I shudder to consider anything by Proulx) and no one sings there? I’d suggest that while the congregation actively SINGING it themselves is better, in either case whether or not their lips move, the Sanctus is still their prayer.

  10. Liam says:

    The liturgical norm, as expressed in the Missal itself, is to provide for congregational singing of the Sanctus. MS does not trump this in any way. MS mentioned the resurrection of the General Intercessions because that was an express revival of the Council, but the rubrical particulars of the 1970 Missal were not yet worked on by the Concilium. MS had the interim MIssal (1965) more in mind. It’s hardly irrelevant, but to the extent the current MIssal provides for something, it is what obliges. To deny that is to subvert one’s own case.

    The occasional non-compliance is not a norm, but would happen in a Roman way, without any hint that the norm was not obliging. It’s a very unAmerican approach, but sensible Roman shoes, to use Todd’s apt metaphor.

  11. GIRM and the Roman Missal are separate texts. Almost always the former is published with the latter. The GIRM is also published separately.

    These two items are not interchangeable.

    Every ritual in the Roman Rite (Hours, sacraments, even blessings) have a brief or lengthy introduction. And then there is the ritual text itself: the actual prayers, readings, and directives. The latter include rubrics.

    Every musician and liturgist should have on her or his bookshelf a Sacramentary and the various Rites books. Every so often, it’s worth reading through the various rituals. I get an eye-opener from time to time. I imagine the reform2 folks would get a good bit more.

  12. Pes says:


    Are you saying the Latin rubrics and the Latin GIRM are sometimes in conflict, and that the choral Sanctus is an instance of this?

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind a choral Sanctus now and then. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who advocates it becoming “regular fare.” I wouldn’t mind because I know others are singing, even when I and the congregation are not singing. So if I feel along with the words and join my heart to a sacred musical Sanctus, I wouldn’t feel at all slighted. That said, I would miss not singing.

    I was delighted to read you had Bernie Lehmann build you a dulcimer. He also makes a very interesting Selmer-type guitar with x- instead of ladder-bracing.

  13. Cantor says:

    The GIRM is part of the Missal, but when we talk about norms, ISTM the two are a single entity, non? Rubrics in both (e.g. sequence is optional) are given the same weight, right?

    I suppose a question is, what does it mean to negate something explicitly?

    I am thinking, for example, of Redemptionis Sacramentum’s prohibition against lay homilies, which takes time out specifically to abrogate any such practice that may exist on a local (i.e. specific) level.

    Musicam sacram remains the only post-Conciliar statement from the Vatican on sacred music. JP2 referenced it several times in his chirograph on the 100th anniversary of Tra le sollecitudini.

    “The Church thinks” that the 1969 Missal is a development/revision of, not a rupture with, the traditional Roman Mass. Hence, it doesn’t make sense to posit that simply because MS predates the 1969 Missal, it is not what a general law normally is, any more than the 2002 Missal cancels out instructions that predate it.

    I think the MS angle does indeed, after some huffing and puffing, work to justify a choral Sanctus normatively. At the same time, the stipulation that the congregation is not left out of the singing is, as MCW says, “in tension” with what (ostensibly) might lend a normative ok to the choir singing the Sanctus alone.

    ….as Bugnini slaps himself on the head in his grave….

  14. Liam says:

    That’s unpersuasive. The 2002 Missal certainly does cancel instructions that preceded it: if that were NOT true, then a host of loopholes that many folks got closed through clarification in that Missal would remain OPEN.

    The eagerness to resist the inexorable logic here is remarkably like the lack of docility of which certain progressives have oft been accused. It would prove a wonderful excuse for those progressives.

  15. notitiae says:

    Greetings for your site and post…
    Sacred Music in Spoleto by NotitiAE:

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