It seems as if everybody’s home from the CMAA Colloquium and suddenly Jeffrey Tucker and the reform2 folks are all over the overthrow of the current Roman Catholic repertoire at Entrance, Communion, and preparation. I guess when you can’t eject a body of music for quality (or lack thereof) you can make the attempt based on the liturgy itself. I don’t think the argument for the propers-only holds water, and I’d like to offer a serious push-back on the misguided idea that a collection of Gregorian chant is the 0nly way, or even always the best way to sing at these moments of the Mass.
First, a Roman Catholic musician has to look at two sources before anything else. The Order of Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). For this discussion, the GIRM is key, and sections 47 and 48 describe “The Entrance.”
47. After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.
To start with, church musicians must be aware of what is hoped to be accomplished by the Entrance chant. There are three purposes, aside from the obvious accompaniment of a procession. This music “opens” the Mass. It is intended to foster unity. And the intent is to introduce to all either the particular day or the liturgical season.
Because of this, music ministers often program seasonal music. Psalm 51 and David’s profound repentance for Lent. Psalm 85’s longing for God’s restorative justice for Advent. Or even seasonal hymns and songs suggestive of Christmas or Easter festivity.
Let’s keep reading in the GIRM, mindful that this is a Roman document, and as such adheres to a specific tradition. Choices are given because Rome realizes that in faith communities different opti0ns will help more impoverished communities establish a minimum standard for good liturgy. And places more enriched with gifts in the arts and liturgical theology can aim for a higher plateau:
The Church first addresses who does the singing. The Church sees this question as more important that what is sung. This sentence is very illustrative. A musical dialogue is favored over either through-sung pieces by the people or choir. A choir is a higher priority than a cantor. A piece sung by the choir alone is the last choice, and just the next level of improvement over the spoken option.
How should this get applied in practice? The aim is a ritual interaction between music leadership (preferably a choir) and the people. This style echoes much of the experience of the Mass: dialogues between people and priest, the Psalm and Gospel Acclamation in the Liturgy of the Word, as well as various litanies. The Church advises that this liturgical “conversation” is an excellent model. Lacking the ability or repertoire to carry out that dialogue, the GIRM instructs that it’s better for the people to sing the entire entrance. That would presumably take place if there is no organ or cantor to lead. The last choice would be the choir singing alone, presumably when the dialogue cannot take place, or the people are unable or unwilling to sing.
The US has additional instruction with regard to the repertoire of this Entrance chant:
There are actually six options. The US bishops suggest the antiphon from the Missal. Or the psalm from the Roman Gradual. Or the psalm of the day from the Roman Gradual set to other music.
I’ve used the first option during certain liturgical seasons in my parishes. We might select a brief refrain by the people, and have the choir or cantor chant the antiphon (as a “verse”) followed by a repeat of the refrain from our hymnal. Sometimes I will program another setting of the Psalm given in the Gradual. An example of this might be on the First Sunday of Advent assigns Psalm 25 for entrance, and I (or another music director) might program Huub Oosterhuis’ “Hold Me In Life.” All of these fall under the USCCB’s first choice.
Choice number two is a “seasonal antiphon and Psalm” from the Simple Gradual. Why might this be chosen? Maybe a parish prefers not to sing a new piece of music every week of a liturgical season. You can program the same piece through all the Sundays, and ease the impact on the people. Or maybe there’s a good liturgical reason for adhering to the same psalm–the preacher might preach on it, for example.
Coming in at number three is another psalm setting. Aside from the fact that the US Bishops have no “approved collection,” I use this option frequently. Last weekend I programmed “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” a metrical hymn based on Psalm 98. My intent is to lean less to non-Biblical texts and more to Scripture-based texts for songs and hymns, especially those based on the psalms.
And then we have option #4, a “suitable liturgical song,” which is a wide enough piece of leeway to drive a pipe organ through. This weekend at my parish, I confess we are singing “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” which while it picks up a few hints of Jesus’s healing and invitatory words in the Gospel, is not a psalm setting.
I find that sometimes the given antiphons and psalms are an aid to selecting music. But sometimes not. There is a one-year cycle for most of them and the Lectionary is arranged in a three-year cycle. Some bishops at the 2008 Synod on the Word advocated for a better connection and harmonization between the Word and the Eucharist at Mass. This would be an important step for the fourth edition of the Roman Missal–an expanded offering of antiphon texts and accompanying psalms. I would even suggest that canticles from both the Old and New Testaments be mined for appropriate texts. And some of the more lyrical passages from the prophets and apostles.
Liam has suggested on this blog that parishes should not find the antiphon-plus psalm format alien if it is used. I would agree. But the notion that the Catholic Church is in a good position to be dogmatic about the sung texts of the Mass–this is misguided. The propers should guide intelligent music programming. But not dictate it.