An enormously long blog post here contrasting the use of chant and official texts versus non-plainsong and other texts. As usual, the reform2 stance suffers from a bit of myopia. Note their use of certain terms:

Four-hymn sandwich began as a progressive commentary in the 70’s on a certain persistence of the pre-conciliar effort to get people singing at the Low Mass. I grew up in the American northeast, probably the area most conservative and most resistant to conciliar reforms. In my home city, most parishes had organists. Whether full-time or part, these men and women played what they knew: organ-based hymnody. Most programmed four of them. But it was a fairly early post-conciliar development to get people to …

Sing the Mass rather than sing at the Mass. By the 70’s, the more forward-thinking parishes were already singing psalmody in the Liturgy of the Word. Mass settings were progressively implemented and liturgy people in the 80’s were talking about singing the Mass. They meant singing as part of the essential ritual moments: Psalm and Gospel Acclamation in the Liturgy of the Word. Plus the Mass Ordinary: Gloria, Holy, Acclamation, Amen, and Lamb of God.

The second ritual editions of RCIA and the funeral rites got more people thinking about the ritual moments there: signing of the senses, the rite of election, the dismissal of catechumens, and the song of farewell.

When reform2 people talk about singing the Mass, their utilization of including the proper texts isn’t quite the original meaning. Singing at entrance, preparation, and Communion accompanies a ritual action. These pieces, be they hymns, songs, or antiphons are not quite the basic building blocks of acclamations, litanies, and even hymns like the Gloria.

I think of a hymn as a text with stanzas, each sung through. Examples would be Come To The Water and Holy God, We Praise Thy Name. Festival Canticle would not be. Hymns could be based on Scripture. Many are fairly close to the original text, but very nearly all have been adapted to fit a scheme of rhythm, rhyming, or both.

A hymn isn’t really determined by accompaniment. A P&W band can play a hymn. A hymn also isn’t determined by age or composer.

A very early development among post-conciliar composers, both those working in the organ/choir format and with guitar groups was the re-emergence of the antiphon-plus-verse format. Also, more texts based on the Bible, especially the Psalms.

A lot of Catholic music critics are ignorant of the real post-conciliar liturgical developments. They may be young. They may not have been active Catholics. And some are likely to have been stuck in Vatican II-resistant parishes.

Anybody else see anything of interest in this article? Admittedly, I stopped about 1/4 of the way through. Misunderstanding and misinformation doesn’t hold my long-term interest.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Terminology

  1. Liam says:


    The column is really divided into two parts, the first half of which is a seeming but not really accurate pastiche history, and the second of which is a book promotion in the form of an interview.

  2. Melody says:

    You made it farther than I did. I don’t have patience to plow through all the straw men and cliches (I’ll take my four hymn sandwich with mayo and mustard…). I’ve been involved with Church music since grade school choir days, and part of that was pre VII. I think you are right that they are ignorant of real post-conciliar developments.

  3. David D. says:

    I have not checked out HPR for quite some time. I believe Fr Baker is now in your neck of the woods with the FSSP in Tacoma.

    By the way, Rochester, is not the northeast what with “pop” and all.

  4. Mary says:

    According to the post, sacred music is music that has only every been used for sacred purposes, which has no secular associations. So what happens when that music is appropriated for non-sacred purposes, for example when a CD of Gregorian chant tops the pop-charts (eg http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2485088/Singing-monks-become-international-smash-hit.html) According to the article, it just became non-sacred. Oops, bad luck for the church!

  5. charlesincenca says:

    Agree with abandoning the navigation of this article. Ditto for the attending and severely pedantic moaning and groaning at a former forum haunt of mine. There are so many contradictory rationales bandied about in such truly pointless ruminations, one has to wonder if following Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” banter is an easier alternative for comprehension and clarity.
    Of course what everyone niggles about comes down to 1. absolutes; and 2. authoritarian imposition. Neither of which is to be found in the GIRM. That’s not likely to be revised very soon as well, and why should it be? A liturgical universe can suffer bad performances of THAXTED as well as IN EVERY AGE. Conversely, said universe would be sadder if both were imploded by a merciless gravity of the black hole of fundamentalism.

  6. Anthony Phillips says:

    Well, I read the whole thing, and quite liked it. I’m honestly am baffled by the statement that it’s ‘misunderstanding and misinformation’ (Todd) or ‘not really accurate pastiche history’ (Liam). Which points exactly do you feel were inaccurate? What are the ‘contradictory rationales’ (CharlesS)?

    It doesn’t seem helpful to accuse those with different perspectives or views of being ‘ignorant of the real post-conciliar liturgical developments’ (Melody). Is it that impossible to believe that other people can be every bit as well informed as you, but come to different conclusions?

    For the record, I grew up in the northeast US (Boston suburbs). The only ‘resistance to Vatican II’ in the many parishes I attended over the years is that there was absolutely no Gregorian chant and not a scrap of Latin (both which of course violates the directives of Sacr.Conc.)
    Also for the record, I’m not one to make an idol of Vatican II. Like Vatican I, this was a local council, not an oecumenical one (something we Catholics need to admit in the interests of Christian unity), and we shouldn’t be afraid to subject it to critique. The council fathers may have been well intentioned (that’s not for me to say), but they were fallible and no doubt made mistakes.

    It’s difficult for the hierarch to admit they’ve got things wrong. But they’ve certainly got it wrong about the liturgy these last 50 years.

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for commenting, Anthony. It’s a complicated history, and that would just be in the United States. I’ll limit my observations to a few factors. First, that plainchant was only cultivated in monasteries and the occasional liturgically excellent parish. Musical excellence was not part of the American artistic landscape–we borrowed a lot from Europe, when we bothered. I suspect our organists were trained in hymnody. Or as pianists. Subjective observation, certainly. But I grew up in a northeastern city that possessed a fairly decent musical heritage: lots of organists and choir directors who had great skills in service playing, forming harmonious choirs, and singing anthems.

      Two, it’s a bit more about making an idol of Vatican II. It’s also recognizing lawful developments after the council. One example: the world’s bishops endorsed the vernacular nearly universally by 1970. Vatican II was a starting point for a hopeful future, not the end of legislation. For example, when the council bishops spoke of the people singing the Ordinary in Latin, the people were neither singing nor taking a vocal part in the Ordinary. When the Church shifted to liturgy in the vernacular, the singing was emphasized, not the Latin.

      Most reform2 proponents ignore the emphasis on psalmody as well as other Scriptural texts for singing as early as 1970. You may disagree with guitar accompaniment of the St Louis Jesuits, for example, but the structure of their compositions–pretty much all of the early ones–were of antiphon and verses: a Catholic tradition that bypassed the strophic hymn of the Low Mass.

      I could go on. I think many Catholic musicians have devoted energy and time to accessing information, but I don’t think they all get the whole picture of Catholicism. Artistically, I think chant proponents have a lot to offer the modern Church. But it seems as likely they’ve gotten at least as much wrong as the bishops.

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