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CNP Feedback -
Propers — Whence Cometh Thou?

Q. Dear CNP:

I love reading the answers to so many questions. Now I have a question.

I am reading about how we should be using the Entrance Antiphon instead of an Opening Hymn, and the Communion Antiphon instead of a Communion Hymn. When did this come about? I will be trying to use the Communion Antiphon while the ministers are receiving communion, starting in Advent. Then I will use a Communion Hymn while the congregation receives. How do I explain this change to the congregation?

By the way, I will be having a cantor workshop in October to prepare the cantors for your Communion Antiphons. These antiphons look very "doable!" Thanks.

Phyndin da Proppa

A. Dear Mr. da Proppa:

The texts for the Propers of the Mass [Entrance, Offertory, Communion] are ancient, reaching back in their Latin form at least to the earliest examples of Gregorian chant. Mass texts began to be codified with the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries of the 7th and 8th centuries. During "processional" moments of the Mass, there was a need for music as clergy and/or laity walked within the church. Some of the earliest volumes showing texts and basic music notation for these processional chants are found in Benedictine abbeys in Switzerland, dating from the 10th century or earlier.

Hence, we have texts and music for Entrance, Offertory and Communion times from over a millennium ago. When the early sacramentaries and missal were assembled, these texts, based to a large degree on the Psalms, were incorporated. Books of chant, graduals and others, also included rudimentary musical notation. At Mass, from the time of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, through the Council of Trent and Pope Saint Pius V and beyond, the schola was charged with singing music for these processional moments.

Hymns as such (obviously chant-style hymns such as "Veni Creator Spiritus") were sung, but not at Mass. They were a part of the Divine Office or were sung as devotional music. From these early centuries up until 1970, one would have expected to hear a choir singing the Introit, Offertorio and Communio at the appropriate times during High Mass. These same chants are still used in the Extraordinary Form, sometimes called the Traditional Latin Mass. In the 20th century, they would have been sung from the Liber usualis, a collection of chants representing the extensive scholarly work of the monks of Solesmes Abbey in France. They could also be found in the 1907 edition of the Graduale Romanum, published by the same monks. From the mid-16th century until 1970, Catholic choirs around the world sang the same Latin texts for Entrance, Offertory and Communion, either in chant form or as polyphony composed by musicians of each era.

From this brief history of Propers, we can see that the Church specified certain texts to be sung on each Sunday and feast of the year. And, believe it or not, even in the second decade of the 21st century, the Church still specifies these texts! They are published as Latin chant in the Graduale Romanum, published in 1974 by Solesmes. These texts, either in their Latin form, or translated into the vernacular, are what the Church expects for her ideal Liturgy.

The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], published in the Roman Missal — Third Edition in 2010, says of the Entrance:

47. When the people are gathered, and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers, the Entrance Chant begins...
48. This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or similarly by a cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the Dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant:

  1. the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum as set to music there or in another setting;
  2. the antiphon and Psalm from the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time;
  3. a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
  4. another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

We can see that topping the list of options for Entrance is the Proper antiphon text from the Missal or the Gradual. Only as a last alternative, can "another liturgical chant," loosely interpreted as a "hymn" or "song", be sung.

So what happened in the 1970s? When the vernacular was allowed to be used for Mass texts, there existed absolutely no body of liturgical music based on the English translations of the Proper texts from the Sacramentary (Missal). Music directors, often prompted by rather progressive liturgists and diocesan officials, turned to hymns (#4 of the options) as something to sing at Mass. Catching popular appeal rather quickly, the "four-hymn sandwich" developed, as music directors saw as their primary purpose to fill those slots: Gathering, Preparation of the Gifts, Communion and Sending Forth. No longer was music used to "sing the Mass" (meaning the Proper prescribed texts); rather we were comfortable and content to "sing at Mass."

There's nothing new about the Propers — rather, we're returning to what the Church has been doing for centuries, part of her ideal Liturgy even to this day.

In contrast to the 1970s, there are now numerous sources for vernacular Propers, including Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett and The Proper of the Mass for Sundays and Solemnities by Fr. Samuel Weber OSB. These offer a variety of chant settings, from simple to quite complex. For those who wish to begin singing the Propers at the most basic level, CNP publishes Mass Propers for the Liturgical Year.

Introducing the singing of Propers needs to be done gradually, with ample explanation for the congregation. The greatest boon from a renewed use of Propers is being truly faithful to the Church. We've been using the Lectionary for as long as we've had a vernacular Mass. Those who wouldn't dream of changing the prescribed readings (that would be unfaithful to the Liturgy) see no problem in changing the Propers, in singing hymns of our own choosing over texts chosen by the Church.

You certainly seem to be on target with your introduction of Propers — proceeding slowly and with catechesis for the people. May God bless the work you've begun and may you instill in the parishioners a true love for Roman Rite Liturgy as it is found in our tradition and as it is carried on in our own times.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
Article written 19 September 2016

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