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CNP Feedback - Novus Ordo music

by Gary D. Penkala

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

We have 2 questions:

In a Novus Ordo Mass during Lent
  1. Is the Credo recited or sung? (Gregorian chant)
  2. Would a Missa brevis (Palestrina) be appropriate if the Gloria was not sung? On Laetare Sunday?
Could you direct me to a reference for the above so we don't have to bother you with questions?

Thank you!

A. Dear Parish Musician:

Allow me a few general comments before I answer your specific questions.

I'm not sure what your background is, but you seem to be approaching the use of music at Liturgy from a Tridentine perspective, where rubrics for music were clear, well-defined and generally without much room for variation or options. The Liturgy according to the current Roman Missal is quite a bit different from that. There are numerous legitimate options for prayers and rites (like the Penitential Rite/Sprinkling Rite), and those responsible for Liturgy in a parish are encouraged to make use of the options available. The use of music is even less regulated. There are many times when music may be used; the rubrics indicate some of the times when music should be used and often the text is specified. But even when the text is clearly laid out and a preference is given (like in the Introit/Psalm which can open a Mass), there is still freedom to choose something else. All-in-all, the current Roman Missal allows musicians and liturgists a great deal of freedom (often abused, unfortunately) in selecting music and texts for Liturgy.

To your questions:

In a Novus Ordo Mass during Lent -

  1. Is the Credo recited or sung? (Gregorian chant)

There is no rubric stating that the Credo must be sung or must be recited (at any Mass, Lent or otherwise). This is entirely up to those planning the Liturgy. As an example, in solemn Sunday Masses in Saint Peter's Basilica, the Credo is always sung using chant Credo III (as far as I've seen); the choir and congregation alternate on phrases after the celebrant's intonation. In the vast majority of local parishes (especially in the U.S.), the Credo is never sung. Neither is the only option; neither is wrong. Valid arguments can be made for or against singing the Credo: the chant setting has a great historical significance and Credo III is treasured by many Catholics and musicians; on the other hand, the Credo is a bold statement of tenets and beliefs, and statements are not usually sung. It's up to the local church.

  2. Would a Missa brevis (Palestrina) be appropriate if the Gloria was not sung? On Laetare Sunday?

Generally in the current Liturgy, what was called the "Ordinary" is sung by the congregation, although the choir may take parts alone (Gloria, Agnus Dei). To be true to the spirit of the Novus Ordo, the choir should not always sing the parts which they are (as an option) allowed to sing alone -- like the Gloria and the Agnus Dei. The other parts of the ordinary (Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus) are sung by a choir alone only by exception -- the rubrics really do not call for this. While the nobility and solemnity of a magnificent Palestrina Mass can be remarkable, I'm not sure how to justify using this on a regular basis. I'm a huge fan of Renaissance music -- I also love the Missa brevis settings by Haydn and Mozart -- however, I don't think I'd be comfortable with my choir singing them regularly at parish Masses. I know there are parishes that do this, but I'm not sure how they justify permanently excluding the congregation from "professing their faith" in the Credo.

Specifically to your question -- if one wanted to sing a Palestrina Missa brevis there's no "rubrical" reason not to sing it during Lent, when the Gloria is lacking. Laetare Sunday allows some lessening of the Lenten restrictions placed on music (no organ except to accompany singing) and as such has no bearing on whether to sing a choral Mass or not.

  Could you direct me to a reference for the above so we don't have to bother you with questions?

Unfortunately, there is no single reference text that will give all the answers on using music at Mass, but perhaps therein lies the beauty of the legitimate freedom inherent in the current Roman Rite. Maybe an analogy with a foreign language may make the point clearer. The tight, clear rubrics of the Tridentine Mass may be likened to using a foreign language dictionary. Every word (or action in the rite) is clearly defined. The meaning is obvious to everyone (we all know, and do, exactly what's called for -- uniformly). The current Missal is more like a language textbook. Principles are elucidated, verbs are conjugated, sentences are put together from vocabulary learned (we choose options to make the liturgy appropriate for the feast, season, time, parish and congregation). A liturgist and musician must now do more than know about the liturgy -- he must actually form the specific liturgy, always (and this is a sticking point with many progressive liturgists) within the boundaries set by the Missal -- within the rules of grammar in our analogy.

I would suggest taking a look at the Liturgical Hints & Ideas section at the end of this liturgical planning page on our website:
Tools for the Musician
[The text is reproduced below] On this page, and the next twelve weeks of Summer Ordinary Time (Year A), we've reviewed various tools which can be of great value to the Novus Ordo musician.

Liturgical Hints & Ideas:
Various tools are extremely useful to the musician responsible for planning liturgical music. During the summer Sundays in Ordinary Time we will explore these tools. The more of these you own or have access to, the easier and more complete will be your planning.

The tools we will look at individually in the coming weeks include:
  • Liturgical Calendar
  • Sacramentary
  • General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM)
  • Lectionary
  • New American Bible (NAB)
  • Ceremonial of Bishops (CB)
  • Music in Catholic Worship (MCW)
  • Liturgical Music Today (LMT)
  • Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts
  • Hymnal or worship aid used in your parish
  • Worship III Hymnal (WIII)
  • CanticaNOVA Publications' Liturgical Planning Pages

I hope this has helped somewhat to clarify the rich and exciting opportunities that exist in the current Roman Rite. One of CNP's goals is to somehow make the beautiful music of the past (a Palestrina Missa brevis, for example) usable in today's Liturgies.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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