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Loophole Liturgy

Gary D. Penkala

Liturgically speaking, are you living a "loophole life style"? The Roman Rite is replete with options: choices for the Penitential Act, for the Mystery of Faith, for the Dismissal. Some options are purely that, texts of equal standing, from which we choose one to use at any given moment. Some choices come with a hierarchy — a priority among the choices. Let's look at some of these, and see if we are living within a series of "liturgical loopholes" or not.

Loophole #1: Hymns and Songs

The GIRM offers four options for the Entrance Chant at Mass: The singing at this time [Entrance Chant] is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the 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 Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting;
  2. the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual;
  3. a song 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. a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. GIRM Footnote: "Care must be taken to ensure the quality, both of the texts and of the melodies, so that what is proposed today as new and creative will conform to liturgical requirements and be worthy of the Church's tradition which, in the field of sacred music, boasts a priceless heritage." from Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II, 31 May 1998, #50]

These are listed in order of preference. How do we know that? Sacrosanctum concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was the first document issued by Vatican II, in 1963. Section #117 says:

The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by Saint Pius X.

It is desirable also that an edition be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in small churches.

The "typical edition" became the Roman Gradual and the simpler edition became the Simple Gradual. It can be seen that the Simple Gradual is meant for instances when a "better" option from the Roman Gradual cannot be used.

If a parish can't sing the Gregorian chant Introit from the Roman Gradual or another musical setting of the same Latin words, the GIRM offers a substitute — a simpler chant antiphon with psalm verses from the Simple Gradual. If even these are beyond the means of the musicians and assembly, another psalm setting may be sung. And only if none of the above can possibly work, should we consider another "liturgical song" [generally meaning a "hymn"]. This last option is so far down the list as to be seen as no more than a rubrical "loophole," yet how many of our parishes are forever living in this loophole?

Loophole #2: Shortened Readings

The preference of the Church is clearly that the full reading be proclaimed; after all, that's what's given in the Lectionary. The optional shorter reading excludes some material from the full reading. If the preference were for the shorter reading, it would have been given, with an option to expand it, if desired.

Loophole #3: The Apostles' Creed

We have the option of using the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed ("I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible...") or the Apostles' Creed ("I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord..."). The first creed seems to be preferred, although it may be repalced by the second, particularly during Lent and Eastertime. To use this year-round, because it's shorter, is perhaps exploiting a loophole.

Loophole #4: Reciting the Dialogues

The 1967 document Musicam sacram in section 29 indicates that all the dialogues between priest and people belong to the "first degree" of musical participation. To recite the dialogues, while possible, is the loophole, not the norm.

Loophole #5: Eucharistic Prayer II — Forever

There are four basic Eucharistic Prayers in the Roman Missal, with others approved for various needs. The GIRM [#365] suggests preferences for when the four basic prayers should be used:

  1. Use on days when there is a proper text to be inserted; use on days of Apostles and Saints mentioned within; especially appropraite for Sundays
  2. Use on weekdays
  3. Use on Sundays and feast days
  4. Use on Sunday of Ordinary Time

The only Eucharistic Prayer that doesn't mention Sunday as a possibility is II. Why do we hear these so often ... brevity? Another loophole.

Loophole #6: Agnus Dei Tropes

There are occasionally "official" loopholes, that sometimes contradict other rubrics. For example, the GIRM (2002) says:

#366 – It is not permitted to substitute other chants for those found in the Order of Mass, such as at the Agnus Dei.

Redemptionis sacramentum (2004) says:

#59 – The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.

The US bishops' statement, Sing to the Lord (2007) says:

#188 – When the Agnus Dei is sung repeatedly as a litany, Christological invocations with other texts may be used. In this case, the first and final invocations are always Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

Which is it — change the text or not? Obviously, the rubrics of a Vatican congregation (dicastery) holds more authority than suggested guidelines by a national bishops' conference.

Loophole #7: Other Propers

Are you singing, or even aware of the other Propers of the Mass, like the Offertory Chant and the Communion Chant. We can... anytime... stop worrying about the correct or most appropriate hymn to use at Offertory and Communion. The Church already offers us the answers. Do you ever chant the Offertory Antiphon or the Communion Antiphon in English with psalm verses between? The texts for the Offertory Antiphons were never translated in the Sacramentary, but they can be found here. The Communion Antiphons are in the Sacramentary, as well as in every paperback "missal" published in the U.S. [also see Liturgical Planning Pages].

Loophole #8: Vernacular — Exclusively

Perhaps one of the biggest loopholes, whose justification goes all they way up to bishops, is the exclusive use of English at Mass. The Vatican Council permitted the use of the vernacular, all the while preserving the use of Latin. We read in Sacrosantum concilium:

36.1 – Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
36.2 – But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended.

Vernacular becomes a loophole when the argument is made that the council abolished Latin (which it did not), or that using any Latin in Mass is anachronistic, when we know contrary. The same council said:

54 – Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.


So, in the end, are we trying to implement what the Church wishes for her liturgy? Or are we fighting, and seeking consolation in "loopholes"?

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