Can we sing just anything at Mass?

Over the past few years, some have seemed to question if what we sing, whether antiphons or other songs or hymns, needs to tie in with the scriptures of the day at all. One noted speaker even went so far as to say that nowhere is it stated that what is sung at Mass needs to relate to the readings. While that may be technically correct, the comment was certainly unhelpful in the context of today’s discussions.

There are frequent debates on Facebook and other forums revolving around the question of why the “propers” (usually meaning the entrance and communion antiphons) don’t necessarily fit with the readings. Interlocutors often use the fact that the propers don’t actually fit as a way of “proving” that it doesn’t really matter whether they do or not. The fact that the propers are in the Missal, they say, is sufficient justification in itself, and therefore those propers should always be used, regardless of their relevance to anything else that is going on in the liturgy.

This assumption needs to be tested. First and foremost, are we aware that the propers are actually hangovers from the preconciliar rite?

The Ordo Lectionum Missae of 1969 provided a completely new and different Lectionary from what had existed prior to that date. However, the antiphons of the current Roman Missal mostly make use of texts that were to be found alongside the previous Lectionary contained in the preconciliar 1570 Missal of Pius V, not the present Lectionary. (The 1570 Missal did not have a separate lectionary; the readings, chants and prayers were printed as complete Mass formularies.) As stated above, some have used the fact that preconciliar antiphons rub shoulders uncomfortably with postconciliar readings as a justification for actively not trying to tie in what is sung with what is prayed, but I believe this position to be of dubious validity. Furthermore, it shows a lack of awareness of why the antiphons are even in the Missal at all today.

Fr Pierre Jounel, who was a member of a number of the working groups of the Consilium in the years following Sacrosanctum Concilium, said in the course of a lecture in 1977 that those responsible for the liturgical reforms seriously contemplated omitting the antiphons from the 1969/70 Missale Romanum altogether. He said the only reason they retained the antiphons was so that those who wanted to continue to use the Latin chants of the Graduale could continue to do so. The phrase he used was “to placate the Gregorianists”. According to Jounel, the antiphons in the new Missale Romanum were never intended to be sung in the vernacular as they stand (and indeed GIRM still tells us that they are only there for recitation when nothing else has been sung, is being sung, or will be sung at those points — current paras 48 and 87, final sentences).

The antiphons, Jounel said, were retained in order to remind us that we should be singing something at those points in the rite, but not necessarily those actual texts. (I have used the word “placeholder” to describe this function of the antiphon, a term which is disliked by those whose agenda is different from mine.) An increasing number of composers have spent many hours of time setting the actual vernacular antiphon texts to music, and publishers have expended much investment in order to issue these settings; but I believe that they have based their work on a misunderstanding of what the reformers intended. When GIRM tells us that the antiphons should be recited if there is no other singing, this is demonstrating the real purpose of the antiphon texts as envisaged by the reformers.

Aside from being unaware of Fr Jounel’s testimony, an important additional reason why composers and publishers have been misled is those same paras 48 and 87 of GIRM, where the current US version of GIRM is different from the text issued to the rest of the universal Church. At the request of the BCL, Rome included an extra provision in the 2003 US version of those paragraphs, saying that one of the options for singing at those points in the rite is the antiphon from the Missal. Other countries do not have this provision, but only allow for the singing of chants from the Graduale Romanum, or the Graduale Simplex, or another collection approved by the bishops’ conference (the US version helpfully adds “or the Diocesan Bishop”). In those countries, singing the antiphons verbatim as in the Missal is simply not an option.

In passing, we might also note that paragraphs 47 and 86 of GIRM outline the theological principles behind what is sung at the Entrance and at Communion. They were the original descriptive paragraphs in the first draft of the document, which was then passed to other persons and institutions who added paragraphs 48 and 87, the practical implementation of those theological principles. However, those who inserted paras 48 and 87 into the draft had a different agenda: they wanted to preserve what they had always done in the past. This is why GIRM, a typical committee document, still contains internal contradictions today. The later inclusion of singing chants from the Graduale Romanum and Graduale Simplex in some respects undermines and contradicts the theological principles enunciated in the preceding paragraphs. Perhaps the day will come when these internal contradictions are ironed out.

Returning to the history of the Missal, when the English translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal was in progress, ICEL had set up a special working group for the Antiphonary. That working group obtained permission from Rome to use a slightly “looser” translation of the antiphons than the author of Liturgiam Authenticam would have approved of, specifically with the aim of making the translation more suitable for the purpose of setting to music. They finished their work, and very good it was, too; but before it could go through the approval process with episcopal conferences it was suddenly withdrawn.

What happened is that Monsignor James Moroney, at that time secretary of BCDW and a member of Vox Clara, belatedly became aware of Pierre Jounel’s testimony indicating that the present antiphons were never originally intended for singing in the vernacular. He immediately pulled the antiphonary from the approval process, and Vox Clara itself then commissioned a completely new Liturgiam Authenticam-style translation of the antiphons that was intended not to be music-friendly at all.

[Interestingly, every time the antiphon was a verse lifted directly from the psalms, the Revised Grail Psalter (RGP) version was used — i.e. its incarnation before being tweaked yet again for the latest version, Abbey Psalms and Canticles (APC). Presumably this meant that Vox Clara felt that RGP was not music-friendly either, which means that the decision to use APC for the psalms in all forthcoming English-language lectionaries and the Divine Office is strange, to put it mildly.]

This new, non-music-friendly Antiphonary was then incorporated into the final text of the Missal at the last minute, without ever going through a formal approval process by bishops’ conferences as the other fascicles of the Missal had done. This means that we now have the following bizarre situation:

(a) the antiphons of the Roman Missal were never intended to be sung in the vernacular as they stand;
(b) the vernacular translation of those antiphons was specifically designed not to be music-friendly;
(c) that translation of those antiphons was also never formally approved by any episcopal conference;

and yet

(d) composers and publishers have been busily producing music settings of those same non-music-friendly antiphons in different idioms, ranging from chant through choral to contemporary;


(e) some bishops, pastors and musicians are insisting that these settings be sung, especially the chant settings, as if they were somehow the traditional music of the Church that all should use in preference to other hymns and songs.

In fact recent comments on Facebook indicate that some uninformed pastors are insisting that the text of the antiphons be sung in addition to whatever other hymns or songs are selected for these points in the rite. Musicam Sacram 32 makes it plain, however, that those other hymns or songs are substitutes for the antiphons, not additional to them.

Here is a concrete example to illustrate the issue. The Communion antiphon Passer invenit appeared in the 1570 Missal on the 3rd Sunday of Lent. As a matter of fact it had nothing to do with the readings of that day, so no change there! The text, taken from Ps 83(84): 4-5, runs as follows in the current English translation:

The sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for her young:
by your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.

In the 1969/1970 Missal, this antiphon once again appears on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, and also on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. On 15 OT, the antiphon has no connection whatsoever with the scriptures of the day in any year of the cycle. On the 3rd Sunday of Lent, a case could be made for a marginal connection with the readings in cycle B, but in the other cycles there is still no connection. However, it is pleasing to note that the same antiphon is now also used for the Mass of Dedication of a Church and Altar, where it is clearly relevant to the celebration.


So — returning to the question where this paper began, should what is sung at Mass tie in with the scriptures of the day?

Para 48 of GIRM, referring to chants other than those in the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex, specifies chants that are “suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year” [my emphasis]. It seems pretty clear that the intent behind this wording is precisely that what is sung should be appropriate to the part of the Mass and the feast or season being celebrated; and the way you define what is appropriate to the feast or season is precisely by looking at the readings of the Lectionary for the day. In other words, what is sung does need to tie in with what is prayed and read.

Further justification can be found in the 1974 edition of the Graduale Romanum. The monks of Solesmes went to great pains to include options for the Communion antiphon for all three years of the Lectionary cycle. (They even made life more difficult for themselves by limiting what they added to existing pieces of chant from the mediaeval repertory, instead of composing new chants in the style of, or making adaptations of, existing pieces of chant, as had happened in previous decades whenever a new feast needed new propers. And no one has yet explained why only the Communion antiphons were given this treatment by Solesmes, and generally not the Entrance antiphons.) Whatever the case, it is quite clear that the aim was to tie the Communion antiphons in more closely with the scriptures of the day.

We have spent many years trying to encourage pastoral musicians to use settings that reflect the scriptures of the day, so that our assemblies may be fed richly and coherently. Liturgy planners from the different publishers, liturgy commissions, and other resources all attempt to make the celebration of every Mass a unified whole (recommended in Sing to the Lord para 123). The Collegeville Composers Group, responsible for the Psallite project, which provides alternative antiphons and psalms for every Sunday and major feastday of the three-year cycle, based its work on an intensive shared lectio divina of the scriptures of the day. Some have said that these alternative antiphons are preferable to those in the Missal, and they are certainly more singable.

To attempt now to demolish all the formational work and effort of the past 50+ years on the grounds that no Church document actually stipulates unambiguously that there should be coherence between what is read and prayed and what is sung does seem somewhat perverse.





44 responses to “Can we sing just anything at Mass?”

  1. Lee Bacchi Avatar
    Lee Bacchi

    I know of parishes where they sing both the antiphon and then a hymn (gathering, communion, preparation), and that has always seemed bizarre to me.

    I think the seasons or the sacred action at the time of singing could also provide suitable music choices. I don’t think the day’s Scriptures have to be the only link to the music chosen.

  2. Lee Bacchi Avatar
    Lee Bacchi

    I know of a priest who at weekday Mass sang Immaculate Mary all the time because it was short and it fit his vocal range. Bizarre!!

    1. jack louden Avatar
      jack louden

      Yes, there was a pastor who did the same- sang Immaculate Mary to keep the women’s guild happy! Politics.

  3. Joshua Vas Avatar
    Joshua Vas

    Sorry, while I agree with the fact that the antiphons were never meant to be sung, I think you overstate your case. I think a tie-in with the Scripture readings is effective, but it lends itself better to the seasons than to Ordinary Time.

    (a) Your statement that the propers are hangovers from the pre-conciliar liturgy imply that they tied-in with the readings and other texts in each formulary of the pre-conciliar Missal. In fact (as your later example illustrates), there are many cases where they do not. The selection of texts for the antiphons of the Proper of Seasons does have a certain random quality even in the pre-conciliar Missal.

    (b) IGMR 2002 48 says “suited to the sacred action, the day, OR the time of year” (emphasis mine) – not “and”! That gives at least 3 possibilities. Seen in this light, the options for singing from the Graduale, etc. are hardly opposed to what is said. Further, while the readings are certainly a major component of the day’s thematic content, they are not the sole one(there are the prayers, for example). Especially in Ordinary Time, with the semi-continuous second reading that does not tie-in with the Gospel, there may be multiple thematic elements within the day’s lectionary.

    BTW, I imagine that the reason for the Solesmes tie-in between the Gospel and the Communion antiphon is to highlight the connection between these two points in the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist . Christ heard in the Gospel, received in Communion. The parallel is less striking for the Entrance.

    (c) Re: the claim of contradictory redactions of the IGMR paragraphs. In the 1964 and 1965 schemata “De Missali”, one finds that the idea of the chant introducing the theme of the day or season is given last preference, and in fact, initially only considered with regard to the more festive days. More priority was given to its functional use (accompanying the procession, and secondarily, uniting and preparing the assumbly). These emphases are carried over into the schemata for the IGMR.

  4. Fergus Ryan Avatar
    Fergus Ryan

    The antiphons in the altar/chair missal from 1970 were discussed extensively by Luca Brandolini here: «L’Ordo Antiphonarum del nuovo messale», Ephemerides liturgicae 84 (1970) 342-350.

  5. Steven van Roode Avatar
    Steven van Roode

    The main purpose of the Introductory Rites as a whole is to “ensure that the faithful who come together as one establish communion and dispose themselves to listen properly to God’s word and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily” (GIRM 46).

    The Entrance Chant plays a particular role, namely 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” (GIRM 47). The choice of the text should accommodate this purpose. “The mystery of the liturgical season or festivity” is more general than the specific liturgy of the day or even the theme of the biblical readings.

    Of all the obligatory parts of the Introductory Rites, there’s no part that specifically looks ahead to the readings of the day (the short introduction by the priest is optional). Even the texts of the collects, right before the First Reading, do not refer to any of the readings of the day. In my view, the Entrance Chant should set the general mood of the celebration, bring people into the rite itself (make of them ritual people) and transform the gathered faithful into a communion that is ready to celebrate the sacred mysteries. The texts of the Graduale Romanum, if sung and prayed with this in mind, do exactly that.

    It’s interesting to read the General Introduction of the Lectionary 67 and 68. In contrast to Advent, Lent, and Easter, the Sundays in Ordinary Time do not have a distinctive character. They “do not have an organic harmony of themes designed to aid homiletic instruction.” “Such an arrangement would be in conflict with the genuine conception of liturgical celebration. The liturgy is always the celebration of the mystery of Christ and makes use of the word of God on the basis of its own tradition, guided not by merely logical or extrinsic concerns but by the desire to proclaim the Gospel and to lead those who believe to the fullness of truth.”

  6. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    Interesting history. Thank you, Paul.
    The virtue I’ve found in singing the antiphons is that they are scriptural.
    I believe that the church does have something to gain from more exposure to the words of the sacred texts, not just “themes derived from the Word” as one finds in hymns and songs. That’s a far cry from making an argument as to what *must* be done regarding the antiphons, but it’s a concern I have.

  7. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    Another thing is that COVID-tide bans on congregational singing turned out to be the occasion for introducing the use of antiphons on a widespread and prolonged scale beyond the period of bans on physical gathering (and they had to be something that congregations wouldn’t immediately latch onto without worship aids, because there were no physical worship aids other than online), and the practice became familiarized with congregations, my sense is that they are here to stay in more places than one might have imagined before the pandemic. The pandemic helped to dislodge the inertia behind the running assumption of practice that “we always do a hymn in this spot in the liturgy because that’s what we’ve always done”.

    It would also beyond passing strange that “another suitable song” can mean that the only certain thing that is *impossible* to be “suitable” is a (generally Scriptural) antiphon including in the ritual books; the American adaptation of the Missal helpfully provides a clear backstop against such a gymnastically tortured interpretation.

    Richard J Clark has a lovely setting of the Psalm 84 communion antiphon Passer Invenit in English:

  8. James Chepponis Avatar
    James Chepponis

    Steven said: “Even the texts of the collects, right before the First Reading, do not refer to any of the readings of the day.” True, regarding the current English version of the Roman Missal.

    However, there is value in having collects anticipate the day’s Scriptures, as seen in the alternate Opening Prayers prepared by ICEL for the 1998 Sacramentary. Unfortunately, these prayers were scrapped along with the rest of the book. (Although not authorized for use in the Catholic liturgy, these prayers are available in “Opening Prayers: Collects in Contemporary Language,” published by Canterbury Press.)

    Many of these prayers are very beautiful. For example, here’s the collect for this weekend (18C):
    O God,
    the giver of every gift that endures,
    only by your grace can we rightly understand
    the wonder of life
    and why it is given.
    By the word of your Son,
    challenge our foolishness,
    confront our greed,
    and shape our lives
    to the wisdom of the gospel.
    We ask this through…

    Do any other countries currently have alternate collects? I seem to remember back in the 1980s that the LTP Sourcebook printed unofficial English translations of Opening Prayers from the Italian Sacramentary which referenced the day’s Scriptures. Perhaps someone else on this forum with more international experience than I have can offer more insight.

    1. Lee Bacchi Avatar
      Lee Bacchi

      James — I remember those Opening Prayers from the Italian Sacramentary in the LTP sourcebooks, and liked them very much. I do not know, unfortunately, about other countries’ Sacramentaries which might have them.

      1. Steven van Roode Avatar
        Steven van Roode

        The current Dutch Altaarmissaal (1979) has them. In the new translation (still underway) they’re not incorporated.

    2. Tom Cademartrie Avatar
      Tom Cademartrie

      The current 2019 Italian Messale Romano ( includes a variety of alternate Collects, Prayers over the Offerings, and Prayers after Communion for Sundays, solemnities, and weekdays. All are printed at the very end of the tome.

  9. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    “The virtue I’ve found in singing the antiphons is that they are scriptural.”

    I would agree. But so are many good texts for contemporary responsorial songs. The St Louis Jesuits did far more to put Scripture into post-conciliar pew singing than the antiphons ever did. The indulgence for the antiphons rather violates a directive I remember from my days at the Newman Center: the chaplains said that at most one song or psalm could be something new to the assembly. Everything else had to be in the book. There is a pastoral wisdom not only in assembling a repertoire, but tending it well. The antiphons tend to work against that.

    The Ordinary Time antiphons are, to use a theological term, a hot mess: the overuse of Psalm 34, the sequential ordering as the Sundays progress. Sure, I look at them. If I have a known setting of one I might use it.

    If the church were serious about it, it would need serious reform:
    1) looking to harmonize (not match!) with the Scriptures of the day as well as consider the vector of the Gospel over long stretches of Ordinary Time. The antiphons for seasons are better; their sub-committee clearly didn’t break for cigars and whiskey mid-morning.
    2) a wider inclusion of the canticles of the Old and New Testament. Instead of so much Psalm 34, at least one option for Communion should be a Christological passage from the New Testament–Ephesians 1:3-10, or Hebrews 12, or one of the lyrics from Revelation.
    3) A set of “common” antiphons for the seasons might be useful. The bishops might also commission poets to set passages in meter, and composers to provide music and keep it all in the public domain.
    4) The “hymn” section of the OCF was a decided improvement (though still too hymn-heavy) over the offering in RCIA 595. More attention to things like this would have helped the reforms of the 80s and early 90s.

    I don’t know if the drive for antiphons and propers is a reaction against a perceived lack of quality in contemporary liturgical music. The alarm is misplaced. Inexperienced musicians performing a repertoire-of-the-week will still produce subpar music. As they stand now, the Propers are a rabbit hole. We have more pressing needs in liturgical music.

    1. Joshua Vas Avatar
      Joshua Vas

      Re: common seasonal antiphons – isn’t that the Graduale Simplex?

      I suspect the prevalence of Psalm 34 is simply because of the lack of “character” of Ordinary Time and the long use across many ritual traditions /Churches of this psalm as a Communion psalm.

      1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        Perhaps the formulators of the Roman Rite needed a little more reflection on Ordinary Time. I’m in my twelfth go-round of the three-year cycle as a parish liturgist, and I certainly notice strains of “sub-seasons” within the green. And not just the Bread of Life discourse of cycle B. It seems easy to note the journey of the Lord: his early ministry and call of disciples (Psalms 40, 116, and perhaps Hebrews 12:22ff), the Sermon on the Mount (Psalms 19, 119, and perhaps 1 John 1:5ff, especially for winter ordinary time), all the way to the eschatology Sundays at the end of Ordinary Time (the canticles of Rev 4 and 7). Few preachers seem aware of the long stretches of discipleship, reconciliation, mission, parables, etc.. They seem little prepared to do much more than a week-to-week thing, like a television series. Music directors could do better to pave the way for a consistent thread, more matter how subtle it might be.

  10. William Fredrick deHaas Avatar
    William Fredrick deHaas

    Thanks, Paul – St. Rita in Dallas, TX (as you know well) is a good example of passing on *bad* history and theology/understanding. Music leader/composer makes money by composing his own antiphons and passing this on as *mandated* by church – always both hymn and antiphon at entrance and communion. Secondarily, the explanation is *tradition*. If you do not know history, you are doomed to repeat it!!

    1. Joshua Vas Avatar
      Joshua Vas

      Was it really necessary to explicitly single out particular places and individuals you disagree with in a public comment box?

      1. William Fredrick deHaas Avatar
        William Fredrick deHaas

        Thought about that but my comment was directed to Paul Inwood and he knows the place I used as an example – it is just that. There are many more.

    2. Richard Clark Avatar

      Mr. de Haas, The ad hominem attack was uncharitable and unnecessary. You are correct that St. Rita’s is not alone in taking a both/and approach of singing antiphons and hymns, etc. If directed at Paul Inwood only, perhaps consider sending him a private message.

      St. Rita’s music director is highly respected as one of the finest Roman Catholic conductors in the United States. He is a finer human being.

      More germane to the topic: I am grateful to Paul Inwood for this information and conversation, one that needs to be had and must continue. We are all passionate about the liturgy — a gift — as Eric Bermani reminds us. We would do well to remember the words of Ubi Caritas and not allow passions to become personal leading to animosity and division among all who are united in the Eucharist and in the love of Christ.

      (On another note, no one is getting rich composing antiphons. — Ok, at least I’m not, LOL!)

      Oremus pro invicem
      Let us pray for each other.

  11. Joshua Vas Avatar
    Joshua Vas

    Why are multiple pieces for an Entrance (or any other part) so awful? I can see the possibility of contradictory emphases and the fittingness of having a single piece. But we sing multiple communion pieces when the distribution of Communion is prolonged. Why not the same at other parts e.g. to accompany different actions, or a particularly lengthy procession? For that matter, the Introductory rites have several sung pieces already……

    1. Renee Sheehy Avatar
      Renee Sheehy

      Ultimately, I think this really comes down to whether people and the Church want to make standard musical propers a regular part of the typical mass and how people view the meaning of the musical propers in the mass. Practically, introducing the propers as very short vernacular pieces seems very sensible to me to create a bridge for people to the chants in the Roman Gradual and to the musical legacy of the church. People could learn the prescribed antiphons without taking away currently beloved hymns (or other more-scripturally matched antiphons). Over time, people would learn what the antiphons are, and it would be easier to include on occasion a proper Latin chant or a motet or longer vernacular version (even a St. Louis Jesuit-style version if available) instead of the proper/hymn combo. If a parish wanted to do a classical version of a famous introit on a particular feast or solemnity, there would be some context for it.

      As a random lay person with no real background in music but some interest in all of this, I would really prefer the Church take an overarching historical view to music, with parishes not totally limiting themselves to one specific style in a particular mass but a range of selections from the Church’s entire history including the past 50 years, which will be tomorrow’s history.

      Having the propers might (or might not) help allow different musical styles to flourish by providing a single focus for the text, with the options for a short proper to allow for hymns too. This may not, however, be practical or make sense to musicians. Of course, the differences in text between the Roman Gradual and the missal create confusion that needs a least some sort of explanation (such as use either or sung vs. spoken), and there would have to be some tolerance for changes in vernacular translation so that compositions are not made ineligible by translation changes.

    2. William Fredrick deHaas Avatar
      William Fredrick deHaas

      Suggest that the answer to your question is what you state. What drives the focus and choice – opening hymn is gathering us and accompanies the procession that gathers us. Suggest that most directors would opt for a hymn that covers that procession (rather than breaking it up into two hymns, hymn antiphon, etc. Paul, Rita, others can weigh in – but do not believe that antiphons were designed to do this)
      Same with communion – but, if there are large numbers, director may have no choice but multiple hymns – wonder if there aren’t better solutions via one hymn, alternating sung and instruments, etc.
      Finally, your last sentence raises another liturgical issue that has frequently been a subject at PrayTell Blog – the opening rite. Others here can comment but many experts cite that the rite has too many disparate elements that take us away from *gathering*.

  12. Allan J. McDonald Avatar
    Allan J. McDonald

    I celebrated our Cathedral Basilica’s (Savannah) last TLM Mass today (July 31st). It is moving to another church next Sunday. I would suspect that Vatican II’s desire for a more lavish use of Scripture for the Liturgy of the Word never envisioned the Scriptures of the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons being abandoned either in a sung or spoken Mass. And no one is at the mercy of the tastes of those who plan the music, be it the pastor, music director or some committee when these are chanted. Our Cathedral schola made up of about 15 young people no older than 25 or so, always chant the Gregorian Plainchant and Polyphony flawlessly. In my 42 years a priest, the first time I actually heard the propers sung was at a Latin Modern Missal Mass we had once a month in a former parish in the early 2000’s where the choir director used the 1974 Graduale Romanum. I had no idea it existed with prescribed propers for the Mass. Chalk that up to my 1970’s liberal seminary training which never introduced us to Gregorian chant or the propers.

  13. William Fredrick deHaas Avatar
    William Fredrick deHaas

    Your comments underline Paul’s points. VII documents did envision that the *old* antiphons would be replaced, updated, or that scriptural based hymns would be used in their place. Paul carefully traced the history, applicable quotes, etc. You merely repeat your worn out bromides and memes – AGAIN and AGAIN because it fits your ideology.
    You AGAIN just had to *blame* your *liberal* seminary training – interesting that it took you until the early 2000s to figure that part out.
    One would hope that in your retirement some element of caution, wisdom, etc. would shift your thinking.

  14. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    I’m grateful for all the comments so far.

    This post has also been linked to in other online threads. One of the first comments in one of those forums, referring to harmonizing with the scriptures of the day, said “They’d soon notice if we sang The First Nowell on Good Friday”…..

    I’m intrigued by the way different respondents have fastened on different strands. There are those who are of the “it’s all Holy Writ so we are bound to use the antiphons” variety. I hope I demonstrated that this is simply untrue, and that the American provision for singing the Missal antiphon is an exception, not found elsewhere in the universal Church. Others fasten onto the desirability (or otherwise) of using a chant or pseudo-chant idiom on the grounds that it’s part of our tradition, despite the fact that in many places it has not been part of the experienced tradition for at least 60 years and quite possibly never.

    Then there’s the question of whether to use more than one item at a time. I’m aware of churches where the choir will stand at the back of the church and sing a choral introit (not necessarily a setting of the entrance antiphon) as a gathering piece, and then segue into a congregational hymn as they and the other ministers process up the nave towards the sanctuary. Other churches do things the other way round. They have the congregational hymn or song first, and then the choir sings an introit or other choral piece during the incensation of the altar.

    Yet others try to have a single piece, whether hymn, song or antiphon plus psalm, to cover the entire action. At Communion, similarly, there is a movement towards having either an antiphon plus psalm or an extended piece with a congregational refrain to cover the entire time of distribution, unifying the moment.

    But if they select an antiphon plus psalm, it will often not be the one in the current Missal, and particularly not during Ordinary Time. I think most people have got the idea that “Every effort should be made to lend such disparate elements a certain unity by the skillful and sensitive selection and preparation of texts, music, homily, movement, vesture, color, environment, and sacred objects and actions” (Sing to the Lord 123).

    One might also mention GIRM 20: “Since, however, the celebration of the Eucharist, like the entire Liturgy, is carried out by means of perceptible signs by which the faith is nourished, strengthened, and expressed, the greatest care is to be taken that those forms and elements proposed by the Church are chosen and arranged, which, given the circumstances of persons and places, more effectively foster active and full participation and more aptly respond to the spiritual needs of the faithful.”

    I have said elsewhere that both these paragraphs seem to me to state clearly that if we are not taking the greatest care to choose and arrange the forms and elements proposed by the Church then we are not doing our job properly as liturgical ministers. Simply filling the usual slots with what happens to be in the book may well not be sufficient.

    The idea of a set of common seasonal antiphons is interesting, even if this leads us once again towards having generic pieces that don’t necessarily tie in with anything else that’s happening in the celebration.

    1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      “There are those who are of the “it’s all Holy Writ so we are bound to use the antiphons” variety.”

      Wait a minute. I didn’t say this, nor did anybody else that I can tell.
      In fact, I said the opposite.

  15. Doug O'Neill Avatar
    Doug O’Neill

    Mr. Inwood,
    You are setting up a straw man argument when you say that there are those who claim “it’s all Holy Writ so we are bound to use the antiphons”. If anybody has actually made this strong of a claim, I would like to see it. If so, they would be in the wrong, because the GIRM assuredly contradicts it. Most of what I have seen in writing supports the preference of the antiphons, not that they are required. You further say that “Others fasten onto the desirability (or otherwise) of using a chant or pseudo-chant idiom on the grounds that it’s part of our tradition, despite the fact that in many places it has not been part of the experienced tradition for at least 60 years and quite possibly never.” What is “experienced tradition”? Is that not an oxymoron? There is no doubt that SC explicitly supports this tradition, so if people have not experienced it, that would be a failing of many. While the pre-conciliar practice in many parishes was a low Mass rather than a chanted high Mass, it is nonetheless part of the tradition. SC called for a preservation of that tradition where possible, not in a pre-conciliar way, but in a manner that requires creativity. Composers of vernacular antiphons cannot be credibly accused of being strict traditionalists, because such a thing would never have been possible before the liturgical reforms. What they are doing is trying to engage the teachings of the Church in a manner that acknowledges the tradition, but adapted to the reformed rite, under the guidelines of the GIRM and sensitive to what people can handle. That ought to be encouraged. You, however, systematically take down these efforts, and then at the end plug your own Psallite project with the baseless claims that “Some have said…” This is intellectually dishonest. Although this is a forum rather than journal, any reputable publication would be expected to at least include a disclaimer notice.

    1. William Fredrick deHaas Avatar
      William Fredrick deHaas

      For your information, cited a specific parish above where the music/liturgy director states clearly that we are to use antiphons (and preferably in latin). No straw man. Thank you for at least supporting Paul’s research that GIRM, etc. contradicts those statements. Agree – many state a *preference in the church documents* but this is easily manipulated and misconstrued by some. Parishioners without the background or education necessary feel they have no choice but go along. As the saying goes, these directors have just enough education to be dangerous!!

    2. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      The same baseless accusation was made on a Facebook thread. Not my Psallite project — this was a collaborative project involving five (now six) composers. If it was anyone’s project, it was Dr Paul Ford’s. I think I’m right in saying that it’s the only project so far that (a) is rooted in the scriptures of the day, (b) is a genuine attempt to make the vernacular antiphon plus psalm form preferred by the Missal relevant to the celebration rather than being a stand-alone add-on, and (c) deliberately does not use the Missal antiphon texts verbatim. As such, it deserves to be cited.

      As far as chant and tradition is concerned, we had this discussion a number of years ago. The fact is that the majority of parishes have never experienced Gregorian chant as a part of their tradition, not even before Vatican II. It is therefore hard to sustain the argument that chant is the quintessential music of the Church. It’s one part of our repertoire, yes, and an important part, but in practice not the pre-eminent part that some would like it to be. And it’s also difficult to make a case for it being the natural music of the assembly, since most of it is in a fluid metre or no metre at all. That is not to say that we should not incorporate it into what we do, but setting it up as the only ideal is problematic.

      1. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
        Fr. Jack Feehily

        I have been unable to find any data that supports the contention that Catholics singing Gregorian chant was ever a common practice in parish liturgies. This chant and other forms have such a unique place in the development of liturgical music
        that the people in parishes I have served have been taught to sing a bit of it during Lent each year. No one ever says, “wasn’t that beautiful, let’s have some more”. They just sing it and move on to the many other songs in our repertoire.

  16. Lizette Larson-Miller Avatar
    Lizette Larson-Miller

    Judging by the many and rich comments Paul, you’ve hit ‘a topic’!! I keep going back to something fundamental – I’m not sure a lot of the communities I’ve been in actually connect theology and music. In other words, there is music, and then there is scripture and preaching and the prayers of the church and the doctrinal statements. Is there, at root, a more basic loss that music is a vehicle for these extremely important words, rather than entertaining, or pretty, or mystical or? Has losing the chanting of the gospel contributed to this? Thanks for making us thing (again)!

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      Thank you, Lizette. I think Pope Francis’s recent apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi very clearly showed us that it is not sufficient just to be the best pastoral musicians we can be, we must also be the best liturgists we can be and, by extension, the best theologians we can be. That way, we have a chance of forming a people that is indeed capable of true liturgical celebration.

  17. Felipe Gasper Avatar
    Felipe Gasper

    The Entrance & Communion antiphons in the Missal are for *speaking*, not singing. GIRM makes this pretty clear; the texts for singing are in the Gradual, not the Missal.

    That said, generally speaking, the Introit/Entrance texts are the same in the Missal and in the Gradual. This makes sense since they nearly always come from the Psalms and thus don’t really relate directly to the day’s readings. Many Communions are from the Psalms, too, but for those that aren’t it made sense for Solesmes (or whoever created the “Ordo cantus Missae”) to arrange them on days where they fit the readings.

  18. Felipe Gasper Avatar
    Felipe Gasper

    As to the proper relation between processional chants/songs and the readings: consider McKinnon’s “The Advent Project”, which posits that the Advent/Christmas cycle was the first fruits of a project to write music for the yearly cycle—a project that “lost steam” over time. Those texts don’t match the readings either in the old rite or the new.

    A textual match between the processional chant texts and the readings is nice sometimes, but hardly necessary, any more than it is that the collects match the readings—which, as Joshua noted above, themselves often lack thematic unity.

  19. Felipe Gasper Avatar
    Felipe Gasper

    As an aside: Efforts to discount the “Gregorianists’” input in the liturgical reform betray a desire to characterize the old & new rites as separate entities. That largely confirms—ironically!—Pope Benedict’s logic in promulgating “Summorum Pontificum”: the two forms/rites are too dissimilar for the latter to be a mere revision of the former. They’re “cousins”. Pope Francis apparently prefers the “Reform of the Reform” notion that all that’s good and holy in the old form also manifests in the new, if only we celebrate it properly. One of SP’s effects, of course, has been to subject this line of thinking to greater scrutiny, as familiarity with the old form has grown. (See in particular the outstanding work of Matthew Hazell.) Time will tell the long-term effects.

  20. Charles Kramer Avatar
    Charles Kramer

    The poster seems to advocate for the position that those parts of the mass should “tie in with the scriptures of the day.” The problem with that assertion is that is assumes that the scriptures of the day have a theme to tie into. Admittedly, on Sundays, the Old Testament reading was selected to relate to the Gospel. However, the New Testament Reading, like the Gospel, is usually just a selection designed to be part of a continuous reading from the book it comes from. There is no intended thematic commonality between the New Testament and Gospel reading to tie into. The Council wanted the riches of scriptures to be opened more fully during the mass. Restricting the texts of the introit, offertory and communion antiphon to tie into the other readings would seem to restrict the riches of scripture available for that day.

    Finally, the references to the intent of those who wanted to keep the Graduale chants in the mass and why those provisions were introduced into the GIRM seems rather gratuitous. Whether or not we set the missal antiphons to music is a question independent of whether we sing the gradual chants. All versions of the GIRM inside or outside the United States have this as a permitted option. Further, the intent of the various people making the sausage is rather irrelevant to the produced legislation. The legislation governs regardless of whether we approve of the intent of this or that legislator. And to the extent that we do examine the intent of those who advocated for the adoption of the provisions retaining the Graduale chants, they were actually being consistent with the Council. Sacrosanctum Concilium makes it clear that chant in the mass it to be preserved.

  21. Matthew Roth Avatar
    Matthew Roth

    The antiphon is supposed to be read, yet it was always ignored in my experience until after 2011. I’m not saying that everyone ignored it, but I didn’t grow up trad. I grew up in a normal parish. So we really ought to start there, at Masses without music, before criticizing the Graduale Romanum of 1974 or the permission obtained by the USCCB to sing these texts.

    I don’t especially find convincing the argument that one, the readings, prayers, and propers were not clearly connected before 1969 and that this was bad and two, they are now (at least in some cases) and that this is good.

    Also, I’d simply note that Mr. deHaas’s brusk dismissal of Fr MacDonald’s remarks about his seminary formation don’t contribute anything, particularly since his story isn’t unusual. “Don’t sing the Creed. Don’t use chant.” were common refrains whether we like to acknowledge it or not, no matter our motivations for doing so.

    1. Allan J. McDonald Avatar
      Allan J. McDonald

      Thank you Matthew! God bless you.

  22. Sean Connolly Avatar
    Sean Connolly

    Mr Inwood has summarized well why I cannot easily square the apparent intent of Sacrosanctum Concilium 116 & 117 with a complete overhaul of the liturgical texts that decontextualizes so much of the Gregorian Proper, nor with a rubrical overhaul that leads to ceremonies into which this repertoire fits much more awkwardly.

  23. Eric Bermani Avatar
    Eric Bermani

    Here, in the US, I am bound to the “GIRM For Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America.” Since the GIRM establishes prescriptions on how to celebrate the liturgy, #48 instructs that for the Entrance, the 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” and that the first option is the “antiphon taken from the Missal or . . .from the Graduale Romanum.” 3 remaining options follow. An almost identical pattern is found at #87 with regards to the Communion Antiphon.

    We know that when the Church provides a list of options, the first one is always preferred. What follows are simply OPTIONS should the first scenario be unable to be rendered.

    We can go back and forth about history, tradition, and various “I think the Second Vatican Council really meant. . . . .” all we want but, at the end, we’ve got the GIRM right in front of us.

    Regarding the last sentence instructing “if there is no singing at the Entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited. . . .” to be interpreted as it says. IF THERE IS NO SINGING, RECITE THAT PRECISE TEXT. The sentence in no way, shape, or form suggests that that text is NOT MEANT TO BE SUNG. We can take a look at instructions regarding the Gloria (#53) and the Responsorial Psalm (#61) where the instruction is the same: the ritual texts are envisioned to be sung and, if not, then they are recited.

    While we are all free to develop our various opinions, we need to remember that the liturgy is a gift which we are given. We can also all refer back to the GIRM directly and be guided by the wisdom of Pope Francis as he recently reminded us in Desiderio desideravi “it should be clear that the art of celebration is not something that can be improvised.” (#50)

    1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      Good conversation to have.

      Note the last option is choir alone. I remember bringing that up on a traditional-leaning site many years ago and I got banned for it. Interesting that the St Louis Jesuits applied the “alternately” quite liberally, but the people, even in their formative community at SLU, horned in on those “solo” or “choir” verses, and the long practice on nearly all of their songs in the wide world is for people to sing all the way through. In other words, option 3 by acclamation, as it were. In any event, these guys were way ahead of organ hymnody half a century ago.

      I think using option 2 when no choir is available is hardly an improvisation.

      An American literalist approach to Roman options might raise a few eyebrows in the Vatican. The bottom line for Pope Francis in DD 24-26: Does this music evoke wonder and astonishment, not at the human production of art, but at the salvific reality of grace?

    2. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood


      While we are all entitled to our opinions, they need to be informed.

      (1) Yes, in the past it has been true that when several options were presented the first one was the preferred option, but in that era church documents were generally not the result of different factions all trying to get their own way about things. I don’t know whether you read my comment above, but we know that the options listed in paras 48 and 87 were added later and that the theological rationales in paras 47 and 86 are where we need to begin our reflection.
      (2) “The ritual texts are envisioned to be sung and, if not, then they are recited.” That is precisely the point. Paras 48 and 87 do not say that. They say “If there is no singing”, a much more general statement.
      (3) “We need to remember that the liturgy is a gift which we are given.” Yes, indeed a gift, but perhaps not in the sense that you meant it. Benedict XVI was fond of claiming that the liturgy was almost an ontological entity, handed down from on high, and that all must render obeisance to it, when in fact the liturgy that we have now is the result of many hundreds of years of organic development and in fact a lot of tinkering in recent decades by people who did not like what the Consilium produced in the wake of Vatican II.
      I also refer once again to GIRM 20, which is quite clear that, far from accepting the liturgy as something handed down, it is our duty and obligation to select and arrange (using the wording of the former translation of GIRM) what the Church proposes in order to achieve the optimum pastoral result. GIRM 21 even continues “Hence this Instruction aims both to offer general lines [sic] for a suitable ordering of the celebration of the Eucharist and to explain the rules by which individual forms of celebration may [sic] be arranged.”

      1. Joshua Vas Avatar
        Joshua Vas

        I am just curious – how DO we know that the paras 48 and 87 (current numbering) came later? Was it something Jounel said in the speech you referred to?

        I had the opportunity some years ago to look at the schemata for the various rites on file with ICEL; and some of them have since been published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Looking at several of the schemata “De Missali” from 1965 onward for the Order of the Mass and the IGMR, I cannot see anything that suggests that 48 and 87 came later. If anything, it would seem that the chant mentions were there first and later drafts bring in the idea of replacements for them. There is a discussion on the use of antiphons for spoken Masses, but there is no reference to the sung Masses (which multiple times mention the chants). Rather, the objection (as recorded) is that they are superfluous and cannot easily accompany the entry of the priest – the argument for retention suggests that they offer a “motif” for the Mass, and aid in spiritual preparation.

        And even IF they were added later, why should we prioritize a quasi-gnostic interpretive lens and elevate one paragraph over the other as better corresponding to the aim of the reform and thus nullifying another paragraph?

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        It might be one of those gold pen//red pen authorship situations*, where the views we approve are attributed to gold pens, and views with which we disagree are attributed to red pens.

        * Alluding to George Weigel’s metaphor in his notorious 2009 National Review column:

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