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;
(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.