Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Propers Not Hymns! Response to Does This Cartoon Sound Rude? By Jeff Ostrowski

The following quote and poster were copied from http://www.ccwatershed.org/blog/2014/jan/14/rude-cartoon published 14 January 2014 by Jeff Ostrowski at Corpus Christi Watershed blog, with a suggested revision by me and an essay on the issues raised by the poster (with comments by Prof. William Mahrt, President of the Church Music Association of America) that follow.

"DOES THIS CARTOON come across as rude? What do you think?
If our tone is rude, we won’t win anybody to our cause … It was supposed to be a “lighthearted” way to point out that volunteer musicians shouldn’t have to be Theologians, but somehow the “humor” sounds snarky to my ear."
6229 Graduale Romanum 
I don't think the cartoon is rude, but I don't think it makes the point. Here is my first suggested revision of the wording. Also see the final revision below:
Hi, I'm Mike, and I'm the volunteer Music Director at my parish.
I choose the music that is played at Mass from the hymns in the back of the worship aid. Parishioners  seem to like the fact that the same hymns are played most of the time, except for Christmas and Easter, when we use seasonal hymns. I'm doing what the pastor expects, and it's the same thing that's done at all Catholic churches I've even been to. Are you saying there's another way to pick the music for Mass?
Hi, I'm Jeff, and I work a Corpus Christi Watershed, where we provide worship aids that promote reverent celebrations of the Mass, as they were actually envisioned by Vatican II in documents on the liturgy.
You don't have to pick the music any more!
After the new Mass was introduced in 1969, it took a long time for guidance to come from the Vatican about what music should be used, so most parishes got in the habit of using hymns during Mass.
Most people who pick music for Mass are not aware that the Church actually recommends that the Propers, which in the Ordinary Form Mass are the Entrance (formerly the Introit), the Offertory, and the Communion for each day, should be sung at their proper place in the Mass, and that hymns are extras. The Propers are Biblical texts, and they are an intrinsic part of the liturgy.  You can find the Propers in the Roman Gradual, the Simple English Propers, and in the recently released St. Issac Jogues Missal and Hymnal. Check them out.

My Comeuppance

I posted this at Facebook, and I was happy that Jeffrey Morse, former music director at St. Stephens, Sacramento, wrote a comment. He wrote that it's not a case of either hymns or propers. I can't say the propers should always be sung at Mass, since they are only sung by the choir.

In reply to his comment, I asked him the following questions: What should be the norm in Ordinary Form Masses? What if they only have a cantor? Where is a hymn appropriate to use in a low Mass when there is no choir? I'm assuming that the congregation should sing the Ordinary at any Mass, right? At a Mass without a choir, what should be done? I am bewildered. No answer yet.

Answers from Chant Scholar William Mahrt

Professor William Mahrt was kind enough to reply to an email I sent him with the above questions. I still need to digest what he wrote a bit more.

To summarize, I believe he is  saying that at a High Mass the Propers should be sung by a choir and the Ordinary (Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Kyrie) should be sung by the congregation (and the choir).  For various reasons spelled out in detail in the quote from his email below, hymns are "not a good fit" for the Mass. Their places is in the Divine Office. He's also suggesting  that at a Low Mass, the congregation should sing the Ordinary of the Mass but not the Propers.

Recap of my questions:

What should be the norm  for the use of hymns in Ordinary Form Masses? What if they only have a cantor? Where is a hymn appropriate to use in a low Mass when there is no choir? How about in a high Mass? I'm assuming that the congregation should sing the Ordinary at any Mass, right? At a Mass without a choir, what should be done?

Answers from Prof. Mahrt:
For a high Mass, the propers should be sung, preferably by a choir, which then can sing the authentic Gregorian melodies. This leaves the Ordinary to be sung by the congregation, if it is in Gregorian chant. Sometimes at such Masses, a recessional hymn is sung, but I think this is gilding the lily; moreover, congregations often don’t want to sing after the Mass; the celebrant leave, they want to also. Simpler settings of the propers may allow the congregation to sing them, but that poses difficulties, since the whole point of the propers is to have texts that change from Sunday to Sunday.
I believe that the Ordinary is in principle the domain of the congregation. If they can sing Gregorian ordinaries well, this is a lot of singing; there is little need for hymns, particularly if the choir sings the proper. This should not, however, rule out the singing of a polyphonic Mass. In my experience, our congregation sings the ordinary in Gregorian chants the Sundays of the year. For Solemnities, we sing a polyphonic  ordinary. Members of the congregation relate that when they have been singing the ordinary regularly, they are well prepared to hear the polyphonic setting, and they do not perceive it as having usurped the congregation’s role. One person in the last fifty years has objected to the polyphonic ordinary.
A cantor can sing the propers, especially if it is clear that they accompany another action, which should be the focus of the congregation’s attention. 
Hymns can be used at a low Mass in the ordinary form, but it still would be better if the ordinary were sung. The common observance is to use hymns to replace the introit, offertory, and communion, sometimes adding a “recessional.” 
There are a number of objections to the singing of hymns; briefly:
1) The texts of the hymns vary greatly in quality, the poetry is often quite trite and somewhat subjective. This is a striking contrast with the texts of the psalms, which are generally the basis of the propers. 
2) The number of hymns generally used is limited, and so they are repeated frequently; this does not fulfill the role of the propers in which the propers vary every Sunday in the year, giving each Sunday a unique character. 
3) The genre of hymn belongs to the Divine Office, where it has a place of being sung for its own sake, rather than being a substitute for a proper, which has the function of accompanying another rite. 
4) Hymns usually have a number of verses, which form a coherent whole; when they are used as proper substitutes, they take quite a bit longer than the ceremony they are supposed to accompany. This almost always means that only the first two or three verses are sung. 
5) The music of hymns is “four-square,” with regular meter and strong beat, features which make it time-bound, in contrast with the Gregorian chants, whose free rhythm is evocative of eternity.
In short, the hymn is not a very good fit with the Catholic liturgy.
Professor Mahrt explains it all to you

After reading Prof. Mahrt's remarks above and adding his insights to what I know about the requirements of Catholic liturgical music, I would change part of what I wrote above to the following (although I admit it is much too wordy for a poster):

You don't have to pick the music any more!  The Church has done it for you. After the new Mass was introduced in 1969, guidance from the Vatican about what music should be used during Ordinary Form Masses was a long time in coming, so most parishes got in the habit of singing hymns.
The fact is that Mass music should almost always consist of  Gregorian chant settings of Biblical texts, which are usually portions of the Psalms. The texts themselves are sacred because they are part of Holy Scripture, inspired by the Holy Ghost. The sacred texts set to sacred music have developed as part of the Mass over the millennia.  And the music is sacred because it is used only for worship.
To know what needs to be sung, you need to know a Proper from an Ordinary and a High (sung) Mass from a Low Mass. The Propers are the texts that change every day in the liturgical year. In the Ordinary Form Mass, the Propers are the Entrance (formerly the Introit), the Offertory, and the Communion.  The Propers are recited by the priest and should also sung by a choir or cantor at high Masses. The Proper texts are an intrinsic part of each day's liturgy, and logically singing of the Propers should not be replaced with hymns.
The Ordinary of the Mass consists of the texts that do not change, the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Credo, and Agnus Dei.  The Ordinary is recited by the priest and should be sung at High Masses by the congregation (and the choir).
Sacred polyphony, which is based on chant,  is also allowed at certain parts of the Mass, such as after the Offertory. Hymns may perhaps be allowed at the recessional, but preferably not at all.

You can find the Propers in the Roman Gradual, the Simple English Propers, and you can find the Propers and settings for the Ordinary along with liturgically sound hymns in the recently released St. Issac Jogues Missal and Hymnal.



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