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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Proper Time

In the Catholic Answers Forum, there is a thread about music leaders and their song selections for the coming weeks.  It is not uncommon for one or two music directors to post their selections from the Praise and Worship genre.  Others, your blogger included, also post hymn selections.

However, I raised this interesting question in the thread:

My concern with a lot of the contemporary stuff out there is that it does not have anything solid in the theological content and, musically, the form just is not conducive to the sacred mysteries that unfold before us at every Mass. Contemporary music can work outside of the bounds of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but, I find it to be incompatible with the sacred, solemn nature of the liturgy.

A lot of it has to do with proper catechesis and a good reading of the Church documents, including Sacramentum Caritatis. Sadly, not a few people take the suggestions and seminars that the publishing houses offer as being on par with the Holy See when that is not necessarily the case. That is why I believe that it is important that anyone wanting to engage in music ministry first read the authoritative documents of the Holy See and the writings of the Popes. This kind of formation is essential and it should prove to be a good and solid guide in choosing music that is fit for the Holy Sacrifice.

What I do not understand is this: if the Church, in the GIRM, lists the antiphons as the first order of importance (insofar as what is to be sung at Mass is concerned), why are we giving so much importance and credence to the last order (hymns)? The Church already gives us the texts of what to use: the Propers. We don't need to have a plethora of songs for the Entrance Processional and Holy Communion if we just sing the Propers.

In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, we find this section concerning Sacred Music:
48. The singing at this time 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.55

What I have highlighted in bold red print is the default setting; what I marked in bold, blue print is the last option. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line there has been a shift between the two. The last has now become the default while the first is rarely used.

It seems to me that part of the problem lies in the lack of solid catechesis on Sacred Music. The Church already gives us what is proper music for the Entrance Processional and for Holy Communion, the Antiphons. There is really no need to have to scurry and worry week in and week out as to what to select for music. It's already there.

In fact, independent composers, such as those from the Church Music Association of America, have a special project called the Simple English Propers which makes things a little easier for both choirs and the faithful. Some composers, such as Fr. Sam Weber, even offer their settings for free. Furthermore, many of these composers, like Fr. Weber (I believe) are also working on setting the revised translation of the Grail Psalter to music.

I personally experienced the use of the propers a couple of times, the last being when I went to Mass in the Anglican-Use parish in Houston. These were beautiful to sing and actually pray. There is a huge difference between singnig at Mass and singing the Mass.

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