Strange Voice and Strange Noises
Have you noticed in the last month or two a strange voice making chanting-like noises from the back of church after the Offertory or Communion Hymns? These pieces I have been chanting are called the Offertory and Communion Antiphons, and the texts for these pieces are found in the official music book of the Church, the Graduale Romanum.
What is included in a sung Mass?
Let’s step back and take a look at the larger picture. The Mass, in its most proper form, is to be sung, a fact which the history of the church and her official documents bear out from the first centuries through Trent, Vatican II, and to the present day. There has existed in the Tradition of the Church a distinction between Masses which require a choir – Solemn High Mass (“Missa Solemnis”) and High Mass (“Sung Mass”) – and those which do not – read Mass. Musicum Sacrum, the post-conciliar instruction on sacred music published by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on March 5, 1967, keeps this distinction (MS, 28), but, for “pastoral usefulness” (MS, 28), adds further rubrics for three degrees of singing within the Sung Mass. Those parts which belong to the second or third degrees may never be used without the first (MS, 28).
The Three Degrees
To the first degree belong the dialogues of the Mass between Priest and people, some of the prayers, and the Sanctus and Pater Noster. To the second degree belongs the Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, Creed, and prayers of the Faithful. To the third degree belongs, Antiphons at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion processions, the psalm and Alleluia, and possibly the readings. These three degrees of participation constitute the whole sung liturgy.
The third degree constitutes the “Propers” of the Mass, i.e., chants which are suited to each particular liturgy and change from week to week. The official collection of these chants is found in the Graduale Romanum, however in dioceses of the United States, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (48, 74, 87) provides three other options for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion Chants. The fourth and last option is “another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.” The familiar four hymn experience makes use of this fourth option, a pastoral option which understands the impossibility of doing complicated Gregorian Chants every week at every Parish.
The Church’s Vision Applied to St. Joseph’s
I am going to help St. Joseph’s move closer to the ideal of a fully sung liturgy using the appointed texts proper to each day. To this end, we will soon begin introducing the Communion Antiphon on July 7th/8th, the text of which can be found in the Missalette, pages 106-111. This will occur before the Communion Hymn, and for the months of July and August will only be sung by the cantor. When Choir season starts back up in the Fall, we will start doing this chant in a responsorial fashion, with the cantor first singing the antiphon, then inviting the congregation to join. I hope you will take out your Missalettes and join in these texts which the Church provides for us, so that we may all come together as a community, the Body of Christ, to praise God. P.S. On June 30th/July 1st, we will be moving to the Storrington Mass setting, which can be found starting at #257 in the Worship hymnal, except for the Kyrie which will be #205.