About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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In the '60s, I thought this emphasis on congregational singing was to encourage good Catholic hymns like "Immaculate Mary" and so forth … but after the Council, they threw them out, too!
— Fr. Valentine Young, OFM (2007)

How "Catholic" Is Congregational Singing?
published 2 December 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

975 John Pau ERTAIN SUBJECTS * are broached only with difficulty. For example, it’s considered unseemly to admit that “congregational singing” can never truly exist, strictly speaking (cf. my June article).

Here’s a question that may irk some folks: Which is the better participation? When the people sing, or when the choir alone proclaims the texts?

The piccoluomini have had enormous success persuading the world that “true” active participation means the congregation sings everything. In other words, the Church got it wrong all these centuries, since the choir usually proclaimed the Mass texts while the congregation listened. But wait … let’s think about this.

A Catholic in the pew listening to the choir sing can prayerfully follow along in his Missal, meditating and giving his full attention to the holy texts. On the other hand, if he joins in the singing, he must focus on things like pitch, rhythm, tempo, tone quality, vocal support, correct pronunciation, and so forth. Would anyone contend that singing well requires no effort? I hope nobody will say, “I don’t need to focus on singing techniques … I don’t hear myself, so who cares?” Now, for extremely simple things — e.g. a hymn tune memorized as a child — I would agree that the effort required is minimal. Yet the nagging question persists (in spite of everything the piccoluomini have insisted upon through the years): “Can we truly pray with perfect concentration while concerned with things like pitches and rhythm?”

The answer is obvious: Meditation will be more profound if the choir sings and we focus on the text. God-willing, we will soon be releasing an exciting new publication which will allow congregations to pray in a marvelous way.

IN AN EFFORT TO GET PEOPLE SINGING, the U.S. Bishops allowed variants for certain texts (Responsorial Psalm, Sequence, etc.) if sung. Believe it or not, once any U.S. Bishop approves a variant, it never expires and can be used throughout the entire country! That’s why you never know what words you’ll be hearing on Sunday morning in the United States. Post-Conciliar composers were quick to capitalize on the potential for increased revenues by creating their own (copyrighted) Psalm translations. Perhaps we’d have been better off if devout Catholics had used this loophole to get quality translations approved. On the other hand, the history of such “permissions” is complex and often came about as a consequence of persistent disobedience.

Faithful Catholics felt obliged to adhere to the official texts. Unfortunately, after the Council, many official texts were “dumbed down.” For example, consider the Sequences. The official Lectionary versions are supposedly based on a 1964 version. However, if you download the 1965 Missale Romanum, you’ll see this is false! The current Lectionary version has been “bowdlerized.”

The whole point of these “poetic” translations was to match the Latin rhythm exactly. However, the piccoluomini shamelessly wrecked the meter, because they thought Catholics were too stupid to understand words like “reconcileth.”

Original Latin:   Reconciliávit peccatóres.   (10 beats)
Original 1964 Version:   Reconcileth sinners to the Father.   (10 beats)
Current Lectionary Version (Bowdlerized):   Reconciles sinners to the Father.   (9 beats)

Original Latin:   Quid vidisti in via?   (7 beats)
Original 1964 Version:   What thou sawest, wayfaring.   (7 beats)
Current Lectionary Version (Bowdlerized):   What you saw, wayfaring.   (6 beats)

They also thought Catholics were too stupid to understand words like Thou, so they yanked them, damaging the meter tremendously and making the bowdlerized version impossible to sing to the original (Latin) chant:

Original 1964 Version:
Come, thou Holy Spirit, come! | And from thy celestial home | Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, thou Father of the poor! | Come, thou source of all our store! | Come, within our bosoms shine!

Current Lectionary Version (Bowdlerized):
Come, […] Holy Spirit, come! | And from your celestial home | Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, […] Father of the poor! | Come, […] source of all our store! | Come, within our bosoms shine.

Their vandalism was truly audacious considering the ingenious efforts of the poet, who perfectly matched the rhyme scheme and accents of the original Latin. Look what the revisers did to the Lauda Sion of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Original 1964 Version:
Laud, O Sion, thy salvation, | Laud with hymns of exultation, | Christ, thy king and shepherd true:
Bring him all the praise thou knowest, | He is more than thou bestowest, | Never canst thou reach his due.

Current Lectionary Version (Bowdlerized):
Laud, O Zion, your salvation, | Laud with hymns of exultation, | Christ, your king and shepherd true:
Bring him all the praise you know, | He is more than you bestow. | Never can you reach his due.

The piccoluomini were so determined to get rid of Thine, they were willing to commit any atrocity.   Spoiler alert!   “Divine” doesn’t rhyme with “yours.”

Original 1964 Version:
O most blessed Light divine, | Shine within these hearts of thine, | And our inmost being fill!
Where thou art not, man hath naught, | Nothing good in deed or thought, | Nothing free from taint of ill.

Current Lectionary Version (Bowdlerized):
O most blessed Light divine, | Shine within these hearts of yours, | And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught, | Nothing good in deed or thought, | Nothing free from taint of ill.

Wow … they even replaced the “sexist” word man with “we.” Great work, guys.

BUT IT GETS WORSE. For decades, every publisher who prints the Sequences has been required to include this notice:

The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from The Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States ©1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved.

In reality, those precise translations come from much earlier. For instance, the Victimae Paschali was taken verbatim from the 1906 (!!!) English Hymnal and placed in the 1965 Missal (see above). I suppose one could argue they’re trying to copyright their bawdlerized version, but they ought to be honest about where the 1964 version came from and admit the 1972 alterations.

Why have Catholics been forced to pay for these translations for 40+ years? They can be neither legally sold — since they’ve been public domain for half a century — nor morally sold (Canon law forbids the direct selling of indulgenced texts). Perhaps abuses like this elicited the following apology by Pope John Paul II (addressing bishops in 1980), quoted in a beautiful letter (1988) by Most Rev. John R. Keating:

WOULD LIKE TO ASK FORGIVENESS — in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate — for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the (at times) partial, one-sided, and erroneous application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament.

So many abuses have happened, it’s easy to overlook the good reforms of the Second Vatican Council. I plan on writing an article describing what I consider some good fruits.


*   It’s also frowned upon to follow Bishop Rudolf Graber’s example, asking where the Council spoke of things like Communion in the hand, the versus populum Altar, banishing Latin, and so forth. Msgr. Schuler was considered a crank for frequently asking if “renewal” meant widespread apostasy, open dissent with Rome, and empty seminaries.

  Hundreds of Catholics have written about the subject of “true participation.” For example, see Fr. Peter MacCarthy’s 1993 article. Perhaps the best treatment of participatio actuosa is a 1990 article by Fr. Robert Skeris, who references the actual discussions at the Council before the votes were taken. If you doubt the importance of such discussions, read this 1976 reference to the Conciliar relationes. Sadly, few today are familiar with the relationes … and those who are often lack Fr. Skeris’ breadth of understanding and end up making uninformed statements.