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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“Partly on account of these alterations, and partly because I have been unable to ascertain the authorship of many compositions—which have come to me either in manuscript or through other collections—I have thought it right to publish the volume without appending the names of writers to their works. This, however, I confess to be a defect…”
— Benjamin Hall Kennedy (1863)

How To Debunk Four Common Liturgical Myths
published 21 August 2014 by Jeff Ostrowski
The following myths have lived long & healthy lives.  Today, they die.

1.) Our Mass texts are copyrighted to preserve their integrity.

This statement is false, but many good people accept it.

First of all, let’s be clear about the Mass texts. They’re owned by various parties: even some non-Catholic corporations!

What’s doubly confusing is that different parts — Readings, Responsorial Psalms, Resp. Psalm REFRAINS, Collects, and so on — are owned by different corporations. The sale of these texts has become a huge source of money for the owners, but it’s done in violation of Canon law (which stipulates that indulgenced prayer texts cannot be sold for profit).

Rather than “preserving the integrity” of the official texts, this situation has led composers to alter them (so they can copyright their versions and collect royalties). This deplorable situation must stop. It’s been fifty years since Vatican II, and the Catholic Church has a billion members. Without question, the necessary funding could be obtained to produce translations using the Creative Commons Copyright. That way, they could be shared & prayed freely. When it comes to Church approval, this should be granted only to publishers faithfully reproducing the official texts.

Copyrighting liturgical texts to preserve their integrity makes about as much sense as supporting abortion, yet opposing capital punishment on moral grounds.

2.) The hymns chosen at Mass should correspond to the Readings.

This one sounds so good … but it’s false.

As explained in this true-but-boring article, the system adopted after the Second Vatican Council guarantees that the readings will seldom correspond to the feast, except for major ones like Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. Some might immediately say, “Wow, that’s not in accordance with tradition.” However, before you say that, read these astounding Fortescue excerpts:

      * *  PDF Download: Fr. Fortescue Discusses Liturgical Readings

Now that you’ve read those excerpts, you won’t panic when I say that the Propers are usually a better way to “choose the hymns” — but what’s even better is to sing the actual Mass propers in English or Latin.

3.) Bugnini altered the traditional Propers in the 1970 Missal.

This statement is inaccurate, in spite of what many respected scholars believe. For example, a very competent liturgist, Joseph Shaw, recently wrote the following:

“The Graduale Romanum has for centuries been the Church’s book of liturgical music. […] When the Novus Ordo came out, a vast number of these texts had been changed. Bugnini had gone through with his trusty blue pencil and re-written some, deleted others, composed still more afresh.”
In reality, what happened was more complex. Bugnini’s Consilium added some Entrance & Communion antiphons, which don’t always match the Graduale, for use in Masses without music. Those antiphons are commonly referred to as “Spoken Propers” to differentiate them from the full set of “Sung Propers” found in the Roman Gradual.

You can read a series of important articles on this very topic by clicking here (scroll down to the “Essay” section). Without repeating what was already said there, I would merely point out that the Novus Ordo does not have a Missal strictly speaking: it has a Sacramentary. If we understand why the Novus Ordo does not have a “Missal,” confusion about Spoken/Sung Propers disappears.

4.) Priests before Vatican II couldn’t speak Latin.

This statement is quite common, but false.

Before the Council, seminary courses were taught in Latin. I’d read statements to this effect from priests but still couldn’t believe it. So, I approached elderly priests, asking, “Were your seminary courses really taught in Latin?” The answer was still “YES“ — although, a few admitted their courses were actually taught in English, but their textbooks were in Latin.

As strange as it may sound, the Epistle/Gospel were often read in the vernacular at the beginning of the homily (even before Vatican II). 1 One time, our elderly priest began his homily, but the particular feast was missing from his book of English translations. 2 The priest returned to the Altar, removed the big red Missal, carried it to the pulpit, and proceeded to translate the entire Gospel into English. Oops: I guess he must have learned Latin in the seminary, huh?

In the 1960s, it became popular for priests to pretend they couldn’t understand Latin. Cardinal Cushing made such a claim 3 but there’s one problem: he graduated from high school in 1913, receiving honors for Latin and Greek.


1   Until the 1950s, the Gospel was often proclaimed three times: (1) by the priest quietly; (2) by the deacon singing; and (3) at the beginning of the homily, before the sermon.

2   Perhaps it was a newer feast such as «Christ the King» (created in 1925).

3   A thorough treatment of his lie can be found here. That article includes a video of Cardinal Cushing reciting Latin at the funeral of John F. Kennedy which is not to be missed.