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“One must pray to God not only with theologically precise formulas, but also in a beautiful and dignified way. The Christian community must make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and song will return increasingly to the liturgy.”
— Pope Saint John Paul II (26 February 2003)

“No Approval Needed for Substitute Songs” says USCCB • Exclusive Documentation
published 9 February 2015 by Guest Author
“Up to the Council, liturgical law was regarded as something sacred; for many it no longer exists. Everyone now takes it that they are authorized to do what they like, and many of the young do just that.” —|Cardinal Antonelli, Consilium Secretary (7/23/68)

358 Daniel Craig N 20 NOVEMBER 2012, the Secretariat for the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy wrote that songs replacing the assigned Entrance Chant require no approval. This statement contradicts §48 of the “American” GIRM which specifically requires 1 approval by the bishops’ conference or diocesan bishop for any substitute songs. It also contradicts the “Universal” GIRM, which says:

48. For the Entrance Chant, one could use either the antiphon with its psalm as found in the Roman Gradual or in the Simple Gradual, or another chant—congruent with the theme of the sacred action, day, or time—whose text has been approved by the Conference of Bishops.   (SOURCE)

Correspondence with the Bishops’ Liturgy Committee (SEE BELOW) deals with this contradiction. I intended to share it sooner, but events—including the birth of our first child—delayed my doing so.

This is no mere academic pursuit. Elimination of the assigned Mass texts—often replacing them with questionable 2 songs—affects every Catholic, perhaps more than any other post-conciliar change.

FROM APRIL THROUGH OCTOBER OF 2013, I sent more than 70 letters to the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), but these messages met with a certain reticence, which I attributed to busy episcopal schedules. Each time I wrote, all committee members were included.

This topic can get into the weeds very quickly, so I will be as lucid as possible. The whole matter centers around one question, which I asked over and over:

      * *  PDF • Copy of Letter (24 August 2013)

For a deeper understanding, please read the so-called 20 NOVEMBER CLARIFICATION by the BCL. Their statement is troubling because it says “local musicians” can lawfully sing music which has never been approved so long as it does not appear in a collection. On 25 June 2013—three months after my initial inquiry—I received a letter from Msgr. Hilgartner, spokesman for the BCL. His message was somewhat muddled, leaving my question unanswered, and only two parts are germane to our discussion. First, he confirmed that the statements attributed to him were “not inaccurate.” Second, he wrote:

“The situation remains somewhat complicated because of the lack of a centralized process and the custom that had been in place prior to the Roman Missal, Third Edition (2011), and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2003).” —Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, 25 June 2013

I could not accept such a response. 3

356 envelopes I FELT FRUSTRATED because the committee had failed to address my question. Somewhere along the line, I began carbon copying bishops who weren’t even on the committee, and two archbishops (Kurtz & Sample) kindly replied. The tone of my subsequent letters became distraught:

      * *  PDF • Copy of Letter (11 September 2013)

After six months and 70+ letters, I received a response from Archbishop Aymond (BCL chairman):

      * *  PDF • Copy of Letter (20 September 2013)

My reaction is contained in a subsequent letter:

      * *  PDF • Copy of Letter (2 October 2013)

Archbishop Aymond—at last!—started backing away from the 20 NOVEMBER CLARIFICATION, but stopped short of addressing my question. Of course, much more 4 could also be explored. Indeed, the whole history of permission to replace official texts could be examined. 5

BUT WHAT ABOUT the 1996 statement Fr. Paul Turner used to justify the assertion (SEE ABOVE) in his 2012 book? He erred in citing it, because that statement is doubly defunct. First, it’s expired, having been superseded by the new GIRM (circa 2002) and Roman Missal, 3rd ed. (circa 2010). Second, that 1996 statement justifies its conclusions by citing legislation from the late 1960s, which expired a few years later, being superseded by documents like the 1975 GIRM. If we start down the path of expired legislation, where do we stop? The Council of Trent?

What did I hope to accomplish by sending all those letters? A response such as the following—which takes into consideration present circumstances—would have satisfied me:

      * *  PDF Example • A fictitious response I could accept

Should I continue sending letters until my question is answered? As a new husband, young father, and full-time accountant, I’m afraid that’s out of the question. However, if anyone is able to obtain an answer, please let me know (SEE BELOW).

My efforts seem not to have been completely fruitless. For decades, the following statement has appeared on the first page of most Catholic hymnals:

Published with the approval of the Committee on Divine Worship
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

This approval, however, never applies to any music or hymnody inside the hymnal, which is astonishingly counterintuitive. I’m told the BCL recently stopped using this wording, perhaps as a result of my correspondence. 6

If I might be permitted a few final thoughts:

(1) Having read my article, Catholics will better understand why they’ll hear something other than the assigned texts for Entrance, Offertory, and Communion in most churches.

(2) I have great respect for Msgr. Hilgartner, but I strongly disagree with an assertion he’s made many times. He contends that it would be “impossible” to abide by the requirement in the GIRM, whereas I believe it is possible. Moreover, it is not within the competence of the BCL to pass judgment on which sections of the GIRM are possible.

(3) In my work as an accountant, I’ve observed that relevant laws are provided freely and never kept secret. Should not the same qualities characterize the work of the USCCB, and should it not provide an unambiguous statement concerning the veracity of the 20 November Clarification?

Albert Einstein supposedly said, “Beware of those offering simple solutions to extremely complex problems.” In this particular instance, however, I feel many of our present difficulties would vanish if we simply followed the GIRM.

346 Dan Craig USCCB Dan Craig graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville and currently lives with his wife and daughter in Texas, where he works in the field of accountancy. His interests include the Liturgy, singing Gregorian chant, and playing percussion. His family is associated with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

Dan Craig can be contacted at dan.craig90@gmail.com.


1   This precise wording has been in use for 46 years and is contained in the original 1969 GIRM. Notice that the “American Adaptation” to the GIRM allows a local bishop to approve substitute songs, whereas the “Universal” GIRM gives this power to episcopal conferences only.

2   If parishes used “another chant, congruent with the theme of the sacred action, day, or time” this issue would not be as pressing; but in many cases the substitute texts—frequently composed by non-Catholics—are troubling from a variety of standpoints.

3   I couldn’t help but chuckle, because that same phrase (“it’s complicated”) is used on Facebook for a tricky relationship status!

4   For example, why are the assigned Propers—Entrance, Offertory, and Communion—almost always replaced, while the assigned Responsorial psalm seldom is? The rubrics allow both. For instance, the Responsorial psalm can be replaced by a seasonal psalm or “an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, including Psalms arranged in metrical form.”

5   Vatican II desired that the official texts (not “something else”) be sung by the people. On 5 March 1967, paragraph 32 of Musicam Sacram refused to condemn a practice formerly allowed in some localities—which replaces the official texts with devotional hymns—yet placed heavy restrictions on it. The 1969 GIRM, which was concealed from the other curial offices before promulgation, went further by allowing episcopal conferences to approve substitute texts. As we’ve seen, the “American Adaptation” went further still, allowing an individual bishop to approve substitute texts.

The BCL interpretation of the “American Adaptation” allows even more freedom, maintaining that one bishop’s approval applies to all USA dioceses in perpetuity. To justify this, they interpret “the local Ordinary” as “the Ordinary where the composition is published.” The BCL policy seems to date back to 1970, but was first made public in 2008 as far as I can tell.

6   This was a peripheral issue mentioned in some of my correspondence with the BCL. I’ve only discovered one exception to this rule, which comes from June 2003.