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 resides with his wife and children.
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“During Lent…the use of musical instruments is allowed only so as to support the singing. Nevertheless, Laetare Sunday (the Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities and Feasts are exceptions to this rule.”
— Roman Missal, 3rd Edition (2011)

“No Time For Cowardice” • My Open Letter To Liturgy Columnists
published 18 April 2016 by Jeff Ostrowski

552 USCCB IKE YOU, I constantly read articles from liturgy blogs, liturgical journals, and major publications dealing with liturgical questions. Far too many columnists focus endlessly on tiny details that don’t amount to much, yet leave untouched a crucial issue that goes to the heart of the matter. The following is an open letter to liturgical opinion makers.

The Entrance Chant in the Ordinary Form for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (Year C) is from Psalm 33. If you don’t believe me, here’s how it appears in a book approved by the USCCB on 3/20/2014.

HE EARTH IS FULL of the mercy of the Lord, alleluia; by the word of the Lord, the heavens were established, alleluia, alleluia. Vs. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! Praising befits those who are upright.
ISERICÓRDIA Dómini plena est terra, allelúia: verbo Dómini cæli firmáti sunt, allelúia, allelúia. Vs. Exsultáte, iusti, in Dómino: rectos decet collaudátio.

On 20 November 2012, the Bishops’ Liturgy Committee confirmed a practice that had been going on for decades behind closed doors. The committee said that several sections in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal can be ignored. For those unaware, the official GIRM (going back all the way to the 1970s) requires that any text replacing the Entrance Chant must be approved by the local bishop. In light of the 20 November 2012 statement, there’s nothing to stop someone from replacing Psalm 33 (see above) with a “gathering song” like this:

And we accept bread at this table,  |  broken and shared, a living sign.
Here in this world, dying and living,  |  we are each other’s bread and wine.

If you doubt that’s a real hymn from a real GIA hymnal, click here.

CONSIDER A SECOND EXAMPLE: the Entrance Chant for the THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Year C) taken from Psalm 105. You can verify this by clicking here.

ET THE HEARTS of those who seek the Lord rejoice; seek the Lord and be strengthened; seek his face for evermore. Vs. Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name; declare his deeds among the gentiles.
ÆTÉTUR COR quæréntium Dóminum: quaérite Dóminum, et confirmámini: quaérite fáciem eius semper. Vs. Confitémini Dómino, et invocáte nomen eius: annuntiáte inter gentes ópera eius.

According to the 20 November 2012 USCCB statement, nothing prevents a choirmaster from replacing Psalm 105 with the following, even though it lacks the approval required by the GIRM:

I am reaching for the highest goal, that I might receive the prize.
Pressing onward, pushing every hindrance aside,
Out of my way, 'cuz I want to know you more.
I want to know You, I want to hear Your voice, I want to know You more.
I want to touch You, I want to see Your face, I want to know You more.

A THIRD EXAMPLE will have to suffice for now. The Entrance Chant for the ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Year A) comes from Psalm 27. Click here to verify.

EARKEN, O Lord, unto my voice which has called out to you; deign to be my help, forsake me not, and do not despise me, O God my Savior. Vs. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
UDI, DÓMINE, vocem meam, qua clamávi ad te: adiútor meus esto, ne derelínquas me neque despícias me, Deus, salutáris meus. Vs. Dóminus illuminátio mea et salus mea, quem timébo?

Thanks to the 20 November 2012 ruling, nothing prevents someone from replacing Psalm 27 with a hymn like this, taken from the “American Catholic Hymnbook” (1992):

The time has come for roses; they’re blooming bright today.
And while we walk in daylight, the sun will show the way.
God grant us joy and justice from our birth until life closes.
With men and women equal, give us bread and give us roses.
When women rise as equals, their gift enriches men.
Let friendship grow and flourish; let love be born again.

If you believe I’m cherry picking the worst songs I can find, you’ve completely missed the point. Once we eliminate the official texts & music for the Ordinary Form, we can no longer speak of a Roman Rite. The irony is that Vatican II wanted to make the treasures of authentic liturgy more accessible to congregations—not replace them with songs about roses!

557 General Instruction of the Roman Missal OME WILL ARGUE that certain hymns replacing propers have already been approved by another American bishop. Those who make this argument are partially correct, but it’s more complicated. Consider the following:

(1) When the USCCB approves a hymnal—as they often do—the approval does not apply to any of the music inside that hymnal. The approval only applies to certain texts excerpted from the Missal, such as the Ordinary of the Mass. I realize—oh, never doubt how I realize—that 99% of Catholic priests who see USSCB approval will (wrongly) assume it extends to the musical sections, such as the hymns. 1

(2) Nobody agrees what precise “wording” is required for a bishop to approve a substitute text. I demonstrated above how much difference the “alius cantus congruus” makes—is it too much to demand after five decades that we agree on this important process? Bishop Doerfler has already done so. If a bishop approves a substitute text, surely there ought to be some indication regarding when it should be used during Mass, right? (For more on this, cf. the footnote.)

(3) The Bishops’ Liturgy Committee maintains a principle called “one-for-all,” which says that if any USA bishop approves a substitute text, that same permission automatically extends to every other USA diocese. That means a musician in Los Angeles can use an alternate text approved by the bishop of Philadelphia in 1978. Likewise, a musician in Houston can use an alternate text approved in 1984 by the bishop of Minneapolis. Is this really what the GIRM meant when it stipulated that an alternate text must be approved by the local bishop? Many believe this “one-for-all” rule violates the spirit and letter of the law. Moreover, according to this rule, if the bishop of Milwaukee approves the Douay-Rheims for singing the Responsorial Psalm, all the other bishops in the USA must accept this as a valid option forever—but were that to happen, the “one-for-all” rule would suddenly receive scrutiny!

(4) To complicate things further, the 20 November 2012 ruling said that no approval by any bishop is needed. Therefore, whether a hymn gets precise approval by the correct bishop becomes irrelevant.

Catholic authors who claim to care about the liturgy have an obligation to discuss this topic openly. There is no good reason for such ambiguity. Moreover, these rules ought to apply equally to everyone—and be articulated clearly. I understand trying to be irenic. I understand hesitancy when it comes to “getting on the wrong side” of powerful Church leaders. At the same time, it’s absurd to keep pretending that progress can be made on liturgical reform without addressing this pivotal issue.

That is why I say to anyone writing about liturgy: If cowardice has prevented you from speaking out before now, take heart!  Let us boldly attack the heart of the matter, and stop beating around the bush.

A discussion about this post is underway.


1   And who can blame them for making such an assumption? Yet the USCCB has denied this time and again.

Speaking of “counterintuitive,” I have a copy of an email shared publicly on a liturgical mailing list. Composed on 1 Feb 2012 (12:53pm), a Senior Research Editor at OCP named Bari Colombari admits that Responsorial Psalms printed in one of their major hymnals cannot lawfully be used, since they lack approval by a bishop. However, then Mr. Colombari says they can be used as recessional hymns. Can you imagine using a Responsorial Psalm as a recessional hymn? My strong suspicion is that many people who purchase that hymnal use the Responsorial Psalms as … Responsorial Psalms!