EVERAL PEOPLE wrote to me after we posted this morning’s interview with Dr. Scott Smith. They all had the same basic question:
“What are these ‘bad texts’ referred to constantly during the interview? What do you mean people are ‘replacing’ the Propers? What does that mean?”
Those are good questions. I suppose the best answer would be for folks to listen to the rest of the interviews. However, let me try to quickly give some “Cliff’s Notes.” Toward the end, I will also give concrete examples of texts used to replace the Mass Propers.
Please note: I am not condemning anyone. I, myself, have replaced the Propers hundreds of times. This is not about denouncing anyone. I’m merely suggesting that we start a dialogue about why we’re doing what we’re doing.
INETY-NINE percent of Catholic parishes replace the texts given to us by the Catholic Church and tradition in the following way:
1. Entrance Antiphon (“Introit”): Anything we like, in any musical style, with a text written by anybody (Catholic, non-Catholic, sometimes even an atheist)
2. Offertory Antiphon: Anything we like, in any musical style, with a text written by anybody (Catholic, non-Catholic, sometimes even an atheist)
3. Communion Antiphon: Anything we like, in any musical style, with a text written by anybody (Catholic, non-Catholic, sometimes even an atheist)
Certainly the Church allows us to replace the Introit (a.k.a. “Entrance Chant”). It is also permitted to replace the Offertory and the Communion. However, let us recall that the Church has assigned special, ancient, beautiful texts from Scripture for each and every Mass, the vast majority of which date back more than 1500 years! Why do 99% of Catholic Churches replace 100% of the Propers 99% of the time?
EARLIER, I PROMISED to mention some specific texts and hymns (songs?) used in place of the Mass Propers. One example would be Stay With Me by Erich Sylvester, which I found by opening up the most popular Catholic hymnal of the last four decades (published by the largest Catholic publisher). Here are the lyrics to this song, still sung by many parishes:
I am a man without envy
No roof and no walls to defend me
In hope that someday you’ll defend me
And take all my troubles away
Walk with me, talk with me
Tell me about all the good things you’ve done
Stay with me, pray with me
Leave all your blues in your shoes at the door
I went to school for a long time
Expecting to stay in a straight line
Until I discovered that great minds
Don’t move in a straight line at all
I was a child once, I know it
My mother has pictures to show it
But she always knew I’d outgrow it
I guess that’s what pictures are for
I have no intention of going through “the list” and naming a bunch more songs. We all know “the list.” I think the last time I went through “the list” was for a 2007 article I wrote. Let’s consider just one more example. This song by Carey Landry was used fairly frequently by Catholic parishes when I was growing up in the 1990s. Although it’s been more than a decade, I can still sing this song, because it was often used to replace the Introit at Mass:
Refrain: Great things happen when God mixes with us;
Great things happen when God mixes with us;
Great and beautiful, wonderful things;
Great things happen when God mixes with us.
Some find life, some find peace; some people even find joy.
Some see things as they never could before
and some people find that they can now begin to trust.
Some find health, some find hope; some people even find joy.
Some see themselves as they never could before
and some people find that they can now begin to live.
Some find peace, some are disturbed; some people even find joy.
Some see their lives as they never could before
and some people find that they must now begin to change.
SOMETIMES IT HELPS to remind ourselves that Church music has been awful in the past (although never on the level of the situation following the Council). Consider this example, by Fr. Aidan Nichols:
In 1901, Fr. Fortescue suffered from a lady who sang badly while “beating on that kind of instrument whose altogether inappropriate name is Harmonium.”
What did Fortescue do? When he got his own parish, he worked extremely hard and made his little parish choir unbelievably wonderful. We are called to do the same. Let’s get busy!