HE CURRENT GIRM (a.k.a. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 2011) says the Entrance Chant assigned by the Church must be sung, unless it is replaced by “another liturgical chant” approved by the Bishop or Episcopal Conference. The same rules apply for the Offertory and Communion Chants. However, in most OF parishes, it seems like the musical program is as follows:
1. Entrance Chant: Whatever song we like.
2. Ordinary: “Mass of Creation” (Haugen)
3. Offertory Chant: Whichever song we like.
4. Communion Chant: Whatever song we like.
The reality is, less than 0.05% of Catholics know what the Mass Propers are. What a loss! These beautiful, ancient texts and melodies were preserved for 1,600 years — through war, famine, and so forth — only to be (wrongly) discarded after the Second Vatican Council, in spite of the fact that the Council wanted people to “pray the Mass, not replace the Mass.”
Watershed’s Vatican II Hymnal was the very first pew book to contain all the Propers (in English) for the congregation. Soon, we shall release a special new pew book which presents the Mass Propers in a way you won’t believe. To make sure you hear about this book before anyone else, please join our mailing list.
WHAT DO YOU THINK when people replace the assigned Propers with “another liturgical chant” … and they choose a song? Or they choose rock music or broadway? Or they use some other style that is not really another liturgical chant? Is this obeying the spirit and letter of the law? This issue gets a bit more complicated, as you can see here. I’m not going to treat this at the moment, because it’s kind of pointless until people start realizing the Propers exist!
If you’re a lay person and you feel bad about your ignorance of the Propers … it’s OK! Only in the last decade or so have people really begun to rediscover them. Even the former director of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship (Fr. Krisman) seems “in the dark” when it comes to Mass Propers, and recently made some comments which, in my view, are open to serious criticism. In particular, he attacked Watershed for creating a pew book allowing the congregation to follow the Propers. He also didn’t like our creation of a complete book of simplified Mass Propers in English, approved by the Church. Here’s what he said (and thanks to the reader who emailed me his comments):
AM NOT AGAINST singing the propers as one of several options permitted. But sing them in Latin, please, with a trained choir. Using a Douay-Rheims translation and singing the texts to psalm tones does nothing to preserve the Church’s patrimony. I grew up with the Carlo Rossini propers and thought they were dreadful (I still do). And propers intended for a choir don’t belong in an assembly’s hymn book. […]
I meant what I said about propers in English and propers sung to a psalm tone. […] Propers intended for the use of a choir do not need to be included in participation aids intended for the use of the liturgical assembly. […] I will bite my tongue and say no more either about the literary quality of those texts or the Carlo Rossini approach to the musical settings.
—Fr. R. Krisman, former Executive Director of the USCCB
Liturgy Secretariat, currently works for GIA Publications
First of all, I’m not sure where Fr. Krisman is getting his information. Nobody I know uses the Douay-Rheims translation at Mass. More importantly, though, he seems adamantly opposed to the congregation being able to pray along with the Mass Propers. However, as far as I’m concerned, the congregation needs to see the Mass prayers to facilitate active participation. Even when the Propers are sung in English, it still helps to see the texts.
Finally, it’s important to remember that documents like the GIRM cannot be read “in a vacuum.” Knowledge of Catholic music traditions going back fifteen centuries is assumed, and anybody who knows anything about Catholic liturgy knows how important (essential?) the Propers are. As the video above implies, just because more options are permitted under current Ecclesiastical law, that doesn’t change what the Mass Propers are and have always been.