HE MOST MOMENTOUS change to the Traditional Latin Mass happened before Vatican II. In 1958, Pius XII gave permission for the congregation to recite along with the priest the Mass Propers—Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion. If you don’t believe me, click here to see proof.
The saintly pontiff probably didn’t realize how questionable 1 this idea was, because he was quite ill—he died just 35 days later. However, the underlying idea was in line with the liturgical movement, which sought to make the Mass more communal. By giving the congregation a greater role, it was hoped that they would follow more closely the actual liturgical prayers. Remember that phrase—“the actual liturgical prayers”—because we’ll come back to it.
I am not a person who believes that the 1962 Missal cannot be improved in any way whatsoever. For instance, I don’t think the world would have ended if permission had been given for the congregation to join in singing the Gradual 2 and Offertory Propers, set to simple Gregorian melodies accompanied by the organ. (For the record, the Commission of Pius X in 1905 had discussed circumstances under which the entire Gradual could be omitted!)
After the Council, however, things got way out of hand. For example, there was an emphasis placed on congregational singing—which is totally fine—but they threw out all the Propers and replaced them with devotional songs that were non-liturgical. Currently, less than 1% of parishes sing the Propers in the Ordinary Form. Did you catch that? In the interest of helping people follow the liturgy, they got rid of the actual liturgical prayers! I’m pretty sure that’s called “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Furthermore, it’s essential to realize the following:
Everything communicates something. Everything.
The problem is actually worse than the illicit elimination of beautiful things like Gregorian chant. These things were replaced with something else. Moreover, so much of what was abandoned was done so according to “rational” principles. However, we’ve learned that we’re not as smart as we’d thought, and our forefathers weren’t as dumb as we’d assumed. For example, many Gregorian melodies have melismas on the “wrong” syllables; but it turns out that this is a most sophisticated and elegant way to set music.
What, therefore, can be done??
Complaining hasn’t solved much. If you or someone you know is near Los Angeles, please consider helping this new Catholic Choir. Please take a moment and forward that link to your friends who love music. Let’s show the world how a wonderful choir is the secret ingredient for great congregational singing!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 The entire congregation trying to get through the Propers (pronunciation in Latin) along with the priest would sound horrible, and it’s not in accordance with the structure and tradition of our Rite. From the point of view of aesthetics, such an innovation can only be described as bizarre. For the record, nobody actually took advantage of this permission.
2 It’s important to recall that “Gradual” as used by Pius XII includes all the prayers between Epistle and Gospel: Tract, Sequence, Greater Alleluia, and so forth. As Adrian Fortescue has pointed out, when someone says “Gradual” it can actually mean four entirely different things…