N HONG KONG, there is only one publisher that prints the hymnal for the whole diocese and that publisher is the Sacred Music Commission. The members in Sacred Music Commission are appointed by the diocese and they work under the guidance of the local bishop.
The hymns are edited, translated, arranged and reviewed carefully by the commission. That’s why we don’t really experience the problem of non-approved hymns at home. Owing to this reality, it is not easy to comprehend the 2012 statement that approval of substitute songs is “impossible.”
In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), four options are given for the Propers in the dioceses of the United States of America:
(1) The antiphon from the Missal or the Roman Gradual (Graduale Romanum);|
(2) The antiphon from the Simple Gradual (Graduale Simplex);|
(3) A chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons approved by the Conference of bishops;|
(4) Another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of years approved by the Conference of bishops.
According to the GIRM no. 48, these are the four options. But are they really just some options? Or are they preferences? If they are just four options, that will mean they are all equal and we are free to pick any one of the four. However, in the light of our Sacred Tradition, I would like to suggest that they are really preferences instead of options.
OVER THE PAST CENTURY, Popes and Council Fathers have written over and over again in documents that the main place or “pride of place” should be given to Gregorian Chant. According to that logic, the “four options” in the GIRM turn into the “four preferences” of the Church. The antiphons from the Roman Gradual are the first preference and most of these antiphons are from the Liber Usualis. They are the “real” Gregorian Chant. The second preference is the antiphons from the Simple Gradual and these are seasonal simplified chant. The third preference would be other collections of Psalms and antiphons which will include the English Propers composed by American musicians. And the final preference is other liturgical songs approved by the Conference of bishops, which may include some of the hymns in the hymnals.
I don’t know if you would agree with me on this, but working as a parish music director, I also view the “four preferences” as four levels of difficulties of application. The fourth preference is always the easiest because the hymns are usually in English and they encourage the external participation of the congregation. The third preference is a little bit harder to apply because the external participation of the congregation might not happen … but at least they can understand the English antiphons. The second preference is more difficult than the third because the language is now in Latin. And of course, the first preference is hardest because the melodies are much more complicated than the simple Latin chant.
In my parish, I always chant the Propers with my two scholae. The Propers are just as important as the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Post-Communion Prayer. In fact, these prayers and the Propers of the day are on the same page in the Missal. At the beginning of the Mass, we usually sing a congregational hymn and the Introit is chanted as the priest process in. The offertory antiphon and communion antiphon are chanted before we sing other hymns or motets. And I always provide the translation of the antiphons for the congregation so that they can participate internally.
Are you considering having all the Propers sung at your parish? If yes, my suggestion would be not to replace hymns with the Propers, but do both! And always make sure the congregation can understand the text.
This article is part of a series: