N THE LONG post-Vatican II season, one of the main problems had to do with the Mass Propers—antiphons for the Introit, Offertory and Communion. De facto they disappeared from the common practice to remain as a sort of relic in the pages of the Roman Missal. 1 The perception was that this “new season, new spring, new beginning” had given up on the idea that Mass Propers were still relevant. Replacing them were all kinds of liturgical songs (“liturgical” in the best of situations).
But this perception was—and is—wrong.
It is true that the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) gives the possibility of substituting for the Proper antiphon “another appropriate song,” but this is a possibility of substitution, not a mandate. The first choice should always be the Proper antiphon for each liturgical feast and for each liturgical moment. This is what the GIRM asks.
It is like going to a restaurant and having to eat something different from your favorite dish: “We are sorry, we have not pasta with salmon; but we can give you instead pasta with meat sauce.” Yes, it is okay, this second one; but your first choice was another one, and eating too much meat is not healthy… In the situation we are here concerned with, the antiphons are there—they never go out of stock! We should be more and more convinced that they are “healthier” than the possible alternative songs: they are from the Scriptures and are parts of the mosaic presented by the other readings of that specific day; they are specific for each liturgy, allowing us to go deeper in the understanding of the mystery celebrated that specific Sunday; they are presented following a pedagogy that goes back centuries.
I know that a major problem for some with regard to singing the Propers is that the congregation is not supposed to be capable of managing different antiphons each Sunday of the year, but this is not correct. Were that the case, congregations would be incapable of listening to different readings every Sunday; readings often based on arduous theological concepts or full of historical information. I feel this might be just one more excuse to allow things to follow other directions, to reinforce the concept that making everything “easy” is good for the congregation.
One of my books is called Il canto dei secoli (“The Song of the Centuries”). The Propers constitute this “singing of centuries,” because they were preserved during our history as a living witness of the faith of our fathers and mothers and as an incomparable tool to enhance the level of our liturgical prayer.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Introit and Communion, but not Offertory.
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