NTRODUCING THE PROPERS to a parish’s liturgies is a laudable goal. Accompanying the Entrance and Communion processions with Biblically-based antiphons alternating with psalm verses is so much more effective than just another ‘song’ which, as some like to say, “covers up the movement.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) gives four options for the Introit, Offertory, and Communion (GIRM 48, 87). The first option is the appointed chant from the Graduale Romanum and the second is from the Graduale Simplex. Much has been written in recent years about how to re-introduce chant into the Ordinary Form liturgy. Likewise, many wonderful musical resources have been made available, from new compilations and free on-line downloads to newly composed collections in both Latin and English. Many are based on chant. But what if you can’t use chant?
Without getting into the pros and cons of—or the style wars over—chant vs. no chant, let’s just assume that for whatever reason, it is not an option at this point in time to sing chant. Must the Proper be abandoned and replaced by another hymn? Very recently I’ve decided to try an experiment that may work in other parishes. Perhaps this is not a new idea, but it’s not something that I’ve run across, so here goes.
I looked at the Communion antiphons in all of the Ordinary Time Masses in the Graduale Simplex (in English, referencing By Flowing Waters by Dr. Paul F. Ford), and all the ad libitum Communion chants from the Graduale Romanum. Some of the texts leapt out at me. I wondered if I could use the texts of the actual antiphon, but within a musical language that was a little more, well, contemporary in style. I then wondered if I could keep the actual psalm verses assigned to that antiphon, set them in a way that is not Gregorian chant, but rather, in a still noble and at the same time familiar musical language. In short, could I maintain the intent of the musical structure of the Proper itself?
For example, in Mass III of the Graduale Simplex, the Communion chant is “Seek first the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 3:16). In place of a chant setting, I extracted the first eight measures of the contemporary hymn, “Seek Ye First,” (SEEK YE FIRST) by Karen Lafferty. Our people know it well and it is essentially the same text as found in the Graduale Simplex. This became the antiphon. Next, I set the psalm verses in one of the Gelineau tones in D major to create a simple, slightly tuneful, and accessible rendering of the verses. This past Sunday, as the Priest received the Sacrament, the organ played the first two measures of the ‘hymn’ as an incipit, the cantor sang through the eight-measure hymn/antiphon, and then repeated it with the people. They sang it! Verse one followed, repeat the antiphon, sing the rest of the verses, and we now have a ‘contemporary’ style Communion proper. Other possible antiphons are “Taste and See” (Gustate et videte, Ps. 34), “Where charity and love are present” (Ubi caritas), or the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
Is this an ideal and permanent solution? Probably not. I still hold fast to the idea that “all things being equal, Gregorian Chant holds pride of place.” And so it should. But being flexible and putting one’s own musical tastes on the back burner for a while is sometimes part of the job of being a Catholic music director. So is being a good teacher. So, if it’s important to sing approved texts instead of just another song, and if anyone is looking for noble simplicity, a way to introduce the idea of a Communion antiphon with its psalm verse, and a teaching tool that may well lead to the use of actual Gregorian chant propers, then perhaps this is a solution for you.