EFLECTING on the “musical shape of the liturgy” (in his book of the same title), Prof. William Mahrt explains that the various parts of the Mass can be distinguished in a number of ways. Distinctions can be drawn, for example, on the basis of texts. Alternatively, the parts can be categorized according to the person who gives voice to them. Still another way to differentiate the parts is on the basis of their musical character. 1 In other words, the musical form of an introit is different from the musical form of a gradual; an alleluia is not a tract, nor is an offertorium a collect. The varied melody and structure of each part matters.
One of the richest musical structures in the Mass is the tone for the preface. As Mahrt notes, this melody employs two reciting notes and takes an AAB form that results in an extended periodicity. It is a beautiful tone—one that naturally triggers your mind and heart to recognize that you are listening to a preface. 2
Except when you’re not.
The preface tone is actually appointed for several other prayers. It is used, for example, in the prayer for blessing the water of the baptismal font, the prayers of ordination, and in the nuptial blessing. The ancient Roman prayer for the reconciliation of penitents on Holy Thursday utilized the preface tone, as well. The present-day tone for the Exsultet, while distinct, is also related. Despite the fact that some of these prayers are preceded by what we commonly call the “preface dialogue,” they are not, strictly speaking, prefaces, as their texts and contexts reveal. The melodic affinity established between the preface and these blessings has theological significance that could be drawn out in a longer article. For now, however, I would simply like to present a practical permission that has recently been clarified for the singing of the nuptial blessing. 3
RIOR TO the Council of Trent, numerous ritual books included chant notation for the nuptial blessing, suggesting that this prayer could be sung on more solemn occasions. Similarly, in the 2016 English edition of the marriage ritual book (Order of Celebrating Matrimony), musical notation is provided for each of the three versions of the nuptial blessing. So, it is clear that the chanting of the nuptial blessing was permissible in earlier periods, and it is equally clear that it is permitted now in weddings celebrated in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. What had been less clear until now is the permissibility of chanting the nuptial blessing at sung Masses in the Extraordinary Form. In the 1962 Missale Romanum, 1957 Rituale Romanum, and 1962 Parish Ritual, one finds neither musical notation for the nuptial blessing nor any rubrical instruction on the permissibility of singing the text. Earlier this year, a dubium was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) by Fr. Leo Camurati, O.P. seeking clarification about this matter (see the full text of his letter). The wording of his question is as follows:
Is it permitted to sing the Nuptial Blessing
(Deus, qui potestate virtutis) and accompanying prayers
(such as Propitiare Domine supplicationibus nostris
and Deus Abraham, Deus Isaac, etc.) during a sung Mass
offered for a newly-married couple in the Extraordinary Form?
The response from the CDF came back in the affirmative, with the stipulation that a particular melody be used. That melody is found in the 1835 Missal of Le Mans in France, a copy of which was included with the CDF’s response. A scan of the letter from the CDF is available here:
This permission, naturally, presumes that all requirements for imparting the nuptial blessing are otherwise met and that the Mass being offered is a Missa in cantu.
In order to facilitate practical use of this permission, we have put together a clean engraving of the text with the stipulated melody. (Special thanks to fellow blogger, Veronica Brandt, for her Gregorio expertise!) This engraving has been produced with convenient pagination in mind. It may be freely printed, shared, and used.
INDSOR Latin Mass community has long provided a treasure trove of resources to help priests chant the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form. Check out their website for pointed lessons and orations for many of the Masses in the missal, including the nuptial Mass.
For help learning to chant the nuptial blessing at an Ordinary Form celebration, see this very helpful article by Richard Clark, which features excellent practice videos.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 William P. Mahrt, The Musical Shape of the Liturgy (Richmond, VA: Church Music Association of America, 2012), 3–16.
2 Mahrt, 8.
3 For a very complete historical study of the nuptial blessing (across the centuries and the various rites), see Kenneth Stevenson, Nuptial Blessing: A Study of Christian Marriage Rites (New York: Oxford UP, 1983).