ITHIN A SHORT period of time, one of my colleagues will release an English translation of a fascinating 1970s document which explains why many of the SUNG PROPERS were replaced with the SPOKEN PROPERS. The “Spoken Propers” (a.k.a. Sacramentary Propers) came into existence in 1970, whereas the “Sung Propers” are approximately 1,700 years old. I won’t reveal what’s contained in this document, but I can say that its reasoning strikes me as bizarre. For example, it claims that the ancient Antiphon for Christmas must be eliminated because it’s “practically impossible to translate.” 1
A Few Technical Terms
Before we get started, we must handle a few technicalities. The Proprium Missae prior to the Second Vatican Council consisted of: Introit, Gradual, Alleluia Verse, Offertory, and Communion. The “Gradual” and “Alleluia Verse” are not antiphons. (By the way, a “Tract” replaces the “Alleluia” during penitential seasons.) Rightly or wrongly, Ordinary Form parishes usually replace the Gradual with the Responsorial Psalm, and the “Alleluia Verse” (from Roman Gradual) with an “Alleluia Verse” from the Lectionary. When it comes to the “Alleluia Verse,” the Roman Gradual hardly ever matches the Lectionary—as you can see from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. However, if you search long enough, you can find some feasts which do match, such as the Vigil of Christmas. Because the “Gradual” and “Alleluia Verse” are not antiphons, we won’t be discussing them—although (for the record) it’s insane that sixty years after Vatican II we still don’t know why the “Gradual” and “Alleluia Verse” needed to be changed. Remember, too, that the reforms of the 1960s attempted to move away from the Missale Romanum and restore the more ancient arrangement of books:
1. SACRAMENTARY (stuff for the priest)
2. LECTIONARY (stuff for the readers)
3. GRADUAL (stuff for the singers)
Dividing the Missale Romanum would have been necessary in any event, because the reformers added tons of new Scripture readings. If you want to learn more about the different books, please read this article, which appeared on 19 August 2020. The “Spoken Propers,” introduced circa 1970, were a disastrous innovation. These were antiphons for the INTROIT and COMMUNION which sometimes matched the Roman Gradual, but sometimes did not. They were added to the Sacramentary, supposedly for “Masses without music.” For wacky reasons, the OFFERTORY antiphons were not included; I guess they missed the bus! To begin to understand how confusing this was, imagine if the reformers had placed bits and pieces of the Lectionary into the Sacramentary—and 50% these were altered slightly. Furthermore, imagine that certain readings (e.g. the First Reading) were not included in the Sacramentary while others were. A recipe for disaster, no?
A message in the Newsletter of the “Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) dated October of 1972 explained things as follows—and this explanation was placed verbatim in the “Foreword” to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal during the 1970s. Notice that these liturgical experts erroneously assume the “Spoken” antiphons are identical to the “Sung” antiphons:
Although the Sacramentary is a book of presidential prayers said by the priest, for the sake of completeness this edition does contain the brief sung antiphons for the entrance and communion processions. These are printed in smaller type and to one side in order to indicate that they are not ordinarily said by the priest and indeed are not parts of a Sacramentary.
Similar But Not Identical
Those lies which contain “a little bit of truth” are the most difficult to quash. Similarly, the fact that some of the “Spoken Propers” matched the “Sung Propers”—while others did not—hoodwinked many priests and bishops. For example, if you look at the Communion Antiphon for Holy Thursday, you will see that “Spoken Propers” version matches the “Sung Propers” version. Unfortunately, most of the time, the “Spoken Propers” are completely different than the “Sung Propers.” Consider the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
You can see they are not even close to being identical. If you desire a few more examples, read this article published on 23 August 2020.
The April-May 1970 Newsletter shows the way they severely muddled the difference between the “Spoken” and “Sung” propers, yet their error seems forgivable since they specifically say “until the publication of the complete new missal…” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops seemed to be very much “flying by the seat of their pants.” For instance, they erroneously claimed in their February-March 1970 Newsletter that the Offertory antiphons would be printed in the new Missal. Even the Holy Father seemed confused. On 3 April 1969, Paul VI made the following declaration, which was reprinted in the front of every Missal, even now:
“The texts intended for singing found in the Graduale Romanum have been left unchanged. In the interest of their being more easily understood, however, the Entrance and Communion antiphons have been revised for use in Masses without music.”
But it’s difficult to see how switching Matthew 16:24, for example, to Psalm 15:8 (SEE ABOVE) makes it “easier to understand.” Neither will someone’s understanding of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird be helped by switching to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet instead.
A Direct Contradiction
We have already seen how the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy falsely equated the “Spoken Propers” with the “Sung Propers” in October of 1972. Let’s take another look at their decree:
Although the Sacramentary is a book of presidential prayers said by the priest, for the sake of completeness this edition does contain the brief sung antiphons for the entrance and communion processions. These are printed in smaller type and to one side in order to indicate that they are not ordinarily said by the priest and indeed are not parts of a Sacramentary. […] Only in the absence of song is the entrance antiphon used as a spoken or recited text. Since these antiphons are too abrupt for communal recitation, it is preferable when there is no singing that the priest (or the deacon, other minister, or commentator) adapt the antiphon and incorporate it in the thematic presentation of the Mass of the day.
26. The entrance song is sung alternately either by the choir and the congregation or by the cantor and the congregation; or it is sung entirely by the congregation or by the choir alone. The antiphon and psalm of the “Graduale Romanum” or the “Simple Gradual” may be used, or another song that is suited to this part of the Mass, the day, or the seasons and that has a text approved by the conference of bishops. If there is no singing for the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise it is recited by the priest after the greeting.
From Bad To Worse
Things got worse before they got better. Around the year 2000, the Vatican published a new edition of the Missale Romanum, but United States bishops would not translate it into English until 2011—even though it’s hard to understand such a massive delay! On 14 November 2001, the USCCB asked the Vatican to let them create an “American Adaptation” of the GIRM, just as they had done in 1969. This was given Vatican approval on 17 April 2002, although the USCCB continued to “tweak” it. (For the record, it’s difficult to understand why the USCCB felt it acceptable to modify the adaptation after it had received Vatican approval.) In May 2002, the BCL Newsletter published this adaptation, but the wording was severely garbled. For instance, it says:
Cantus a [sic] Communionem: (1) the antiphon and Psalm from the Roman Missal as set to music in the Roman Gradual…
First of all, the Communion antiphon has no psalm in the Roman Missal. Secondly, the “Spoken Propers” printed in the Missal seldom match what is given in the Graduale Romanum. Then, perhaps attempting to correct this faulty wording, somebody mangled it even more! The final 2002 wording went to print as follows: “the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there…” That wording makes no sense at all.
Starting around, Dr. Christoph Tietze tirelessly wrote letter after letter to the USCCB, begging the bishops to correct their error. He never received any response, but his tenacity bore fruit. You can see progress being made in this astounding document written by Bishop Donald Trautman in November of 2007. Finally, in the 2011 Missale Romanum, the error was basically fixed—although strictly speaking the Graduale Romanum does not contain a psalm for the Communion antiphon—but something rather odd happened:
Notice the “Spoken Propers” were summarily moved from 4th option to 1st option. A letter dated 19 May 2009 from Arthur J. Serratelli to Paul Monachino explains why this was done. In essence, Bishop Serratelli says the “Spoken Propers” were elevated to 1st option because people have been setting them for forty years. For myself, I am aware of hardly any settings before 2002 using the “Spoken Propers.” More importantly, “people have been doing it” seems a rather flimsy argument. On a practical level, having so many Communion antiphon “options” for each feast makes things insanely complicated:
In some ways, it is silly to speak of “approved translations” for the Sacred Liturgy, because the 20 November 2012 ruling by the USCCB said any song can be sung as “4th option” without any approval. This ruling seems to contradict the norms of higher authority, but the bishops on the committee have confirmed it over and over again. 2 The following is a curious statement by Monsignor Rick Hilgartner from 2013, when he was Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship:
13 December 2013 • [When asked if the Graduale Romanum can be sung in English.] — “Yes, you can…though there is no officially approved English translation (ICEL has never developed anything, nor have any of the English-language Conferences of Bishops). There are numerous resources available that have English texts—using either the NAB or the Grail as the base texts of the Scriptures.”
The first reason this is curious has already been mentioned: the 20 November 2012 decree by the USCCB. The second reason is because “The Revised Grail” was approved, but ended up being abandoned. It was never placed in any Lectionaries, and it never will be. That means books that used this translation—such as Worship IV Hymnal (GIA Publications), the Lumen Christi Missal (Illuminare Publications), and Word of the Lord (International Liturgy Publications)—printed a version of the psalter that never actually appeared in any Lectionary! The current translation is supposedly going to be the Abbey Psalms and Canticles, but time will tell whether that happens.
The third reason is because Monsignor Hilgartner seems to be saying that any “approved” version can be used as a basis for translating the Roman Gradual, but the example he gives (“NAB”) is riddled with bizarre inconsistencies; moreover, the Roman Gradual does not come directly (“verbatim”) from the Vulgata. According to what Monsignor Hilgartner says, it would seem any translation that at one time was “approved” for the liturgy could be used. Most people don’t realize that the Bishops’ Conference of the United States of America in November 1966 explicitly approved “the following English translations of the Holy Bible: the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the Douai-Rheims-Challoner, Monsignor Knox’s Bible, the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), and the Jerusalem Bible.”
When it comes to the “Sung Propers” found in the Graduale Romanum, many translations have been fully approved for liturgical use. For example, the so-called 1965 MISSAL was specifically approved by the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as well as the National Conference of Bishops of the United States. To read about those approvals, click here. Additionally, this English translation of the “Sung Propers” received the following:
IMPRIMATUR • Most Rev. Lawrence B. Casey (Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey) on 18 September 1966
IMPRIMATUR • Most Rev. Lawrence Shehan (Archbishop of Baltimore, Maryland) on 12 January 1966
IMPRIMATUR • Most Rev. Ackerman (Bishop of Covington, Kentucky) on 13 November 1964
The English translation of the “Sung Propers” adopted by the The Saint Isaac Jogues Illuminated Missal, Gradual, and Lectionary was printed with approval of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (20 March 2014). This English translation also received the following:
IMPRIMATUR • Most Rev. Georges Gilson (Bishop of Le Mans) on 16 November 1989
IMPRIMATUR • Most Rev. Yves Le Saux (Bishop of Le Mans) on 3 June 2012
Approval for Liturgical Use • Most Rev. William M. Mulvey (Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas) on 15 July 2013
IMPRIMATUR • Most Rev. Edward J. Slattery (Bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma) on 25 March 2014
I must repeat, however, that it’s somewhat pointless to speak of “approved translations” for the Sacred Liturgy since the USCCB statement on 20 November 2012 said any song can be sung as “4th option” without any approval. For the record, Footnote 160 to Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (issued by the USCCB on 14 November 2007) specifically says: “Antiphons from the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex might be sung in Latin or vernacular.” Importantly, at §190, SttL says:
There are several options for the Communion song or chant, including the proper antiphon from the Graduale Romanum, a seasonal antiphon from the Graduale Simplex, an antiphon and psalm from a collection approved for liturgical use, or another appropriate liturgical song.
Notice that Sing to the Lord doesn’t mention the “Spoken Propers” (although a footnote does make reference to them). On the other hand, §77 of SttL says: “The Entrance and Communion antiphons are found in their proper place in the Roman Missal. Composers seeking to create vernacular translations of the appointed antiphons and psalms may also draw from the Graduale Romanum, either in their entirety or in shortened refrains for the congregation or choir.” Different authors collaborated to create SttL, and whoever wrote §77 seems confused.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Yet this is bizarre, because the Second Vatican Council said: “The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly.” Intentionally eliminating a text from Sacred Scripture—especially one used at Christmas for two millenia—seems silly.
2 To be fair, they have simply returned to the practice that existed from 1969 until 2002, where nobody’s permission had been required for “4th option” choices according to the United States “adaptation” of the GIRM (which was approved by the Vatican, although it contradicted the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani). On the other hand, it was unconscionable hypocrisy for the Secretariat of Divine Worship to pretend to respect SttL while privately telling people to ignore clear directives, such as 144b.