L.M.B. sent the following inquiry (edited for clarity, as is our custom):
The Latin Mass Magazine—in an article by Michael P. Foley—had this to say about the Gregorian melodies for May 1st, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker: “According to Dr. William Mahrt, president of the Church Music Association of America, the Gregorian chant for the feast is not Gregorian enough. When I asked him to explain what he meant in layman’s terms, he replied: ‘It’s too choppy; it jumps from one note to another.’ Real Gregorian chant has gradual transitions, giving it its sinewy, mellifluous, and ethereal quality.” Others have repeated similar sentiments, such as Père Jean Crété (January 1981): “And it was only in 1960 that the melodies of the Mass and office were composed—melodies based on models of the worst taste.” On an internet forum, someone named Matthew Roth said: “the texts are horrible, and they use the Bea psalter, which makes them unsuitable for chant.” Paul Dang—on the same forum—chimed in: “If you look at the Propers, they were very banal compared to the Patronage of St. Joseph! And the Gregorian melodies were atrocious, to tell the truth!” Can someone at Corpus Christi Watershed speak to me Re: the quality of the May 1st melodies?
Jeff Ostrowski responds:
If you are quoting these people accurately, I do not see how their assertions can be defended. For example, if you examine the First and Second Alleluia for the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker (added in 1955), you will see that these Gregorian melodies and texts are 100% identical to the First and Second Alleluia from the feast known as “The Patronage of St Joseph,” added to the universal calendar in 1847 by Blessed Pope Pius IX:
It is nonsensical to pretend that these Propers were beautiful when they were sung for the feast of the Patronage of Saint Joseph but ugly when sung for the feast of Saint Joseph the Workman. It’s difficult to see why Mr. Roth said the Pius XII Psalter had any impact upon these texts or melodies, because that edition of the Psalter came more than sixty years after these texts and melodies already existed. Sister Thomas More (d. 2008) was a chant teacher who had great influence on Father Guy Nicholls. She called the Alleluia: Fac Nos Innocuam an “insipid melody.” I agree with Sister Thomas More, although she did not explain why she said that. (She was teaching at a time when the zeitgeist said anything Neo-Gregorian was horrific.) But again, this has nothing to do with the feast of Saint Joseph the Workman!
The Offertory for May 1st (Bónitas Dómini) is based upon Pópulum Húmilem, which is one of the most ancient Gregorian melodies we have, and is assigned as the Offertory for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost:
It is difficult to understand what is “choppy” about this ancient melody, although I suppose somebody could always complain about the quality of the adaptation. (Now is not the time to go down the rabbit hole of Gregorian adaptation, which has existed since the very beginning.)
The Saint Goupil website contains the complete Propers for May 1st: “Saint Joseph the Worker.” These days, it is common to hear people say the Propers for the Patronage of Saint Joseph were “good” whereas the Propers for Saint Joseph the Workman are “bad.” We’ve seen that such a position is indefensible. By the way, they are both very recent feasts! Anyone interested should visit the Lalande Library and carefully examine the 19th century plainsong books provided free of charge. That would give an idea of the provenance of these Neo-Gregorian chants, and I would love to publish the results of such a study! Here are some names of the feasts you might want to examine:
“May 1 • Saint Joseph the Workman, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary”
Die 1 Maii • Sancti Joseph Opificis, Sponsi B. Mariæ Virg. Confes.
“Saint Joseph the Worker”
“Saint Joseph the Craftsman”
The Wednesday before the Third Sunday after Easter
«Feria IV Infra Hebdomadam II. post Octavam Paschae • In Solemnitate S. Joseph, Sponsi B. Mariae Virg. Confessoris et Ecclesiae Universalis Patroni»
Missa votiva de S. Joseph.
Dominica III. post Pascha. • In Festo Patricinii S. Joseph Conf. Sponsi B.M.V.
Feria IV. De S. Joseph, Sponso B.M.V. Conf. et Catholicae Ecclesiae Patrono
III. Dimanche Après Paques • Fête Du Patronage De Saint Joseph, Époux de la B.M.V., Confesseur
Missa de Sancto Joseph
There are valid reasons to wish the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker had not been added in 1955. For example, it moved the ancient feast of Saint Philip and Saint James the Lesser from 1 May to May 11. But when it comes to the Gregorian melodies, we must make sure to avoid propagating nonsense.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
* For further reading, please see: Three Radical Liturgical Changes • (Pope Pius XII).