ITH ITS RECENT responses regarding the implementation of Traditionis custodes (TC), the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) makes remarkably specific demands about the publication of liturgical books. I refer to the discussion of the provision in TC that the readings at usus antiquior Masses must be proclaimed in the vernacular, using an approved translation. As others have remarked, this rule immediately raises serious practical issues (to say nothing of the deeper, non-practical issues). For instance, the question of which vernacular language to use is not trivial: in many parishes, speakers of several different languages worship at the usus antiquior Mass side-by-side. Even if a US parish were to choose, say, English as the language for the lessons, there is (to my knowledge) no currently available book that arranges the text of the New American Bible (NAB) to conform to the old lectionary. Of course, there are many hand missals for the faithful, with the text of the readings (and the other proper texts) in Latin and vernacular. English Missals usually draw on the elegant Latinisms of the Douay-Rheims translation. But such books, despite their obvious usefulness, soundness, and antiquity, are not currently approved by the US bishops for liturgical use.1
This difficulty led to a dubium, in answer to which we are instructed that the readers at Mass should excerpt the readings from the full text of the Bible, presumably adding by heart the necessary beginning formulas (“Brothers and sisters,” “Dearly beloved,” “In those days, Jesus said to his disciples,” and so forth). Given that at a Solemn Mass the readings must be sung, this creates an immediate demand for versions of the cycle of readings for the Old Rite with the correct pericopes from the NAB pointed to one or the other of the tones. But incredibly, the CDW stipulates that “No vernacular lectionaries may be published that reproduce the cycle of readings of the previous rite.” Given the difficulties outlined above, implementation of this provision is quite impractical, if not impossible. Presumably the problem is one of a lack of familiarity with the usus antiquior. In this case an office of the Vatican uncharacteristically micromanages the publishing activities of a small, liturgically oriented group within the Church. Do you see where I am going? Such a situation has arisen before.
Longtime readers of Corpus Christi Watershed will be familiar with the story of the restoration of the plainchant by the monks of Solesmes and the subsequent publication of the Vatican Edition. Several articles on this website provide a wealth of excellent historical information on the topic. For sacred musicians, this story is important precisely because some of the conclusions about sacred music drawn both by the monks and by St. Pius X during the restoration continue to bear fruit for us who work in the vineyard. Think of the powerful effect that the restoration had on the life of Justine Ward, who converted to Catholicism and devoted her life to the promotion of the vision of Pius X and the monks of Solesmes. The plainchant continues to nourish our faith, thank God.
These instructions from the CDW call to mind two episodes of this history, which we would do well to remember and consider now. The first is that for several decades of the work of Solesmes (beginning in 1871), the firm Pustet had a monopoly granted by the Vatican for the printing of the official chant books of the Church. The Regensburg editon of the chant, and the old Medicean edition on which it was based, enjoyed the official sanction of the Church. In spite of this edition’s manifest scholarly and musical inferiority to the books of Solesmes, this privilege continued for years, because of several currents of international and Vatican politics. The monks had to be content to continue publishing books for their own use, making no claims of universal applicability within the Church, although their editions eventually made their way even into the Sistine chapel after the appointment of Lorenzo Perosi in 1898. Their patience was amply rewarded once Pius X, a strong ally of the Solesmes cause, came to the papal throne in 1903. The lesson here is that Roman control on matters like liturgical printing is not absolute at the local level. The monks’ paleographic work was laudable, and nobody could accuse them of failing to think with the mind of the Church. Their research certainly did not make them dissidents, heretics, or non-Catholics. David Hughes has made a similar point about this aspect of the Solesmes project in a recent talk, which may be viewed here.
But there is a second episode in the history of the Vatican edition that is even more similar to the present situation. After the establishment of the Vatican commission on the chant restoration, to be led by Dom Pothier, there was a rupture between the Solesmes camp (led by Dom Mocquereau) and the other commissioners. This was primarily over controversies concerning melodic readings of the chants (i.e., Pothier’s version of the Graduale was chosen over Mocquereau’s), but this rupture had a rhythmic component as well, the consequences of which remain with us to this day. As is explained amply elsewhere, the only rhythmic indication in the Vatican edition involves the use of white space, which has proven to be fairly ambiguous. By this time, Dom Mocquereau was already using his rhythmic notations (dots and episemata), in the books published at Solesmes. After the publication of the Vatican edition, the monks of Solesmes (like everyone else) were bound to respect and reproduce the readings of that edition.
After complaints (led by the organist Charles-Marie Widor), the monks of Solesmes were forbidden from altering the notes of the Vatican edition at all in their printed books. The Mocquereau camp cleverly read into the instructions from the Vatican a license to print their rhythmic signs, as long as they did not touch the notes themselves. Consider this early form of Mocquereau’s ictus mark (the second note is not a virga):
In this example, the starred note is non-ictic because of the ictus marks on the notes just before and after:
See that the vertical episema touched the note on which it fell. In order to comply with the Vatican instructions on the promotion of the Vatican edition, in subsequent Solesmes books the vertical episema moved away from the note itself, which, happily, leads to an improvement in legibility. Of course, this certainly is an extreme form of musicological casuistry!
Among present-day church musicians, there is a broad spectrum of feelings about the Solesmes rhythm signs. (In full disclosure, I have been described as being on “Team Mocquereau,” and I am currently writing my doctoral dissertation on Mocquereau’s theory of rhythm.) Nevertheless, even among critics of the classic Solesmes method, it is widely agreed that the method is easy, intuitive, generally beautiful, and much more simple to execute without specialized training than singing from the Vatican Edition or from any of the more recent semiologically oriented books. In other words, in spite of the crackdown from Rome, the Solesmes rhythms have been wildly successful and continue to be so more than a century on from these events. In 2022, the idea of the Vatican weighing in on the proper notation of plainchant rhythm is faintly comical.
Where does this leave us with the new directives on publication by the CDW? In my experience, the study of history always has a tempering effect on strong reactions to current events. History gives us perspective. Supposing there is a small coterie of dedicated people somewhere, with the mission of pointing the NAB translations of the old lessons to adaptations of the Vatican Edition tones, they should carry on and not worry too much about Vatican decrees on what may or may not be published. The same holds for the restriction on listing usus antiquior events on parish schedules and bulletins. In a similar crackdown, the monks of Solesmes managed to find a workaround that has vastly outstripped the original Vatican edition in popularity and usefulness.
Let us also not forget that around this time (from 1901) the monks of Solesmes were forced into exile because of the unjust French laws on religious life. Even this could not stop the wonderful project of Dom Gueranger from bearing fruit, as it continues to do. I try to remember to pray every day for those early reformers of Solesmes (remarkably, none of them has been canonized yet, although I feel sure that Dom Gueranger at least was saintly!), and I hope they pray for us as well. Meanwhile, the work continues.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Note from the CCW President: Are such readings truly forbidden in the Extraordinary Form? This article explores some other angles. At a minimum, the 20 November 2012 statement by the USCCB (Secretariat for the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy) gives permission for the readings by Lasance, Knox, and Sheen/Caraman. On a practical level, no sane pastor would expose his congregation to possible litigation. Remember: the USCCB keeps “their” liturgical translations under lock and key, and threatens anyone who would dare transmit, reproduce, read, access, or pray them “in any way” (even electronically).