HE 1960s EDITIONS OF THE GRADUALE ROMANUM AND LIBER USUALIS incorporate the following sentence into the rubrics for the chant of the Mass: “After the Offertory Antiphon the choir may sing to the ancient Gregorian chants those Verses which it was once customary to sing at this place,” which is taken verbatim from ¶27b of the 1958 instruction De musica sacra et sacra liturgia. Other than the verse Hostias et preces for the Requiem Mass, I am unaware of any official Vatican edition for the offertory verses, or any printed edition of the offertory verses that includes the Solesmes rhythmic signs. The editions of the offertory verses currently and formerly distributed by Solesmes have no official status and lack the familiar rhythmic markings. My colleagues have stressed the great importance they attach to a 1910 letter from Cardinal Roche’s predecessor, which stated that music directors do not have the right to apply to the chant any rhythm they deem most appropriate.
A Rhythmic Conundrum • Lacking any official edition for the offertory verses, we are left either to consult the manuscripts ourselves or to use someone else’s edition more or less uncritically. Either way, we have no option but to apply the rhythm we deem most appropriate. Shall we observe the rhythmic indications of the manuscripts for the verses and ignore them for the antiphons or responds? Shall we attempt to apply the Solesmes rhythm to the verses? Shall we guess where a nonexistent official Vatican edition of the verses might place the bar lines and the melismatic morae vocis? This was my dilemma when I began employing the ancient chants for the offertory verses. Before embracing proportional rhythm, or mensuralism, I was dissatisfied with mixing and matching the Solesmes method and semiology. I was equally dissatisfied with attempting to sing verses in the Solesmes style, which is based on anachronistic theories concerning rhythmic nuances and the importance of the tonic accent,* along with Dom Mocquereau’s obsolete ictus placement theory, and which so often disregards the rhythmic indications of the ancient manuscripts. It was also apparent from the manuscripts themselves that an equalist rendition wasn’t historically appropriate for these chants. Only singing the entire chants according to the rhythm of the oldest sources made real sense.
Preferred but Neglected • Why bother with singing the offertory verses at all? If you are a serious Catholic church musician, you need to be aware that the ancient chants for the offertory verses are the first option for supplementary music after the required text has been sung. The second option is to sing verses to a psalm tone. The third option is to sing a motet or some other Latin hymn or chant. These are the options given in De musica sacra et sacra liturgia and repeated in the rubrics of the official chant books from the early 1960s. For most Masses throughout the year, it is lawful for an organ solo or other instrumental music to be played after the offertory chant. It is equally lawful for there to be silence after the required text has been sung (although many priests dislike this when incense is used!), for all or part of the chant to be repeated, or even for the offertory chant to be sung slowly enough that it covers the incensation. I have it on the authority of a trustworthy canon lawyer that unless wording indicating the contrary is used, the first option listed in an ecclesiastical document is to be understood as the preferred option. If you’re not singing the offertory verses at least occasionally, the more fitting question is, “Why not?” (The other apt question regards why, in 65 years, the Church has not given us an official edition of what she proposes as the preferred liturgical option. To this I have no definite answer and will refrain from public speculation.)
Tradition, Authority, Obedience, and Unity • St. Pius V’s 1570 Missal includes the famous bull Quo primum at the front, which guarantees that, “for the singing or reading of Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal may be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment or censure, and may be freely and lawfully used. [. . .] We likewise order and declare that no one whosoever shall be forced or coerced into altering this Missal and that this present Constitution can never be revoked or modified, but shall for ever remain valid and have the force of law.” See what versions of the chants are notated in that Missal:
How many follow this version “absolutely” for the singing of Mass? Nearly everyone disregards it because they accept (and probably prefer) the restored chants published under St. Pius X. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes the following:
Clement VIII (1604), Urban VIII (1634), and Leo XIII (1884) revised the book slightly in the rubrics and the texts of Scripture. Pius X has revised the chant (1908.) But these revisions leave it still the Missal of Pius V. There has been since the early Middle Ages unceasing change in the sense of additions of masses for new feasts, the Missal now has a number of supplements that still grow, but liturgically these additions represent no real change. The new Masses are all built up exactly on the lines of the older ones.
We know that the Vatican chant books weren’t enthusiastically embraced everywhere. Many people were greatly attached to the former editions. I detect the same conservatism with my interlocutors, who invoke “obedience” and “unity” to justify their rejection of the rhythmic approach that I’ve demonstrated to be more faithful to the oldest sources. But if we were genuinely that concerned about unity in liturgical chant, why would we not wholeheartedly embrace the version of Gregorian chant actually sung nowadays in the Vatican? It is a strange sort of “unity” that clings to a particular interpretation of an edition that is only 115 years old—namely, the equalism of the “pure” Vatican edition—as “tradition” in opposition to what is actually used for papal liturgy, namely, semiology; in opposition to what is still actually used for the vast majority of Latin liturgies in English- and French-speaking countries, namely, the Solesmes method; and in opposition to what is actually based on the oldest known performance practice, namely, proportional rhythm. Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t think this stubbornness has anything at all to do with tradition. It is shallow anti-intellectualism, lack of critical thinking, and aesthetic preference masquerading as obedience. The editors of the Graduale Novum are no guiltier of “antiquarianism” than the Vatican commission of 120 years ago, St. Pius X, the French Benedictines of the nineteenth century, or Canon Gontier. When phrases such as “ghettos of theory with self-made scores” are bandied about (parroting the phraseology of a well-known Catholic blogger and former CCWatershed contributor), it is pathetically obvious that neither the oldest sources nor the writings of the medieval theorists are being taken seriously or accorded the respect they deserve. The inhabitants of the true intellectual “ghetto” are the die-hard defenders of the nuance and ictus theories, and I will be among the first to praise whoever is finally able to break the Solesmes spell for good—even if that should turn out to be Jeff Ostrowski or some other equally misguided proponent of equalism!
Replication as Reconstruction • It has occurred to me that some readers and other contributors might have misunderstood or read too much into my use of the term reconstruct (for example, here and here), by which I mean the replication of something that still exists, not the remaking of something long lost or destroyed (and possibly based on flimsy evidence and fantastic theories). They might be thinking of something like rebuilding King Solomon’s temple or the lighthouse of Alexandria, whereas I mean something along the lines of back-translating a Hebrew or Greek scripture text or a Latin hymn from an English version. Consider the following example:
Holy God, we praise Thy Name;
Lord of all, we bow before Thee!
All on earth Thy scepter claim,
All in Heav’n above adore Thee;
Infinite Thy vast domain,
Everlasting is Thy reign. (Fr. Clarence Walworth)
Dynamic/functional equivalence translation:
You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you.
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you. (ICEL)
Formal equivalence translation:
We praise thee, O God : we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee : the Father everlasting. (Book of Common Prayer)
If we translate it literally from English to Latin, “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” isn’t going to get us very close to the actual Te Deum text. It’s a paraphrase and makes no pretensions of being a word-for-word translation. The ICEL version, on the other hand, is presented as a translation, not a paraphrase, but it confuses the grammatical cases, among other problems. In the first line, you and God are both nominative in English; likewise for you and Lord in the second line and you and Father in the third. Confitemur is hardly the most obvious translation of acclaim, nor is terra a likely choice for creation. We cannot reconstruct the Latin Te Deum from the ICEL version alone. The Anglican prayer book text, in contrast, is much more literal, and there is a reasonable possibility of producing the exact Latin text by translation—although veneratur might not be the first choice of most translators for doth worship. The Latin text is available in thousands of reliable sources; the reconstruction of which I speak is obviously not a matter of remaking something from scratch, but rather using a later source to arrive at something that overwhelmingly agrees with an earlier source. I hope these examples resolve any confusion regarding my choice of terminology. I’m no more interested in attempting to reconstruct any melody or rhythm predating the oldest extant manuscripts than attempting to reconstruct the so-called Proto-Indo-European language. We have solid evidence of how chant was sung in the Early Middle Ages, but most modern interpreters—liturgical or otherwise—either remain unaware of it or have made a choice to ignore it. It’s time for that to change!
Improvement, Degeneration, or Restoration? • The three English versions each preserve the meaning or sense of the first lines of the Latin Te Deum. For now, I will leave it to others to debate whether the ICEL version, as the product of a particular era of Church history, can be considered under the umbrella of organic liturgical development. I have no doubt that Walworth’s paraphrase of the German “Großer Gott, wir loben dich” can be considered as such. That does not, however, mean that we have the right to reject the Latin Te Deum or a literal translation of it on the grounds that “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” is beautiful, well loved, enthusiastically sung, and now part of our “tradition.” To the extent that the Latin Te Deum is not equally beloved among the faithful, could we not formulate a compelling argument that the vernacular paraphrase is really an improvement? It seems to me that precisely that kind of argument is made by the stalwart defenders of the equalist chant tradition and the Solesmes method alike. They see that rhythm (or lack thereof!) as an improvement over the rhythmic differentiation notated in the oldest extant manuscripts, where I see degeneration. In the proportional rhythm chants, they hear a performance that they don’t regard as conducive to prayer (by which they invariably mean private devotional prayer rather than communal liturgical prayer), where I hear musical and spiritual vitality. They perceive antiquarianism, where I perceive restoration. If I am to sympathize with their perspective, it will require rational and objective arguments that haven’t been provided yet. I don’t want the Vatican or Solesmes editions confined to the dustbin, only to be appreciated honestly in their historical contexts rather than exalted as the incontestable musicological gold standard and last word in liturgical propriety.
Thirteen Offertory Chants • I offer here and simultaneously on CPDL my revised edition of Thirteen Offertory Chants. Sing them as printed, or combine the verses with the Vatican or Solesmes edition if you prefer. Whatever you do, make music with them!
One of Jeff’s recent posts included a terrific quote from Msgr. Schmitt about the importance of appreciating chant and polyphony as music. Our people must come to love the Gregorian Propers not only on account of the scriptural texts appointed by the Church, which have been prayed for centuries, but also on account of the music itself. Our parishes, especially the larger ones, are not wanting for talent, but what we generally lack are enough practicing Catholic musicians who take church music as seriously as secular music. From a technical standpoint, chant deserves to be approached with the same respect and discipline as music composed for the opera house or concert hall. From a liturgical standpoint, chant is neither merely a sort of “half-music” rubrical requirement to get out of the way before moving on to “real music,” nor a background accompaniment to the “real liturgy” taking place at the other end of the church. Chant is both real music and real liturgy! May we never lose sight of the dignity of what we do, and may the divine assistance and the intercession of the holy Popes Gregory the Great, Pius V, and Pius X be with us always.
* I did not respond directly to Charles Weaver’s post because he gives an account of nineteenth-century thought, which is irrelevant to the medieval manuscripts. In The Latin Language (London: Faber & Faber, 1954), L. R. Palmer says plainly, “For the period after 300 A.D. there is general agreement among scholars that a stress [i.e., dynamic] accent characterized Latin” (p. 214). This understanding, however, was decidedly not the scholarly consensus in France at the time of Pothier and Mocquereau. Note that the conventional and continued use of terms such as tonic, pretonic, and posttonic does not imply that the word accent has anything to do with pitch. Those who deliberately adhere to the Solesmes method in opposition to proportional rhythm or semiology, if they are men and women of principle, at least implicitly accept the linguistic underpinnings of that method. As for the pure Vatican edition, the preface says that in all chants, “the accent and rhythm of the word are to be observed as far as possible.” Whether the author of that preface was Pothier, Wagner, or someone else, he likely conceived of the nature of the accent and rhythm of the Latin word in a way that is now known to be historically improbable. Will the next counterargument claim that the Catholic Church has an official position regarding the nature of the Latin tonic accent, based on outdated and discredited theories?