ACHMANINOV, asked by Robert Croan why he never gave interviews, responded: “I was brought up never to lie; but I cannot tell the truth.” For at least ten years, I couldn’t understand what Rachmaninov meant. Eventually, I did understand—and I agree! In the Bible, when Noah became drunk (since he didn’t realize the strength of wine) Sem and Japheth “put a cloak upon their shoulders, and going backward, covered the nakedness of their father.” When people ask me certain questions about church music legislation, I’m sorely tempted to “cover the nakedness” of the Ordinary Form. I’m embarrassed by the unlimited options allowed in the Ordinary Form. I usually prefer not to talk about the situation, since I personally wish the situation were different. Moreover, when I do tell the truth, people—even priests—don’t believe me.
Hard Truths • At the end of the day, denying reality is neither helpful nor virtuous. Sadly, when it comes to the Ordinary Form, certain myths have become widespread. I’m not interested in assigning blame, just as I wasn’t interested in attacking anyone when I published my 2021 article called Reform of the Reform: Eight Lies We Were Told. Rather than repeating the same sentence over and over again, let me say it loud and clear:
I’m not interested in deceiving or presenting “loopholes.” All I can do is present the facts. I strongly disagree with much post-conciliar legislation, but nobody asked me! Don’t shoot the messenger.
Responsorial Psalm Options • Many priests believe the Responsorial Psalm printed in the MISSALETTE to be the only “correct” or “valid” or “licit” option. As a matter fact, this is not true. Here are some options:
(1) Instead of what’s printed in the MISSALETTE, one can sing a seasonal psalm (“common psalm”). Those are provided in the Lectionary.
(2) Instead of what’s printed in the MISSALETTE, one can choose a completely different (!) psalm than the one printed in the Lectionary. The GIRM affirms this. Indeed, when asked this specific question in writing, the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship responded (on 31 August 2015): “An entirely different Psalm can be chosen, so long as it comes from an approved source.”
(3) Instead of what’s printed in the MISSALETTE, one may sing a completely different translation—so long as it’s sung. An example would be the version by Dr. Theodore Marier, which uses a previous translation of the Lectionary.1
(4) When it comes to ORDINARY TIME (“through the year”), a rubric says that on weekdays in ORDINARY TIME any one of the thirty-four “Masses in Ordinary Time” may be chosen according to the pastoral usefulness of the texts.
(5) In spite of what many have claimed, it is allowed to sing a hymn (!) instead of the Responsorial Psalm. Whoever published the GIRM seems unaware of clear instances wherein the post-conciliar books stipulate that a hymn can be sung in place of the Responsorial Psalm. Whether we like it or not, hundreds of “metrical arrangements” of psalms (see below) have been written, stretching back centuries:
One famous example of “Psalms arranged in metrical form” would be The whole booke of Psalmes: collected into English meetre by Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins (1549).
(6) Instead of what’s printed in the MISSALETTE, one may sing the SANCTORALE Responsorial Psalm. Sadly, many don’t even realize the SANCTORALE options are allowed. That’s because the MISSALETTE always—unless I am mistaken—chooses the “continuous reading” options, rather than those belonging to the saint’s feast day. On 23 April 2009, the Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship reiterated that all valid options must be included:
4. In particular, from the approved liturgical books to the simplest participation aids, publications should provide the greatest possible diversity and options, as expected by the liturgical reform. No publication should limit, directly or indirectly, the breadth of choice open to the priest and other ministers, the leaders of song, parish and community worship committees, or others who participate in planning liturgical celebration. […] 37. The arrangement or selection of liturgical texts must not result in the suppression of alternatives and options for the congregation (or for the celebrant and other ministers, as applicable). […] 37b. The publisher does not have the authority to make unilateral selection of liturgical texts among the options available.
It has never been explained why the MISSALETTE companies were given special privileges and exemptions. I have my own theories, but I’ll keep them to myself at this time.
(7) Instead of what’s printed in the MISSALETTE, any plainsong composition may be sung. I’m not just talking about the chants assigned by the GRADUALE ROMANUM (1973). The official post-conciliar rubrics say the following for the PROPRIUM DE TEMPORE:
In omnibus Missis de Tempore eligi potest pro opportunitate, loco cuiusvis cantus diei proprii, alius ex eodem tempore. Translated to English: At all seasonal Masses, to replace any chant proper to the day, another from the same season can be selected for the sake of convenience.
A similar sentence appears at the beginning of the PROPRIUM DE SANCTIS. A priest fluent in Latin has pointed out that this rubric means any chant (!!!) can replace any other. According to the way the official rubric is worded, an INTROIT could theoretically replace a COMMUNION “for the sake of convenience.” Indeed, FATHER SAMUEL WEBER (a monk of Saint Meinrad) had a maxim he repeated constantly: “It’s the Novus Ordo so you can do whatever you want.” When I first heard him say this, I found his statement scandalous. Having looked into the matter for the last 15 years, I realize Father Weber was absolutely correct.
(8) Finally, it’s important to remember that any piece of music—even composed by non-Catholic—is automatically approved (!) according to the USCCB ruling of 20 November 2012. Many people view that procedure as absurd. After all, how can a bishop give “approval” to something he’s never seen? How can a bishop give “approval” to something of whose existence he’s unaware? Indeed, Daniel Craig sent more than 70 letters to each episcopal member of the committee, trying to find a single bishop willing to condemn that ruling. In the end, not a single member of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship was willing to denounce it. [I wonder if the bishops would have responded differently if this same “automatic” approval had been cited in support of priests offering the MISSALE VETUSTUM—but perhaps that’s my cynical side talking!] Something we’ve gone over ad infinitum deals with “approvals” found inside the front cover of HYMNALS printed over the last 70 years. The title page always says in big letters: “This hymnal was approved for publication by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.” The problem is, that approval didn’t apply to any (!) of the music or lyrics to the hymns! Can you imagine anything more contradictory, counterintuitive, or confusing? The USCCB now claims that “approval” only applied to texts under copyright—but try explaining that to your parish priest with a straight face! (I have my own suspicions as to why that situation was allowed to exist.)
I’m already exhausted … yet I’ve only managed to get through the valid options for the Responsorial Psalm!
What’s Your Point, Jeff? • So what’s my basic point? I want people to be very careful when a priest says to them “that’s not allowed.” Many who claim to know about sacred music have no problem singing a random Praise & Worship song instead of the INTROIT. Yet those same people will turn around and claim other types of music—such as plainsong in English—are “forbidden” by the legislation. This drives me bonkers! Indeed, every day people claiming to be experts in sacred music make reprehensible claims about which music is “approved.” Some could be shown the 20 November 2012 ruling by the USCCB a zillion times, and it wouldn’t make any difference. They’ve embraced a certain opinion about matters and will never change—not even on their deathbed. For the record, current legislation without question permits a GRADUAL (for example) to be sung instead of the Responsorial Psalm, whether it be sung in English or Latin.
Covering the 1962 Missal’s “Nakedness” • Twenty years ago, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter published an article in a journal. (That particular priest later sought permission to leave his order; he’s no longer FSSP.) The basic point of his argument could be summarized as follows:
“The TLM is better than the Novus Ordo. We know this because the Novus Ordo has a bunch of options—which means it comes from man—whereas the TLM doesn’t have any options—which means it comes directly from God.”
For the record, what that priest said was false. The Extraordinary Form has numerous options! For example, on 4th class feasts, each priest can choose from among the VOTIVE MASSES. Indeed, priests are even allowed to select “defunct” Masses (no longer found in the Missal) such as the formularies for our Savior’s Holy Wounds. The traditional version of PALM SUNDAY includes two options of the Gradual, and neither is to be preferred. Moreover, the 1962 Missal contains “short forms” decided upon by each priest. If you don’t believe me, click here. Choices must be made regarding the so-called “BEA PSALTER,” issued as an option a few days after World War II ended. Indeed, a 1958 document issued under Pope Pius XII introduced certain bizarre options, such as having the entire congregation recite the Gradual along with the priest. I realize that priest was attempting to promote the TLM, but spreading falsehoods about it is reprehensible.
A Word Of Caution • I’m not someone who believes liturgical “salvation” will necessarily come by way of “ultra” traditionalists. Indeed, “trad influencers” who live on the internet routinely outdo each other with imbecilic statements on the sacred liturgy. I remember a telephone conversation I had with a priest from one of the traditional orders. (I don’t usually have time for telephone calls, but an acquaintance of mine interceded on his behalf.) He spent the first part of the conversation telling me repeatedly—in a way that struck me as excessive—he’s “just a simple priest who doesn’t know anything about music.” Finally, we got down to brass tacks. He asked me a specific question about music for the MISSALE VETUSTUM. I started to answer, but he immediately interrupted me, saying: “Jeff, I understand the argument you’re trying to make, but I respectfully disagree with you. This conversation is over.” The call left a bad taste in my mouth. After all, if he was being honest vis-à-vis his total ignorance about liturgical music, how could he have known the argument I was about to make? The point I’m trying to make is: just because a priest is part of a traditional order, that doesn’t necessarily mean they value sacred music. There’s no shortage of work that needs to be done in this area, for both forms of the Roman Rite.
This Directive Might Have Saved Us • In the traditional Roman Rite, the Gospel was read four (4) times. The Celebrant said the entire Gospel sotto voce. Afterwards, the Deacon chanted it. The Celebrant then read it in the vernacular, although this was done before Mass in Australia. Finally, there was the “Last Gospel,” which was frequently the beginning of Saint John’s Gospel. [For more information about “Proper” Last Gospels, cf. the third edition of the CAMPION MISSAL.] In the traditional Holy Week, the Celebrant quietly read all twelve readings (!) at the Altar while they were simultaneously being proclaimed at a lectern. In the 1950s, this situation began to change. Rightly or wrongly, some felt the Celebrant’s “silent doubling” should be eliminated. While Vatican II was still in session, the Vatican issued an Instruction on Implementing Liturgical Norms [INTER ŒCUMENICI] which said:
“Missals to be used in the liturgy shall contain besides the vernacular version the Latin text as well.”
On 13 July 1967, the Vatican reiterated that principal:
“Missals, whether for weekdays or for Sundays, must always have the Latin text alongside the vernacular translation, though the Latin may be printed in a smaller type.”
Sadly, like most of what Vatican II said, these injunctions were ignored. Had those directives been followed, perhaps our current situation would have been avoided. As everyone knows, the music at 95% of Masses in the Ordinary Form has nothing to do with the Graduale Romanum texts provided as “Option 1” in the GIRM. Enormous freedom was granted by means of the alius cantus congruus (“anything else appropriate”) option. But what if that directive had been obeyed? Do you agree that Catholics who constantly saw that Latin text, even printed in a smaller font, would have eventually been curious to sing the Mass instead of singing at Mass? The only pew resource I’m aware of that currently provide both English in Latin is the SAINT ISAAC JOGUES PEW MISSAL.
Should We Get Discouraged? • I’ve pointed out several troubling realities (above) regarding the excessive options allowed by the Ordinary Form rubrics. My intention was not to cause you distress. Rather, I took that course of action because my basic philosophy is that telling lies about the situation doesn’t solve anything. Progressive liturgists try to bully others into believing “their” options are the only valid ones. Indeed, they sometimes use immoral means to promote “their” options. I realize one might be tempted to become discouraged because so much of what Vatican II mandated is ignored—and even ridiculed—by the very same people who claim Vatican II was the only council worth caring about. For instance, Vatican II wanted to emphasize and elevate Sacred Scripture, yet the pre-conciliar Mass contained much more (as this PDF chart demonstrates). Important passages of Sacred Scripture were quietly excised, as Father Valentine Young pointed out. From what I can tell, there have been more than 7,000 pages (!) of post-conciliar liturgical legislation, much of it contradictory. But let’s not become discouraged. Let’s remember folks in the olden days, whose cities were destroyed by earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. They didn’t get discouraged—they got busy rebuilding!
During the rest of this article, I attempt to give some practical suggestions that might prove worthy of your consideration.
Saints + Integrity + Prayer
No Salvation From Decrees • During his EWTN appearance in the 1990s, a member of the audience stood up and asked Dr. Robert Skeris whether decrees could be invoked to “get rid of all the bad music.” His basic answer was: “No.” I’ve suggested there’s no salvation from decrees. We must imitate the saints, who never asked: “How much can I get away with?” Like the saints, we must return to the authentic traditions. We must return to what is good, true, beautiful, holy, and perennial. That’s what the saints did. Dr. Scott Hahn likes to call saints “our older brothers and sisters in the Faith.”
Integrity (1 of 4) • When I’m going to sing Mass by myself, my preparation takes about five minutes. When I’m directing a choir, the preparation can take weeks! Nevertheless, there’s something absolutely irresistible about a choir singing. Most of the great sacred music was written for a choir. My heart breaks when I observe professional ensembles performing Renaissance masterworks with a soloist on each part. Just the other day, someone linked to a piece by Giovanni Gabrieli designed for triple choir. Unfortunately, the professional ensemble recorded it with just one singer per part, thereby utterly destroying its grandeur. A minimum choral sound is three singers per part. (According to Dr. James Daugherty, two singers per part doesn’t work because one singer will always dominate the other.) An ensemble composed of soloists can be beautiful—and at my church we do precisely that for the “Benedictus” movement of the SANCTUS—but an ensemble of soloists is not a true choral sound; it lacks the richness.
Integrity (2 of 4) • Recently, my friend alerted me to a liturgical conference sponsored by more “traditional” people. Examining the list of those scheduled to give choral presentations, I noticed not a single one (!) has ever stood before a choir in real life. This is something I’ve observed frequently over the last ten years. It shows a lack of integrity. What good can we expect from a presentation by someone who has never stood in front of a choir in real life? More often than not, such teachers lead people into error! Cæcus autem si cæco ducatum præstet, ambo in foveam cadunt. I never speak for my fellow contributors, but I suspect each would agree: Until you’ve stood in front of a choir in real life, you know nothing. As Roger Wagner said: “Never apologize for your choir because they’re as good as you are!” By the way, singing in a choir is not the same as directing a choir.
Integrity (3 of 4) • Those who wish to be taken seriously as choral conductors should direct a choir in real life, for several years at least. I can often tell just by looking at a few bars whether a composer has directed a choir in real life. Composers who have difficulty getting their works performed sometimes submit compositions to me. To one, I wrote (attempting to be gentle yet honest): “You seem unaware of the rules of counterpoint and harmony.” This person replied: “Oh, I thought those were just for Theory I class.” Nothing could be further from the truth! The rules came about for a reason—they were not invented by bored people attempting to pass the time. Hearing one’s choral composition played back on SIBELIUS, FINALE, or even a pipe organ has very little to do with how it sounds in real life. And yet, some composers out there have done the work, sat at the feet of the masters, and are filled with a truly liturgical spirit, informed by excellent examples from the past.
Integrity (4 of 4) • Are we honest about how our choirs sound? I record my volunteer choir and carefully review how they sound each Sunday. Make no mistake about it: this is not fun. The reason it’s not fun? Because I hear every error. A famous pianist, when it came time to review his recordings, would often remark: “Now it’s time for me to take my lesson!” When it comes to the volunteer choir I direct, we must rehearse even “simple” pieces over and over again before they start to sound really good. This is no cakewalk. Last Thursday at rehearsal, we looked at #561, and it was not easy to get the breathing and pronunciation and tuning and rhythm just right. Here is a recording from that rehearsal:
Regarding That Tune • You can save rehearsal time by utilizing the practice tracks for each individual voice of that arrangement, which is called “ORIENTIS PARTIBUS.” These rehearsal tracks are provided free of charge at this link (Page 152). Alternate versions—by a completely different singer—of that same “ORIENTIS PARTIBUS” arrangement can be found at this link (Page 123).
Contempt For Plainchant? (1 of 2) • The Second Vatican Council solemnly declared: “The treasury of sacred music [Thesaurus Musicæ Sacræ] is to be preserved and fostered with great care.” That same melody—with the words “Concórdi Lætítia”—is part of the THESAURUS MUSICAE SACRAE, and was included on page 73 of CANTUS MARIALES, a book of plainsong created by Abbat Joseph Pothier. Below is how the first verse appears:
Contempt For Plainchant? (2 of 2) • This hymn could be used at various places in the Mass, but what’s important is that even “simple” music is done well. I realize programs are currently being marketed to parishes in which, having paid a monthly fee, the parish is provided with computer generated settings of the PROPRIA MISSAE. When we consider the vast options available to us in the Ordinary Form, I’ve suggested the mere fact of singing an Entrance antiphon, Offertory antiphon, or Communion antiphon is insufficient. We must take into consideration aesthetics. We must take into consideration artistry. Even when my choir sings psalm-tones, I make certain the setting is created properly (using proper pauses, the flex, and so forth). Indeed, we go over them during rehearsal. At the risk of being blunt, it seems better to sing a simple (and theologically-rich) hymn with excellence than to perform an antiphon with very little artistic worth. When Catholics hear plainsong performed badly—or when they hear settings of the PROPRIA MISSAE composed by those who have not mastered the art (or by a computer)—congregations can develop a contempt for plainsong, and that will never lead to anything good. I’d be curious to hear how readers feel about this.
Our Only Hope • Wake up every morning and—before you glance at your phone—offer your day to God. Offer Him all your joys and sorrows. Ask God for the grace to thank Him not only for the blessings He’s given to us, but also for the crosses He’s given to us. Let us follow the example of FATHER VALENTINE YOUNG (d. 2020), who in prayer asked what God wanted him to do each day. The great Father Robert Skeris used to say that a true Christian, in the final analysis, only has one prayer: “Lord, do with me what Thou wilt…”
1 Indeed, ten years ago some pew books (such as GIA WORSHIP IV HYMNAL and the LUMEN CHRISTI missal) chose to print a version of the Responsorial Psalm that’s never appeared and will never appear in any Lectionary. A congregation using such books followed along with a completely different translation (!) than what was in the Lectionary. Called the “Revised Grail,” the copyright was distributed exclusively by a non-Catholic company. Sadly, the USCCB didn’t learn their lesson, and the new hymns for the LITURGY OF THE HOURS are being sold exclusively by a non-Catholic company. For the record, a new version of the Lectionary for the United States might appear as early as 2028, but others claim we won’t see a new Lectionary until 2030.