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Proper Music

In light of my recent little rant, please read the following interview from the Adoremus Bulletin. Here is an excerpt:

Adoremus: Tell us about the Communio Project and why it is important.

Tucker: The idea is to put the Mass Propers back into liturgical circulation in Catholic liturgy, starting with the Communion chant. Let me explain what I mean.

Every Catholic knows the problem, but not everyone knows its source or solution. During Communion, the most contemplative and introspective time of the Mass, we are often confronted with the demand that we sing a hymn, usually a contemporary standard like “One Bread, One Body”. Music directors have some sense that they are supposed to do this. Seminars leaders have told them this for decades. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) seems to provide support in referring to a Communion song.

Now, in the usual experience, no one sings. Certainly no one wants to slog a hymnal up to Communion. Mostly, the demand that we sing during Communion violates our sense of the moment that calls for internal rather than external participation. As a result, some music directors despair and just have the choir sing alone or play some mood music. They really don’t know what else to do.

Adoremus: The GIRM (§87), as adapted for the United States, gives four options for the Communion chant; the first option is “the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting”. How does the Communio project respond to this?

Tucker: GIRM §87 gives four options: the official antiphon, a simple substitute for the same, an approved song, or something else suitable. The first option is the one that provides the clue to the ideal: the Communion antiphon from the Graduale Romanum (Roman Gradual) for sung Masses or from the Missal for spoken Masses.

What is the Graduale Romanum? Most Catholic musicians today have little or no idea. What it is, in fact, is the official liturgical book for the choir.

The official version of the Graduale, published by the Solesmes Monastery, is always in Latin. It has been with us since the earliest years of the Church.

The Graduale includes a chant that changes every week called the “Communio”. In other words, there is a piece of music that is prescribed for Communion by the liturgy itself. It is a name for one of what are called the Propers, which are the texts of the Mass that change from week to week. When Vatican II called for Gregorian chant to be given primacy in the liturgy, it was calling for the Propers to be sung as a priority over anything else. The distance we’ve traveled from that is well illustrated by the fact that most Catholics, including musicians, have no idea what the Propers even are!

So we gain a clue from the previous paragraph in the GIRM, §86, which says: “While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun”. Notice that it says the Communion chant, not a Communion chant. What this actually refers to is the Communion chant from the Graduale. How many parishes do this? Not many but the numbers are growing.

What the Communio book does is to collect all the antiphons and psalms into a single book for easy use.

Once again we find the “Spirit of Vatican II” obscured the true intent of Vatican II. Pope Benedict XVI, with his Summorum Pontificum, has freed the use of the Tridentine Mass. His hope is that the wider use of this beautiful liturgy will inspire more reverence and attention to liturgical details in the Novus Ordo Mass. I too hope for such a blending. A good beginning would be the rediscovery of our rich heritage of liturgical music.

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