Help! I feel left out at Mass!

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Dear Brother / Sister in Christ 🙂

Thank you for visiting our simple Choir blog. The very purpose of this site is to cater to the needs of the members of the Choir, as well as to the Saturday evening church-goer who visits the parish of Sts. Peter & Paul (Queen Street, Singapore).

We understand that the unfamiliarity to the traditions of music in Catholic liturgy (i.e. Gregorian chant, plain chant, Propers, Ordinaries, and *gasp* Latin) will cause fear of alienation, insecurities due to incompetencies, or a concern that one will not be able to follow the Mass with some sentimental value.

We believe we grew up in an era of erroneous interpretation and poor application of what the Vatican II Council Fathers envisioned when they reformed the liturgy for the Eucharistic Celebration. And we are committed to the discovery and recovery of that which is authentic to the Catholic tradition of the Mass.

Most of us may not know that there are instructions governing how the Mass is celebrated. This includes instructions for the Celebrant, for the Altar Servers, and also for the Music (Choir).

From Musicam Sacram (Instruction on Music in the Liturgy):

28. The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation.

These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.

29. The following belong to the first degree:

(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.

(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.

(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

30. The following belong to the second degree:

(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;
(b) the Creed;
(c) the prayer of the faithful.

31. The following belong to the third degree:

(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;
(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle (ed. note: the Responsorial Psalm);
(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;
(d) the song at the Offertory;
(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

Vatican-II

So it seems that in most Masses celebrated in Singapore, we have ignored the instruction of singing what is necessary in the First Degree, but have placed an over-emphasis on Second Degree part (a), and a misinformed obsession with the Third Degree parts (a) – (d).

The same document also goes on to say:

33. It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.

What are the Propers?
These are liturgical texts that vary from day to day according to the calendar: the Entrance antiphon, the Responsorial Psalm, the Gospel Acclamation, the Offertory and Communion antiphons.

These texts are available in the Missal and the Church provides the official hymnal to assist in learning to sing the Propers in Latin (the official language of the Catholic Church). Ever since Vatican II reforms have introduced the use of the vernacular (language of the natives – English, Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.) in the liturgy, there have been well-meaning people with good intentions of providing music for the liturgy in the vernacular. However, a great majority of these songs do not meet the principle of being closely related to Gregorian Chant – the music specially suited for the Roman liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium #116).

St. Pope John Paul II wrote in his chirograph on the 100th anniversary of Tra le Sollecitudini:

7. Among the musical expressions that correspond best with the qualities demanded by the notion of sacred music, especially liturgical music, Gregorian chant has a special place. The Second Vatican Council recognized that “being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy” it should be given, other things being equal, pride of place in liturgical services sung in Latin. St Pius X pointed out that the Church had “inherited it from the Fathers of the Church”, that she has “jealously guarded [it] for centuries in her liturgical codices” and still “proposes it to the faithful” as her own, considering it “the supreme model of sacred music“. Thus, Gregorian chant continues also today to be an element of unity in the Roman Liturgy.

Quoting from Pope Pius X’s Tra le Sollecitudini, St. Pope John Paul II reiterates:

“The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple

Sistine Chapel Choir - 1

We understand that the unfamiliarity to the traditions of music in Catholic liturgy (i.e. Gregorian chant, plain chant, Propers, Ordinaries, and *gasp* Latin) will cause fear of alienation, insecurities due to incompetencies, or a concern that one will not be able to follow the Mass with some sentimental value.

If the faithful truly aspire to recover the dignity of Catholic liturgy, these can be gradually overcome through education, learning the Ordinaries appropriate for the Mass, reading the documents pertaining to the treatment of the liturgy and having a bit of patience to contemplate these things.

As a choir, we continue to rediscover and learn the music organic to the Catholic liturgy. And by slowly pressing onward in our mission to recover the traditions for the Ordinary Form, each member has definitely grown much in their exposure and expertise to the heritage of Holy Mother Church.

Do continue to visit our blog as we put up resources to assist you in your visit to the Church of Sts. Peter & Paul.

We would like to sincerely encourage you to be on this path of recovery with us as well: either as a committed chorister, or as the patient parishioner.

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