Monday, March 12, 2012

Bishop Olmsted teaches on the Propers of the Mass

His Excellency Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix, has been teaching on the topic of sacred music for the past four months in his column in the Catholic Sun. The four-part series, entitled Singing the Mass, has considered sacred music from the standpoints of liturgical theology, historical development, and inculturation. And now, in his final installment, he offers to his diocese and to all U.S. Catholics clear and practical points on how to sing the Mass.

The following are the four parts of his series, Singing the Mass:

In the final installment of his series, Bishop Olmsted describes the parts of the Mass that are meant to be sung according to their degree of importance, as they are described in the 1967 instruction Musicam Sacram.

Here are a few excerpts, although you should read the entire thing, and encourage all you know to do the same: (emphasis added)

The Order of the Mass is the fundamental and primary song of the liturgy. It forms the part of the Mass that is of the greatest importance, and therefore it should be sung ideally before any of the other parts of the Mass are sung. When the Order of the Mass is sung, the liturgy becomes most true to itself, and all else in the liturgy becomes more properly ordered. The Order of the Mass is set to be sung in our new English edition of the Roman Missal. I strongly urge all priests and deacons to learn these chants and to encourage and inspire the faithful to join in their singing with love and devotion.
The recent English edition of the Roman Missal itself has given us a "standard" musical setting of the Ordinary in the form of simple English and Latin chants, including musical settings of the Creed. While the Ordinary of the Mass may be sung in the vernacular, the Second Vatican Council mandated that "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" (SC 54).
The Proper of the Mass, comprising the chants of the third degree, form an integral, yet often overlooked part of the sung liturgy. The Proper of the Mass consists of three processional chants and two chants between the Lectionary readings. These parts of the Mass, contained in the Roman Missal and Graduale Romanum, are unlike the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass in that they are not fixed and unchanging from day to day, but change according to the liturgical calendar, and therefore are "proper" to particular liturgical celebrations.
Here we find the Entrance Antiphon, Responsorial Psalm (or Gradual), the Alleluia and its Verse, the Offertory Antiphon, and the Communion Antiphon. While the Proper of the Mass is subordinated in degree of importance to the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass, the texts of the Mass Proper form perhaps one of the most immense and deeply rich treasure troves in the sacred music tradition. (...)
The texts of the Proper of the Mass, especially the Entrance, Offertory and Communion chants, are comprised of scriptural antiphons and verses from a psalm or canticle. This is the form of the texts given in the Roman Missal, the Graduale Romanum, and the Graduale Simplex, the Church's primary sources for the Proper of the Mass. (...)
The texts of the Proper of the Mass, while of lesser importance than the texts of the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass, form a substantial and constitutive element of the liturgy, and I encourage a recovery of their use today. We are blessed to have in our day a kind of reawakening to their value. In addition, many new resources are becoming available that make their singing achievable in parish life. I strongly encourage parishes to take up the task of singing the antiphons and psalmody contained within the liturgical books, and to rediscover the immense spiritual riches contained within the Proper of the Mass.

I do not believe that we have received so clear a teaching on sacred music from a member of the U.S. Episcopacy, and on what we should be singing at Mass, in perhaps 40 years, maybe longer.

Thanks be to God for Bishop Olmsted's clarity on the musical structure of the Roman Rite, and on the hierarchical nature of the music that is proper to the sacred liturgy. In times when there seem to be many missed opportunities to address more fully the music that is sung in the liturgy, we have here a clear and authoritative statement from a member of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops who seems to be stepping forward into a leadership role in the US episcopacy on matters of liturgy and sacred music.

Let us pray that the Lord will use Bishop Olmsted's teaching to bring clarity to the liturgical and musical lives of parishes in the US, and further the ongoing liturgical renewal that clearly moving forward in the life of the Church.
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