Sung Liturgy in Ordinary Parish Life

Over the past few years we have witnessed a groundswell in sung liturgy, and in the renewal of sacred music in parish life. This has been taking place in parishes, cathedrals, seminaries, universities and institutes, religious houses, and elsewhere, both here in the U.S. and abroad. This movement has not been reserved to specialists, but has become a popular one. With the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal in 2011, the foundational song for the liturgy in chanted form found a home on every altar and in every sacristy throughout the English-speaking world.

Those who have followed Chant Cafe over the past few years have witnessed the development of enterprising resources such as Simple English Propers, among many others. These projects which have come from such humble beginnings have not just been niche or esoteric in their scope, but have begun to find a home in many places in the ordinary, day-to-day events of Catholic life. We continue to receive reports from parishes and cathedrals around the country, notes from Europe, and even words of thanks from Rome. It’s all very hard to believe, and it is certainly not something we ever would have imagined.
Still, even after all of the progress that has been made, when we step back and take an inventory of our current situation we begin to realize how much more work still needs to be done in order to make sung liturgy a regular part of ordinary parish life.
In the parishes that have achieved and maintained any regular practice of sung liturgy so far, there is typically an extremely dedicated, faith-filled, and talented leader at the center of it. This may be a full-time music director, a part-time coordinator, or even a committed volunteer. This individual has to work extraordinarily hard not only to teach, catechize and train cantors, choirs, organists, members of the faithful, even parish staff and clergy, but also to pull together and execute sung liturgies week after week. It is true that this task is easier than it was five years ago, but still, it is a monumental task.

Just last week I read a note from a colleague in my diocese who went on vacation and planned to fly back home on Saturday night in order to direct his music program on Sunday morning. Well, his flight was delayed twice and finally cancelled, which would have been cause for a typical music director to begin scrambling for a sub. But his situation is different. He wrote:

In order to sub for me you have to read neumes, be able to sing in Latin, come up with accompaniments to chants and hymns on the fly, dabble your way through 3 books and a binder and keep the nice choir ladies on key…. so I couldn’t just call in some AGO-sub-lister. So what does an organist do? He flies into Los Angeles at midnight, rents a car, then drives through the night and makes it home just in time for his 7am Mass with no sleep.

This, my friends, is dedication. And — somewhat unfortunately — it is the kind of dedication that is currently needed to successfully sustain a program of sacred music in a parish today.

And this brings me to my next observation.

When we assess the musical programs in the majority of parishes, we do not find this kind of superhuman music director. In fact, in most parishes we see a mishmash of volunteers, perhaps a few stipended musicians, and maybe a part-time coordinator. Truly, parishes with full-time directors of music are the exception, not the norm.

Most of these parishes rely upon pre-packaged programs of liturgical music from the major commercial publishers that give them everything that is needed to get through weekend liturgies. These resources are utterly relied upon from week to week. There is the hymnal/missal for the pew, accompaniment books for the accompanist, and the cantor and choir editions for the singers that correspond to the books in the pews, et cetera. Everything is in place. All that is needed is for the musical leader of the Mass to select four songs from the planning guide, pick out a Mass setting, put the numbers on the board, and they’re ready to go.

We all know the drill very well. What makes us uneasy about this is not the drill itself, but it is the music in the popular commercial liturgical products that we know so often lacks dignity, doesn’t set the liturgical text, has strong associations with (often dated) popular music, and is a far cry from what we might describe as sacred music.

So far, we have been very blessed to have begun reaping the fruits of the chant revival, and new publications in recent years have helped make this possible. There are heroic music directors and dedicated volunteers among us who perform miracle after miracle — Sunday after Sunday, in order to help foster a culture of sacred music and sung liturgy in their parishes.

But we also have to realize that in order to make this happen in ordinary parishes we need to have a comprehensive program of sacred music that is packaged like the programs from the big commercial publishers. We need the complete package: Books for the pews, books for the choir and cantor that match, and accompaniment editions for it all.

And most importantly this program of sacred music needs to be born of the mind of the Church, organically developed out of the Church’s timeless tradition, a reflection of the priorities of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, beautiful, sacred, dignified, and able to sung every week by ordinary parishes with limited resources.

I would like to introduce you to a solution to these needs:

Meet the Lumen Christi Series from Illuminare Publications.

The Lumen Christi Missal is already being used in many parishes across the country, and hundreds rely upon the Illuminare Score Library every week for free downloads for the cantor and choir, and for organ accompaniments.

The Lumen Christi Hymnal, Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, and Lumen Christi Gradual are all on their way and will begin shipping in early 2014.

Sung liturgy cannot be reserved to the domain of specialists, or the dedicated few, but must be shared in by all. The Lumen Christi Series is ready to help you make this a reality in your parish.

Click here to learn more. You can follow the Illuminare Publications blog or subscribe to the mailing list for future publication announcements and updates.

19 Replies to “Sung Liturgy in Ordinary Parish Life”

  1. Congratulations on this achievement. My only regret is that our parish just bought Worship 4, with our parish's name gold-leafed on the covers, so we are imprisoned with Intrinsically Unworthy Music Products until the end of time! We will never have Propers, Simple English or otherwise! Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeee!

  2. So you are saying this is the best "pre-packaged program" among all the others?

    I appreciate your dedication to creating an exceptional product and marketing it. But please don't sell us the line that you, your product, or the 21st century CMAA started singing the Mass. The generation before mine worked its way out of the pre-conciliar four hymn sandwich to begin singing the Gloria, psalms, Gospel Acclamations, Mass settings, litanies, dialogues, and sacramental acclamations before I drew my first full-time paycheck.

    A little perspective and respect, please, for people who did a lot of work before this project was a reality.


  3. HV Observer: This is exactly why we are publishing the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual.

    This will be a very sleek and inexpensive volume, only about 200 pages, which provides propers for congregational singing. It is envisioned to be a supplement to a hymnal, whether the Lumen Christi Hymnal or Worship, etc.

    Don't count this out!

  4. Todd: I mean no disrespect to all those who have worked hard in the generations before mine to help foster sung liturgy, truly. But still, I cannot find a single offering from OCP, GIA or WLP that includes the antiphons of the Proper of the Mass in English. The closest that we seem to come is Tietze's hymn introits, but still, this is incomplete and a paraphrasing of the proper texts.

    Can you please show me where I can find an offering from one of the major publishers that compares with the Lumen Christi Series? If this already exists there would be little need for me to undertake the work to publish it.

  5. Adam: GIA's Worship IV hymnal (at its Index of Psalms and Canticles, #1233), has a section titled "Processional Chants from the Simple Gradual and the Roman Missal." There are 26 listings of settings in the hymnal for Entrance, 5 for the Presentation of the Gifts, and 28 for Communion. Although a handful of the references are paraphrases, I believe that most are the exact antiphon texts from either the Simple Gradual or Roman Missal, paired with Gelineau or Conception Abbey psalm tones.

    Admittedly, this is not a complete representation from the Simple Gradual or Roman Missal (and was not intended to be as comprehensive as your Lumen Christi Series), but does provide users of Worship IV access to a number of useful musical settings of the Propers in English.

  6. Fr. Chepponis, thank you for pointing this out. I was aware of this index in Worship IV, though most of the people I know who use the hymnal seem not realize that it is there (e.g. see the first comment, above). Overall, this seems like a very positive step toward propers for GIA, and I'm very glad to see it. At the same time, it seems that people might have difficulty seeing "Shepherd Me, O God", "Cry of the Poor" and such psalm-derived songs as parts of the proper of the Mass. This is just my impression. Also, it's difficult to call the Graduale Simplex a source for the proper of the Mass since by its nature it primarily is comprised of seasonal antiphons taken from the Divine Office. Still, this seems like a very positive first step toward the propers for a publisher like GIA, small though it may be.

  7. Todd, if the genereation before you "worked its way out of the four-hymn sandwich", then why is it still present in 99% of all parishes in this country? And are you seriously claiming that they also started "singing the Gloria, psalms…" etc.? This is delusional, or you're simply criticizing for its own sake.

    Yes, many people did a lot of work before this project became a reality. Millions, probably, over the course of the last 2000 years. Should Adam name them all?

  8. 99% is a caricature. But if we're talking the classic four-hymn sandwich and nothing else, the percentage is more like 1. Or less. I don't have a problem with hymns and songs being sung in addition to psalms, dialogues, litanies, and acclamations. Those are texts of the liturgy too. And unlike the propers, they are part of the Ordo Missae and the sacrament rituals.

    Adam doesn't have to name them all, just acknowledge he didn't invent the wheel, and that a lot of people have been doing a lot of work singing the liturgy before it became a popular phrase at CMAA.


  9. I can't find anything in my post that suggests that I feel that I have invented anything. Quite to the contrary, this project is simply about the liturgy itself – The Church is the custodian of the liturgy and our job is to help hand it on to people, and help them participate in it more fully, no?

    > And unlike the propers, they are part of the Ordo Missae and the sacrament rituals.

    Todd, you must be familiar with the Ordo Cantus Missae (the Order of Sung Mass), an official post-conciliar typical edition of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope Paul VI, correct? What you say is utterly untrue. The propers are most definitely in the sacramental typical editions of the post-conciliar liturgy.

  10. I haven't had a chance to see them since your remarks were posted — won't get a chance until Sunday.

    However, since it's not complete, to use one of those settings for a day for which it's not appointed would be — improper.

    I will say this: They may be there, but our parish is not using them. They're still stuck in the Bugnini mindset and the four-hymn sandwich. The four hymns, of course, always being Protestant favorites. It would be sooooooo nice to have Catholic music at Mass for once. Not going to happen with Worship 4!

    And now for your next topic: The rumor that Abp. Piero Marini (a.k.a. The Bad Marini) will be appointed head of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Will our worship be destroyed forever? Discuss.

  11. I think the premise that these resources are the first or best post-conciliar attempt to sing the liturgy is a false one. We all build on a foundation with recent labors from people like Ted Marier, Lucien Deiss, and even the St Louis Jesuits and Marty Haugen. All aimed at the same thing at which you aim: a sung liturgy. Acknowledging that y'all are not the first: that would be a better perspective to offer. Fr Chepponis also mentioned W4 was a bit ahead of the game here, too.

    The propers were never part of the post-conciliar reformation. They are a resource. Helpful at times. Less helpful at others. They are not part of the Ordo Missae which is the core of the Mass, the sung Mass.


  12. The propers were never part of the post-conciliar reformation. They are a resource. Helpful at times. Less helpful at others. They are not part of the Ordo Missae which is the core of the Mass, the sung Mass.

    Among your reductio opinions, Todd, you have made some astonishing pronouncements, and I hope they were from the hip.
    Ignoring the CYB caveat of "post-conciliar reformation," To presume that the whole treasury of primarily psalter-based propers codified over milennia was swept away and replaced (presumably) by arbitrary snippets printed in boldface in pulp missals for use at missa lectas is an absurdity. To your latter point, in the Paul VI 70, what do you call the responsorial psalm, the gospel acclamation verse, sequences? Vestigial? Astonishing.

  13. >The propers were never part of the post-conciliar reformation. They are a resource. Helpful at times. Less helpful at others. They are not part of the Ordo Missae which is the core of the Mass, the sung Mass.

    Todd, there really is no way to respond to this than to say that it is utterly false. The Ordo Cantus Missae, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in the post-conciliar reform definitively lists the texts of the Proper of the Mass for the sung liturgy. It is a post-conciliar typical edition for the Mass of the Roman Rite in the Ordinary Form. These are the proper texts of the sung Mass, as you can see in its title "Ordo Cantus Missae". There is really nothing further to argue here.

  14. I would have preferred to see Rita Ferrone heading CDWDS. So color me slightly disappointed.


  15. Todd, you're so Anglocentric in that preference;-)
    Rita, lovely…..
    But perhaps we need to broaden our horizons?

  16. Reverend Father:

    I had lector duty at our parish today and I was not able to fully peruse the Worship IV by my seat. I wish I had jotted down "1233" and looked at it. I shall have to do that next week. I would have to think, given your description above, that the settings are jumbled all over the book, rather than being comprehensive like "Lumen Christi" or the Simple Choral Gradual. Which means that Worship IV can't be used the way that these others can. Sigh.

    I do know that one of our recent "order of mass" leaflets, had a "James Chepponis" composition — no mention of "Father" — and that our Entrance Hymn this morning was some words set to CWM RHONDDA. Thank you, Music Director, instead of programming the Propers of the day, you chose a hymn that, yes, it's Guide Me Thou, Oh Great Redeemer, but it's also the rally song</> for the Welsh national rugby team. And the Welsh do it much better.

  17. Then complain to the bishop. Don't waste your time taking this matter to the Vatican. It's like sending a letter to a cemetery.

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