More Choral Propers from Frank La Rocca

Composer Frank La Rocca is continuing his magnificent project in English Choral Propers with three new pieces for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter – all of which are available for free download for a limited time from Illuminare Publications.

You can preview, listen to, and download them here:

Gradual “Suscepimus Deus”, in Notre Dame Organum Duplum (between 1245-1255 AD)
The choral and polyphonic proper tradition dates back well into the Middle Ages, and has long standing in the history of the liturgy. It is less common to hear many of these masterpieces sung today, it seems, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the mere idea of preparing a substantial piece of choral music and only having the opportunity to sing it once a year is certainly intimidating to music directors and singers alike.
Secondly, choral music in the Ordinary Form of the Mass often gets relegated to a Post-Communion motet, or perhaps an Offertory motet, as congregational music is sung virtually everywhere else.
Both of these challenges are easily overcome, however.
In response to the first problem, we can remember that the rubrics of the Graduale Romanum allow for a single proper antiphon to be sung seasonally, anywhere within that season, if pastoral needs might require it. Now, many of us know very well that a permission based on “pastoral needs” often opens a door for wild abuse, and for the selection of music to be based upon personal preference, rather than upon a genuine pastoral need. Not having enough time to properly prepare a new setting of the weekly propers with your choir, on the other hand, is a genuine pastoral issue. In this case, nothing would prohibit a choir from singing La Rocca’s choral propers many times within a season, especially if they are replacing other more ambiguous music. They also very easily could be sung as motets in the customary way.
In response to the second problem, we should keep in mind that the singing of choral music that does not set the text of the liturgy itself really is not singing the Mass, but singing at Mass. If we truly intend to restore the regular singing of the texts of the liturgy itself, as they are found in the liturgical books, then we should not continue to perpetuate the problem of singing texts that are essentially alien to the liturgy under normal circumstances. Don’t let me be misunderstood: The current, established practice of singing motets is legitimate, and allows for the broad use of many of the treasures of the sacred music tradition. However, how much better would it be if we made a fundamental shift in our approach to choral music and spent time learning choral settings of parts of the Proper of the Mass? In this way we can help further the development of sung liturgy and weaken our dependence upon inserting texts into the Mass that, all things being equal, do not belong there.
In this respect, Frank La Rocca is giving the English-speaking Church an inestimable gift. Please feel free to make use of these new offerings, and share your feedback. The texts of the Proper of the Mass are the future of liturgical music. When we look around today we see signs of this everywhere. Let’s thank Frank for his wonderful contribution to sacred music, and urge him on to continue setting the texts of the Proper of the Mass!

    7 Replies to “More Choral Propers from Frank La Rocca”

    1. The organum setting is that of the GRADUAL Suscepimus, as can be seen if one reads the vox principalis/tenor/second line.

    2. Adam, as has been discussed elsewhere as well as here to almost lethal levels for the equine target, parishes with modest to accomplished choral forces do not have to provide a rationale, argument or selling point for singing a choral Communio upon the self-communication of the celebrant. This is particularly apt in this common scenario of large attended Masses which must rely upon the use of many EHMC's and multiple deacons, along with acolytes who all must receive prior to distribution to the congregation.
      I really don't think the location of the choir (gallery/apse/transept) is an issue. The choir sings the Choral Communio (2 pages of LaRocca or Rice or…) will generally occupy a couple of minutes that is required for the ministries to receive in the sanctuary. Then the organist (and cantor) can initiate the option four "Hymn of Praise." Or in many cases, said Hymn also is insufficient to accompany the full distribution to all, so the choir can extend the music "chorally" until the repose of the ciborium to the tabernacle.
      We've been in this mode for 8 years now. It works.

    3. Well said, Charles.

      As you say, it would be so much better if we focused on singing a choral setting of the proper (or any setting of the proper for that matter, including the Gregorian proper) as the priest celebrant receives communion, the moment that the Communion Chant begins in the GIRM, and allow the post-communion time to occupy a hymn, again, as the GIRM prescribes.

      Taking this a step further: After a more elaborate rendering of the proper antiphon by the choir, perhaps there could be a shorter refrain (Cf. Musicam Sacram 33) – preferably taken from the proper, but even seasonal – that the entire congregation could take up in between the chanting of verses by a cantor or the choir while the faithful process forward to receive communion.

      Again, this would still allow for the singing of a full hymn of praise by all, would allow the faithful to sing during the Communion procession (without the need for a hymnal or worship aid), and it would follow precisely the prescriptions of the General Instruction and post-conciliar instructions on sacred music. Seems like a fabulous path forward to me!

    4. Adam,
      Bless you for decades.
      Once in a while it's quite nice and even necessary to know that I've not lost cogency.
      What you, Aristotle, JMO, AOZ, RR, the Ford's, Noel, Kathleen P, Frs. Weber/Kelly et al have done for the 21st century (American) Church is astonishing, outstanding and will last beyond those tenures of Montani, Rossini and Singenberger. And may God bless Mahrt continually through his life for inspiring us all.

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