The subject of hymns replacing Mass Propers is not a new one. Often there is a simple misunderstanding of spoken versus sung Mass, and the lack of catechesis on this topic. It appears common in our age to prefer neither High or Low, trading it in for a confused “Middle Mass”.
At the Middle Mass, clergy can remain comfortable in their way of praying, apart from obedience to the Liturgy. Musicians in turn “choose” music at whim, trying their best to select something close to the readings, with an occasional sung antiphon. The Alleluia is sung on weekdays, to avoid that awkward silence during the Gospel procession, while the Psalm itself is spoken. Chant is simply an option, often inserted to check a rubrical box. Is this really what the Church intends? Creativity and hymns? As has been thoroughly discussed, I quote a previous article from this forum: Instead of receiving the Mass that is given, we make the Mass that we choose.
In a recent diocesan Instruction on Sacred Music, there is a good desire put forth to unify parishes and their music programs. A five year plan is promulgated which requires the use of a diocesan hymnal (for better or worse), simple English congregational communion antiphons, and learning English/Latin versions of the Funeral Mass. At its current charge, music directors now have to submit their choral music to the chancery for approval. Palestrina, Handel and Byrd, look out; but modern hymnody is ok!
This instruction causes much confusion, departing from earlier instruction and conflicts greatly with Ecclesial directives on Sacred music. In essence, it encourages hymns and once again endorses the Middle Mass.
At a Sung Mass, the Priest and Deacon sing their parts, primarily leading acclamations that are responded to: “The Lord be with You”, “The Gospel of the Lord”, etc.
At a Sung Mass, the Choir sings the Mass Propers: Introit, Psalm, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion.
At a Sung Mass, the congregation or choir may sing the Mass Ordinary: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
At a Spoken Mass, none of these parts are sung: Acclamations, Mass Propers, or Mass Ordinary. Hymns have been permitted as devotional items, with their principal use remaining within the Divine Office.
Mass Propers can be sung in various settings, chiefly Gregorian chant and Sacred polyphony. Choirs and scholae hold an esteemed place of beauty, adornment, and solemn praise. They provide a spiritual haven for the congregation to pray, as their diligent work promotes Sacred scripture, clothing it in beauty. Truly vocal and choral music provide the glorification of God and sanctification of the faithful.
The silence and austere awe that is present at a spoken Mass is truly a gift for God and for us. Let us not lose this!
The joy and exuberant melismaticism present in the sung Mass is truly a gift for God and for us. Let us not lose this!
The Middle Mass pushes an agenda of mediocrity, hoping to please all. We dumb-down chant as merely an option. Choral music is often discouraged or altogether deleted, in favor of the cantor or choir as an “extension of the people”. Hymns, often replete with non-Catholic Theology become the norm. The problem is not hymns or hymnals, it is the Middle Mass.
Clergy and faithful alike need to reclaim our musical heritage. Certainly a stepwise approach can be taken, but these steps are not 5 year plans to learn the ICEL chants/funeral Mass, or simple communion refrain ditties in English, resulting in an increased impoverishment of choirs and cracking down on those already adhering to orthodoxy.
Hymns shouldn’t replace Propers! Propers should replace hymns! Sing the Mass! If you can’t, then let it be silent