New Communio Collection by Richard Rice

English Anthems for Mixed Choir
on the Communion Chants
of the Modern
Graduale Romanum
Richard Rice’s new collection of Communion Chants begins a new chapter in the use of proper texts at the parish’s solemn Mass. Somewhere between simplicity and polyphony, with a difficulty level that is both accessible and challenging to the accomplished amateur choir, the Choral Communio provides a fresh new musical experience each week, with a new use of a traditional structure, that will become second nature over the course of the seasons.
Verses are provided to reflect upon the proper antiphons, and each verse concludes with the second half of the antiphon. This structure of liturgical chant is familiar from the Responsories of the Liturgy of the Hours, and from the Communion chant from the Requiem Mass, Lux Aeterna.
The antiphons are taken from the Graduale Romanum, and ordinarily use the translation from the Gregorian Missal. These are not “official” translations, and some have been modified to a more precise translation. The author’s rationale for these and other editorial decisions may be found in the Foreward to this volume, available here.
The ad libitum Communion chants, which may be sung throughout the year, are available on PDF for choirs who may wish to try the Choral Communio before committing to a full purchase, and may be downloaded from the author’s homepage here or from the MusicaSacra website here. (Just use your printer’s booklet setting and print in two-sided format along the short edge.)
It is so often said that we should be singing the Mass, rather than simply singing at Mass. Richard Rice’s Choral Communio provides an excellent resource for those who would like to sing the Mass, with an accomplished amateur choir, in English.

For more from Richard Rice, see RiceScores.com

Why Gregorian Chant?

At the Extraordinary Form Mass for Ascension Thursday in a nearby parish church, the Mass was nice, beautiful, fine–but not particularly engaging for me on a personal level. I was on a kind of autopilot at the end of a busy day with a lot going on.

And then, during the first Alleluia, something happened. Perhaps it was a moment when the unison voices found that sweet concordance that makes the overtones really shine, or when the timbres found a cooperative resonance, like the string section of an orchestra, or maybe it was a particular moment of off-rhythm, the 3s among the 2s, or the quilisma among the puncta, that simultaneously caused both frisson and quiet.

It was beauty, pure and simple and clean, so difficult to find in our busy world and so very nourishing. No instruments necessary, just a few dedicated human voices ready to proclaim the goodness of God, docile to the liturgical forms of the day and season.

He led captivity captive. He gave gifts to men.

In the Office of Readings for Ascension Thursday, the long Scripture reading, and its responsory, are taken from the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4:

When Christ ascended on high, he led captivity captive, he gave gifts to men.

Interestingly enough, the gifts Christ gave were charisms, or rather persons with charisms, “apostle, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in roles of service.” According to Ephesians, it is these gifts of Christ’s that form us into Christ, “that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature.”

The Magnificat antiphon of the Ascension, the great O Rex Gloriae, is an epiclesis of the Holy Spirit. It is addressed, not to the Father, but to Christ.

O Victor King, Lord of power and might, today you have ascended in glory above the heavens. Do not leave us orphans, but send us the Father’s promised gift, the Spirit of truth, alleluia.

This is a subtle prayer. Addressed to Christ, it asks that He send us the Father’s promised gift. The gift of the Father, sent by the Son. The Spirit, sent by the Son, is thematic in the liturgy of these days. For example, the invitatory antiphon during this time, the Church’s original novena, is

Come, let us adore Christ the Lord who promised to send the Holy Spirit on His people, alleluia.

 Examples such as this abound, as a quick glance through the breviary shows. The Son sends the Spirit.

But, why was it necessary that He first ascend?

Liturgy and the New Evangelization

Today the Holy Father appointed four consultors to the dicastery for New Evangelization. Three are liturgists, including the American Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., an expert with the Vox Clara Committee.

Appointed as consultors of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation: Fr. Marco Frisina, president of the Commission for Sacred Art of the diocese of Rome, and professor at the Pontifical Lateran University and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross; Fr. Jeremy Driscoll O.S.B., professor at the Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, U.S.A., and at the Theological Faculty of Rome’s St. Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum; Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik S.J., director of the Aletti Centre, and professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Rome’s St. Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum, and Salvatore Martinez, president of the Renewal in the Holy Spirit Association, Italy.

Update: Here is an illuminating interview with Fr. Rupnick. “It’s not enough for someone to say: wonderful! [Liturgical art] needs an inner life, that makes it possible for one to be aware of the Mystery present.”

An Oldie-but-Goodie

St. Ambrose is the universally acknowledged author of 4 hymns, three of which are attested to in the writings of St. Augustine. Many scholars believe St. Ambrose to be the author of another dozen hymns that are still known. In homage to his abilities, holiness, and authority, many hymns were attributed to him, but are unlikely to be his.  An entire meter, now known as Long Meter (8.8.8.8) and in times past called “church meter,” was known in times before that as Ambrosian meter.

St. Ambrose’s hymns are characterized by theological density, bold use of images, and scriptural allusions. I believe that this is an example worth emulating.

This is my translation of Apostolorum Passio, for the upcoming feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It may be sung to the chant tune of the Latin text, or to any number of familiar chant tunes such as Jesu Dulcis Memoria. Among the many LM modern hymn tunes to which it might be sung, I especially enjoy Deo Gratias.

Blest day by suff’ring sanctified:
Christ’s chosen high apostles died.
Today St. Peter wins renown.
Today St. Paul accepts the crown.

Together, equally, they bled:
Together: the victorious dead.
They followed God and sacrificed
And now their faith is crowned by Christ.

St. Peter holds the highest place,
Yet Paul is not the less by grace.
An equal faith was giv’n to Paul:
The chosen vessel of God’s call.

St. Peter, downward crucified—
To honor God in how he died—
Securely tied, he sees unfold
The death his Shepherd once foretold.

On such foundations Rome may claim
The highest service of God’s name.
His noble blood has dignified
The city where this prophet died.

Let all the world, then, run to Rome.
Let families of nations come!
The head of nations teaches there,
Beside the nations’ teacher’s chair.

O Lord, we ask that we may be
In their exalted company,
And with our princes sing Your praise
Forever, to unending days.

Parish Book of Chant

My first try at building a Youth Schola was a bust, because I tried beginning with polyphony. Big mistake. Singing is one thing–even singing in Latin is pretty easy–but singing in parts is difficult for inexperienced singers, especially the very young. Then one Pentecost I asked one of the original Schola members to chant the introit, on a simple Psalm tone. He aced it, and a few months later I began advertising for children to join our parish’s Youth Classical Schola, specializing in Gregorian chant.

Obviously Gregorian chant is more than Psalm tone introits, so thank goodness for Richard Rice’s The Parish Book of Chant., which became our standard textbook. It is published by the Church Music Association of America. Filled with chant Ordinaries, dialogues from the Mass, chant hymns, and information singers need, it is just what we needed to really move forward. I was just a step ahead of the young people myself, having grown up with the usual parish guitar and organ fare and without much exposure at all to Gregorian chant. The Parish Book of Chant helped us not only to sing the chant, but to love it. Over just a few years, our parish has trained dozens of young singers, some of whom can now sight-read difficult propers.

For those who would like to preview a copy, this option is available online here. It’s a unique resource, friendly, helpful, and not at all intimidating for new chanters, and I am so glad to be working at a time when such wonderful helps to singers are available!

Responsorial Psalms

Parishes accustomed to using a single source for Responsorial Psalms have an opportunity this year to widen their options. This year is Cycle B, the Year of Mark, the shortest Gospel. During the summertime (July 29-August 26 this year), the Gospel is taken from the Bread of Life discourse in John chapter 6.

For three of those weeks, in a row, we will sing the classic Eucharistic Psalm 34, with the refrain Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

This would be an opportune moment to seek out alternatives to the usual Psalm fare. The options are almost unlimited, and include new settings by CMAA composers and others, too many to mention here (but I hope some will be added in the combox).

The Role of the Cantor

There are some preachers so intent on finding a text to suit the day that this very concern for appropriateness makes them overlook the criterion of usefulness, so that they take texts which contain little or nothing that is of any use to their audience. People like this should be called church cantors rather than preachers of Christ. It is the job of the church’s cantors to chant the texts which are proper to the season or the feast, without regard to whether the sense of what they are singing is useful to those who listen or not.

Blessed Humbert of Romans

The Pious Imperative

Like many parishes this first Eastertide Sunday in May, the choirs at my parish will be singing several versions of the Regina Caeli. I wonder how many folks have stopped to consider the paradox of this text. We, with our limited vision and holiness, are exhorting Our Lady, with all her privileges of knowledge and love, to rejoice. Mary, whose mere voice sounding in her cousin’s ears made John the Baptist leap for joy in the womb, already rejoices exceedingly. And yet we, the Church militant, as yet on the path to redemption, exhort her, who is full of grace, to rejoice. And then we explain to her the reason why she should do so.

I take this verbal construction to be a kind of literary license, not to be taken at face value. Somehow, by saying to Mary “rejoice,” we are not helping her but helping ourselves. We are not cheering her on, like fans in the stadium during the race, but entering into her exultation, like fans during the victory lap. Or rather, we are the runners, and are cheering on ourselves, by praising the Lord for her victory, her salvation, and her joy.