What is Sung and When?

Perhaps one of the most frequently heard questions regarding Sacred music is something to the effect:

“Is there a priority for what we are supposed to sing at Mass?”

This of course, presupposes an understanding of Sacred music as greater than singing hymns and a Mass setting. It also is more than simply providing music for the congregation to sing while the clergy say the black and do the red.

At a typical Sunday Mass, it is commonplace to expect the people to actively participate as follows:

  1. Entrance Hymn
  2. Kyrie
  3. Gloria
  4. Psalm
  5. Alleluia/Gospel Acclamation
  6. Offertory
  7. Preface Dialogue (if sung)
  8. Sanctus
  9. Mysterium Fidei
  10. Amen
  11. Agnus Dei
  12. Communion Hymn #1
  13. Communion Hymn #2
  14. Choir sings nice piece here
  15. Recessional

Wow!  That is quite a lot of music.  What do the clergy sing?  On occasion, perhaps the preface dialogue or blessing on larger feasts?

All of this is quite opposite from directives following Vatican II.  In 1967, the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued an Instruction of Sacred Music:  Musicam Sacram.  In it, there is a plan for achieving a sung Mass, which can be described in three degrees:

  1. The Acclamations (Clergy)
  2. The Mass Ordinary (Faithful)
  3. The Mass Propers (Choir)

Now this is much more manageable!  The difficulty lies in the 1st degree: the Clergy.  Without the Clergy singing the orations and dialogues, music at Mass becomes secondary–a liturgical filler.  The presidential prayers to God as well as the call and response “the Lord be with you”, etc. are an essential element to the sung Mass, perhaps the most distinguishable one!  

When neatly divided into Musicam Sacram’s three categories, or perhaps a fourth by separating the priest’s part from the deacon, each group is left with a manageable repertoire of roughly 4-5 musical offerings!

The same division of roles is true for the choir and people, making the sung parts more manageable.

*Hymns are the last option given (GIRM 48) and steps should be taken toward singing the proper texts.

For more information, visit:  dnu.org/sacred-music


7 Replies to “What is Sung and When?”

  1. What are the *'s after Entrance, Offertory, and Communion antiphons? I looked at the link… Otherwise, thank you for the info. The BIG question… How do we get clergy to do this? I have one priest who wants to sing, but won't (other than the Kyrie and Gospel dialogue) because: the pastor (who can sing, quite well) does not want to, other than Mystery of Faith and Doxology…

  2. The sung Mass (sans hymns) is the most powerful expression of our Faith. Once a congregation experiences it, they won't be interested in going back to the 4 Hymn Sandwich.

  3. It's easy to point the finger at parochial clergy, but neither the popes nor the bishops have implemented these degrees in their own celebrations of the Mass (P.E. Benedict XVI somewhat excepted). If the pope and bishops would be faithful to the established liturgical norms, or at least to the official liturgical principals, then priests would eventually follow, especially recently ordained priests.

  4. Thank you for pointing that out. The astericks are part of a larger document I use for workshops. The footnote is:

    *Hymns are among the last option given (GIRM 48) and steps should be taken toward singing the proper texts.

  5. Agreed, without any intention of pointing blame. On the same hand, liturgical directives, similar to any law, require obedience. The lack of training is often cited, although there is a deeper issue, a prevailing attitude of being comfortable with what is known and an insecurity in carrying out the less comfortable.

    Those who have knowledge of these degrees are implementing them, or at least realizing they are not in a position to presently do so. It is not completely accurate to say that none of the popes or bishops have.

    Priests have the obligation to fulfill liturgical directives, without a necessity of their superior, pastor, bishop, cardinal, or pope. Recto tono is achievable by anyone.

  6. The tradition of the High Mass was one in which practically everything to be said aloud was to be sung. The prescriptions of the council do not contradict this. If one takes seriously the teaching of both Popes John Paul II and Benedict, that the documents of the council must be read in the light of tradition, then this should be at least the ideal. The lessons can, and I believe, should be sung; the tones for this are provided at the back of the English Missal with the new translation. The Lord's Prayer should be sung by all together. This ideal is far from being realized in most places, but Musicam Sacram provides that it can be achieved gradually, beginning with the priest's singing of his partst and the Sanctus by all, then adding the rest of the Ordinary sung by all, and finally the Propers of the Mass by the choir. For this last, there are several options, including singing the authentic Gregorian chants in Latin as well as a variety of English adaptations from chants as elaborate as the Latin ones to simpler ones to simple psalm tones. Finally, even the Eucharistic Prayer can be sung. The melodies for this are provided for the ordinary form in Latin in the Ordo Missae in Cantu, published by Solesmes. Although they are not explicitly provided in the English missal, they are simply in the Solemn Tone for prayers, and the English missal suggests this for use in the Eucharistic Prayers as well.

  7. Well said. I think an OF Mass offered with the fullness of the Roman liturgical tradition is pastorally superior to the Sung EF Mass, but the Sung EF Mass promotes better spiritual participation than does the OF Mass as latter is usually celebrated today.

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