Since many parish music programs have been disrupted for the last few months, some pastors and their musicians may be looking to take advantage of this opportunity to “reboot” their music programs to serve the liturgy better.
A few years back I wrote this sketch of what a successful overhaul might look like, including a generous timeframe to allow parishioners to adjust. These are meant only as broad-stroke suggestions that I hope might be helpful if adapted prudently to local situations.
10 Steps to the Gradual
- Examine the lyrics of the commonly used hymns and clear away any hymn that is questionable in its theology for us as Roman Catholics. This should not have to be said, but unfortunately some hymns in common use in parishes are questionable.
- The most important step is the priest’s own example of chanting by his singing of the dialogues, using the tunes found in the Roman Missal, or even on a single note. If he can gradually add the orations and sing all that he can, this would be ideal. He can begin to introduce periods of silence and listening, beginning with those suggested by the GIRM (between “let us pray” and the oration, after the homily, and at the end of Communion). This would help parishioners begin to understand something that the Graduale takes for granted: listening is a kind of participation at Mass.
- Begin singing a responsorial Psalm during the Communion Procession. The format and the musical style would be familiar to parishioners and easily accepted. No hymnals or leaflets are needed to join in the refrain. The GIRM allows for a hymn of praise to be sung after Communion has been distributed, when the people have taken their places again, but shows a strong preference for a Psalm to be sung during Communion.
- Add the Introit at the beginning of Mass. I would not recommend replacing the Entrance Hymn with an Introit at this stage, but adding the Introit, probably in English, either before or after the Entrance Hymn, is an easily acceptable way to introduce the scene-setting Proper text for the Sunday.
- Replace the Offertory hymn with an organ solo or a motet sung by the choir. The Offertory hymn is the least likely to be missed among all the hymns of the Entrance-Offertory-Communion-Recessional pattern that was the norm at Low Masses and has persisted. At the Offertory people are busy with the collection and are ready for a brief rest, and the omission will become welcome. If a motet is sung, its words should ideally be those of the Proper Offertory text for the Sunday.
If the above recommendations are implemented over the course of six months, I would suggest leaving things as they are for another six months, giving the people time to adjust to this new way of singing. In the meantime, I would suggest increasing the number of Confession times in the parish, and to include opportunities for Confession on Sundays in particular.
- Beginning in a penitential season of Advent or Lent, introduce the simplest Chant Mass, the “Jubilate Deo” Mass or Mass XVIII, which Pope Paul VI asked be known and used in every parish.
- Continue chanting the Ordinary outside of Advent and Lent, in English if this seems advisable. Many excellent English settings are available, including the ICEL Missal chants which are freely available on the internet. Gradually, over the course of 3-4 years, introduce the Latin ordinaries found in the Kyriale.
- Replace the Entrance Hymn with the Gregorian Introit, and sing the Gregorian Communio at the beginning of Communion. If the congregation is very attached to English hymnody, sing a hymn of praise at the end of Communion and a recessional hymn. It may be necessary, depending on local circumstances, to retain the Entrance Hymn in addition to the Introit.
- Begin singing the extensive Gregorian Alleluias with the jubilus. Choose a single Gregorian Alleluia and sing this at Mass for a season, gradually introducing more of the Alleluias. During Lent, sing the Tract. Beginning that Easter, sing the Alleluia of the week.
- Finally, replace the Responsorial Psalm with the Gradual.