New Directions for the CMAA

As we begin a new year here at the Chant Cafe, I am pleased to announce that the Church Music Association is venturing into exciting new territory as we seek to further the cause of the New Evangelization within the context of the New Liturgical Movement while singing a New Church into being. These new developments are inspired, of course, by our beloved Papa Francis, whose humility and personal holiness are perfectly communicated by the clarity of his thinking and public discourse. It is truly an exciting time to be “Catholic!”

The most important new initiative concerns the curriculum for the Sacred Music Colloquium, the annual gathering of the CMAA, which (according to our recently improved slogan) promotes music for the liturgy which is “Relevant, Pastoral, and Oddly Specific.” The main sessions on Gregorian chant will, of course, continue. However several additional sections will be added to provide training in reading the traditional music notation of Folk Mass (lead sheet), along with master classes in dance, harmonica, and holy clowning.

For logistical reasons, the Winter Chant Intensive will no longer be a stand-alone event. This will be moved forward into March of 2016 and held in Daytona as a part of Bike Week. This will cut down on travel expenses for our instructors who will already be in Florida during that time. Additionally, it is hoped that this will (at least in part) satisfy the Holy Father’s call that our pastors “smell like sheep.”


Finally, with the palpable absence of Jeffrey Tucker likely to become a definitive withdrawal from our organization, it has been decided that his crypto-communistic influence can now safely be purged. As a matter of economic justice, there will no longer be any free downloads of music scores from the MusicaSacra website. Beginning tomorrow, all PDFs in the music section of this site will be available for a reasonable fee. We will NOT be accepting Bitcoin.

Open Metrical Psalm project and Beginners Guide to GitHub

It has been a little too long since I launched CMAA’s GitHub presence, and since then there has not been as much activity as I would have hoped. We’re all busy people, and I know it isn’t exactly apparent to everyone why or how GitHub (specifically) or an Open Source approach to the creation music and liturgy resources (generally) could be used.

To remedy that, I have created a new project I hope at least some of you will contribute to: The Open Metrical Psalm project.

(Please, please, please, spare us all the negative comments about metrical psalms as a genre.)

Of the infinite number of good ideas available, this has been chosen because it is easy to think about, finite in scope, and doesn’t require understanding or dealing with some of the more complex technologies for Open Source music creation (like Lilypond or Gregorio).

This is a TEXT BASED PROJECT, which I hope will provide a platform for the following:

  • Giving non-tech people a way to learn about and interact with GitHub
  • Demonstrating the techniques and philosophy of Open Source content creation
  • Providing an example of “Open Source as Infrastructure
  • Encouraging ecumenical and inter-association community work
Additionally, if we create something really useful, and have the opportunity to practice our hymn-writing skills, that would be even better.
The rest of this post is about what this whole thing is about and how to contribute. If you have been wondering how to even use git and GitHub, this would be a good thing to dive into (tutorial provided), and if you’re just curious about Open Source content in general, this is also for you.

What is Open Source and Open Content?

Open Source refers to a way of developing software which includes specific methods and also a philosophy or culture. To put it simply, the idea is that the code for an application or tool is visible, available, copiable, and editable. Along with this way of developing and distributing software is a culture or philosophy that emphasizes collaboration, community, sharing, and continual improvement.
This blog is not the best venue for trying to convince the unconvinced about the virtues of Open Source software, but (try to trust me on this) it has serious advantages. While non-software people (users) tend to have some weird idea that Open Source software is essentially free and crummy versions of commercial “real” software, the reality is that developers and tech people rely on Open Source software for a great deal of their work. The majority of mobile phones in the world run an Open Source operating system, the majority of websites are hosted on machines running Open Source web servers and delivering content stored in Open Source databases. Open Source is the infrastructure that runs the modern internet.
Open Content is the natural development of Open Source, an application of the methods and philosophies of Open Source to the creation of non-software content. Wikipedia is the most obvious example of Open Content creation.

Open Content for Music

Open Content has problems that Open Source does not. While it is fantastic for non-fiction work like an encyclopedia or a users manual, neither the methods nor the philosophy lend themselves easily to the creation of artistic content such as new hymn texts or new music.
However, it seems that compiling a collection of discreet works (a bunch of individual hymn texts) is a task where the benefits of an Open Source approach might shine.

The Open Metrical Psalm Project

The purpose of the Open Metrical Psalm Project is to create a large collection of freely-available hymn texts which are either directly metrical paraphrases of Psalms, or closely inspired by Psalms. The ultimate goal is to have at least one (and, hopefully, several) good metrical paraphrases for each Psalm, for use as hymns in liturgical and devotional practice.
Contributions to the collection can either be existing Public Domain texts, or new texts which the author (copyright holder) has agreed to release into the commons through the Creative Commons license. (I’m hoping that hymn writers will write new texts specifically for this project.)
As I mentioned above, another goal for the project is simply to provide a platform for people to interact with and explore the idea of Open Content creation and using GitHub.

(For more information specifically about the project, see the Open Psalm Project README.)


GitHub is a version control system and collaboration platform. A project (or “repo” – repository) is stored at GitHub, and can be easily viewed and edited there.

But they don’t have to be viewed and edited there.

One of the benefits of this idea (unlike using Microsoft Word or Google Docs for this sort of content) is that the contents can be read without special software. They are plain text.

GitHub provides a number of other benefits as well, such as the ability to easily collaborate without having to coordinate or manage who is doing what. (Part of the Open Source ethic is that people work on the aspect or feature they think is important, not the one they are told to work on by a manager.)

How to use GitHub to contribute to the Open Metrical Psalm project
(or any other project, for that matter)

People who are really into this bring the files they are working on to their own computer and edit them there. But that involves an extra layer of setup and is, for projects like this one, not necessary.

So let’s look at how to contribute while editing online, inside of GitHub.

It’s really pretty easy.

For starters, set up a GitHub account.

If you need more explanation for this, please do not contribute.

Then, go to the repository for the project you would like to contribute to. In this case, the Open Metrical Psalm Project.

You’ll see all sorts of stuff about the project, including a complete directory and file listing, project statistics, a README file providing basic information about the project, and all sorts of utilities and functions. Try not to get bogged down in all that.

To start getting familiar with the project, read the README. It’s under the the file listing.

Once you’ve read that, you should start to have a better idea of the scope of the project and what type of contributions it might be seeking. After that you should check out the current content. (At the time of this writing, there’s not much, but there’s enough to get a sense of things.)

If you click the 023 directory link, you’ll find…

The directory for Psalm 23 ( /023/ ), with a file for The King of Love My Shepherd Is, a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 23.
Click on that, and you will find…

Now – you can view the project. How do you edit it if you want to contribute?

Fork – Edit – Pull Request

To simplify a very complicated topic, the general workflow of a GitHub project is:
FORK – Create a “fork” or copy of the repository. 
EDIT – Make your desired changes to your copy of the project.
MERGE – Issue a “Pull Request” to the project coordinator, requesting that your changes be pulled into and merged with the “main” project repository.
Side note: It is worth mentioning that each copy has equal footing from a technical standpoint. If you wanted to use your copy as the basis for a whole new project, from which other people fork and edit and so forth, that is perfectly fine. A particular copy is only “Primary” because of group agreement that it is.
Let’s dive into each part of that.


Making a copy of a repo is called “forking” it. (It’s also sometimes called cloning, but ignore that for awhile.) It’s called forking as a metaphor for a fork in the road. At the moment of the fork, the project diverges into two paths. The two paths might merge back together later, but then again they might not. Developers who use GitHub and git (the underlying software) think about the life of a project in terms of a series of forking and merging paths progressing over time.
Forking is easy. There’s a button for it:
When you fork the Open Metrical Psalm project, the ENTIRE thing (including all its past version history) will be copied to your GitHub account. Now you own the whole thing and can make changes to it (because it is yours).


Making changes to existing files is pretty easy. There’s an edit button. 
Make sure you read the README file, and look at existing files, to get a sense of the correct format for contributions.
Adding a new file is equally easy (but, I think, not completely intuitive).
When looking at a directory, click the plus button ( + ) above the file listing.
This creates a new file in the current directory. The plus sign will be replaced with a text-entry field for you to put the file name into.
Side note: file name formatting is covered in the README.
If you need to create a new file in a new directory, do the same thing, but type the directory name into the file-name field. When you put a slash ( / ) at the end of the name, it will immediately turn that into a directory name and give you another field for writing the file name.
I typed exactly: 023/
As soon as I hit the slash key, the “023” turned into a directory name and I got a new file name field.
Remember to read the README about directory naming conventions when you do this.
After that, you just type into the text field. It is exactly as easy as typing an email or a Word Doc. (Easier actually.)
Once you are done editing your file, you need to save and commit the file to the repository.
You do this by naming the commit and pressing the commit button at the bottom of the page.
Side note: Doing it this way collapses and simplifies what would normally be several distinct operations: saving the file, adding it to a future commit, committing a large number of edits all at once. Don’t worry about that now, but if you really get into this stuff, it’ll come up again later.

You can leave the default commit name in place, or add your own instead. Typical practice is to use a present-tense verb that describes what this commit does to the repo, rather than what you did (past tense) to the file.


Once you have made some changes to the project and want those changes to become part of the main repository, issue a “Pull Request.” This is a request for the owner of the “main” repo (the one you forked from) to “pull” your changes into the main repo and merge them together.
Issuing a pull request is just as easy as anything else. There’s a button for it. Well, there’s a series of buttons.
First, go to the “Pull Requests” tab.
From there, click the button for a new pull request.
This gives you the opportunity to look at what is going to be in your pull request, and edit it if you want to (don’t, for now).
Clicking the Create pull request button then gives you a chance to name the request and add a message if you want to (helpful if it isn’t obvious what you did).
Once you’ve named it and added a message, click the big green button and you are done. An alert will be sent to the project owner, who will review and (probably) merge in your changes.
It seems like a lot of steps when you put a picture up for each one, but it is really quite simple and fast. You can probably imagine why you are not allowed to merge your own changes in whenever you want. (The result would be chaos.) A pull request allows the project owner to review your proposed changes before they make it into the main repo for public consumption.

Moving Forward

After this, the cycle repeats. 
You already have a fork, so you don’t need to do it again. You will want to pull in the current state of the main project before getting too far ahead, so that you get other people’s changes into your own editable copy. (I won’t get into that here – it’s a topic for a whole other tutorial.)
Once you have the upstream changes reflected in your own copy, get back into editing and adding new content and issuing pull requests. Pretty soon you’ll be an expert, and you’ll have contributed to something useful.
Fun, right?

The Big Picture

It’s easy to get bogged down in this stuff.
The two common problems are either getting too excited about the technology (“This will solve all our problems!”) or not giving it enough credit for its potential (“I don’t need all this new fangled stuff.”)
While a lot of the Open Source and Open Content people (including me) get really excited about the philosophical implications about all this, it’s important to realize that none of that is the point.
The point of Open Source and Open Content is to spur on collaboration so that something cool can be created that would otherwise be hard to create, and so that it can be shared in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
For years, the CMAA has been a leader in providing freely downloadable liturgical resources and promoting, by way of example, the use of Creative Commons licensing. Additionally the Musica Sacra Forum has long been a nexus of sharing resources and information, while building a strong community of friends and colleagues.
Adopting GitHub for new projects expands the methods we can use for this collaborative work and community building, and provides a wide range of benefits that will help catalyze this kind of content creation (most of which I didn’t even touch on in this article).
While I am excited about creating an Open Metrical Psalter, I’m more excited about the projects that will be created and shared after this one. I’m hopeful that GitHub will become as indispensable as the Choral Public Domain Library. I look forward to posts on the Musica Sacra Forum that end with “you can find the rest of this in my GitHub repo.”
It’s no big secret that a great deal of the strength of the new liturgical movement (the movement, not the website) has come from the free sharing of resources and spirit of collaboration at the grass roots level. That initial excitement from several years ago seems to have faded a bit, as the movement has either been pushed back in some areas, or become blessedly normalized (but therefore, no longer new and exciting) in others.
Let’s get excited again. Let’s do something new, learn something new. Let’s make a dent.

Lessons from the Churches of Christ

My best friend and his wife (my wife’s best friend) grew up in and worship in the Church of Christ tradition, a Christian denomination popular in the Southern U.S., with roots in the Second Great Awakening. For theological and historical reasons (which are not the focus of this article), the Churches of Christ developed a culture of unaccompanied congregational singing. This singing style, heavily influenced by the Shape Note (Sacred Harp) tradition, is one of the core identifying characteristics of this religious tradition.

If you have followed much of my writing over the years, you know that I am quite enamored with the musical tradition of the Churches of Christ (and other “Primitive American” musics), and it has influenced my own thinking about congregational singing, the primacy of Gregorian Chant within the Roman Rite, and the transmission of culture across generations.

I am deeply concerned about the long-term viability of the musical heritage of the Church of Christ tradition, and I also think there are lessons to learn about the preservation of musical culture.

The Churches of Christ are not immune to the trends of popular religious music, and never have been throughout their two-century history. Old traditional strophic hymns, Sacred Harp music, popular “Gospel” songs, and (now) the latest pop Christian praise music have all found a place within their worship gatherings. Songs which were considered new-fangled a generation ago are now defended as “traditional,” while the latest generation of devotional music slowly but inevitably finds its way into the Sunday service, despite the occasional grumblings from the curmudgeons and defenders of the faith.

The ability of the CoC to bend and reshape each new wave of popular music to fit the denominational requirement that no instruments be used in worship has created a situation where these diverse styles and genres become unified, and can coexist without any sense of aesthetic discontinuity. This continuity is particularly interesting because almost no Church of Christ musician would consider aesthetic continuity, in a Catholic liturgical sense, to be a requirement of tasteful and dignified worship. All the same, I am of the opinion that aesthetics have a strong psycho-spiritual impact, even when your explicit theology says otherwise.

This strength of the CoC musical tradition suggests (to me, at least) that one of the keys to maintaining (or reclaiming) a truly Catholic and Roman musical culture in the Roman Rite might be a stronger sense of aesthetic continuity, even when (or especially when) local requirements dictate use of music other than Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony. It goes (more or less) without saying here on the Chant Cafe that “contemporary” (that is, pop-styled) music creates some artistic dissonance within the Mass. But I have also experienced “traditional” liturgy that seemed as much a hodge-podge as any Folk Mass I’ve attended. Just because several things are in Latin, or just because several things are old, does not mean that they belong together in the liturgy. At the same time, careful adaptation of style can bring more contemporary music into aesthetic alignment with more traditional selections.

Though the Churches of Christ have seemingly been able to absorb and unify each new wave of popular devotional music over the last two centuries, there is one trend within contemporary “Praise and Worship” culture which threatens severe disruption within this tradition, and which has already begun to wreak havoc on Catholic liturgy: performer-oriented music.

This “performer orientation” seems to be an artifact of the mega-church phenomenon, imported (as far as I am aware) somewhat unthinkingly along with other detritus such as projection screens and microphones.

In an average Church of Christ congregation, it is common for a “worship minister” or “song leader” to sing the melody of a song into a microphone, from the front of the assembly area. This leader is supposedly helping the congregation to sing, but is, in fact, doing no such thing. Rather, this practice is a serious threat to the integrity of congregational singing, for a number of reasons which should be obvious but apparently are not. Three in particular stand out:

First, the presence of a song leader implies to the congregation that singing is something done by a particular person with a particular set of skills. The congregation’s job, then, is not to sing, but only to “sing along.” Inasmuch as singing is no longer the domain of the congregation, it becomes optional for them. You might sing if you want to, or if you think you are good at it, but you no longer sing out of necessity. Since it is no longer essential that every person sings, it will of course become the case that not everyone sings.

Additionally, the artificial amplification of the melody over the other vocal parts destroys the aural texture of congregational part-singing, making it impossible for newcomers and children to learn to sing in harmony. People who grow up within the Church of Christ tradition learn to sing in four-part harmony without any formal training. The major enabling factor for this ability is constant exposure to it, in a context in which each individual part can be clearly heard by anyone within the assembly. When a song leader sings the melody into a microphone, the other parts are covered in such way as to make them nearly impossible to hear individually. Anyone who does not already know a harmony line has very little help in learning one. This problem is made infinitely worse by the use of words-only projection slides, which provide no musical information or formation.

Finally, the nature of individual singing performance is intrinsically different than congregational singing performance. Musical phenomena such as rhythmic content and melodic ornamentation simply work differently with a soloist than they do with a congregation. The placement of a single singer at the head of the congregation inevitably draws that singer toward a solistic style of singing which is musically incompatible with robust congregational singing.

Part of the reason that these developments have been allowed to take place is that, much like with many customs and rules in Roman liturgical practice, the heart of the Church of Christ’s congregational orientation – a theology of community derived from the Acts of the Apostles – has been reduced in common practice to a mere legalism: “No musical instruments.” Once a theological proposition has been reduced to a legalism, there are two inevitable consequences: circumnavigation and abandonment. Circumnavigation happens when the question becomes, “How can we do whatever we wanted to do anyway, without ‘technically’ breaking the rules?” Abandonment happens when the pretense of technicality is dropped and the rule is simply ignored or removed.

The history of the Roman Rite, particularly through the late modern period, involves many cycles of legalization, circumnavigation, and eventual (de facto and then de jure) abandonment. One example of this is the replacement of Propers with hymns. Another is the change in liturgical orientation from the East toward the people.

In the Churches of Christ, this process has meant that mega-church Praise Band culture was simply imported into unaccompanied, heavily microphoned soloists (circumnavigation) and now, in a small but growing number of cases, congregations have simply added “Instrumental Worship” services (abandonment). I get the sense, from my friends in other Christian traditions, that this process is universal and inevitable.

There are two typical ways of reacting to this seemingly inevitable evolution from law to legalism to disregard. Most people go along with whatever trend is currently in vogue, whether actively supporting the change or simply allowing it to happen without comment or resistance. A small minority oppose the change, but usually for spurious reasons having to do with legalism and habit.

Philistines and Pharisees. Progressives and Prudes.

In both cases personal comfort seems paramount, and neither “side” is really right. In fact we all find ourselves identifying with one group or the other, and this is a matter of temperament, not maturity.

As an outsider to the CoC tradition, it’s easy for me to back up, ignore the messy details, and offer some thoughts on a solution. I’m not hopeful that many Church of Christ congregations will take up my suggestions. I am, though, hopeful that the benefit of distance will provide some clarity into finding similar solutions to similar problems within the Catholic tradition of liturgical music. For this reason, I will only offer a few thoughts and a lot of questions. It seems to me that these questions are relevant to music ministry in all Christian traditions.

It seems to me that the best way forward for preserving the Church of Christ musical tradition is not to embark on a destructive reactionary campaign of strict rule following, but to embrace the spirit of the original rules and to evaluate new developments against their purpose, rather than against their technicalities. That is – to ask whether something is helpful, not just whether it is allowed.

On a practical level this means first re-evaluating both the need for and the nature of “Song Leaders.” Are they really helping the congregation to find their own voice? Or are they allowing the congregation to become more passive during worship? Do they need to hold microphones? What is the optimal volume for microphones? Should there be multiple singers on microphones (one for each vocal part), or just one, or none at all? Whether there is one Song Leader, or a choir full of them – what is their placement relative to the assembly, and what does this placement imply?

For those congregations which have decided to add instrumental worship – Is there a way to use instruments as an enhancement to congregational part-singing, rather than a replacement for it? Can decisions like placement of musicians, repertoire, and performance style be made in such a way that the congregation retains an active role in music-making, rather than abdicating that role to a small group of performers?

Another thing to consider is church architecture and acoustics – building worship spaces which either enhance congregational singing or which require extreme amplification. Additionally, the use of projection screens could be evaluated with an eye toward those practices which enhance congregational participation and long-term viability.

Critically – and this goes for all of us, in every tradition – we all must develop the habit of thinking theologically about our actions.

What belief is being expressed when a congregation sits back in padded chairs and sings-along with a performative soloist? What belief is being expressed when a people stand together and sing together? What belief is being expressed by choosing to worship in an acoustically dead, unattractive space? What belief is being expressed when one person’s voice is amplified over the voices of everyone else?

Historically, the people in the Churches of Christ pray a certain way because they believe a certain way, and that prayer life in turn forms them into that way of believing, and into a way of living. It is the same, of course, for us – for all of us.

We cannot import and capitulate to every new trend that comes along, but neither can we become reactionaries against all natural change and progress. Even our approach to change signals something about our beliefs: showing on the one hand that the forms of our worship are completely changeable and thus completely meaningless, or on the other that worship is a history museum with little relevance to human life.

This is the essence of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. If we wish to form people into a way of believing, into a way of living (a Lex Vivendi), we must take care with the way we pray and worship.

A Summer Suggestion

My first year as a choir director, someone asked a question during a rehearsal sometime in May.

“Are we going to take the summer off?”

I was about two syllables into responding with “I wasn’t really planning to,” when I noticed the combination of hope and exhaustion on the faces of my choir members.

“What if we kept singing through the summer, but didn’t rehearse on Wednesdays? We’ll just come an hour before the service and work on things. Easy things, things we’ve done before. How does that sound?”

And so it was that my choir landed on what apparently (unbeknownst to me) is a typical schedule throughout church-music-land: no rehearsals after Trinity Sunday until about the first week of September. But we’re still providing music for 2+ months.

It seems the pattern of having your choir continue to sing, working on things before Mass and programming literature they’ve done before, is pretty common, and that the other common pattern is going from a full choir to just a small schola or a single cantor. Along with this is typically a simplification of the music overall, favoring smaller choral works and (often) more congregational music.

Among the problems with this for a music director is that there isn’t a lot of opportunity to learn music ahead of time for the summer months when they come. We’re all too busy on Lent and then Holy Week and then Eastertide and then Ascension and then Pentecost and then Trinity Sunday and then Corpus Christi. Throw in a handful of Confirmation services, Baccalaureate Masses, and other end-of-school-year festivities, and its easy to get to the Summer without any decent “general” choral music in repertoire.

And yet, as the summer months roll in, and the thermometer and weekly attendance move in opposite directions, we choir directors struggle to maintain a balance between our desire to offer our best and the reality of the summer lull.

So here’s a suggestion…
Chant the Propers.

After years of learning that the propers are THE IDEAL toward which we are all working and striving, it seems (sometimes) that singing the Propers – the authentic texts of the Mass – is some far-off goal that only a few can achieve.

But it can be so much easier than whatever you are doing right now. And the Summer time is the perfect time to start.

All you need is a set of good, simplified chant settings of the Propers. (And there are several available.)

Here’s what you can do…

Perhaps during the school year (“choir season”), you are singing a choir piece during the Offertory.

Just replace it with either that Sunday’s proper Offertory or one of the (allowed by the Church) seasonal options from (for example) the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual. Whether you have two people in your choir or twenty (or none), your singers can learn the antiphon quickly and easily after hearing it once or twice.

If you are using a resource that has an Antiphon and the pointed Psalm verses (like the Simple English Propers or the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual), you, or your one cantor, or your whole choir, or just the men, or just the women – somebody in your choir – can sing the Psalm verses.

You can sing the Antiphon once at the beginning and the end, with chanted Psalm verses in the middle. Or you can sing the Antiphon twice at the beginning (Cantor; All) and repeat after every few verses.

This is no more difficult than the Respond & Acclaim brand responsorial Psalms, and much more beautiful.

If your Offertory music is usually a congregational song or hymn, you can either put the text of the antiphon into their programs or (if you’re trying to clean out your end-of-year budget), you can get the assembly editions of the Simple Gradual and put the numbers on the hymn-board.

“Our song during the Preparation of the Gifts is number two hundred and ninety eight in the green Simple Gradual. That’s TWO NINE EIGHT in the GREEN book. ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’. TWO NINE EIGHT”

A similar change could be made at the Communion (in addition to, or a replacement for, a congregation hymn or song). And if you wanted to get REALLY DARING, you could do the same in place of (or after) the Entrance Hymn.

This is not hard to do, musically.

The problem with implementing sung Propers is almost never musical in nature, but “political,” so to speak. Change is difficult in any organization, and people don’t take kindly to it.

That’s why the Summer is the perfect opportunity to begin.

If you start with the Offertory as I suggest above, there would be very little interruption to what people are expecting. If you print the antiphon text in the program, or put the assembly edition into the pews, the proper antiphon becomes (to the mind of a complaint-prone congregant) just another refrain to just another nice piece of music. If you begin in the Summer time, the typical lull provides explanatory “cover” for a change to simpler, easier music; while the simpler, easier music makes your Summer lull so much more full and beautiful. Doing this during a specific season makes it easy to “backtrack” if needed, providing you an easy out if problems arise (though I suspect there won’t be as many as you fear).

Perhaps, when the Summer is over, you go back to what you have always done during the year. Or perhaps, if the response was positive, you continue implementing the rest of the propers with your choir or with your congregation. Perhaps the experience with modal chant (and square notes!) will provide the starting point for working towards a fully sung liturgy.

As I mentioned, there are several excellent resources available for doing this. One of the best is the newly available Lumen Christi Simple Gradual. There is an Assembly Edition, if you’d like to put the antiphons themselves in front of your congregation, and there is a Choir Edition which includes psalm verses for a soloist or choir.

The Choir Edition can be used by itself with no other investment needed, as described above. A copy for every person in your choir ensures that, whatever else happens – whether a copy machine breaks, or a shipment of octavos doesn’t arrive, or every member of your Bass section gets s cold – you’ll always be able to sing the proper and authentic texts of the Liturgy, in beautiful musical settings. And that’s worth having all year ’round.

Whatever the outcome and whatever your specific summer-situation is, whether you are just looking for something easy and good to get you through the Summer lull or whether you are looking for a way to begin fully implementing sung propers, the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual is a great resource to have.

Put a dozen copies in your choir room, relax, and enjoy your Summer.

Click here to purchase the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual.

The Chanting Presider

According to Musicam sacram, the first, most important, degree of solemnity is the chanting of the priest – in dialogue with the congregation and in the various prayers of the presider alone (the Collects, the Preface, etc.).

While more and more priests are taking up the singing of the dialogues such as “The Lord be with you” (and hearing back a typically hearty “And with your spirit”), many still find the singing of the proper weekly prayers a bit difficult.

Part of the difficulty is that the texts of these in the English translation of the Roman Missal are not provided with musical notation. A priest who wants to sing these has to be comfortable with the melody (the Simple Tone or the Solemn Tone) and then know how to apply it, more-or-less on the fly, to the text of the prayer.

While it is certainly admirable for a priest to have this skill, it is not something everyone is able to do. But that’s okay.

Thanks to the wonderful work of Anthony DiCello, director of music at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Ohio, priests now have a resource of fully-notated chants for the opening collect, the prayer over the gifts, and the prayer after communion. These are available in both the Simple and the Solemn Tone.

These resources are notated in modern stemless round notes and are easy to read and work with. They can be found in the Liturgical Resources section of the Mount St. Mary’s website.


For at least a year now, my friend Matthew Meloche, Director of Music at the Cathedral of Sts. Simon and Jude in Phoenix, has been trying to convince me to move to his diocese to join what he calls “THE SACRED MUSIC REVOLUTION IN THE DESERT.”

At first I thought it was just kind of a joke (as most ALL-CAPS TITLES tend to be), but I was there this past weekend and it turns out that a revolution really is going on there in the desert.

On Saturday evening I attended a Mass at the Cathedral where the music was provided by only a single female cantor and Meloche on the organ. The cantor intoned the antiphons and sang the Psalm verses for English versions of the Introit, Offertory, and Communion propers, as well chanted settings of the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia. These were taken from a handful of sources, most notably from the new Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, published by Illuminare Publications. (Adam Bartlett, the composer of the Simple English Propers, was the previous music director at the cathedral and also wrote most of the settings in the Lumen Christi Series).

Use of the processional propers (in addition to strong, traditional hymns) was really excellent, but unsurprising (I already knew that both Bartlett and Meloche had made this a priority), but what really blew me away was the singing by the priests and deacons: dialogues, prayers, the preface. I attended four Masses at the Cathedral, hearing two priests and three deacons, and all of them sang. It was really quite stunning.

So as wonderful as this was, it was the Cathedral of a Bishop who takes liturgy and music seriously, where the current and most recently previous music directors are both chant experts.

Does that qualify as a REVOLUTION?

I also attended Mass on the Arizona State University campus, at the Newman Center. It was a sung Mass, with chanted propers and traditional choral music, at 9:00pm Sunday night at a public university.

The place was packed.

The processional propers were all chanted, in English settings drawn from both the Simple English Propers and the Lumen Christi Series. The Ordinary was the Missa de Angelis, sung (very well) in Latin by the whole congregation. The priest sang most of the dialogues. After the dismissal, the Marian antiphon Regina Caeli Laetare was chanted in Latin by the entire congregation, followed by a phenomenal organ postlude.

The Cathedral liturgy was really something amazing, but it was a Cathedral liturgy. A strong bishop, an excellent rector, and a decent budget ensure that the leadership there can implement a serious music program. To me, the Newman center at ASU confirms that there is a revolution afoot, and not just in Phoenix. There is a generational shift happening that will remake the landscape of Catholic music.

The 9:00pm Sung Mass is not the only Sunday liturgy offered on campus. Other Masses, at more “normal” times of day consist of typical Catholic folk-fare and high-spirited Praise and Worship music.

But the Sung Mass, I am told, is the most well-attended.

Moreover, the ratio of men to women was almost 50/50, an amazing thing given how under-represented males are in church attendance. (The dynamic young priest told me that this is unique to the Sung Mass congregation.)

Also, there were a number of people who were clearly not a part of the typical “College Student” crowd – older folks, young families with children. They may have been members of the University community (faculty, staff, graduate students), or unaffiliated locals. Either way, it was clear that this chanted liturgy was not catering to some niche group of college-Catholics.

Finally, the entire atmosphere of the Mass was nothing like what the detractors of chant and tradition so often imagine.

This wasn’t “lace and slippers” traddies or gloomy ultra-conservatives creating a bastion of purity and personal piety. It wasn’t awkward young men in crooked bowties or repressed young women dressed like the Amish. It was just a typical, rag-tag group of college students you would expect at just about any event, and an impressive handful of families and older folks. There were guys in suits, and guys in wrinkled t-shirts. There were ladies in conservative dresses and some in too-revealing gym attire. Some people sang, and some didn’t. Some prayed fervently before Mass, while others chatted and goofed off.

They weren’t rebelling against their hippie boomer parents or trying to revive Baroque aesthetics. They weren’t people who read blogs about liturgy and music, and I would bet that most of them love Pope Francis dearly and love also the Emeritus.

With respect to my good friend at the Cathedral (and I can’t really say enough good things about the music there), this is the real revolution. Young lay Catholics and young priests, together with devout and faithful people of all ages discovering and living into the musical traditions of the authentic liturgy of the Roman Rite. They are diving into the old books – the Graduale Romanum, the Liber Usualis. They are also taking advantage of the amazing riches of newer material available, resources like the Simple English Propers, the Parish Book of Chant, and the Lumen Christi series.

They are not, as is sometimes a danger among us obsessive liturgists, in love with ritual, but rather in love with God. Liturgy is not an end to itself, but rather it is the source and summit of their lives as faithful Catholics. The Mass at the Newman center wasn’t an exercise in liturgical excellence and rigor, but was instead marked with a noble simplicity that called those present into active, and actual, participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass and sent them forth into their community and everyday lives to be the Body of Christ and the Light of the World.