Sung Liturgy in Ordinary Parish Life

Over the past few years we have witnessed a groundswell in sung liturgy, and in the renewal of sacred music in parish life. This has been taking place in parishes, cathedrals, seminaries, universities and institutes, religious houses, and elsewhere, both here in the U.S. and abroad. This movement has not been reserved to specialists, but has become a popular one. With the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal in 2011, the foundational song for the liturgy in chanted form found a home on every altar and in every sacristy throughout the English-speaking world.

Those who have followed Chant Cafe over the past few years have witnessed the development of enterprising resources such as Simple English Propers, among many others. These projects which have come from such humble beginnings have not just been niche or esoteric in their scope, but have begun to find a home in many places in the ordinary, day-to-day events of Catholic life. We continue to receive reports from parishes and cathedrals around the country, notes from Europe, and even words of thanks from Rome. It’s all very hard to believe, and it is certainly not something we ever would have imagined.
Still, even after all of the progress that has been made, when we step back and take an inventory of our current situation we begin to realize how much more work still needs to be done in order to make sung liturgy a regular part of ordinary parish life.
In the parishes that have achieved and maintained any regular practice of sung liturgy so far, there is typically an extremely dedicated, faith-filled, and talented leader at the center of it. This may be a full-time music director, a part-time coordinator, or even a committed volunteer. This individual has to work extraordinarily hard not only to teach, catechize and train cantors, choirs, organists, members of the faithful, even parish staff and clergy, but also to pull together and execute sung liturgies week after week. It is true that this task is easier than it was five years ago, but still, it is a monumental task.

Just last week I read a note from a colleague in my diocese who went on vacation and planned to fly back home on Saturday night in order to direct his music program on Sunday morning. Well, his flight was delayed twice and finally cancelled, which would have been cause for a typical music director to begin scrambling for a sub. But his situation is different. He wrote:

In order to sub for me you have to read neumes, be able to sing in Latin, come up with accompaniments to chants and hymns on the fly, dabble your way through 3 books and a binder and keep the nice choir ladies on key…. so I couldn’t just call in some AGO-sub-lister. So what does an organist do? He flies into Los Angeles at midnight, rents a car, then drives through the night and makes it home just in time for his 7am Mass with no sleep.

This, my friends, is dedication. And — somewhat unfortunately — it is the kind of dedication that is currently needed to successfully sustain a program of sacred music in a parish today.

And this brings me to my next observation.

When we assess the musical programs in the majority of parishes, we do not find this kind of superhuman music director. In fact, in most parishes we see a mishmash of volunteers, perhaps a few stipended musicians, and maybe a part-time coordinator. Truly, parishes with full-time directors of music are the exception, not the norm.

Most of these parishes rely upon pre-packaged programs of liturgical music from the major commercial publishers that give them everything that is needed to get through weekend liturgies. These resources are utterly relied upon from week to week. There is the hymnal/missal for the pew, accompaniment books for the accompanist, and the cantor and choir editions for the singers that correspond to the books in the pews, et cetera. Everything is in place. All that is needed is for the musical leader of the Mass to select four songs from the planning guide, pick out a Mass setting, put the numbers on the board, and they’re ready to go.

We all know the drill very well. What makes us uneasy about this is not the drill itself, but it is the music in the popular commercial liturgical products that we know so often lacks dignity, doesn’t set the liturgical text, has strong associations with (often dated) popular music, and is a far cry from what we might describe as sacred music.

So far, we have been very blessed to have begun reaping the fruits of the chant revival, and new publications in recent years have helped make this possible. There are heroic music directors and dedicated volunteers among us who perform miracle after miracle — Sunday after Sunday, in order to help foster a culture of sacred music and sung liturgy in their parishes.

But we also have to realize that in order to make this happen in ordinary parishes we need to have a comprehensive program of sacred music that is packaged like the programs from the big commercial publishers. We need the complete package: Books for the pews, books for the choir and cantor that match, and accompaniment editions for it all.

And most importantly this program of sacred music needs to be born of the mind of the Church, organically developed out of the Church’s timeless tradition, a reflection of the priorities of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, beautiful, sacred, dignified, and able to sung every week by ordinary parishes with limited resources.

I would like to introduce you to a solution to these needs:

Meet the Lumen Christi Series from Illuminare Publications.

The Lumen Christi Missal is already being used in many parishes across the country, and hundreds rely upon the Illuminare Score Library every week for free downloads for the cantor and choir, and for organ accompaniments.

The Lumen Christi Hymnal, Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, and Lumen Christi Gradual are all on their way and will begin shipping in early 2014.

Sung liturgy cannot be reserved to the domain of specialists, or the dedicated few, but must be shared in by all. The Lumen Christi Series is ready to help you make this a reality in your parish.

Click here to learn more. You can follow the Illuminare Publications blog or subscribe to the mailing list for future publication announcements and updates.

Chant Workshop in October: See you in La Crosse!

I hope that you will come and join me for a chant workshop in the Diocese of La Crosse this October 25 and 26th. It will be the first of a series of sacred music events offered in collaboration between the Liturgical Institute and Illuminare Publications which will offer both immediately practical training and resources for use in parish life, and a deep rooting in sound sacramental and liturgical catechesis.

The workshop will feature a new and refreshing approach to chant instruction – one that begins with the important but often overlooked questions: What is the liturgy? How does music serve and form an integral part of the liturgy? How can music express the invisible mysteries contained within the liturgy? How does liturgical prayer affect our lives of faith? 

It will then explore the texts and musical settings that form an actual part of the liturgy itself, and intensive instruction will be offered on singing liturgical chant beautifully, expressively and effectively.

The workshop will cover the core musical settings found in the Roman Missal, will give a particular emphasis to the singing of the proper antiphons of the Mass, and will offer strategies and approaches for an effective and pastoral implementation of sung liturgy in ordinary parish life. It will also demonstrate the singing of psalm verses in 4-part harmony, how to conduct a choir or schola in the singing of chant, and will offer tips for running a successful parish music program. The workshop will conclude with a fully sung Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

This workshop will be accessible and beneficial to both beginner and seasoned liturgical musicians, as well as to to priests, deacons, cantors, and even to those who have sung chant with some regularity. All are welcome, and everyone will surely discover something new about liturgical music and its effect in our lives of faith.

To register for the event, please email, or call (608) 791-2674.

See the flyer below for more details. I hope to see you there!

If you are interested in bringing a similar workshop to your parish or diocese, please contact:

Can the People Sing the Propers?

Over at Corpus Christi Watershed, Richard Clark shares a reflection on a few recent Archdiocesan liturgies in Boston, one of which included singing the Propers of the Mass.

He wrote:

We sang the Introit, Offertory and Communion propers including settings by Adam Bartlett from the Lumen Christi Missal. These were included in the worship aids, so after a verse or two, the congregation began to sing, with more and more voices being added as the verses progressed. This was more than encouraging! In fact it was quite joyful to hear the scriptures being sung in this context.

(Emphasis as found in the original article)

I’m thrilled when I hear reports like this. Many have said that the Proper of the Mass cannot be sung by the people in the pews, or even perhaps that it shouldn’t be. My personal belief is that this is not an either/or, but a both/and situation. The schola or choir can fully exercise its role while still giving the liturgical assembly a vocal role in the singing of the proper with the right resources and the right approach to the problem.

The Lumen Christi Missal – the first installment of the Lumen Christi Series – was a solution to this problem in the case above, and many people in parishes across the nation are discovering this solution day by day.

The “Simple Gradual” of the Lumen Christi Missal can be sung by parish congregations. The settings are not merely psalm tone based. They are not “just add water”, instant gratification chants, but have enough substance to endure over time. A cantor needs to model then well, and there needs to be enough repetition for the people to learn them properly, but in a short amount of time they can be sung by everyone, young and old. Even on first hearing the people will begin to respond. Such was the case in Boston. This has been my experience, and the experience of so many others on the ground week after week.

The Lumen Christi Missal can be ordered here.

Download proper chant settings from the Lumen Christi Series for the Assumption and for the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time here.

More details will come soon on the forthcoming publications within the Lumen Christi Series. Sign up for the Illuminare Publications email list to receive updates on these new and exciting resources.

Cancel your Subscription Missal and Save your Parish Thousands

Parishes are sometimes cautious about switching from a disposable subscription missal program to a permanent one because they are confronted with an up-front price that is higher than what has been budgeted for in the current year. Additionally, pastors are sometimes concerned about saddling a parish with something for years, fearing that once the permanent resource has been purchased, it must be used for a decade or more to be worth the investment.

The truth, though, is that the Lumen Christi Missal – a complete, permanent replacement for your disposable missal program – will pay for itself in under three years!

Let’s take a look at the numbers and compare:

500 Copies of the Lumen Christi Missal: $10,475 + $800 (shipping) = $11,275
500 subscriptions to the leading Subscription Missal: $3,775/year + $800/year (shipping) = 

       Year 1 – $4,575
       Year 2 – $9,150
       Year 3 – $13,725
       Year 4 – $18,300
       Year 5 – $22,875
       Year 6 – $27,450
       Year 7 – $32,025
       Year 8 – $36,600
       Year 9 – $41,175
       Year 10 – $45,750
The savings are staggering. The Lumen Christi Missal pays for itself in less than three years.

If a parish keeps the LCM in their pews for 2.5 years, it will have broken completely even. If, for whatever reason, the parish had a desire to move back to a subscription missal after this time, they could do so without having lost a cent.

However, when a parish keeps the LCM in their pews for 10 years (or longer!), they will save upwards of $34,000, if not more!

In a time of constant economic insecurity, the Lumen Christi Missal is a way be a good steward of your parish’s limited resources.

Our own Jeffrey Tucker reviewed the LCM here. You can place an order here.

Or if you’d like to contact us directly about bringing the Lumen Christi Missal to your parish, you can reach us by email at, or by phone at 602-910-4180.

English Propers for Pentecost: Vigil and Mass of the Day

We are now in the final week of the Easter Season and are closing in on the great feast of Pentecost.

For Pentecost Sunday the Church gives us an optional but actual Saturday Vigil Mass (as opposed to the anticipated Mass that is often mistakenly called a “vigil”) which has a striking similarity to the Easter Vigil that took place some 50 days before.

Following is a free download of the English proper chants for the Vigil Mass of Pentecost, including the extended Responsorial Psalmody, in addition to the antiphons for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion that are proper to this liturgy:

Parishes are perhaps more familiar with the Pentecost Mass of the Day, however, although most parishes have probably never sung the proper texts for this liturgy. Following is a free download of the propers for Pentecost Day, including the great Pentecost Sequence which sets the official English Lectionary translation of the Veni, Sancte Spiritus to the ancient chant melody from the Graduale Romanum:
Both of these scores correspond to the Lumen Christi Missal, the first installment of the Lumen Christi Series. I am very excited to announce to you next week our plans for the completion of this series!