Monday, November 14, 2011

Singing "Over" a Latin Low Mass? Intriguing Possibilities, Especially Regarding the Vernacular

I am a big supporter of vernacular in liturgy. I recently held up this Western Rite Orthodox celebration as approaching my ideal, for example, which would basically be to use translations of the Propers of the Old Mass according to a nice "thee and thou" kingly English translation (ala the Anglican Missal or English Missal), leave the Ordinary in Latin, and make the priest's spoken "private devotional" parts (Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Offertory, Communion prayers, Last Gospel, etc) audible but probably in the vernacular, as I sort of hate the practice of "singing over" parts of the Mass or using motets at High Mass, etc.

Some of what I am about to suggest might then sound a bit counter-intuitive, as it involves both a whole lot of "singing over" and the possibility of vernacular for even the Ordinary of the Mass, though the point of the latter would be to "ease people into" the Old Mass who are entirely unfamiliar, who only know the vernacular Novus Ordo.

In fact, I also thought-up once a graduated system of different "internally consistent" combinations of music and/or language that I'd like to see approved for the Old Mass (given that one of my pet peeves at the Novus Ordo is inconsistency in this regard; where, for example, a priest will chant the collect at the beginning but then only read the postcommunion, or where the Agnus Dei is randomly in Latin even though none of the rest of the Ordinary was, etc). That system would be nice, but what I'm saying here now, however, is an attempt to work "within" the current rules.

Basically, I had this idea during university that the permission/tradition of having vernacular hymns sung at/over a Low Mass, and even to have private devotions (like the rosary) being prayed aloud in the church at the same time, could be used to, essentially, create a "virtual" Old Mass in English, or to make a Low Mass into a sort of virtual High Mass (whether Latin or vernacular).

The idea was essentially: fine, have the priest praying his Low Mass entirely spoken and in Latin, but if the congregation is free to extra-liturgically sing hymns (including vernacular hymns) or pray prayers "unofficially" while that's going on...why not have them sing the Ordinary during Low Mass, "unofficially" as "hymns"? If we're allowed to "unofficially" sing hymns (Latin or vernacular) over the Low Mass, why couldn't those hymns be the Mass itself?

And, what's more, why not have them sing/chant a vernacular translation of the actual Proper antiphons while the priest reads them quietly up at the altar (and, ideally, waits for the congregation to finish singing; a big part of what I dislike about "singing over" Mass parts is how the priest often "moves on with" his Mass independent of the choir and so the whole thing gets disjointed/out of synch). Or even pray the priest's "private devotional" parts out loud in the vernacular as their own congregational "private devotion"? Heck, maybe even the collects or readings could be sung by the choir as "hymns" over the corresponding parts (there is also, of course, the permission to read the lessons in the vernacular to consider too.)

However, I was told by some, this was forbidden. They insisted: you can sing anything at Low Mass except the Ordinary or Propers (in Latin or the vernacular). On the one hand, this extremely frustrated me and seemed bizarre and impossible (how can what the congregation sings be legislated with reference to the Low Mass, if the Low Mass is technically "private" anyway with the congregation technically just "observing"?)

On the other hand, it made some sad sense: if the Vatican was trying to resist a vernacular liturgy tooth-and-nail (until it finally gave up and gave in), allowing a "virtual" one to be created through basically layering an "unofficial" translation as "hymns" or "private prayers"
over a silent Low Mass...would be sort of a cheat or loophole they might want to close (I was sad they were clever or prescient enough to do that.) And at that point I'd rather Low Mass just be spoken, then, as a dialogue (because I don't really like using totally extra-liturgical hymns, Latin or vernacular, at any sort of Mass, except maybe the seasonal Marian Antiphon for the recessional...but then, that isn't totally extra-liturgical.)

However, an event I recently saw advertised on the blog of Una Voce Toronto (which I missed, unfortunately; I wish I had known of it) apparently put something into practice which would suggest to me it isn't entirely forbidden as some sources claim. Basically they had a Low/Read Dialogue Mass (though I hate that some people treat the "Dialogue Mass" as a separate category: all Masses should be dialogue Masses! The people should make their responses and recite or sing the Ordinary!) with hymns and motets (as is usual). But the interesting thing was that this time some of the "hymns" were going to include singing the Latin Ordinary parts from Mass VIII (I know, not my favorite, but well-known) over the corresponding parts of the Low Mass.

And if this can be done, of course, the jump to doing that for the Propers too, or for either in the inevitable. If unofficially singing Mass parts over a Low Mass is allowed, and vernacular hymns are allowed, then unofficial vernacular translations of Mass parts as "hymns" can't logically be forbidden.

So I did some research and found this Fr. Z thread where quite a debate once raged. While some people put forward the "you can basically sing anything at Low Mass, Latin or vernacular, except Mass parts or translations thereof" interpretation, other voices said this was a misunderstanding of the relevant decrees, that it only applied to the priest, or that this was definitely not true, or wasn't any longer at least, or that at least there were no definitive sources saying you can't (and some even citing sources seeming to approve the practice as regards the Latin Ordinary).

So, it seems to me now that the practice is not definitively condemned! It is at least ambiguous as to whether this is allowed, and what is ambiguous may be done and is apparently practiced some places sometimes (including here apparently). Certainly, I don't think anyone could try to claim it was unambiguously illicit (after all, maybe a choir is just "practicing" for a vernacular Novus Ordo later, and a priest "just happens to be" saying his "private" Low Mass in the same church in a manner that "coincidentally" syncs perfectly with that, lol!)

You'd have to be careful about who you let see it. A rad trad who came expecting to pray their rosary during an entirely silent Low Mass might get a rude awakening and raise a hubbub with Ecclesia Dei or something like that. But, still, the possibility is intriguing if one could find a priest and choir willing to participate in such a venture...


D. C. D. said...

I'll have to think more carefully about what you suggest here before offering a serious response, but I will admit that "singing over" Low Mass generally annoys me insofar as it makes life harder for people (like me) who actually want to try to focus on the liturgy without being dragooned into someone else's idea of "participation" through the medium of song.

In practice, though, this bothers me in some contexts more than others - I don't mind when sung parts of the Ordinary cover a lot of priestly prayers, but I get really angry when the organist fires up the recessional hymn before or during the Last Gospel, which I really think people in the pews should be able to hear.

I'm reminded, in thinking about this, of why I stopped going to eucharistic adoration years ago: I loved adoration, but I got annoyed at the growing number of places where common, out-loud recitation of the rosary was allowed to go on during adoration - I'm all for individuals praying the rosary on their own and silently during adoration of they want, but it's an intrusion and an imposition to force common recitation on people in this context - ditto hymns sung over Low Mass, at least in my experience.

End of rant - thanks, though, for a thoughtful post that I will be thinking more about.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I wonder if there are any videos of the Mass in Toronto. I'd be interested in seeing what it was like.
The Mass which I used to attend on a weekly basis was always a Dialogue Mass, though every once in a while we would sing the Ordinary (for some reason we've hardly ever sung the Credo) and the priest would give the cue for a hymn in the vernacular during the Offertory (this hymn is always sung, even if no other part of the Mass is). What irritated me was the apparent inconsistency with the singing. The whole Mass may well have been without any chant and all of a sudden he'd decide to sing the Preface, or some such thing.

Anonymous said...

I see the point of this, as in easing people into the Latin Mass by giving them something to do that is basically the “active participation” that they were expected to engage in at the NO. While this Low High Mass would be a useful didactic tool (I suppose), personally I think it reintroduces the same annoyances that the NO has. I for one like that the priest “moves on” while the schola keeps singing. If they do the proper chants from the Liber, that takes too long to sync the two up. With the NO, it is irritating because if I have to go to one, I want it done with as soon as (reverently) possible. If we have to wait for the singing/do it all together, then what should take 20min is not an hour +. With the TLM, while I certainly do not mind sitting through multiple hour long Pontifical ceremonies or 1 ½ hr. parish High’s I do not see why it should be extending unnecessarily since the customary way we see it usually done has such a nice flow to it. Plus, it gives me different options of how to participate-I can read along in the missal with the priest or sing along with the choir for the ordinary. With your proposal this probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue because I would guess the vernacular chants would be rather simple and not near as long as the Liber/Graduale chants. Also, while it should possible for the people to sing the Ordinary and make the responses, I do not see why it should be pushed too much. I know it can “work”, but a silent Low Mass seems like the best for all situations. One is always free to make the responses-just like one says his breviary in private.
That said, I would fear that people would settle for this and never really go for the proper High/Solemn High. Isn’t this where the “4 hymn sandwich” comes from? Proper High liturgy is too much of a bother/too stuffy so let’s just sing Irish (or whatever nationality) sweet songs over Low Mass?

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I still don't get why people keep on praising the Low Mass and putting it forward as the ideal...

A Sinner said...

Who is proposing singing Irish sweet songs over the liturgy?

My proposal here was that it seems like, under the current rules even, you COULD sing the Ordinary and Propers "at" Low Mass, and that this would be a way to "sneak" a vernacular Old Rite Mass into existence, basically, by using ENGLISH settings that translate the Ordinary and Propers (some of which, among the Anglicans, almost perfectly follow the Graduale melodies except where certain English dipthongs require a slight adaptation.)

Also, the priest "waiting" does not "take too long." As there are only 4 main places that the priest "moves on": the entrance (when Introit is sung OVER the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar), the Offertory (where they're sung over the Offertory), the Sanctus (sung over the Canon), and the Agnus Dei (where they're sung over the priests three communion prayers).

If there were an actual entrance PROCESSION (as there should be), singing the Introit would not need to "cover" the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. In fact, I find it absurd how so many choirs finish the Introit, rush immediately into the Kyrie, and then are left just playing the organ for a while when the priest is incensing the altar (which should be happening DURING the Kyrie). There is nothing "nice" about this arrangement, it is totally out of sync! Whenever you have two groups (ie, the choir and the actual ministers) playing catch-up or waiting-for each other visibly, there is a problem.

And yet waiting for is exactly what the priest does when he sits down at the Gloria and Credo (also absurd). For really long polyphonic ones I can see, I suppose. But for the chant Glorias the priest could just stand and sing the Gloria WITH the choir. At some places it seems almost like it's MANDATORY that he sit down, if only for two verses! This is ridiculous and disjointed.

Some priests DO wait for the Sanctus to be over before starting the Canon and it doesn't take all that long (a minute or two?)

Singing over the Offertory or Communion prayers with the Offertory Verse and Agnus Dei I don't mind as much, but I also think there should be a real ancient Offertory Procession restored during the Offertory verse, and the priest waiting to sing the Agnus Dei WITH the choir would not add that much extra time as those three prayers take only a minute or two for the priest to read through quickly anyway.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Isn't the Agnus Dei more of a "congregational prayer" than one of the priest's prayers? If so understood, I can understand him not praying it, being occupied with other prayers.

What is the non-Latin praxis? Aren't the priest and congregation out of synch in the divine Liturgy as well?

Joshua G. said...

The Agnus Dei is a choral prayer; the choir sang it to cover the breaking of the bread back when that took time.

Anonymous said...

I'm saying what happened before and I'm thinking of the actual pastoral application. Among devotes, I like your idea but by the time it gets to the "regular parish", it would seem that it would just devolve back into the Four Hymn Sandwich, not that it would be your proposals fault.

As to the procession, the nave is only so long at most parish churches. Also, if the priest is incensing during the Kyrie, then they are not in sync, right? He reads the kyrie on his own. Either way, at least at the High Masses I've been to, it seems to flow very nicely. As to the Credo and Gloria, is was in the old rubrics that the priest read it so therefore he wouldn't have been singing it with the choir. If that was changed, well, then so be it.

For the offertory procession, what need have we of it anymore? Are we going to bring chickens, vegetables, and pottery up? I think it is one of those things which fell out of use long ago, was maintained in vestigial form (like so many other aspects of the liturgy) and has no need to be "restored".

A Sinner said...

The re-doubling of texts at High Mass is an imposition from Low Mass that should be done away with, at least for the Ordinary. The priest incensing the altar during the Kyrie is "synched up" because that what he's supposed to be doing that time. That he also "reads" the Kyrie beforehand with the servers is an anomalous imposition from Low Mass, and that he reads the Credo and Gloria quickly and then sits down (leaving all sorts of questions about who genuflects when) is just laziness.

The offertory procession wouldn't have to be chickens and pottery. Really, it would probably involve the deacon and subdeacon leaving the sanctuary accompanied by the acolytes, and going and getting the chalice and paten and cruets to bring back to the sanctuary (in other words, they wouldn't be brought in at the beginning).

Mark of the Vineyard said...

"The offertory procession wouldn't have to be chickens and pottery. Really, it would probably involve the deacon and subdeacon leaving the sanctuary accompanied by the acolytes, and going and getting the chalice and paten and cruets to bring back to the sanctuary (in other words, they wouldn't be brought in at the beginning)."

This is pretty much akin to the Great Entrance at the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I think such a practice, besides giving some liturgical promenance back to deacons and minor orders, would help to re-affirm the belief in the Real Presence.

Luke Togni said...


I agree that the doubling up should go, especially because it confuses the various roles in the liturgy. On the other when different things are going on at once is not necessarily bad. It can be quite symphonic, and a beautiful image of the cosmos. The offertory chant could cover a Latin "Great Entrance" and the offertory prayers until the Orate Fratres. The Communion, with psalm restored, could even occur until the ablutions are finished. Psalm 42 could be recited during the procession while the Introit is being sung. The Confiteor could be said at the food at the altar, aloud so all can join with the servers. The prayers upon the entrance into the sanctuary could be sung aloud, then the Kyrie and incensation of the altar could begin.

Anonymous said...

Its actually probably from the sense that the priest needs to say the whole Mass, even if the choir sings that Ordinary part. Personally, I'd rather just keep things they way they are when it comes to that but I can see the point of the other side. In being someone who has and is still once and awhile up front during Mass, I just know the way it is now works smoothly. Actually, orchestral Masses are probably the most painful for the Sacred Ministers because it never seems to end and you really can't sing along. That said, your point in well taken and certainly could be something that would be a reasonable and valid reform of the "Latin Mass" as it stands.

As to the offertory procession, if it is something akin to the Byzantine Great Entrance, OK. I actually forgot about that but I can see the merit in an actual liturgical procession of the gifts rather than just having them on the credence table.

-and I didn't mean to be anon. its Dominic 1955