Making the Switch
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    In this thread (, David asks "I realize that some of you may be in quite advanced parishes that don't even use hymnody, or are in the process of making the migration from congregational hymns/songs to using the appointed chants in the Gregorian Missal, etc. For those of you who fall into this category, how did you go about making that transition?" I thought this deserved its own thread where those of us it's directed to can discuss it.

    Here's how things work out at my parish:
    Early Mass: Congregational English Introit, Offertory Hymn, Communion antiphon by cantor, Closing Hymn
    Late Mass: Entrance hymn or choral Introit, Offertory music of some sort, a responsorial psalm for Communion, and Closing Hymn

    The first thing you need is the priest on your side. If he isn't on your side, bombard him with literature or whatever until he is. He needs to understand exactly what you're doing and why, because he'll have to be the one explaining it to people. Generally if explanations of music come from a priest, they come off better to people since he's not (viewed as) a musician.

    The second thing you need is a realization of where you WANT to go with it. Do you want to move in the direction of a full-blown schola with Gregorian chant? Congregational antiphony? Occasional choral chant for the Mass? Only the Introit/Communion/Alleluia/Offertory chanted every Mass? Using the chant as the "we have to sing this before the REAL music" model? Decide, but be flexible as you see how things work out.

    Then get to work. My suggestion is that you first do away with the Communion. Let's face it: no one sings during Communion and it's quite irrational to ask them to sing a hymn during it. Now I am a staunch advocate of CONGREGATIONAL propers. I think THAT is the Church's ideal. So what I did for Communion at my late Mass is to have a cantor lead a lengthened responsorial psalm, ending with a Gloria Patri when the procession is complete. The congregation had trouble picking this up, so I have been assigning psalms seasonally. Eventually I'll move to monthly, then, when people are capable of picking them up on a weekly basis, I'll begin using contemporary settings of the Communion proper.

    Perhaps you may wish to just have cantor or choir sing the antiphon and follow it with organ music. That's fine too.

    The first thing to happen should be that the pastor begins to call attention to the proper texts, since they are in the Missalette. He should occasionally mention "the Introit appointed for today says..." in his homily. Or mine regularly recommended the congregation should use the texts for meditation before Mass and during Communion. Once they're AWARE of the antiphons, then you make the shift. The pastor should explain why you're doing it, what will happen, how the congregation should respond, and point out that, while the hymn is also a dignified option, the antiphon is more in keeping with the tradition of the Rite.

    And be CONSISTENT about it at the beginning. I hope that no one is going to switch to propers 100% of the time since hymns and antiphons are appropriate for some occasions. However, for the first 2-3 months, ONLY use your new normative way of singing the proper. That's very important to do, so that the congregation has time to adjust to it.

    And feel free to make larger changes than just one antiphon at one Mass. At our early Mass, we switched to Introit and Communion both by the cantor at the same time. The congregational introit is a new thing for us. However, the changes should be related so that they can be presented as a single change rather than a lot of changes. Have the choir sing the Gregorian Alleluia and Communion. Put the antiphon recto tono before Entrance, Offertory, and Communion hymns. And if you do things in groups it makes the practices seem more acceptable since they're viewed in light of eachother.

    So that's my experience with the matter, and it all seems to work decently.