Congregational Singing
  • I play the organ for an EF Mass. The choir director changes the Mass ordinary chant settings frequently so that the congregation is discouraged from trying to sing along. The concern is that the sound of the choir (2-4 individuals) will not blend with congregation and that the pace of the chanting drags with too many trying to sing. I have not encountered this point of view before in my 30 years on the job. Are there any further insights, precedents, traditions, etc. that may help me to understand?
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • The first sin is wishing to suppress congregational singing. This is NOT the intention of Vatican II, whether EF or OF. The next is the notion that choir and congregation cannot sing together and keep the pitch and tempo. One of the several functions of the choir is to lead and support congregational song. This requires sure, strong, and steady singing from the choir and/or organ. These leaders must keep mercilessly to their tempo and pitch. The moment even one chorister breaks ranks and begins to sing with the congregation rather than following the choirmaster there will be chaos. The people follow and sing with - the choir leads and holds its own. This takes discipline and musicianship. The result will be the congregation and choir singing as one voice in worship of God. St Augustine of Hippo would be pleased.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,093
    Keeping the congregation from singing was already disapprobated before VII
    MEDIATOR DEI - ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XII (1947) §105 -
    the they are to be praised who strive [to get] the whole congregation, in accordance with the rules of the liturgy, ... or finally in high Masses when they answer the prayers of the minister of Jesus Christ and also sing the liturgical chant.
    MUSICAE SACRAE - ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XII (1955) §46
    ... pastors should take great care that the faithful from their earliest years should learn at least the easier and more frequently used Gregorian melodies, and should know how to employ them in the sacred liturgical rites, ...
    Summed up in the Instruction of SCR De musica sacra et sacra liturgia - (1958) §25 & 26
    Ordinary of the Mass: Kyrie eleison, Gloria in excelsis Deo, Credo, Sanctus·Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.
    Steps should certainly be taken that the faithful know how to chant these parts of the Ordinary of the Mass, at least in the more simple Gregorian themes. If all these parts cannot be chanted, nothing forbids that the more simple of these, such as the Kyrie eleison, the Sanctus- Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei, be chosen for the faithful to chant while the Gloria in excelsis Deo and the Credo are performed by the choir.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 379
    You and the choir need to keep the pace going and the congregation will follow suit. This is something our MD reminds us of from time to time.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 682
    Unless distancing is strictly enforced in your church, it is not prudent to have any congregational singing at this time. The documents quoted above were not written with epidemics in mind.
  • davido
    Posts: 309
    It’s also not prudent to suspend Sunday mass obligation indefinitely, or to tell Christians not to sing the praises of God.
  • Is there a point at which congregational singing is sufficiently bad that a choir alone should sing at Mass? A lay choir, or professionals?
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • JMJones
    Posts: 27
    If the organist keeps up the tempo, people generally can't get away with falling too far behind the organ... choisters or congregation.

    There was a study that showed that singing doesn't produce much more droplets than speech of a similar volume.
  • I heard about that study also. The issue is that people tend to sing louder than they talk.
    Thanked by 1madorganist
  • Is there a point at which congregational singing is sufficiently bad that a choir alone should sing at Mass? A lay choir, or professionals?


    Only if it's a concert.
  • Is there a point at which congregational singing is sufficiently bad that a choir alone should sing at Mass? A lay choir, or professionals?
    Only if it's a concert.
    I don't see how this follows. If the congregation is performing in a concert, that's what they are doing regardless of how bad they are. The question on this thread is whether congregational singing at Mass should be suppressed on account of poor quality.
  • Only if it's a concert.
    Ha! A clever riposte! But congregations do not ordinarily sing at concerts - unless they are at a Christmastide Messiah singalong or the last night at the Proms.
  • Carol
    Posts: 600
    "...the last night of the Proms." What does this mean?

    Riposte, I love your use of the English language MJO!
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Carol -

    Begun by Sir Henry Wood in the late XIXth century, the Promenade concerts are a series of classical choral, symphonic, chamber, and solo instrument concerts which take place every year in Royal Albert Hall and are attended by thousands. The last night at the Proms is different - it is typically somewhat raucous and will include all the thousands in the audience singing traditional British folk songs, and, to cap it all off, "Rule, Britannia!' - which fills my heart with great glee.

    Many of the Prom concerts may be heard on youtube and include everything from Bach's b-minor mass to the likes of Messiaen. Many of the performers represent the cream of the classical world's artists and ensembles.
    Thanked by 3tomjaw Carol marymezzo
  • Despite being a proud American, I cannot help but smile at hearing "Rule Britannia." Definitely one of the best songs ever written.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,093
    Promenade concerts, because most people stand or walk about.
    800 x 500 - 224K
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,349
    Many of the concerts are also streamed (live and recorded) on BBC radio, and hence can be heard outside the UK.
  • I don't see how this follows. If the congregation is performing in a concert, that's what they are doing regardless of how bad they are. The question on this thread is whether congregational singing at Mass should be suppressed on account of poor quality.


    The only time that the congregation should not sing at Mass is when there is no congregation, ie when there is a concert performance of a Mass, rather than a Mass being celebrated as worship service.
  • To the OP, if the congregation is having issues dragging, perhaps this is where the organ could lend a hand. I'm sure there are those who support organ with chant and those who vehemently oppose it. That's not the argument I want to wage here or encourage in this thread; I simply mean to say that if the congregation is truly grinding things to a near halt, perhaps soft organ could help maintain pitch and tempo; even if the organist only plays the melody on a flute and nothing else.
  • I think we should also remember that the congregation is encouraged to sing the ordinary, not the propers. The director can get plenty of beautiful/artistic chanting in with the schola on the harder propers, which is... proper... to them to sing (no pun intended). Even VII asks every congregation to know simple ordinaries well. Perhaps they simply need to build up a repertoire starting with simpler settings.

    And it takes congregations a very long time to stabilize with any mass setting. Perhaps part of the reason they are [currently] ill-suited chanting is because the practice is never encouraged and the rug is constantly being ripped out. I know many singers slow down when they are trying to laboriously read the notes... perhaps one stable setting, lived with for a good while, will continually improve to the point where dragging no longer becomes an issue.

    It's also possible to get up in front of a congregation and teach them chants before Mass. I've rehearsed my parish on multiple occasions, particularly as we transition to latin settings for Advent and Lent. I go up and sing and conduct them and remind them about the nature of chant and how it is supposed to flow. Many people do not sing for the first few weeks as they listen. Eventually they join in and it's fine. I do keep them on track with an organ, however. I've also used the same setting for advent and lent for two years (ie- four seasons) to help them acclimate. (This is a NO parish that has not done any chanting in decades, however.)

    I also feel compelled to mention "Jubilate Deo" promulgated by Paul VI as a small opus of chant every parish should know to sing. It's very clear, therefore, that the intention is for congregations to be singing.
  • Congregational singing of the Propers is impossible unless you dumb them down to the point of completely destroying the Dialogue/Ordinary/Proper hierarchy that was so carefully and organically crafted. To expect untrained musicians to learn several brand-new melodies and texts weekly, with no real opportunity for organic repetition within the liturgy and some only occurring once every three years, is an unreasonable order even for extremely strong congregations.

    Far better in my eyes to entrust Gregorian Ordinaries (which are far better suited for congregational learning) and hymnody (which arose naturally from the desire for congregational accessibility) to them, and leave the Propers to the choir.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,093
    Schönbergian - Yes, generally except
    SCR Instruction 3 Sep 1958 De musica sacra et sacra liturgia:
    25 c. In the third degree all those present are so proficient in the Gregorian chant that they can also chant the parts of the Proper of the Mass. One must insist above all on this full participation in the chant in religious communities and in seminaries.
  • Obviously in seminaries, but even if they aren't trained musicians they are steeped in the faith and liturgy far more deeply and regularly than the average parishioner, and are (should be, at least) guaranteed decent musical instruction as part of their formation.