• mlabelle
    Posts: 46
    One thing I noticed when I started to write a musical setting of the Mass: the "Great Amen" was not set to music in the most famous Mass settings (Palestrina, Victoria, Mozart, Haydn, etc...). Does anyone know when and why setting the Great Amen came into practice?
  • There truly is no such thing as a "great" amen.

    No amen is greater than any other.

    Text from the USCCB Site:

    "Final doxology: By which the glorification of God is expressed and is confirmed and concluded by the people's acclamation, Amen."

    This may help:


    Tuesday, February 19, 2008
    Ditch the "Great Amen"
    by Jeffrey Tucker

    What is the first change that musicians can make at Mass that will have the biggest single impact and also prepare the way for the future? Gavin at the MusicsSacra forum suggests: ditch the Great Amen. Substitute in the plain Amen.

    As he says:

    Nothing in the GIRM, rubrics, or tradition (that I know of) requires the congregation to sing "Amen" more than once at any point in the Mass. Yet today every Catholic pewsitter knows that the IMPORTANT part of the Mass ISN'T the words "This is My Body" but when you have four chords and sing "A-A-MEN, A-A-MEN, A-A-A-MENNNN" and then repeat it. I've even heard catechists say that THAT is the point where the bread becomes the Body. Oh, and the scores for these "Great Amens" always have FFF as the closing dynamic. This HORRIBLY imbalances the Mass!

    So when your priest sings "Through him, with him, in him" to the simple tone, just respond on the same note he used as the reciting tone: "Amen." If he uses the solemn tone (with the slurs on some syllables), respond according to the pitch he ends on "A-me-" and then move up a whole tone "-en." It's all so simple, no one can object to it if it's done routinely, and it makes SUCH a difference in how the Mass is perceived by the congregation.


    This accords with advice we had printed some years ago: see point 9: Simplify that Mystery of Faith and the Great Amen. "The Amen need not be "great" but rather just two notes."

    It's a great first step!

    Posted by Jeffrey Tucker on 19.2.08 -
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  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Mia: the "Amen" at the end of the canon was usually chanted to a simple tone. The current practice is, as near as I can tell, a rip off from the Eastern Orthodox, who believe that the epiclesis (or calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts) is what effects the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. The congregation responds with a threefold "Amen, Amen, Amen" to the prayers of the epiclesis and parts of the institution proper.

    I find the current practice very pastorally negative. I was taught in grade school that the transsubstantiation takes place when the congregation sings the "Great Amen". And this is an easy assumption to make - it's the loudest point in the Mass often.

    Now what to do? Jeff says drop it. I tend to agree, but I think an intermediary step is also appropriate: make it more quiet. Even when I use Mass of Creation, I ditch the "FFF" and maybe at the most play it mezzo-forte. When I was preparing to switch at my last parish, I used the "Danish Amen", as I find it rather reverent. Likewise, on high occasions I didn't have a problem with using a "Great Amen" on Christmas or Easter or other high occasions, because with limited usage something special CAN dress up the liturgy. But as a majority practice, I think it's best to keep the congregational response to the canon somewhat less bombastic and more reserved, lest its importance become over-emphasized.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,196
    Gavin said, "Mia: the "Amen" at the end of the canon was usually chanted to a simple tone. The current practice is, as near as I can tell, a rip off from the Eastern Orthodox, who believe that the epiclesis (or calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts) is what effects the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. The congregation responds with a threefold "Amen, Amen, Amen" to the prayers of the epiclesis and parts of the institution proper."

    Easterners believe this is all a great mystery that we can never fully understand, and that we don't know exactly the moment when the transformation takes place. It's a mystery. The cursed Scholastics, whom Easterners generally detest, overly defined and hair-split on such things. I have heard it half-jokingly said that western Christianity was a wonderful religion until the Scholastics messed it up. The eastern mindset is that these sacred actions are divine knowlege belonging to God, and it would be presumptious for humans to pry into such things. However, I have never really understood how this "Great Amen" came to be so prominent. I suspect that many people in the pews may think that's when the consecration takes place. I have wondered if this was some post Vatican II strategy to emphasize the role of the congregation, rather than that of the priest. Who knows? But as an organist, I have been told on occasion to pull out all the stops for it.
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    Well, if you're a big fan of Parsifal, you can always whip out the "Dresden Amen."

    Side story -- a few years ago I was commissioned to provide some music for a Lutheran ordination service (hey, their money is just as green, right?). Among other pieces, I arranged the Pachelbel organ setting of Ein' feste Burg for the string ensemble. So, after a run-through, one of the musicians turned to her stand partner and said, "so that's what that tune is in Mendelssohn Five."
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I was reading Scott Hahn's book, "Lamb's Supper:the Mass as Heaven on Earth' which I enjoyed a lot, except one part. In his explaining Mass part, at the end of 'Doxology,' he talks about Great Amen (P54) He says'--- Our 'Amen here should be resounding. it is traditionally called "the Great Amen." In the fourth centrury, St. Jerome reported that, in Rome, when the Great Amen was proclaimed, all the pagan temples trembled.----

    I've been advocating a humble Amen with two notes. Is he accurate on his saying of "traditional Great Amen"? Maybe there was something else similar to it?
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    What's the link to -Ditch the "Great Amen"
    by Jeffrey Tucker?
    Thanks
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    The Eastern liturgies typically have an Amen in their version of the anaphora resembling our new-fangled "great amen". These are peppered throughout the prayers, with the congregation occasionally singing "amen! amen!" Some early version of that could have been what Jerome was referring to.

    I see no reason why this means we have to have a huge stage-production "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMENNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111111111!!2!" marked "ffff" with cymbals, brass choirs, descants, and electric guitar riffs. At the EF Masses I attend in this city, the "amen" is often well-sung by all. Nothing prevents people from chiming in loudly and confidently with the chant setting. On the contrary it's easier than trying some ridiculous syncopated settings or forgetting the words in the St. Louis Jesuit Mass. People have to get used to it, but after they do (a couple months) it's the most natural thing in the world and they can give the full consent of faith to the Canon.
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    Mia, take a look at #9 here, as well as this post at the NLM.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    What would happen if the people just sang the simple tone, so closely joined to what the priest sings, that the organist or cantor (or whoever) would not have time to barge in with their own obstreperous and foreign settings?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Ditching the Amen and chanting the memorial acclamation from the Sacramentary has made such a big difference in my parish in only a matter of months.
  • Miabelle, to answer just a small portion of your query, I would respond that liturgical "experts" such as the late Eugene Walsh and others fabricated a sort of Eucharistic Acclamation EEG, to whit:

    The absolutely universal congregational singing of the Sanctus/Holy was a fairly large moment signifying the end of the preface and the sacral unity of heaven and earth Hahn elocutes in his book.

    The Memorial (which such liturgists such as Conry insisted upon naming the Anamnesis) was an intermediary, though necessary, but "lesser" moment to aesthetically "portray" in song.

    The GREAT AMEN was touted by Walsh and others as a pinnacle moment. That gave rise (pardon the pun) to many popular reactions such as "spontaneous rising from kneeling" during its singing, the composition of new "per ipsums" by Duffords and Haugens, the enjoining of the "per ipsum" by the congregation, and the notion that, aha, we now had transubstantiation. That's why there was a bit of a cottage industry, mostly by GIA, in having composers such as Proulx take the Danish, the Peoples, the Dresden Amens and adding faux-Renaissance codas to be sung by the choir only after the people had sung their modest unison melodies.

    This model, or curvature of the Eucharistic Liturgy was widely purported in the seventies and eighties.

    That's how I remember it.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,948
    The "spontaneous rising from kneeling" during the singing of the Amen after the Eucharistic Prayer has been a point of confusion for me. The missal booklets used in churches would put the directive "Stand" next to the Amen instead of consistently after it, so I've had no idea of what the correct practice was, until just now when I looked up the USA Appendix to GIRM 1975 (which I suppose is no longer in force).

    In one aspect, I suppose we shouldn't put too much concern on this particular detail, since the fact that we kneel before the Amen is a US exception to the common Roman rite practice.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I'd like to know how it's done in Rome at the Mass with Pope, 'Great Amen' or 'simple 'Amen'? (Not the volume of the congregation, but the music itself) Anyone know?

    I agree with simple Amen, but there seems to have some logic to Great Amen too. (They can say that they are not saying that the trasubstantiation happens with the Amen, people can say that they are responding to the prayer with enthusiasm after the great moment by saying 'I believe." ) I want to have a good answer to people, including our priest, who asks me why we do simple Amen. To me this is important, if I'm trying to bring back some sacredness to the Liturgy in our church as much as I can.
    Also, the word "Great Amen' is an invention of someone, not by the Church? (I don't find the term Great Amen in GIRM.)
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    The GIRM (2003) says kneel until after the Amen (43).
  • Charles! That is such fascinating history. Where should we look for writings on this? Or is this the sort of thing that comes out at NPM conventions in the 1970s etc. and hence not necessarily written anywhere?

    Incredible rationalism at work here.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    why we do simple Amen

    To express perfected communion. Joined to the chanted prayer of the celebrant, the simple Amen seems indissoluble with it. A sudden and dramatic shift (often to another key!) to a separate set-piece is obviously strongly disjunctive and sends the wrong message. Also, "Great Amen" suggests a difference in degree over other Amens in the Mass. That makes no sense whatsoever.

    That's what I would say, for what it's worth.
  • WGS
    Posts: 233
    In the traditional (EF) Mass, "Amen" is the server's (or choir's or congregation's) response to the words of the celebrant at the "Minor Elevation". So now, in the Novus Ordo (OF) Mass, we have a grand and glorified "Great Amen" response after what used to be called the "Minor Elevation". - all developed by a creative imagination for a non-organic liturgy
  • Well, Jeffrey, I have vague recollections of various experts discoursing in workshops about that specific trajectory during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I still do have the Walsh booklets, but sure as heck am NOT going to likely consult them NOW or evermore, simply because I'm still "at it!" with school and church duties! I think there is a lot at play here- there are rationales for both approaches of singing "amen" as described by others here.
    I'm of the opinion that if you have a singing celebrant whose ear recognizes and enables his voice to render pitch tonality accurately and with relative beauty and surety, that settings of the Sanctus, MA, Amen, etc. in C Major, F major or G minor can be "in concert" with the prefaces and collects of the Sacramentary which are, if I'm right, in what amounts to G dorian. Sanctus bells pitched at either F or G can assist that. Use of a ii-V(7) that are on the heals of a well-chanted preface or collect can provide tonal continuity for modern settings such as the Danish or John Schiavone's "Holy Family" Mass (a highly under-known, under-rated setting from OCP) and even MoC., if that's one's SOP.
    The converse problem is when you have a singing celebrant whose learned the Dufford "per ipsum" ONLY, and your parish practice goes elsewhere tonally, or is a simple, two-tone "amen," which diminishes both the "per ipsum" and "amen's" dignity, IMO.