WHY sing the Propers of the Mass?
  • My pastor and I are excited to (slowly) implement the sung Propers into the Liturgy. I have a good idea of HOW to accomplish this (thanks in large part to the ideas I've found on this forum) and I've bought into the WHY, but I'd love some specific ideas about how people have gotten their congregation to buy into singing the Propers.

    Are you putting info in the bulletin? speaking from the pulpit? having pastors speak about it during homilies?

    **But especially what I'd love help on is:**

    What would be a few bullet points of what you want your congregation to know about why it's preferable to sing the Propers? How have you gotten your own parishes to love the idea of singing the Propers at the Mass? (besides just doing them really well)

  • 1. The Propers are actually part of the Mass, as opposed to the popular hymns currently sung.

    2. The Propers are almost 100% Scriptural, and always relate to the liturgy for the day.

    3. The Propers are chosen by the Church, so they do not represent the desired weekly choices of the pastor, music director, nor anyone else in the parish.

    If I think of more, I'll add them.
    Thanked by 1BeckyD
  • Because they are an integral part of the mass - they are not 'add ons'.

    For the same reason that one sings Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei - the mass would be incomplete without Introit, Gradual or Psalm, Alleluya, Offertory, and Communion chants.

    They are (most of the time) scriptural and provide textual depth to the celebration.

    They are beautiful: whether sung to English or Latin chant, or to choral treatment, they grace the mass with both textual and musical beauty.

    Too, they provide choral or cantoral interest and contrast to congregational song. They are inherent to the dramatic rhythm of the mass.

    A more intelligent question all should be asking themselves, priests, musicians, and everyone else, is 'why on earth are we not singing the propers'. Isn't it bizarre that we are actually searching for reasons to sing them? As if a reason for singing an integral part of the mass needed to be found.

    Maybe more later.

    Thanked by 2CHGiffen BeckyD
  • Hymns were part of the prayer at the LIturgy of the Hours, and not part of the music at Mass.

    They lengthen the time spent at Mass for no reason, even expecting people to stay standing after the Mass is over.

    The propers are songs that are composed to fill the exact time of the processions and that's all. Their words are part of the words of the Mass that Mass that day, abandoned for non-liturgical texts of hymns, some of which are not Catholic.
    Thanked by 1BeckyD
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,181
    From a practical perspective, I would rather let the choir sing the Propers and the congregation sing the Mass Ordinary most of the time.

    The Propers change every Sunday, and the choir has practice time to learn new material weekly, but the congregation doesn't.

  • Because it's OPTION #1 and that means being closer to the ideal.
    Because it gives the choir some faithful to edify.
    Because the Propers are official parts of the Mass. Their texts may change, but their function does not. They are part of the fabric of the theme for that day's Mass. Sometimes a particular section of a psalm is repeated two or three times throughout a Mass, emphasizing a particular point that day.
    Thanked by 1BeckyD
  • MJO, I agree. Can one imagine picking different readings, paraphrasing the Gospel or using a poem instead? Using chips and dip (intinction!) for Communion? Skipping the beloved Prayer of the Faithful on Sunday?

    Why replace the Propers before even giving them a chance and getting to know them?
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    We did a series of pre-mass videos based on the sage teaching of our Bishop, and published his articles in the bulletin.


    The clergy were unfortunately loathe to speak on the topic from the ambo, but had no qualms with speaking to the PIPs after mass if there were questions or objections.

    Although no longer at that parish, I can have a little humble-brag about the fact that we were able to introduce all the propers over the course of 2 years (which they continue to this day).

    A little education goes a long way, and I had many parishioners who were very vocal about their gratefulness for sacred music and the mass being celebrated as it ought to be.


    The way it happens is obviously different for each parish dynamic. The process we went through was:

    -Chanted responsorial psalm ... no more R&A
    (Sit with that for a few months)

    -Simple communion antiphon
    (Sit with that for a few months)

    -Hymn tune introits by Kathy Pluth
    (Sit with that for a few months)

    -Chanted entrance antiphon
    (Sit with that for a few months)

    -Offertory antiphon

    The end result was a parish that understood that the mass has particular texts throughout, not just from the lectionary, but also the priest's prayers from the missal and the choir's prayers from the graduale.
  • These are great thoughts. Thank you all.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,577
    Each Mass has a formulary.
    Medicines have a formulary.


    Change the chemicals and get a different drug.
  • Most of the comments here relate to why to include the Propers, not why to sing them.

    We don't(*) sing the substantial pieces of scripture (1st reading, 2nd reading. Gospel reading), so why should we sing the snippets of scripture that are inserted at other places to "cover" the length of processions?

    Singing the Ordinary makes sense: it's made up of pieces which are repeated every time, so people do get to learn it over time, and which have an inherent musicality. The Propers are pieces of poetry, for sure, but with a different rhythm and melody each week. A nightmare for anyone but people trained to sight-sing, or choir members.

    Why not just say the Proper together?

    (*) I know some are of the opinion that we should be chanting the readings also. But I've not seen it recommended in any mainsteam Catholic sources.
  • No one has suggested that singing the propers was the purview of any but cantors or choir.
    They aren't.

    As is pointed out, in most places the lectionary is not sung. That is not to say that it shouldn't be. It should. I shouldn't want my parameters to be defined by whatever is meant by 'mainstream'.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640


    87. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Communion chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song chosen in accordance with No. 86 above. This is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or cantor with the people. If there is no singing, however, the Communion antiphon found in the Missal may be recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector. Otherwise the priest himself says it after he has received Communion and before he distributes Communion to the faithful.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • The Propers are pieces of poetry, for sure, but with a different rhythm and melody each week. A nightmare for anyone but people trained to sight-sing, or choir members.

    I'm not sure I see your point - the propers aren't meant to be sung by anyone except trained singers.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • ...pieces of poetry...

    Actually, except in rare instances, they are prose.
  • Pax Melodius,

    Of course the Epistle and Gospel should be chanted: clerics should lead by example. If we want the congregation to sing, clerics should sing the part(s) proper to them.
  • Of course the Epistle and Gospel...

    Not to mention the Old Testament Lesson!
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    PaxMelodious: Why sing the propers? Because they are pieces of music. The texts of the propers appear in the Missal for the benefit of the priest to recite them at Low Mass. To say that the propers shouldn't be sung because they appear without note in the Missal is like saying that Don Giovanni shouldn't be sung because the text appears without note in the libretto. The propers are of their essence music, not simply text. In older Missals (including the previous Sacramentary) the ordinary appears without note, too -- should that not be sung?

    Also, the non-musical liturgical recitation of scripture, in both Christian and Jewish contexts, is a recent phenomenon : The tradition had always been to chant the texts during liturgy.
  • The chant is what the church gives us to sing.

    The church gives us a 12-minute tract (Qui habitat) for the first Sunday of Lent?

    Well, shortening the musical setting diminishes the effect which the church intends thereby.

    The propers sung in their Gregorian chant have distinctly different musical structures, according to their different kinds. Thus, for example, you would never sing a communion antiphon at offertory, even if they should happen to have the same text (Scapulis suis).

    I would avoid saying that the propers follow a certain textual "theme". Rather, since the propers are what is to be sung, the "theme", if there is any discernible, proceeds as much from them as from the other variable parts of the Mass, and indeed of the day, etc. Thus, it is not something to worry about if no tidy "theme" is readily apparent.
    Thanked by 1CharlesSA
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    In practice, the mass has become more and more Protestantized over the years since the council. Now, preaching dominates. We have to listen to Father's extended cleverness then rush through the canon because, as you know, Father has something very important to say. The masses are scheduled so close together in many places, that the parking lot has to be emptied at a certain time to provide spaces for the next mass. God forbid mass should extend past an hour or the congregation either gets restless or starts slipping out. I have heard the logic behind not singing even the Ordinary because it takes more time. Such is the state of many parishes.
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    The parking lot timing issue predates the Council in the then new suburban sprawl parishes. It got hard wired in many places to survive long past the need.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    Yeah, I know. We are a downtown parish that lacked parking for years. Luckily, we were able to pick up some adjacent properties that came on the market. We now have enough parking and don't have that problem.
  • One thing not specifically pointed out so far, is that when we hear singing from GR we are, particularly at the greater feasts using the songs (ie text & music) which have been used by the Roman Church for well over a thousand years on these occasions. Uniting ourselves with what was done (or heard) by Ss Thomas Aquinas, Bernard, Ignatius, Hildegard of Bingen, Theresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, ... .
  • So most people on this thread are in agreement that the Propers should be sung only by the trained musicians? Would that mean most would also agree that they should be chanted, rather than in settings with a meter?

    Trying to figure out what is ideal and then what is actually possible in my small parish. I am the only person who can accompany and we have about 5 musicians who are moderately "trained." How are these things to be implemented in a small church with very few musicians? Weekly practice with these few people is not feasible. Our choir sings monthly, and our musicians have varied degrees of talent. I can only teach so much in our 1 1/2 hour practices every other month. It all seems a bit overwhelming and I'm just struggling with how to move forward.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    Do what you can with materials that work for you. Don't worry so much about what anyone else is doing.
  • Yes. Perfect advice.
  • The GR needs a trained choir, but the Vatican II bishops therefor asked for easier alternatives. GS supplies that, and there are various translations, such as 'By Flowing Waters'. And then GIRM87 lists a whole lot of other possibilities, of which "another suitable song" is the least desireable, and presumably what you want to move away from. The antiphon texts in the Missal were intended, in part, to provide material for the development of vernacular 'propers', and some members of this forum have produced metrical collections in English. The entrance, offertory, and communion, each provide very different possibilites, particularly in duration of the processions which they are intended to accompany, depending very much on the size and design of the church, and the numbers in the congregation. Also the congregation is not in the pews during communion, so cannot be looking at a text.
    In our small parish, where I have no say in the matter, I would start with Communion, introducing one of the things that can always be sung, such as Ps33/34. The congregation can sing a simple antiphon 'Taste and see ...' and the choir supply the verses. Since this works in the same way as the psalm between the readings, the congregation should understand what is going on. (How you get the choir to communion also depends on the design of the church).
    A complete listing of all the possible processional propers in English can be downloaded here (but just texts not music), including the Common or Seasonal psalms (and see page v. of the Intro).
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I happened across the Introit from the EWTN conventual Mass yesterday. I think the cantor was likely chanting the LCM Proper, responsorial style. It was obvious that the "congregation's participation" was decidedly muted by comparison to occasions when a known traditional hymn was opted for. What made that even more obvious was that the "amen" to the "In Nomine..." was full-voiced. Conclusion?
    Maybe-don't reach a conclusion is best. All things are cultural, even in counter-cultures. But the wisdom of Musicam Sacram shines through magnificently: the responses will be (automatically) taken up fully if the celebrant (and his assistants) initiates them confidently.
    One could say, "The cantor was eminently confident and capable, but did not elicit an FCAP response, your premise fails." Well, re-singing the antiphon is responsorial, but NOT a response. A Proper melody, whether from the GR or SEP, requires deliberation rather than simple, elegant repetition. Should the laity, save the quire, be conscripted to recall a melody and text upon first hearing? We don't even require that of choir auditioners in tonal memory exercizes.
    As I, your ever humble correspondent, have maintained, options need to be considered for their relative success in each ritual moment. Even afh's maxim that "another suitable song is least desirable" fails in that suitable/aptus remains undefined within the option itself. Of course, we're in the domain of the theoretical now. Closer to home, isn't it possible that a Tietze or Pluth metrical setting may be more apt towards a conventional measure of success than one of a Ford, Bartlett, PnB, Weber/Kelly vehicle on any given day with given circumstances? On the contrary, is it not possible that the Propers for Sept. 9, in 2017 may not enjoy any efficacy of purpose in a ravaged Brouward County in Florida post-Irma save for the premise "Well, this is how the Church always has done this day!"
    The tension between either/or and both/and is a false dichotomy and not to be bridged by uninformed arbiters. Think people, think.
  • It seems to me that in your described situation the easiest, very easiest, solution would be the Anglican Use Gradual. The AUG is an English version of the texts in the Graduale Romanum. These texts are set to very simple-but-very-nice psalm tones and could easily be learnt by the people and time you have described.

    One should point out that the English is traditional 'Elizabethan' Anglican English. If you like this there is no problem. If you prefer modern usage it is no problem at all to substitute modern usage pronouns for the historic ones.

    I believe that the AUG is accessible 'on line', so you can easily assess its suitability for your needs. I doubt that you can find a better solution for your situation as you have described it. These settings can be learnt and sung with confidence in the time you have said that your people have.

    The AUG includes Introit, Gradual, Alleluya, Offertory, and Communion for every Sunday and major feast. It is a complete gradual.

    A step up musically would be Adam Bartlett's very easy Simple English Propers. These are simple chants that Adam has composed and are very easy to learn. I would commend this for your consideration as well as the AUG. The drawback of the SEP is that the graduals and alleluyas are not provided, only introits, offertories, and communions, so you haven't a complete set of propers for each Sunday. Of course, you likely sing the psalm responsorialy, so do not necessarily need the proper gradual, but, there ARE proper alleluya verses that should be sung that are different from the ones in the lectionary. This would be another advantage of using the AUG, which gives you all the texts as found in the Graduale Romanum - ALL the propers.

    To answer a question which you asked: the propers have historically been sung to 'Gregorian' chant, but choral settings of them are not uncommon. Too, some sing them to Anglican chant.

    Again, propers are historically the sole domain of choirs or cantors. In whatever musical guise they are presented they are not congregational song. To make congregational song out of them is a perversion of their historic ritual form and role.

    Thanked by 2CHGiffen BeckyD
  • TCJ
    Posts: 977
    I started out the choir singing square notes by doing simple chants (psalm tones) with organ accompaniment. After some time time, they were comfortable singing those without organ accompaniment. Now when we sing the Offertory, we still do the simple chants quite often, but I pick out the easier of the "difficult" ones well ahead of time so that we have four or five weeks to prepare it. It is not ideal, but it is a start. The choir is so much better at singing Gregorian chant now than they were a couple years ago.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Should the laity, save the quire, be conscripted to recall a melody and text upon first hearing?
    No, IMHO. At one of the Masses at Westminster, by printing a simple entrance antiphon with notes, the cantor gets a modest response, at least as judged from about one tenth of the way from the front (I doubt it sounds well at the back, but am too selfish to find out). And that is despite a congregation with only a small proportion of regulars.
    I'm fine with Pluth or Tietze, I would think of them as metrical settings of the propers (option 3) rather than alius cantus.
    Thanked by 1BeckyD
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,181
    I know some are of the opinion that we should be chanting the readings also. But I've not seen it recommended in any mainstream Catholic sources.

    The Roman Missal Third Edition, pp. 1427ff. has the melodic formulas, and it's mainstream enough.