Typical countryside Sunday Mass before Vatican II?
  • What was sung at a typical Sunday Mass before Vaticsn II in countryside parishes which didn’t have a choir capable if singing the Gregorian propers? I have spoken with people from France, Sweden and Poland who have experienced the Mass before the liturgical reform, and in all cases they report that propers were rarely or never used, but rather vernacular hymns. This sounds to me like a Low Mass with vernacular singing (Deutsche Singmesse). But what confuses me is that everyone I have been talking to also report that Missa de Angelis and Credo I or III were regularly sung and that everyone knew these by heart.

    I thought that the ordinary was not allowed to be sung in Latin in Low Masses and that vernacular hymns were not allowed in High Masses before Vatican II and Inter œcumenici in 1964. If that is correct, how come that Catholics from different European countries who attended Mass in small parishes before Vatican II all report that they were used to both vernacular hymns and Missa de Angelis?
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,929
    I thought that the ordinary was not allowed to be sung in Latin in Low Masses and that vernacular hymns were not allowed in High Masses...

    The problem with asking people is that memories are not very accurate. Also while some diocese did have a German style protestant Mass with vernacular Hymns instead of Propers, other places did not, even in Germany!

    At least in Europe the almost constant upheaval in the Liturgy from say 1911 onwards coupled with pointless wars were no help to having good quality Liturgy!
  • We have the illusion that the Tridentine Rite, in fact all Roman Church teaching, was followed fully to the letter of the law. The reality could not be further from the truth. There have been localized, even micro levels, variations that have made the Roman rules achievable and meaningful to the faithful. The US church was fed a fantasy by well-meaning proponents of the praxis of Catholic Catholicism. From the long view of church history, the Second Vatican Council in all of its documents codified what was always the prevailing practice of the Church. Inculturation has always been normative if often unrecognized. Many historians would say, Church has never been as powerfully centralized as it at this time in history. The Roman Rite has always been a very big tent in which the faithful could find a path that meets their localized or particular tastes

    Missa de Angelis and Credo III are among the most singable options in the chant options. They are repetitive, sequentially developed, sound as in a major key, with it's of repeated scale-based motifs. No wonder they are still "in the ear" of so many.
  • sdtalley3sdtalley3
    Posts: 150
    In Switzerland this is still the case that the Ordinaries are are sung, but in place of the propers are vanacular hymns.
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  • mahrt
    Posts: 514
    I grew up in a country parish in Washington State. We had a small choir, mostly women, which sang traditional hymns from the then standard Catholic hymnals, St. Basil, etc.; what we now call the four-hymn sandwich was alive and well there in the forties and fifties. In my recollection, the congregation never sang anything. Other churches, however, had more ambitious music programs.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CHGiffen
  • I cannot speak from my own Catholic experience which doesn't reach back far enough. But from someone whose experience does (40s-50s, Anglo (not Irish)):
    * Abbey school early 50's: congregation chanted ordinary, no vernacular hymns (or hymn books)
    * Small city parish : no choir, no hymn books, no congregational singing at all
    * Various Catholic parishes, England, late 40's: same
    * Organ music for processions
    * "Hymn-singing was what Protestants did"
    * "idea that congregation might sing Missa de Angelis or Credo seems to date from early 60s after the council"

    Six anecdotal data points.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,652
    My parish (Polish--USA, New England Mill Town) seems, based on a recording released, some anecdotes, and archival evidence, to have typically done a kind of Singmesse, which was common, since the Church in Poland had an indult to replace the Mass Propers with vernacular hymns which was granted during the persecutions during the Partitions (Poland conquered and divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia---religious persecution felt most strongly, of course, in the Protestant and Orthodox-ruled sectors), and came over to the USA by immigrants.

    The (sung) Propers were replaced with devotional hymns or Mass hymns (the priest, of course, recited the text of the Propers normally), but the Ordinary was always sung in full, usually in a 19th century setting, but Haydn and Mozart were sung, too. However, my parish also has some well-worn books of Propers, most in some kind of Falsobordone setting, though some chant books, too, so there were times when hymns did not replace Propers, or not all of the Propers. And the Requiem Mass seems to have only been done in Plainchant, as witnessed by the extremely worn-out 19th century book of pre-Solesmes plainchant for various classes of Requiems, and including the Polish devotions for All Souls' Day--plus a MS addendum in modern notation of the In Paradisum, with rudimentary harmonies: they were definitely singing mensuarally. And from how I remember some of the "Old-Timers" singing plainchant in my childhood in the 1990s when our now pastor-emeritus began implementing RotR before it had a name, they must have sung their chant mensurally until the 1970s when a new pastor came in and swept everything away with a full-on implementation of the Novus Ordo, including adding guitar Masses, etc.. (Of the chant books in the archive, the Solesmes books seem almost unused, while pre-restoration books have been written in, torn, taped, patched, re-bound, etc.)

    Incidentally, the pastor at the time of the Council and its immediate aftermath (Fr. Joseph Szczepaniak) and his immediate predecessor (Msgr. Col. A.A. Skoniecki)--they swapped parishes in the 50s--were the last two holdouts in the Diocese against Mass Versus Populum.
  • Our current church building was finished in 1970 and was built under a traditional priest and even had a communion rail installed (and used!). The stories I hear from our elder choir members (in addition to a reel-to-reel recording that was shared with me) suggests that there was much Latin sung, including the ordinary (not sure quite how long that lasted; certainly up into the 1960’s. Lots of motets. Frankly, I was astounded by the recording that was shared with me. There was a very advanced women’s Schola, and one of the choir members gave me her old copy of the Liber Brevior. So, oddly, for our (what I consider) small town of under 40k, we did have a weirdly thriving music program into the mid 70-80’s. Then NuCherch™ took over. One filing cabinet that I inherited has all sorts of LOVELY stuff in it; most of it is well beyond the capabilities of our current choir and it astounds me that it was the norm then.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,190
    From the 1936 (published 1940) revision of the Westminster Hymnal, in the Preface
    "... the norm of a Catholic hymn is the ancient Office hymn ..."
    "... some of Neale's hymns may be alien to those who have been raised in the atmosphere of the homely Catholic services of the last 50 years, with their loud and draughty singing"
    And in the editors' note
    "some of ... Latin hymns ... might well be sung by the congregation at Mass in place of the customary motet"

    That last is the only indication that any hymn could be considered for Mass. Westminster of course has very few country parishes.
    I think I remember looking at a different edition which said firmly - these hymns are not for use at Mass.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • I'm late to this discussion, in part because I didn't grow up, Catholic or otherwise, in the time before Vatican 2.


    Is there such a thing as a "typical country parish"? If the situation was as grim as the posters here have given evidence that it was, the 'frozen-in-amber', 'golden age' never existed in living memory, so there's not a question of 'turning back the clock', so we can be free to pursue Gregorian chant without worrying or taking seriously the charge of "turning back the clock".

    Can international folks chime in here --- were Polish or German parishes, or Swiss or English parishes similar in the old country to how they presented here, given the down-trodden nature of the expression of the faith among American Catholics in just about any age?
  • madorganist
    Posts: 703
    The Singmesse is still quite common for traditional Masses (SSPX, FSSP, Institute, diocesan, etc.) in the German-speaking world. If it's the full "German High Mass," the congregation and choir (if there is one) doesn't sing anything in Latin except the responses. Everything else is a either paraphrase - not a literal translation - of the Latin ordinary or else a strophic hymn in some way suited to the part of the Mass. The German-Latin hybrid form is also common, where the ordinary is sung in Latin and German hymns - or perhaps instrumental music or motets - are substituted for the proper. The 1955 norms from the Holy Office approve the reverse, namely, the proper in Latin and the ordinary in German paraphrase. That is referred to as "Sung Popular Mass" (Volkschoralamt), but I suspect the practice died out.

    A Mass with a familiar ordinary, familiar hymns, and a competent organist requires considerably less preparation than the full Gregorian proper and, in my opinion, is more musically and spiritually satisfying than psalm-tone chants or other substitutes for the full proper. Such Masses did and do exist! I would add that they were not only a country church phenomenon. They would be common even in cathedrals with great musical traditions for Masses other than the principal parochial Masses. You might find choir, orchestra, and men's schola for one Solemn High Mass on Sundays and holy days and German hymns and organ for the other Sunday Masses and practically all public Masses throughout the week. That model has been carried over into novus ordo practice in parts of Austria and Germany.

    How prevalent were full Gregorian propers before the changes? It's hard to say. I suspect that Sung Masses in smaller churches were uncommon. It's all before my time, but some older Catholics have told me they remember Latin ordinaries, motets, and hymns in the old days, but no "chanting." If the propers were sung poorly, or to psalm tones, or recto tone, maybe they weren't very memorable, but perhaps the recollections are accurate and they were omitted by the choir and simply read by the priest as always. I've also been told that Low Masses were the norm for weddings and funerals. Today the traditional communities always want to impress the novus ordo visitors with their nuptial and Requiem High Masses, but back then, there were none to impress! With all of the recordings and free resources now available, the full Gregorian propers are probably more accessible than ever, even in parishes with the most modest resources.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 398
    What I would do is jump over to the CMAA website and find the Cecilia magazine's and read through the January issue's and you can get a pretty good idea of how the Mass was actually celebrated. Many of these magazines and not just January issues, list mass programs from various parishes for various occasions. These are in my humble opinion, first hand accounts and well worth the effort.
    Thanked by 1madorganist
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,679
    pretty good idea of how the Mass was actually celebrated

    Maybe not.
    There was a lot of self-selecting there. The people who cared enough about music to read and write to the Caecilia were writing about their best Masses, not their typical Masses. At most, you can say that such reports represented the exemplary Masses of the age. The dozens of music directors who didn't belong to the Society (to every one who did) aren't heard from. Consider: when we have a thread like "[liturgical holy day] at your parish", are those Masses at all typical of what goes on in the US? If they are, there's a lot of baseless grousing here, because most of us are doing pretty well.
    Thanked by 2Liam madorganist
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,929
    Can international folks chime in here --- were Polish or German parishes, or Swiss or English parishes similar in the old country to how they presented here,

    In England my research finds many places that sang the Propers, Our parish has a well used set of choral propers, and other local parishes have sets of well used Gregorian chant books. The parish I grew up in still has a 'plainchant' choir that has been running continuously from before the 60's.

    We have also discovered that before the DeReformation it was common for even small parish churches to have Solemn High Masses every Sunday.

    In the churches I sing in Switzerland (German speaking) they have sets of ghastly books published in around 1900 with vernacular hymns arranged in liturgical time order to replace the Propers. These have now been replaced by newly published Hymn books but some places still sing unsuitable hymns instead of the timeless Propers.

    Among the older members the vernacular hymns are popular, mainly due to nostalgia, I have found the same in England. In England we have worked hard to stamp out the practice of singing English Hymns in our churches, and have broken the cycle, for our young people it is no longer normal to sing English Hymns at Mass.

    I find in Switzerland that the younger generations have no particular affection for vernacular hymns, and are more than happy to sing the Propers. We have formed a couple of groups that now sing the Propers every Sunday in Zurich and in some of the other EF Mass centres.

    As a_f_hawkins points out vernacular hymns have no tradition of being used at Mass, and the various editions of English hymn books show a content state of flux in their choice of Vernacular Hymns. While vernacular Hymns were popular in the 1950's onwards I wonder if this was a passing fashion.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 398
    writing about their best Masses

    I would point out that there are some great question and answers discussions answered by Dom Gregory Hugle, O.S.B., that are very interesting to read. And, there are many articles covering the music of the "Low Mass" in several of the magazines. I just think the Cecilia magazine is an often overlooked resource. There is also the "Catholic Choirmaster" magazine but I have never looked through any of these.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 703
    As a_f_hawkins points out vernacular hymns have no tradition of being used at Mass, and the various editions of English hymn books show a content state of flux in their choice of Vernacular Hymns. While vernacular Hymns were popular in the 1950's onwards I wonder if this was a passing fashion.
    @tomjaw, this needs clarification. You stated that "for our young people it is no longer normal to sing English Hymns at Mass," then you talked about Switzerland, and then you quoted @a_f_hawkins, who was talking about urban churches in London. Is the assertion that "vernacular hymns have no tradition of being used at Mass" meant in general, in Switzerland, or in England? Vernacular sequences have been in use at Mass since the 12th century. The Singmesse goes back to the end of the 18th century. Schubert composed his setting almost 200 years ago. Singing hymns is certainly an older way of participating in the Mass than following a word-for-word translation in a hand missal, for example, which was strictly forbidden until 1877. What qualifies as a tradition?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,137
    Papa Pio Nuh-Uh: La tradizione è ciò che mi piace.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,679
    I just think the Cecilia magazine is an often overlooked resource.

    Oh, absolutely, no disagreement there, on any number of fronts.
    Another source for "big masses": the local paper. Starting in about the 1870s, the Cleveland Plain Dealer would cover the music at the principal churches for Christmas and Easter. For a major chunk of the 19th c., the go-to Mass setting was "Mozart's" [Hoffman's] "Twelth Mass." Also, sometimes you'll find diocesan white lists there (I have one from Baltimore ca. 1908)
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 505
    For Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic, check out this recording from 1966. Stick with it long enough for the Slavonic to kick in, after the first litany.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • With all of the hindsight that we now have, we should aim for the best possible approach to liturgy in our present day, rather than looking to some idealized past era for absolute guidance. The resources we have now far surpass any of the past in both quality and accessibility - there's no need to rely on utility music by the Cecilians or Rossini propers any longer. Furthermore, the Church itself hasn't changed.
    Thanked by 2madorganist tomjaw
  • madorganist
    Posts: 703
    The resources we have now far surpass any of the past in both quality and accessibility
    True in the sense I'm sure you meant it, but human resources (as much as I dislike the term) are often spread very thin in TLM communities. Being deprived of the traditional Mass in our territorial parishes doesn't help matters. In the US, I would guess it's not uncommon for people to drive through a dozen or more parishes to get to a traditional Mass. And unlike the "reverent" novus ordos, the TLM is often in a bad part of town. Anyone who lives within walking distance of a TLM nowadays should certainly count his blessings.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 527
    What's interesting in Brazil is that in very rural parishes that still use the traditional rite the congregation's participation and the style and use of music varies quite a bit. There are thriving large and small traditional communities in various regions, some Apostolic Administration, some SSPX, and some diocesan and some 'not-in-Communion-with-anyone' of various sorts.

    In the very rural parishes the weekday (low) Masses are usually celebrated quietly by the priest while the congregation is led in accompanying prayer/hymns in the vernacular by an older man or woman who knows them. On weekends or feasts the organist and choir lead the music, though the format is often similar. In bigger towns or for feasts of the patron saint and similar, where a High Mass can be organized, then there will be Gregorian chant ordinary, propers in the larger churches that have a music director who can do that, plus hymns or motets in Latin, etc. The choirs - even in the very rural communities - are usually quite decent, considering the utter lack of resources.

    The same Masses, said in larger towns or in convents will be more in the "international" style, without the congregational praying outloud/dialogue and so on.

    Music and style aside, these people tend to be extraordinarily pious, reverent and Catholic with a capital C, and keep up a lot of private devotions at home as well as those they celebrate as a community.

    One priest I know commented that in the rural villages the men of the congregation know how to sing the propers of the Requiem, as it is sung so often over the course of their lives. I have only been to one Requiem Mass in such a community, though (rural), and don't recall what was sung, if anything. It might have been without music. I would have remembered if the propers had been sung.
    Thanked by 2madorganist Don9of11