Frequently Asked Questions on Sacred Music
  • This is something that everyone should read first.

    I wonder if we need an html version on the site from a main area, such as About.
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    YES, definitely. Both to establish a sort of baseline and to entice folks to explore further.
  • This is outstanding. I have been trying to find well-written, concise answers to so many of these questions, and here's they are!

    I fully intend to purchase copies of this for our liturgy staff, as some of them are a little stuck in the "everything before Vatican II is outdated, backward and no longer useful to the Church" mindset.

    Thank you, Jeffrey!
    Thanked by 1Matilda
  • mantoniomantonio
    Posts: 22
    Excellent! Thanks a million! Nothing like a little objectivity to guide us through so much confusion.
  • Thank you for posting this. I only have to question, however, how our normal everyday choirs of untrained voices can truly understand. Recently I had a big argument with a parishioner (who has since left my parish) over the use of the word "sacred". While this information would be wonderful, I don't think he would understand most of it. Most non-musicians have no idea what polyphony is or have any idea of composers such as Palestrina (whom I totally love). My parish only recently (the past 9 months) gone from folksy masses to organ-only and have rebelled against hymnody, let alone Gregorian Chant, saying, "anything that is sung for the glory of the Lord is sacred, no matter what the genre". Is there anything else out there that can ease the transition of mindsets over to the true sacred form of music as outlined?
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,405
    This is what I did; it's not perfect, but it has helped ease the transition. Instead of using the propers, we used Taize. Many of their chants are taken from scripture and can be matched to the propers. People think Taize is cool. Then take a simple tone, even something from the SEP, and put those verses in between the Taize refrains. It actually works pretty well. Then, slowly introduce the proper refrains. You can do this very gradually, here and there. Also, take some of the gregorian hymns that are simple Adorate, or Rorate, and use those as simple refrains during the appropriate season and add the verses again. God bless and know that you are not alone.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,847
    Adoremus published a thorough series about the Church's teaching on sacred music as it developed over the past 100 years.
  • It's interesting to me, that Vatican II advocated more active participation in the mass by the people, yet so many post-Vatican musicians enjoy doing "concert style" masses and have people applauding at the end. Surely, this is NOT what Musica Sacram intended, yet it seems to be the defense with which many faithful use in discussing the use of contemporary music in worship.
  • Personally, I don't know if I've ever seen a "concert style" Mass, except when it is pre-Vatican II music (e.g., Mozart's Requiem), and even then almost always in the setting of the TLM. Are you talking about parishes that use the modern form of the Mass, but replace things like the responsorial psalm, the Sanctus, or the Agnus Dei with contemporary yet non-participational choral or solo pieces? I've never seen such a thing. At, for example, St. John Cantius here in Chicago they like to pretend that the OF is the EF, and so there is no participational singing (and disapproving glares if you were to try to chant along with Mass VIII or Credo III), but that certainly cannot be attributed to any sort of "post-Vatican" mentality. What are you referring to?
  • I am referring to masses where there is elaborate Praise and Worship type prelude music by the choir, and lengthy communion meditation hymns, or responsorial psalms that are paraphrased with many verses. Also, recessional hymns that have numerous verses and continue on LONG after the priest and servers have gone back down the aisle. Our former DM continue to play the recessional at EVERY mass until the people began to applaud. Only then would she stop.





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  • Oh. But all those things are not part of the Mass. As people like our esteemed Jeffrey often remind us, hymns, preludes, meditations, anthems, and the like are not actual parts of the rite. Therefore, the fact that people cannot participate in them (even setting aside the but-listening-is-participation theory) has no bearing on whether they are participating in the Mass as such. To the contrary, what the Council and the subsequent reform had in mind was (1) for people to be able to participate in the parts of the Mass, so that they could join in things like the Gloria and Pater Noster, and (2) for these sung congregational parts to be integral parts of the Mass, rather than a mere para-liturgy sung by the nave-dwellers while the priest in his sanctuary, who has already said the "real" liturgical parts under his breath, moves on to other things and/or sits down to twiddle his thumbs and wait (as he would do during a choral Gloria or Credo in the old form).

    At any rate, I'm not sure why a long recessional hymn would be "concert style," not can I tell what any of this has to do with Musicam Sacram -- which does not, if memory serves, object in any way to preludes, postludes, or motets at the appropriate times.
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  • It's "concert style" to the effect that is solicits applause. It's also concert style when the use of drums, guitars, tambourines, etc., take over the music and get in the way of the text. People stop singing to hear the amazing drum solo in the middle (which was a normal part of our recessionals with our former DM). Our former communion hymns were gorgeous compositions with beautiful interludes for flutes and other instruments. But the people stopped praying and reflecting on Eucharist and began listening to the music and even applauding at its conclusion.

    I agree with your thoughts that Musicam Sacram and it's subsequent reforms, were meant for the parts of the mass. But, again, some settings are so elaborate that the people stop singing to listen to the choir. But, that's only my opinion and not meant to start an argument. Settings like Missa Simplex, for example, or the ICEL chants, are easy to sing and are not elaborate musical compositions that appeal to the senses.
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  • I just want everybody to understand that I am an advocate of Vatican II and feel some of the reforms were major improvements in the faithful's participation in the mass, and, therefore, in their own journeys. However, with anything in life, some people can take it a little too far. While Musicam Sacram called for the more active participation of the faithful in the mass (through mass parts), it also opened the door for too much freedom in how to get the faithful participating. Too many composers went the way of Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act" by writing music that would "get butts in the seats". As a result, the music often became showy and full of "bells and whistles". But, again, it's only an opinion.
  • MairiMairi
    Posts: 19
    I have question, and forgive me for my stupidity, but is it permissible to use one section of a a piece with 2 parts for a postlude? (Ex, Prelude, Fugue, Chaconne by Buxtehude- Could I use just the prelude?) Thank you!
  • I have question, and forgive me for my stupidity, but is it permissible to use one section of a a piece with 2 parts for a postlude? (Ex, Prelude, Fugue, Chaconne by Buxtehude- Could I use just the prelude?) Thank you!

    I think that's absolutely permissible, and it's done all the time. Just the fugue of a Bach Prelude & Fugue, for instance, or the Prelude before Mass and the Fugue after. I'm sure Buxtehude himself did such things, and so may you! No stupidity involved. :)
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    "At, for example, St. John Cantius here in Chicago they like to pretend that the OF is the EF, and so there is no participational singing (and disapproving glares if you were to try to chant along with Mass VIII or Credo III),"


    I'm surprised to read this, that was never my experience at the sung OF Mass at St.JC, (or at the EF for that matter.)
    Not that many in the congregation did sing, but I never felt opproprium for singing the parts I knew.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Mairi, what you might consider is splitting it up. Play a Prelude before Mass, and the Fugue after Mass. Or, in the case of the Buxtehude, perhaps to the end of the fugue as a prelude, then the manualiter "interlude" and the Chaconne for postlude.

    I myself have started doing an entire Prelude and Fugue for either prelude or postlude. I find it much more satisfying, and my congregation really seems to enjoy it.

    For Catholics especially, there is NO, and I mean zip/nada/keine, regulation on what can be done outside of "in nomine..." and "Deo gratias". You can play Bach, you can play polka, you can juggle and smoke cigars. The only rules are those which apply during the Mass - though one should certainly be bound by good taste and liturgical principle!!
  • MairiMairi
    Posts: 19
    Thank you!
  • I'm surprised to read this, that was never my experience at the sung OF Mass at St.JC, (or at the EF for that matter.)
    Not that many in the congregation did sing, but I never felt opproprium for singing the parts I knew.

    Indeed, once I saw someone who was singing the Credo in a moderate voice literally get tapped on the shoulder and asked to stop. Mostly, though, I just hear whispering and murmuring from the people around -- these are all people who know the Credo, but do not dare to sing it out loud.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    This is, indeed, unfortunate - and seeminly only in the USA. On my recent visit to the UK, Catholics regularly join in on Credo I ( yes, I, not III!) with only text in their worship aids. But don't we always seem to have the two extremes in the US - those who insist on EVERYTHING being song by the congregation to those who insist that we should all listen to the choir at all times. We've been 40 years in the desert battling amongst ourselves! Let's find a middle road.
    Thanked by 1SBCpianoman
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    I say 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do.' If you're in a church where no one is singing, then don't go and try to prove a point that you have a "right" to sing. But if you're in a church where the custom is to sing, then go ahead!
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  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    Another suggestion which may help:

    Print mass leaflets each week. Don't just give the words of the Hymn, but print the Melody Lines, supply the music line for the Responsorial Psalm, the Alleluia, and for the Ordinary, especially if you are using the chant ordinary. The ICEL Chant is really about as simple as it gets without going recto tono.

    It may even help if you supply the Our Father in Chant notation. Eventually people will familiarise themselves with it and understand it.

    I have managed to fit just about everything necessary for mass onto a leafelet made of a single A4 sheet. If you want to include a couple more hymns, the our father, and all the readings, as well as include the entire chant ordinary of the mass, it can be done on two A4 sheets, folded in half and stapled, or an A3 sheet made up as a tri-fold leaflet.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,847
    The Sacred Music FAQ is now on-line.
    Thanked by 1Matilda