Music Notes-- Sacred Music and the Mass

Notes about Sacred Music and the Mass at Saint Elizabeth and in General

Matthew Mellon, interim Music Coordinator

June 29, 2020 (on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul)

Several parishioners have expressed concerns, questions or complaints to me about Mass and specifically liturgical music and language, and as I offer explanations, often they request better communication about these matters. I have put together a few notes to answer some of these concerns.

Saint Elizabeth (or my last parish) did not have Latin Mass in the past. Why must we do so now?

I have been a member of the church choir at Saint Elizabeth since 1999, and have sung well over 1000 Masses in that time. I would firstly point out that for almost all of those 21 years, with the exception of a few years when Fr. Mulligan was assigned here, we have sung Mass XVIII during Lent, which is a simple Latin setting. We’ve also used it during Advent in recent years. All Masses in the Roman Catholic Church, whether celebrated according to the contemporary edition of the Missale Romanum or an ancient edition, are Latin Masses. However, the regulations on what in the Mass may be said or sung in vernacular language (e.g. English or Spanish) are very different according to which form is used.

So, what forms of Mass are there?

A very abbreviated history…

The first Mass, of course, was the Last Supper, presided over by Christ in the presence of the original twelve apostles. 

There are many “particular Catholic churches” within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and each particular church has its “rite” – that is, a set of rituals for worshipping God and celebrating His sacraments. The rituals used to offer the Holy Sacrifice are generally called Mass (Missa) in the West or Divine Liturgy (Θεία Λειτουργία) in the East. The rites evolved from the ceremonies used by the apostles in the very beginnings of the Church. Our diocesan church, the Church of Charlotte, is part of the Roman Catholic Church, and we use the Roman Rite. The Roman Rite evolved in and around Rome in the very first centuries of the Church. Fr. Fortescue wrote in his classic 1912 book Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described:

Essentially the Missal of Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary; that again is formed from the Gelasian book, which depends on the Leonine collection. We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatise de Sacramentis and allusions to it in the 4th century. So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our inquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours.

The Roman churches replaced most of the Greek in the Mass with Latin in the 3rd or 4th Centuries. There is still some Greek in the Mass today, including the Kyrie eleison and the Trisagion hymn on Good Friday.

Other ancient Divine Liturgies which evolved from the earliest rituals include the 4th Century Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the 5th Century Divine Liturgy of St. Basil. Our Roman Mass might fairly be called the Divine Liturgy of Pope St. Gregory I, who, as pope, made changes to the Mass which you would find quite familiar today, like the praying of the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Kyrie eleison being sung before the Gloria. At the time Gregory reigned as pope, the Great Schism hadn’t yet occurred, and he authored the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts used in the Byzantine Rite still today, corresponding to our own Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. The Eastern traditions use other sacred languages for their rites, including Greek and Aramaic.

The Roman Rite underwent only minor, gradual, “organic” changes until the 20th Century. During that time, however, other Latin rites emerged, and by the 16th Century, the picture was a little bit of a mess. Pope St. Pius V suppressed any Latin rites not at least 200 years old in 1570, and promulgated a standardized Missale Romanum (Roman Missal). There are still a few places in the world using their own Latin rites – for example, you might find the Ambrosian Rite Mass said on a Sunday in the cathedral in Milan, Italy, or the Mozarabic Rite Mass said in Toledo, Spain. Some religious orders (for example, the Dominican friars) also have their own rites.

In those churches which use the Roman Rite today, there are three forms, only two of which are permitted in our diocese. These are the Anglican Use, the Ordinary Form, and the Extraordinary Form. The Anglican Use

is permitted only in Anglican Ordinariate parishes, which are established for the faithful who seek reconciliation with Rome but wish to retain elements of the liturgical patrimony from the churches descended from the English Reformation. The Ordinary Form is the form documented in the Missale Romanum promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, last revised by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002 and emended by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. The Extraordinary Form is the form documented in the Missale Romanum promulgated by Pope St. Pius V in 1570 and last revised by Pope St. John XXIII in 1962.

The Extraordinary Form (“E.F.”) Mass is commonly also referred to as the Usus Antiquior, the Traditional Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass. The Ordinary Form (“O.F.”) Mass is commonly referred to as the Novus Ordo (new order) or Vatican II Mass. Although some people call the E.F. Mass the “Latin Mass” and the O.F. Mass the “English” or “Spanish” Mass, these are ambiguous and inaccurate ways to describe the Mass.

So, why do we have a Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Elizabeth? Many people point out that we didn’t have this in the past, or that it isn’t offered at some other parish’s church. 

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio entitled Summorum Pontificum which effectively guarantees the offering of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form if a “stable” group of the faithful requests it within a parish:

In parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their requests to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal.  He should ensure that the good of these members of the faithful is harmonized with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the governance of the bishop in accordance with Canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.

--Summorum Pontificum, Art. 5, §1

The document goes on to say that if the pastor doesn’t accede to the request, that these faithful are to go to their bishop for assistance, and then on to Rome. The pope did not explicitly state the number of people required to constitute a “stably existent” group, but, the general consensus is that three is sufficient.

Extraordinary Form Mass was first offered, only as a “low” (spoken, and without the assistance of a deacon or subdeacon) Mass and only on weekdays, by Father Codd in 2019 after parishioners had made the request in accordance with Summorum Pontificum. Father Codd was not accustomed to saying Mass in the

Extraordinary Form and had to devote significant time to its study prior to fulfilling the request. I think this is important to note because some parishioners have the impression that the Extraordinary Form was imposed on our parish by the clergy. In actuality, the Extraordinary Form was imposed on our clergy by the parishioners. We now have a pastor comfortable with the Extraordinary Form and willing singers that make it possible to have sung Mass (Missa cantata, sometimes called “High” Mass without a deacon or subdeacon) in the Extraordinary Form on Sundays, which is the ideal for a parish having only one priest and no other clergy.

Benedict XVI isn’t the pope anymore. Does Summorum Pontificum still matter?

Pope Francis has not rescinded or superseded Summorum Pontificum, and I dare speculate that he is not likely to do so, especially given how recently it was published. Although he clearly prefers the Ordinary Form, rescinding Summorum Pontificum would alienate many of the faithful and possibly cause a new schism within the church.

Why is the 11 AM Sunday Mass now in the Extraordinary Form?

The pastor is obliged by Summorum Pontificum to balance the care of those who are attached to the Extraordinary Form with the ordinary care of the parish. Due to our parish having only one priest, this is surely difficult. Approximately one-third of the Mass-going faithful of the parish is presently choosing, of their own free will, to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Many of these are working folks, and many have school-aged children. Confining the celebration of the Extraordinary Form to weekdays would simply not satisfy the intent of Summorum Pontificum, because many of these faithful would not be able to take advantage of a weekday Mass. Due to the constraints of canon law, the priest can offer up to four Masses which would satisfy our Sunday obligation to assist at Mass: one anticipatory Mass, which must be said in the Ordinary Form, on Saturday evening, and three Masses on Sunday itself. There is need in our parish for at least one of the Masses to have a homily in Spanish. More of the faithful at Extraordinary Form Mass speak English as a first language than Spanish. With the Extraordinary Form being the most-attended Englishhomily Mass, this leads naturally to the arrangement of the early Sunday morning Mass being Ordinary Form with English homily and the late-morning Mass being Extraordinary Form with English homily, followed by an early-afternoon Ordinary Form Mass with Spanish homily.

This arrangement could change if circumstances change, or if Father, in exercising his prudential judgement, sees that another arrangement would be more beneficial to the parish. Mass is not currently offered at the Church of the Epiphany. The architecture of the Church of the Epiphany does not lend itself to the social distancing which is prudently necessitated during the pandemic. If Mass were to be offered at Church of the Epiphany, assistance would be needed from an additional priest or a Mass at Saint Elizabeth would need to be discontinued.

Why do we sometimes sing Latin in the Ordinary Form Mass?

There is a misconception that the Ordinary Form Mass is an “English” Mass or a “Spanish” Mass. That is not so. The Ordinary Form Mass is a Latin Mass; however, a broader use of the vernacular is permitted than in the Extraordinary Form. The permission to use a vernacular language is not without limits. 

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the very document which permitted a broader use of vernacular in the Mass, says:

In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless, steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

– Sacrosanctum Concilium, 54 (emphasis added)

While not precluding other forms of sacred music, it requires that we do use some Gregorian Chant:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

– Sacrosanctum Concilium, 116

The implementation of this requirement is documented in the instruction Musicam Sacram:

Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular "the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."

– Musicam Sacram, 47

Once again, I would like to point out that this is not an imposition of Father Codd or Father Buckler on our parish. Pastors are obliged by the Second Vatican Council itself to ensure that you are able to chant the parts of the Mass which are the same from week to week (the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) in Latin (and of course, implicitly, the Kyrie eleison in Greek). Having sung continuously in the choir and as a cantor for the last 21 years in our parish, with the exception of a few years under Father Mulligan, we have sung the ordinary of the Mass using Mass XVIII in Latin during Lent, and in recent years, Advent as well, with the exception of the Credo. Limiting the use of Latin in the ordinary to Advent and Lent doesn’t really fulfill the intent of the instruction, though, because then the Gloria is excluded, which is one of the reasons I have continued to use, with permission from the pastor, Mass VIII this year during Easter and Ordinary Time.

What about me? I don’t want to attend the Extraordinary Form Mass.

There are three Ordinary Form Masses each weekend which satisfy your obligation to assist at Mass (when it is in effect; this is temporarily suspended by an edict of our bishop during the pandemic, but I strongly encourage you exercise prudent judgement and to go to Confession and Mass if you determine that it is appropriate, given your particular risk, to do so).

It is not possible for the pastor to accommodate every individual’s desire to have Mass offered in a particular way at a particular time. I assure you that our priests are working themselves to death for the salvation of our souls; please respect this reality and pray that God will raise up more faithful priests from our church so that His sacraments might be more widely accessible to the faithful in all places.

What if I don’t want to hear a single word of Latin at Mass?

Given the extant instructions which govern the liturgy, it is not possible (or even otherwise desirable, for that matter) for me as a cantor or for Father as your pastor to promise you that we won’t be singing at least some Latin during any particular celebration of the Mass. We are required to ensure that you know the ordinary in Latin, and that we give pride of place to Gregorian chant in the liturgy.

But… Father X or Music Director Y didn’t make us do that.

I suggest you ask your former celebrant or music director why that is the case. Sometimes exceptions are made to the norms out of extreme necessity. Bear in mind that regulations regarding the Mass have evolved over the last couple of decades, with the issuance of a new typical edition of the Missale Romanum, a corresponding new General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the issuance of new diocesan norms, and the publication of the instruction of Redemptionis Sacramentum. All of these developments were intended to correct the liturgical abuses which occurred after the Second Vatican Council, and Father X who used to preside over the Mass you attended might not even be doing things the same way anymore. Also, certain priests, including several who served in this parish, are no longer in ministry, and at least one of them is no longer assigned to pastoral ministry because of liturgical abuses. 

A note about the very availability of Mass

As the pandemic has made abundantly clear, we are incredibly fortunate to have access to assist at Holy Mass and receive the sacraments. The Church as a whole is still suffering through the vocations crisis which began in the mid-20th Century, a crisis which we can see beginning to pass here in the Church of Charlotte, with the development of our own St. Joseph Seminary and the abundance of seminarians discerning their vocations. In other dioceses, priests have been tragically prohibited from even offering the Sacrament of the Sick to the dying. We have Mass every weekend in three languages, access to adoration and confession, and very little reason to complain about anything. Let us attempt to put on an attitude of gratitude.

Singing Greek or Latin at Mass is disorienting to me. I don’t understand the words, or I just don’t know the tunes.

Firstly, if you’ve attended Mass in Lent here for many of the last 21 years, you probably know the words already. If you’ve been singing at Mass in English for the last decade, you know exactly what the words mean, because the new translation is an exact word-for-word formal translation from the original languages.

To become more acquainted with the Latin, I would suggest listening to recordings of Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis). A good set of these is available here:

For the Creed, I would recommend listening to Credo III:

These are the most common settings of the ordinary used in the United States, and we will probably use them at most of the Extraordinary Form Masses until Lent.

Is there a book you would recommend for someone who wants to study the Mass?

I strongly recommend the Parish Book of Chant, Second Edition, available here:

The complete book is available as a free PDF. It contains the entire Order of Mass for sung Masses (Missa cantata) in both the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form in English and Latin, along with most of the chants we will ever use at Mass. I find it to be an indispensable resource. It has everything the little red books have, but includes the chants, and the English is not Elizabethan.

If I want to read the documents that govern the Mass and sacred music therein for myself, where can I find them?

Ordinary Form

The Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition (US) (emended 2008)

This is the approved English translation of the Mass used by the priest.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal

These are instructions for how Mass in the Ordinary Form is to be celebrated.

Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004)

This instruction was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to correct the liturgical abuses which occurred in the decades following the Second Vatican Council. mptionis-sacramentum_en.html

Litrgical Norms of the Diocese of Charlotte (2005)

These are the local norms approved by our bishop for the celebration of Mass.

Musicam Sacram (1967)

This is the document that lays out the principles for the use of sacred music in the Mass in the Ordinary Form.

Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963)

This is the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council.

Extraordinary Form

Missale Romanum (1962)

This contains all the texts used by the priest at Holy Mass.  

De musica sacra et sacra liturgia (1958)

This details the rules for use of sacred music at Holy Mass.

Liber Brevior (1954)

This “short book” is the shortened version of the Liber Usualis (the “usual book”) compiled by the monks of St. Peter Abbey in Solesmes, France, and contains all of the propers for Mass (with the exception of a couple of feasts added in the late 50’s and the revisions of Holy Week in 1955). This is the book I sing out of at High Mass. It contains chants from both the Graduale Romanum (the Mass gradual) and the breviary (Liturgy of the Hours).

Summorum Pontificum (2007)

This is the motu proprio which recognized the right of the faithful to assist at Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Instruction on the Application of Summorum Pontificum (2011) 0110430_istr-universae-ecclesiae_en.html

Why don’t you use the Gather Comprehensive hymnal anymore?

An urban legend has emerged at Saint Elizabeth that Father Codd imposed the Saint Michael Hymnal upon the congregation. That is simply not true. The “green book” predated Pope St. John Paul II’s 2002 revision of the Missale Romanum and its subsequent translation. The 1970 translation of the Mass perhaps rolled off the tongue more easily in English than does the contemporary translation, but it did so at the expense of the fidelity of the translation to the meaning of the original Latin. For example, in the Gloria, consider the first sentence:

Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

In the former translation, this was rendered:

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.

The literal translation of the Latin into English, preserving word order, would be:

Glory in highest God and in earth peace men good will.

This is terribly awkward, because Latin grammar does not correspond to English grammar very well. However, it is clear that the meaning “men (of) good will” is lost in the 1970 translation, which rendered “His people” instead. The new translation is much better, rendering very accurately:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.

The new translators were instructed not to change the meaning of the words, and even to create new words in the destination language if necessary to preserve the meaning of the text. That’s why we now have “consubstantial” in the Creed. I know that sounds strange in English, but try to find another word in English that means what consubstantialem means. “One in being” doesn’t mean that.

I have again digressed. Returning to the subject of hymnals, the Gather Comprehensive books were no longer a sufficient resource for our pews because the settings of the Mass contained in them were not of the new translation, and the old translation was formally abrogated (we’re not allowed to use it anymore). Needing a new hymnal, Father Codd actually consulted with the musicians, and we agreed upon the Saint Michael Hymnal for several reasons:

  • It is a doctrinally sound, Catholic hymnal, containing approved texts.
  • It has an excellent selection of organ hymnody. We already had a good selection of guitar hymnody in the “green book”, which, at that time, we were not planning to eliminate.
  • It has a good selection of chant and polyphony.
  • It has English, Latin and Spanish hymnody.

After Father Buckler’s arrival, he elected to replace the Gather Comprehensive books with the St. Isaac

Jogues pew missal for several reasons, including the unacceptable translation of the Mass in Gather

Comprehensive, the excellency of the catechetical material in the St. Isaac Jogues book surrounding the Order of Mass, and the desire to have a full gradual available to the faithful.

Why don’t you sing my favorite hymn?

The purpose of Sacred Music at the Mass is to give glory to God and to sanctify the faithful. I use the following strategy to select hymns for the Ordinary Form Mass:

  • We often exercise the option granted by indult to sing a vernacular hymn rather than the proper introit (entrance antiphon), offertorium (offertory psalm), and communio (communion antiphon). However, if there is a familiar hymn based on the same text, I will typically choose that over any others.
  • If there is sufficient time, I will sing both a hymn and the proper chant – this will almost certainly be the case during the pandemic at communion with the extended time it takes to commune the faithful with COVID protocols in place.
  • I read the scriptures which will be read at Mass and select hymns which will support the readings and homiletics.
  • The skills and preferences of the accompanist (when available) and singers are taken into consideration.
  • If there are many suitable choices, I have more liberty to consider the familiarity of the tunes, my personal preferences, etc.
  • I always try to work in a Marian hymn or chant. I consider the intercession of the Blessed Mother so powerful and necessary that prudence dictates that we invoke it.
  • I also will frequently sing a Eucharistic hymn during communion.

We have a very diverse parish with many different preferences for hymnody, and the church has a treasury of thousands of years of sacred music. I can’t sing what everyone wants to sing every week, and it may take quite a while to get around to singing the hymn you want to hear (or the hymn I want to sing, for that matter – my personal preferences are not high on the list of what is considered). That said, if you have a favorite that hasn’t been sung in a while and is in our current hymnal, please let me know what it is.

What about vernacular hymns (or a broader use of the vernacular in general) at the Extraordinary Form?

For the Extraordinary Form, we work with the additional limitation that vernacular hymns are prohibited during the Mass itself (that is, between the introit and the ite). There is wiggle room in the regulations of the Mass to sing vernacular hymns only where a “centenary” or “immemorial custom” exists:

However, popular vernacular hymns may be sung at the solemn Eucharistic Sacrifice (sung Masses), after the liturgical texts have been sung in Latin, in those places where such a centenary or immemorial custom has obtained. Local ordinaries may permit the continuation of this custom ‘if they judge that it cannot prudently be discontinued because of the circumstances of the locality or the people’.

– De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, 14.a

Our parish church has not existed long enough to establish a centenary or immemorial custom; therefore, we do not have this option.

The priest is permitted to give the homily in the vernacular. The norm in the Extraordinary Form for the readings is that they are to be chanted or said in Latin. The Instruction on the Application of Summorum Ponificum by the Ecclesia Dei commission in 2011 grants permission to read the readings in the vernacular instead of Latin only at Low Mass. At High (sung) Mass, they must be chanted in Latin, and are optionally repeated in the vernacular. The current practice at Saint Elizabeth is to provide a printed copy of the vernacular translation of the readings, which prevents the already very long Missa cantata from being even longer.

What is going on right now with Sacred Music at Saint Elizabeth?

Due to the pandemic, and with the college students mostly out of town, we are quite short on able and willing singers. Michael Salley has graciously played organ for the anticipatory Mass for the last month without charge. I would like to thank Edward, Livia, Mary-Alice, Kathy, Marty, and Michael (our minor seminarian) who have all helped to sing Masses during this difficult time. Also, thanks be to those who sing for our Lord during Eucharistic processions. I know this is pleasing to God. Thank you also to Father Buckler, who is always willing to answer my questions and help me to better sing for our Lord.

There is a schola (Mass choir) practice on Thursday evenings at 6 for the 11 AM Mass. We also try to sing for major feasts and processions which do not fall on Sunday. There is also a small group of singers at the Ordinary Form Mass with Spanish homily. The other two Ordinary Form Masses will have cantors depending on availability.

How can I help?

As Father has asked us to do, continue to offer prayers and personal sacrifice in reparation for profanation of the Blessed Sacrament.

Please, please, avail yourself of the sacrament of Confession and assist (attend and actively participate in interior prayer) at Holy Mass if, in your prudential judgement, you are able to do so. Make time in your prayers to ask Mary’s intercession for your pastor and for the church musicians frequently. Saint Cecilia is also a great help to those of us who sing. Sing and say the parts of the Mass proper to the congregation with conviction. If you want to sing and are willing to make an ongoing commitment to serve the church in a special way, please contact me at [email protected] about joining our schola (Mass choir) or being a cantor. If you play the organ, please also contact me.