Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Inwood vs. Ostrowski on chant propers in the OF

I came across by chance this critique, by Jeff Ostrowski, of one of Paul Inwood's attacks on the idea that we should sing the chants given in the Graduale Romanum for the Ordinary Form. It's an interesting post but it gets terribly complicated and technical. I'm not going into the complications, but I want to comment on why it is so complicated.

(I also recommend the Corpus Christi Watershed blog it derives from, which has a lot of interesting stuff on it.)

A thumbnail's worth of background: the Graduale Romanum has for centuries been the Church's book of liturgical music. The Liber Usualis, which is the more common volume for chant singers in the EF, is derived from it (with the addition of some handy material from the Missal and the Breviary). The chants of the Graduale are, in the Extraordinary Form, liturgical texts: as well as being sung by the choir, they are said by the priest. There is an 'entrance antiphon' (Introit), chants to go between the Reading and the Gospel (usually Gradual and Alleluia), a chant for the Offertory and a Communion antiphon, for every Mass for every occasion in the year.

When the Novus Ordo came out, a vast number of these texts had been changed. Bugnini had gone through with his trusty blue pencil and re-written some, deleted others, composed still more afresh. The very idea of singing complex chants before the Gospel was replaced with the notion of the 'Responsorial Psalm'. Hymns were sung at the Offertory and at the Communion.

But then, in 1974, a new edition of the Graduale Romanum was published, with a preface by Bugnini himself. (In Latin.) The texts were the same as the ancient texts - you can't really change them, after all, if you respect the ancient melodies, since words and music are very closely bound up in chant. They were rearranged, however, to fit in, more or less, with the 1970 Missal, in terms of appropriateness, theme, and so on. And the rubrics said that singing these chants on the (newly) appointed days was an option: option number one, in fact, in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

But no-one actually did this. Ok, that's an exaggeration. Very, very, very few people did it. The groups of skilled singers able to do it had been disbanded. All sorts of ghastly musical experiments took their place. The 1974 Graduale Romanum remained in existence as a sort of rebuke to the new musical order of things. But it was only an option. And the texts were, mostly, no longer the liturgical texts, the texts of the Mass being said. They were just appropriate - just like 'In bread we bring You, Lord' is supposedly appropriate to the Offertory.

Yes, you can use the argument that these chants have been an integral part of the liturgy since about the 5th century. But that argument may end up proving too much. Why not just go the whole hog and go to the Traditional Mass?

One of the things the Reform of the Reform crowd want to do is to encourage the singing of these chants again. It is great, of course, to revive the tradition of chant singing, it is great that Catholics will hear these chants, at least in a few places. But they don't have the same relationship with the liturgy that they do in the Extraordinary Form. And since they replace the kinds of things composed by Paul Inwood and his chums, the musical establishment has a vested interest in opposing this development.

Well, as usual in seeing this debate within the Ordinary Form, I support what the Reform of the Reform people want to do, but I have to concede that the legal, liturgical and historical situation has been turned into quagmire of confusion by developments which seem to run counter to each other. I mean, Paul Inwood has a point: these aren't the liturgical texts for the OF, they are just an option. Even with his most annoying claim:

"we know from those who worked on the 1970 Missal that they never intended those actual texts to be sung. The texts are there to remind us that we should be singing something at those points, but not those texts. They are only there for recitation if there is no singing."

Yes, that statement sounds quite mad, but I fear he has a point all the same. What did Pope Paul VI say about it?

In 1963, he promulgated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council's document on the liturgy, which says that chant should have 'pride of place'. But it made a crucial concession: 'other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action'. Only time would tell what these would turn out to be.

In 1969 he said that, as a result of vernacularisation: 'We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant' (General Audience, 1969). He makes it clear that this is a sacrifice he thinks must be made, for a greater good.

In 1974, he sent around the world a booklet, Jubilate Deo, designed as a minimum chant repertoire for parishes, whose preface says: 'those who are trying to improve the quality of congregational singing cannot refuse to Gregorian chant the place which is due to it'. This is about congregational singing of the Ordinary of the Mass, but this is also the year of the publication of the new Graduale Romanum, with all the propers.

What attitude was taken to these conflicting statements by the Congregation of Divine Worship, the Vatican department with direct responsibility for these issues? In 1987, under Pope John Paul II, The Congregation for Divine Worship noted that 'Any performance of sacred music which takes place during a celebration, should be fully in harmony with that celebration. This often means that musical compositions which date from a period when the active participation of the faithful was not emphasized as the source of the authentic Christian spirit are no longer to be considered suitable for inclusion within liturgical celebrations.' (Concerts in Churches, 1987).

What did Pope Benedict XVI say about Chant? After some indications that he would write an encyclical on chant, he never did. His personal views on the artistic and spiritual importance of chant are well known, but we had almost no official encouragement of chant from the Chair of Peter. It is almost as if there was a ban on the word 'chant' in official documents. He did say this in an 'address' in 2012, which is important, and seems to turn over completely what the CDW had said in 1987:

'And, here dear friends, you have an important role: work to improve the quality of liturgical song with being afraid to recover and value the great musical tradition of the Church, which has in Gregorian Chant and polyphony 2 of its highest expressions, as Vatican II itself states (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 116). And I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music. You, who have the gift of song can make the heart of many people sing in liturgical celebrations.'

If you're not confused, then you haven't been paying attention.


  1. I think your last line just about sums up the state of the Church since Vatican II.

  2. I don't think Paul vi promulgated anything in 1962. Do you mean 1963?
    I was completely confused. I still don't understand what the 1987 quote means after reading it 3 times!

  3. Oh yes you are right - SC was promulgated Dec 4, 1963