There’s an interesting argument over at NLM about hymns vs. propers. The “propers” are Scriptural compositions–mostly psalms with other material added in–appointed for Sundays and major feasts through the year that tie into the old one year lectionary cycle. One of the items under discussion is the Anglican Use Gradual, a resource created for the Anglican Use of the Roman Church which uses traditional language translations of the propers set to psalm tones a la Rossini (a set of tunes some would say were used to death before Vatican II and one of the features that gave the Traditional Latin Mass a bad name from a musical perspective…).
I’m ambivalent about the debate myself. The propers are part of the web that wove the various lectionary and Church-Year cycles together, making a harmonious system of Scripture and Tradition that was crucial to spiritual formation for those who lived the liturgies and understood Latin—but meant very little to people outside of intentional liturgical communities. And thus, I really like the point that Gavin makes about the pedagogical and catechetical value of hymns. Most protestant groups, of course, did choose hymns over propers, the best retaining the connections between hymns and liturgical occasions—the worst overlooking them entirely. (Which, to be perfectly honest, is one of my big complaints with the way I’ve seen praise music services done: there’s been a complete disconnect between the music and the experience of the liturgical year. Theoretically it could be done, and done well, but I’ve never experienced it…)
The real value of propers to my mind is that 1) they are primarily Scripture and 2) without fail they stabilize and deepen our understanding of the Church Year. A real complication with using the old propers, however, is the introduction of the three year lectionary which means that if you intend to tie things together, you ought to think about a three year cycle of propers, not just the old one year cycle. This is one of the advantages of the (maligned) By Flowing Waters which offers propers for use by season rather than by occasion and thus is quite useful in a three year cycle. However, this means the connections within each occasion are not as tight as they could be. (But at least they exist thematically…)
At the end of the day, I’d like to do both—use classically conditioned propers with edifying hymnody—but I wonder how hard that would be to pull off…