In the Roman Use
One of the major emphases in the current Roman “Reform of the Reform” is the move to replace the Chant Propers into their correct place. A quick review is in order here. Following the handy “Division of the Mass” in my (1962) Roman Missal, there are nine variable parts or propers in the Mass:
- The Introit
- The Collects
- The Epistle
- The Gradual
- The Gospel
- The Offertory Verse
- The Secrets (offering prayers over the gifts just before the Canon)
- The Communion Verse
- The Postcommunion prayers
I’ve bolded the sungpropers. Note: there are no hymns in this line-up. Classically, hymns weren’t sung at Mass—they belonged in the Office. Thus, the items sung at Mass were the chant propers. After Vatican II, the use of the chant propers diminished and vernacular hymnody was introduced. The Roman Gradual (where these propers are found) was never officially translated into vernaculars that I know of. Certainly, there has never been an authorized English translation. This was a kiss of death in the post-conciliar years. As a result, many Roman Catholics today don’t know that these exist and are the normative forms of music to be used at Mass. Hence the efforts by the Reform of the Reform.
I want to make two points here:
- The Chant Propers have always been and are now part of the historic Western liturgy.
- The Chant Propers for the Temporal cycle are all drawn exclusively from Scripture. (I don’t know if that’s the case for the Sanctoral cycle)
In the Anglican Use
Clearly the early BCPs simplified the Roman Mass. However, of these four sung propers, only one—the Gradual—was dropped by the 1549 BCP. The others were transformed:
- The Introit was a whole or a section of a psalm (rather than the Antiphon/Ps Verse/Antiphon/Gloria Patria/Antiphon pattern of the Roamn Rite) appointed for all Sundays and major days along with the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel.
- The Offertory was no longer “proper” and a list from which one to be chosen was given. These were now exhortations to give money, rather then Scriptures for meditation tying in with the meaning of the season or mass.
- The Communion also became a list of Scriptural sentences from which one was to be chosen. These too tended towards moral exhortation.
The 1552 book dropped all but the Offertory sentence. While Elizabeth’s 1559 book allowed the rite to start with a hymn or metrical psalm, none were appointed. The concept of the introit was preserved; the texts were not.
The High Church party would sometimes smuggle the chant propers back in when they could and, sure enough, inclusion of the chant propers, is one of the key points of the Anglican Missal and its relatives.
The American BCPs and the current book do not include these propers. However:
- We have a “hymn, psalm, or anthem” opening the service
- The Psalm in the RCL and the “Psalm, hymn or anthem [which] may follow each Reading” serve as the Gradual and the Alleluia with verse/Sequence
- The Offertory sentence is retained and the option given of “some other sentence of Scripture.” Furthermore, “During the Offertory, a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung”
- “During the ministration of Communion, hymns, psalms, or anthems may be sung”
In short, then, the rubrics of the BCP give space for the retention of these classic parts of the historic Western liturgy that would give our congregations yet more exposure to Scripture…
Points to Ponder
- If many of our great liturgical stride over the past decades have been ecumenical in nature, isn’t this something to keep our eyes on?
- It’s permitted, it’s classical, and it’s Scriptural; what’s not to like?
A few of my scattered thoughts:
- See bullets one and two above
- Furthermore, it opens more (and more interesting) musical options
- I know of at least one Chant Gradual (Fr. John-Julian’s) that uses the RCL psalms for precisely this purpose
- Yes, it’s historical and all—but how much of this is about recovery and revitalization and how much of it is Romish affectation?
- Using the Roman cycle raises exactly the the same problem that we currently have with the collects. What is the true shape of the Temporal cycle: is it a one-year cycle or a three-year cycle? Given the rotation of readings it seems to be three; reintroducing another one year pattern would reshape the answer. Not necessarily a bad thing, but one to be intentional on.
- Hymns are part of our heritage. Granted, most English language hymnody is not strictly Anglican, but hymns at Mass are what American Episcopalians are familiar and comfortable with. Where would this scheme leave room for hymns?
Obviously, I’m not in any way suggesting that chant propers be made mandatory. I don’t even see them being included in the next BCP. Rather, I’m offering food for thought. Is a recovery of the sung propers even something to be interested in?