Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bishop Olmsted on Sacred Music

His Excellency Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix, has been teaching on the topic of sacred music for the past several months in his column in the Catholic Sun. If you've missed any of his articles on this topic, be sure to check them out.

You can find the complete articles at these links:

In this post, we'll look at some of the high points of part four, but be sure to read the whole thing at the link noted above.

In part four, Bishop Olmstead describes the parts of the Mass that are meant to be sung according to the hierarchy of their importanceaccording to the 1967 instruction Musicam Sacram. This is significant, because in the 1972 document, Music in Catholic Worship, the US bishops actually taught an almost “upside-down” order of importance.  

Bishop Olmsted points out the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) tells us that, in singing the Mass, “preference is to be given to those that are of greater importance”; in other words, there is a hierarchy in terms of which parts of the Mass are most important to sing in the Novus Ordo Mass.

But how are we to know what parts of the liturgy are of greater or lesser importance? Musicam Sacram, cited in the GIRM, provides a useful instruction on just this question, dividing into three degrees the parts to be sung in the Mass to help "the faithful toward an ever greater participation in the singing" (cf. MS 28-31).

The first degree consists essentially of the Order of the Mass (the chants sung in dialogue between the priest or the deacon and the people). The second degree consists essentially of the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei). The third degree consists essentially of the Proper of the Mass (the chants sung at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion processions, and the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia with its verse before the Gospel).

Bishop Olmsted’s explanation of these different categories of chants is concise and clear:

The Order of the Mass

The Order of the Mass is the fundamental and primary song of the liturgy. It forms the part of the Mass that is of the greatest importance, and therefore it should be sung ideally before any of the other parts of the Mass are sung. When the Order of the Mass is sung, the liturgy becomes most true to itself, and all else in the liturgy becomes more properly ordered.

He points out that the Order of the Mass is presented in a “sung” format in the new edition of the Roman Missal. Then he goes on to explain:

The Ordinary of the Mass

The Ordinary of the Mass, comprising the chants of the second degree… consists of two penitential litanies, two hymns of praise, and the Church's great profession of faith, which are fixed within the Order of the Mass and, depending on the demands of the liturgy or season, form a part of the unchanging structure of the Mass.
While the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo (Creed), Sanctus and Agnus Dei may be sung to a variety of musical settings, the Church's great sacred music tradition has handed down to us an inestimable treasure of chants for the Mass Ordinary.

Bishop Olmsted does not fail to mention the importance of Latin, either:

While the Ordinary of the Mass may be sung in the vernacular, the Second Vatican Council mandated that "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" (SC 54).

Next, he turns to:

The Proper of the Mass

The Proper of the Mass, comprising the chants of the third degree, form an integral, yet often overlooked part of the sung liturgy…These parts of the Mass…are not fixed and unchanging from day to day [like the Ordinary], but change according to the liturgical calendar, and therefore are "proper" to particular liturgical celebrations.
Here we find the Entrance Antiphon, Responsorial Psalm (or Gradual), the Alleluia and its Verse, the Offertory Antiphon, and the Communion Antiphon. While the Proper of the Mass is subordinated in degree of importance to the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass, the texts of the Mass Proper form perhaps one of the most immense and deeply rich treasure troves in the sacred music tradition...

Bishop Olmsted concludes:

The texts of the Proper of the Mass…form a substantial and constitutive element of the liturgy, and I encourage a recovery of their use today…[M]any new resources are becoming available that make their singing achievable in parish life. I strongly encourage parishes to take up the task of singing the antiphons and psalmody contained within the liturgical books, and to rediscover the immense spiritual riches contained within the Proper of the Mass.

Adam Bartlett, in his post on this at The Chant Café, sums it all up very nicely:

I do not believe that we have received so clear a teaching on sacred music from a member of the U.S. Episcopacy, and on what we should be singing at Mass, in perhaps 40 years, maybe longer.

Thanks be to God for Bishop Olmsted's clarity on the musical structure of the Roman Rite, and on the hierarchical nature of the music that is proper to the sacred liturgy….[W]e have here a clear and authoritative statement from a member of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops who seems to be stepping forward into a leadership role in the US episcopacy on matters of liturgy and sacred music.

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