Throughout the next year, and until the implementation of the New Translation of the Roman Missal, The Authentic Update will focus on issues surrounding the New Translation and developments in Sacred Music arising from it. I hope you will visit here frequently and join in the conversation as the Church enters into this remarkable period of liturgical transformation.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Alius Cantus Aptus: What does it really mean?

The following is an article which I originally posted in June of 2007. As such, there are a few things here that seem to ignore such developments as the Simple English Propers and other resources for the Propers that have come into being since that time. I am re-posting this article in preparation for a discussion of the recently made changes in the GIRM which, for all practical purposes, now says precisely what I was claiming it actually said more than 4 years ago. As such, the suggestion to seek hymns or songs which correspond to the texts or at least to the general source of the Proper texts also seems, in retrospect, inadequate as it will soon move form the "permissible" column to the "not permissible" column.

As a Sacred Musician of the “working” variety, one of the primary tasks given to me is selecting music for Mass each week. As important as this task is, it is surprising that many musicians given this responsibility are carrying it out with little guidance or insight into what they are supposed to be doing. In my travels and discussions with many such musicians, I have discerned that there has evolved a method of sorts, which while practical and consistent with the suggestions of commercial music publishers, nonetheless falls short of the demands of the liturgy.

In short, this method consists of drawing specific “themes” from the readings within the Liturgy of the Word and extrapolating them into more general themes to guide the selection of the Entrance, Offertory, Communion and “Recessional”. This method of selecting music is given some legitimacy and a great deal of encouragement by the publishers of music resources which contain a considerable variety of songs based on scriptural texts from the lectionary cycle, particularly texts from the Gospels. As such, it is usually easy to find a variety of songs which are thematically “related” to the readings at Mass, and it appears to make sense to use these songs in conjunction with these readings. The result is a liturgy which is thematically centered around the readings, and most often the Gospel. Is this really what Catholic liturgy calls for?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at the actual texts of the Mass for a specific Sunday. For an example I’ll use the Second Sunday In Ordinary Time for Year B. The texts given here are those from the Missal for that specific Sunday.


ENTRANCE - Psalm 66

May all the earth give you worship and praise,
and break into song at your name,
O God, Most High.
Shout joyfully to God,
All you on earth sing praise to the glory of His name,
Proclaim His glorious praise.
Say to God: How tremendous your deeds!
Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you.

FIRST READING – 1 Samuel 3: 3-10

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was.
The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”
“I did not call you, “ Eli said. “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am, “ he said. “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.


Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.

Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”

“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”

I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.

SECOND READING – 1 Corinthians 6: 13-20

Brothers and sisters:
The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord,
and the Lord is for the body;
God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.
Avoid immorality.
Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,
but the immoral person sins against his own body.
Do you not know that your body
is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been purchased at a price.
Therefore glorify God in your body

GOSPEL – John 1: 35-42

John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —,
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
“We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
“You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.


Sing with joy to God, All the earth,
Sing a psalm to His name.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
And I will tell you what great things
The Lord has done for my soul.

Cry out with joy to God, All the earth!
O sing to the glory of His name.
O render Him glorious praise,
Say to God: How tremendous your deeds.

Because of the greatness of your strength,
your enemies cringe before you.
Before you all the earth shall bow,
Shall sing to you, sing to your name.

Come and see the works of God,
Tremendous His deeds among men.
He turned the sea into dry land,
They passed through the river dry-shod.

O peoples, bless our God,
Let the voice of His praise resound.
Of the God who gave life to our souls,
And kept our feet from stumbling.

COMMUNION: John 1 / Psalm 34

We know and believe in God’s love for us.
Glorify the Lord with me,
Together let us praise His name,
I sought the Lord and he answered me,
From all my terrors He set me free.

Taste and see that the Lord is good,
Happy is he who seeks refuge in Him.
Revere the Lord, you His Saints,
They lack nothing, those who revere Him.

Come children and hear me
That I may teach you fear of the Lord;
Turn aside from evil and do good,
Seek and strive after peace.

Many are the trials of the just man,
But from them all the Lord will rescue him.
The Lord ransoms the souls of his servants,
Those who hide in him shall not be condemned.

And so, if we look at the texts for this Sunday’s Mass in their entirety, we can make a few observations. First, of the seven texts designated for the Mass, four of them are intended to be sung. Of these four sung texts, the only one which we are likely to hear in most parishes is the Responsorial. Second, the Entrance, Offertory and Communion are drawn from the Psalter, in this example two passages from Psalm 66 (Entrance and Offertory) and a setting of Psalm 34 (Communion). By eliminating these three texts from the liturgy, we rob the liturgy of the Psalms, regarded as the “prayer of the church”. The Psalms are the “voice of the faithful” as opposed to the readings which are the “voice of God”, and in an approach to liturgy that seeks to increase the participation of the faithful, wouldn’t it make sense to include more Psalmody rather than less?

The final observation is perhaps the most difficult observation to make: The considerable contrast between the “theme” of the readings in the Liturgy of the Word and the “theme” of the designated texts for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion. The thematic “nugget” that would likely be drawn from the scripture readings is “Here I Am”… a statement of our service to God. This is reflected in the reading from Samuel and responded to in the Responsorial. The Epistle Reading reminds us that we are to prepare ourselves for service to Christ, and the Gospel recounts the calling of Simon Peter to serve Christ. Extrapolating this into a general theme for the liturgy, the selection of “songs” for the liturgy might look something like the following:

Entrance Song: Here I Am, Lord (Schutte)

Psalm Response: Psalm 40- Here I Am, Lord

Offertory: Servant Song

Communion: Here I Am (Ward)

With the selection of these songs for their thematic relationship to the readings, the result is a liturgy focused on our service to God in both the readings and the sung texts of the Mass. But is that really what this liturgy intends? Consider for a moment those “other” texts given for the Mass, the Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphons.

Psalm 65, which is given for both the Entrance and Offertory, is a song of praise to God for his protection from our enemies. The Entrance Antiphon implores “All the Earth” to give praise to God for his mighty deeds. The Offertory Antiphons expands on this with a litany of those deeds; sheltering us from our enemies, guiding us through difficulties to safety, keeping us from stumbling. Considering only these texts, the thematic “nugget” would be something like “Give praise to God for the many things he does for us”. This realizations leads to an interesting understanding about the actual dynamic of this particular liturgy.

Taken in their entirety, the complete texts of the Mass create a dialogue between God and his faithful: The Word of God calls us to serve him, and we respond by crying out “Here I Am, I come to do your will” in debt and gratitude for His help, guidance and protection. Notice that the texts are arranged in such a way that God (through the readings) calls us to serve Him, and we respond (in the Antiphons and Psalms) by giving him praise and thanking him for his protection. Considering the complete set of texts, the selection of songs might look something like this:

Entrance Song: All The Earth

Psalm Response: Psalm 40- Here I Am Lord

Offertory: Psalm 96- Proclaim His Marvelous Deeds

Communion: Taste and See (Ps. 34)

The result is quite a different set of selections which would probably not be considered if only the readings were taken into account. It might look like there is now too great an emphasis on the Antiphon texts, however keep in mind that all three readings express God’s call to serve Him. The dialogue between the texts proclaimed to us in the scriptures, and those which we, in turn, proclaim to God creates an authentically liturgical dynamic that is very different from that which is created when we simply mirror or mimic the words which God has spoken to us. Our participation in the liturgy is clearly proscribed for us in the texts designated for us to sing, we need only pay attention to them!

And so now I get to the phrase used in the title of this article –Alius Cantus Aptus. This is the phrase used to describe the fourth of the four options given for settings of the Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphons in both Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musicam Sacram. Lest these sources be thought of as “no longer relevant” or “out of date”, consider that these options are suggested in the most recent guideline Sing To The Lord, and in the new GIRM as well. The phrase is often translated as another suitable song, but can also be translated as another suitable setting. The latter makes more sense when we consider that this is the fourth option of four that are given, the first three of which are all settings of the designated text from the Missal.

The question that is of greatest importance then is this: What is meant by suitable? We can see that the first two options given are specified settings of the designated text (from the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex), and the third option is a setting from an approved collection of Psalms and Antiphons which presumably would also use the designated text. As such, it would make sense that the fourth option would be an unspecified setting of the designated text from some other source. In this context, alius cantus aptus becomes “some other setting” of the designated text, not just some other song. What makes a setting suitable is its use of the designated text.

So how can all of this help in selecting music for Mass? To begin with, just the understanding that there are actual texts that belong in the liturgy which we are removing and replacing with texts of our own choosing is a great first step. Realizing this should give us pause and perhaps urge us to consider why we are doing so, and whether there are other, better options that we aren’t exercising. There is already within the Church an increasing emphasis on the use of Proper Texts for the liturgy, and there will likely be settings of these texts composed and published for our use during the next few years. When such resources are widely available, it would be irresponsible to not make use of them. Although such resources are not widely available now, there are still ways to incorporate these texts into our preparation of the liturgy, even if not verbatim. As has been said many times… do not shy from the imperfect while striving for the perfect.

The “perfect” in this case would be the actual Gregorian settings of the Proper texts to be sung by the assembly with the assistance of a cantor or schola. That would be the perfect scenario. While that is certainly the direction in which things have started moving, even the most optimistic workers in the vineyard have to admit that is probably a number of years away. In the meantime, why not use these Proper texts to guide the selection of the music which we are using to replace them each week?

The example I give above may be simplistic, and not to everyone’s taste, but at least it makes use of songs that are settings of the actual Proper texts for that Sunday. In the case of the Offertory I substituted Psalm 96, which is closely related to Psalm 66, both in actual wording and certainly in meaning. For the Communion, I made use of a setting of Psalm 34 which, while not word-for-word the same as the Proper text, is at least a paraphrase. And since this is a widely used text for communion songs anyhow, why not make use of it on the Sundays where it is the specified text. Are these “perfect” options? Not by any means, but they are a considerable improvement over songs which re-iterate the texts of the scripture readings at the exclusion of the Proper texts and their distinct role within the liturgy. As a transition from “where we are” to “where we are going”, this approach to music liturgy can begin to move in the right direction with music we already know while working towards that “perfect” liturgy at some point down the road as resources become available.

If there is one obstacle now to the use of the actual Proper texts, it is the problem of resources. As I noted above, there will very likely be several complete settings of the Proper Antiphons available within a few years. At this time, there are several options that are available, although each of them requires some work on the part of the musician. The primary resource for the Antiphons is the 1974 Graduale Romanum – the official “Choir Book” of the Catholic Church.

There are three versions of the Graduale – The Graduale Simplex (Simple Graduale), The Graduale Triplex (Triple Graduale) and the Gregorian Missal. Each of these is published for a specific purpose – The Graduale Romanum contains the complete set of liturgical chants in Latin with all 18 Ordinaries. The Graduale Simplex contains the chants for the Sundays and Holydays and a limited number of Ordinaries. The Graduale Triplex is a “study version” of the Graduale Romanum, presenting the Gregorian notation alongside the more ancient lineless neumes from the Laon text and the manuscript from the St. Gall family. While interesting to chant scholars, this is not of much use to the parish musician unfamiliar with Latin. The third of these books, the Gregorian Missal would be appropriate for the purpose I have outlined above, since it is laid out in the form of a standard Missal and provides English translations in the margin. These three books are the only official and approved resources for music in the Roman Rite.

Another excellent option that is easier still to navigate is the Anglican Use Gradual. This book is the Gradual approved for the Anglican Use Catholic Church and is used regularly in every Anglican Use parish in the United States. It contains the Entrance, Psalm, Offertory and Communion chant for each Sunday and Holyday arranged in order for the Church Year, and is entirely in English. For the Church musician who wants a readily available resource for the Antiphon texts for each Sunday, The Anglican Use Missal might be the best option. It is also available online for free in PDF format, something which should be a pre-requisite for ALL church music in the future, but that is another matter for another time!

As we continue to move forward in this time of the Liturgical Reform we also continue to grow in our understanding of the Second Vatican Council and its teachings about that reform. Each of the Holy Fathers during and since the time of the council have called us to an “authentic interpretation” of these teachings. Pope Benedict has specifically called us to re-examine these teaching in a “hermeneutic of continuity”… meaning an interpretation that grows organically from the great liturgical traditions of the church throughout her history. One such great tradition is the liturgical music of the church, and restoring the actual Mass texts to our worship is perhaps the best first step we can take. And best of all… it’s really not that hard to do!

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