May 15, 2001

Buried Treasure – Can the Church recover her musical heritage?

Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 3: May 2001

Buried Treasure

Can the Church recover her musical heritage?

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V

Download: PDF version of all 5 parts

by Susan Benofy

Editor’s Note:

The first two parts this series reviewed the liturgical reform — particularly as it affected music for Mass — before the Second Vatican Council, and the developments during and immediately after the Council. The liturgical documents issued by the Holy See, the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and others that followed, had to be implemented. In each country the national conference of bishops had the authority and responsibility to accomplish this. In the US, although the local bishops still had some authority over the liturgy in their dioceses, the major responsibility for putting the Conciliar liturgical reforms into effect was assumed by the conference’s newly created liturgy committee.

Part III

The US interprets Vatican norms for sacred music

Latin vanishes
The "Folk Mass" appears
The Music Advisory Board
"The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations"
Principles of PMEC
Out with the "outmoded"
"Humanly attractive experience" vs. heritage of Catholic music
Three "judgments" key in PMEC
The "pastoral judgment"
"All else is secondary"?


The Constitution on the Liturgy gave permission for using vernacular languages in the liturgy, but this use was limited. Paragraph 36 says:

1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

2. But since the use of the mother tongue whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its use may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and instructions and to some prayers and chants according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down for each case in subsequent chapters.

Paragraph 54 of the Constitution adds:

With art. 36 of this Constitution as the norm, in Masses celebrated with the people a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the universal prayer", but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts belonging to the people. Nevertheless steps should be taken enabling the faithful to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass belonging to them.

Because of the close connection of sacred music to the text of the liturgy, change in language would have a profound effect on liturgical music. Bishops’ conferences that desired greater use of the vernacular were instructed by paragraph 54 to follow the provisions of paragraph 40 on "more radical adaptation" in introducing it. Evidently the Council Fathers envisioned a limited use of the vernacular in certain parts of the Mass, and perhaps only at certain times or for certain congregations. Very quickly, however, permission was given to have the entire Mass in the vernacular. This remained a permission. The Council never required, and in fact never intended, that Latin be replaced entirely in all Masses by other languages.

Most Catholics at the time, however, had the impression that Latin had been replaced, even forbidden. Although the Council did not forbid Latin, some diocesan worship in offices in the United States did. As early as March 1, 1964, the Baltimore archdiocese issued directives that the "introduction of the vernacular into sung Masses is to be completed" by the First Sunday of Advent 1965. From that time on in Baltimore, all parts of the Mass permitted in the vernacular were to be performed in the vernacular. The Baltimore decree permitted Latin hymns by the choir, but emphasized: "This does not mean, however, that those Ordinary or Proper parts of the Mass which must be performed according to the rubrics can be in Latin". Other dioceses including Chicago, Kansas City, San Diego and Columbus issued similar regulations. 1

Such regulations left a musical vacuum. Before the Council all music for the liturgy had been in Latin. It had been, in fact, forbidden to sing liturgical texts in vernacular translation during the liturgy. (Hymns permitted during Low Mass could not be direct translations of liturgical texts.) Even if there had been English versions of the Ordinary and Proper of the Mass, the changes in the Latin text and, even more, the new translations would have meant that this repertoire would have been unusable without revision. Singing the Ordinary and Proper of the Mass in dioceses in which English was required for all parts of the liturgy, then, would require that new English translations be set to new music. Moreover, congregations, who were now expected to do the singing, would have to learn all of this new music in a very short time. Consequently, the singing of the actual texts of the Mass itself, the Ordinary and Proper, would almost completely disappear.

Latin vanishes

The elimination of Latin by decree of individual worship offices was defended by Monsignor Frederick McManus (director of the bishops’ liturgy secretariat). In his 1987 book, Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal, McManus contends that, though the people mostly preferred the vernacular (according to "later surveys"), the clergy did not want the change.

Thus, what was a concession became overnight a requirement…. From a pastoral viewpoint, however, it is certain that a mere permission to use the vernacular in a given diocese would have resulted in the most diverse practices — and, in days before parish councils and worship committees, would have deprived a very large percentage of the Catholic people of the fruits of the Council’s first decision. Such fears and, most likely, the bishops’ desire for uniform practice within dioceses more than explain the diocesan decisions. 2

The practice established in most parishes was the "four-hymn" Mass, the singing of mostly new hymns and songs in English. Usually these were Entrance, Offertory, Communion and Recessional hymns. This pattern, ironically, originated in the Holy See’s 1958 Instruction on music, which was intended to allow for some sung participation by the people in Low Masses recited in Latin. Thus forbidding the singing of the Proper and Ordinary in Latin meant not that the Mass texts were sung in English — they were not sung at all.

Hymnals issued shortly after the Council also show this extreme emphasis on English. The 1964 People’s Mass Book 3 retains Latin words alongside the English for some of the most familiar Latin hymns (Tantum Ergo, Salve Regina, Adore Te, etc.), but the only two settings of the Ordinary of the Mass have only English words.

Two years later The Liturgical Conference published The Book of Catholic Worship 4 , from which all vestiges of Latin had been removed. Latin titles such as Pange Lingua are not even given as aids in identifying familiar hymns, which are listed only with unfamiliar English words and titles. Settings of the Ordinary of the Mass are all in English, and even the ancient titles have disappeared, replaced with "Lord Have Mercy", "Glory to God", "Holy, Holy, Holy", etc.

The "Folk Mass" appears

Musicam Sacram (MS), issued by the Holy See in 1967, clearly advocated that the people sing the traditional Latin repertoire. Expressly included in the term "sacred music" are Gregorian chant and "the several styles of polyphony, both ancient and modern". (MS §4) It also contains a provision that some of the repertoire composed in Latin could be used in celebrations in the vernacular. (MS §51)

Yet these provisions had no perceptible effect on diocesan regulations such as those mentioned above, apparently because those in charge of implementing the liturgical reform were often strong advocates of the vernacular as a means of making the liturgy intelligible to everyone.

Implementation of Musicam Sacram in the US was the responsibility of the bishops, who relied on the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL). This committee was assisted by a staff secretariat, headed from 1965 to 1975 by Father (later Monsignor) Frederick McManus.

The Music Advisory Board

A Music Advisory Board was formed in 1965 to assist the BCL. At its first meeting in Detroit in May 1965, Benedictine Archabbot Rembert Weakland (later Archbishop of Milwaukee) was elected chairman and (then) Father Richard Schuler, Secretary. McManus was the official liaison with the bishops.

At its February 1966 meeting, the Music Advisory Board was presented with a proposal for the use of guitars and folk music in the liturgy. Monsignor Schuler gives an account of the meeting:

It was clear at the meeting that both Father McManus and Archabbot Weakland were most anxious to obtain the board’s approval…. Vigorous debate considerably altered the original proposal, and a much modified statement about "music for special groups" was finally approved by a majority of one, late in the day when many members had already left. 5

The "Music for Special Groups" statement (which consisted of only three paragraphs) observed that "different groupings of the faithful assembled in worship respond to different styles of musical expression", and said that in services specifically for high school or college age young people "the choice of music which is meaningful to persons of this age level should be considered valid and purposeful". It specified that such music should not be used at ordinary parish Masses and that:

the liturgical texts should be respected. The incorporation of incongruous melodies and texts, adapted from popular ballads, should be avoided. 6

While the "special groups" statement did not mention either guitars or folk music explicitly, neither did it offer any recommendations for those groups who responded especially to Gregorian Chant, Palestrina or Mozart. "Folk" music played on guitars was the sort of music assumed to be "meaningful" to youth. Thus, this statement was publicized as official approval, even encouragement, of what was at first called the "hootenanny Mass". Later these were more generally called "folk" or "guitar" Masses.

The preference for such music was by no means universal among people of this age group. Father Francis P. Schmitt, director of music at Boys Town, Nebraska, commented at a meeting on liturgical music in Kansas City in December 1966:

We have no right, I think, to rob our wards of disciplines which are fundamental in favor of what we imagine might please them. For I do not think that it is the young people who are clamoring for the hootenanny Mass, at least not until they have been exposed to the idea by some arrested adult personality who thinks that he or she will save the young masses for the liturgy … if they are given something that involves no effort on the child’s part at all. It looks suspiciously to me like trying to buy the young, and dirt cheap at that. Well, you don’t buy them, and you don’t fool them. All the time they’re telling each other what a simple dope you are, and how you’re the one that’s being fooled. 7

Father Schmitt directed the choir at Boys Town, whose resident members were often inner city youth who might be called "troubled" or "disadvantaged". He comments that he thinks it "cowardly" to justify folk Masses on the basis of a provision in the Constitution on the Liturgy applying to mission countries:

And what is a more derelict mission territory than the inner core of our cities, and all that. I have been dealing with the outcasts of the inner core all my life and they are quite capable of and content to sing everything from Gregorian to de Monte to Hindemith for three or four months of Sundays without ever repeating a musical setting of the text. I wouldn’t ask them if they wanted to do a hootenanny Mass because they would laugh me off the campus. 8

Father Schmitt’s opinion (that adults, rather than teens, are the real enthusiasts for the hootenanny Mass) is confirmed by several surprising sources. At this same meeting, for example, liturgical composer Dennis Fitzpatrick presented the "far left" position. Fitzpatrick advocated the abolition of the restriction of such Masses to youthful congregations, and said that at many such services adults already outnumbered teens. 9

Ray Repp, the composer of the first widely used "folk" Mass, the Mass for Young Americans, confirms Fitzpatrick’s observation. Repp recounted his experiences at a suburban parish, where he was invited on several occasions to lead music at Mass. On the first occasion "a charming silver-haired woman" came up to him after Mass and said she thought his music was wonderful and that it would certainly bring young people back to church. Several weeks later, at the same parish, "several silver-haired people" said the same thing. Shortly afterward Repp was again invited to the same parish.

I’ll never forget the impression I had when first walking out to begin the singing. The church was filled, not with teen-agers, but with smiling, silvered-haired seniors. …

Contrary to the common opinion that "guitar" or "folk" music in church is youth-oriented, my experience is that almost never have young teens joined in enthusiastically… 10

In fact, when he was invited to a junior high school to lead music, "the usual response was rolling eyes and other gestures I’d rather not discuss here". 11 Repp, however, denies that the problem is with the music itself, suggesting rather that it is the fact that we don’t treat youth as "real people". His views go beyond the style of music used at the liturgy. He contends that people are confused about what worship is:

Unfortunately, many of our worship rites continue to emphasize a preincarnational dualism…. Communion rails, steps, or sanctuaries still separate people from the "holy of holies", and male dominance of worship still suggests inequality and a divine preference. 12

A spirit of "inclusiveness", Repp believes, would eliminate problems of youth participation, and singing would be spontaneous and natural. Music must be "inclusive" no matter what its quality, Repp says. "Music that focuses on a God separate from the people is idolatrous at best". 13

Though we may consider the "folk" Mass to be uniquely American, neither the use of popular forms of entertainment music at Mass nor the divergence of opinion was confined to the US. At the 1966 meeting of the CIMS, Professor Jacques Chailley of the University of Paris related the following incident:

After an experimental Mass in jazz style, a radio journalist interrogated several of the faithful on the way out of church. Contrary to what one would have perhaps expected, the adults were often a little undecided, but inclined to be persuaded in favor of the Mass. On the other hand, the young people almost all showed their disapproval. For us, they said, this music is a living thing, and possesses a well-defined meaning; if it is introduced into the church, then you must bring in with it everything that it connotes. Otherwise it would make no sense. We haven’t arrived yet at the state of going to Communion in a bar, have we? 14

Perhaps liturgists who want to introduce "meaningful" music into liturgies for youth would do well to first inquire closely into exactly what meaning the music actually conveys to young people.

The BCL issued the statement of the Music Advisory Board on special groups in April 1966. The full body of bishops never voted on it. Many bishops may not even have seen it before its publication. Despite this, the statement was treated in the press as a statement of the American Bishops, and most people had the impression that the bishops’ conference, if not the Vatican itself, had approved "folk Masses". Despite the explicit restrictions of this document, the "hootenanny Mass" was used for ordinary parish Masses and often included secular "pop" melodies, sometimes even with the original words. The music thus introduced brought with it its own atmosphere an informality radically different from people’s lifelong experience of reverence and mystery at Mass.

Even before the new official Missal was issued, this combination of music and the atmosphere it produced may have done even more than alteration in language or in the rites themselves to convince the average Catholic that the Council had made radical changes in the Mass.

"The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations"
In December 1966 the Music Advisory Board met again to consider yet another document on liturgical music. At this meeting several of the original members of the board were retired, and new members appointed. Monsignor Schuler, who was one of those retired, suggests this move was designed to make the committee "free of members who would likely oppose the projected statement". 15

A committee of three was appointed to write the new document: Father Eugene Walsh, SS, Father Robert Ledogar, MM, and Dennis Fitzpatrick. The last two were newly appointed to the Music Board. (Mr. Fitzpatrick, recall, was the "far left" speaker at the 1966 Kansas City conference, and an advocate of the extension of the use folk Masses to regular parish congregations.) Father Walsh, director of music and liturgical education at Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, is reputed to have been the principal author of the "Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations" (PMEC).

At a later meeting the draft document was considered. Monsignor Schuler tells us:

With only a few objections, which were quickly disposed of, the document, "The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations", was considered approved, although it had scarcely been considered by the assembly and little or no discussion was permitted or encouraged. 16

Like its predecessor "Music for Special Groups", the new document was issued by the BCL without consulting the full body of bishops. This 1967 document, which was essentially the work of three men — none of them bishops — with little input from anyone else, came to be regarded as official legislation of the bishops’ conference. In fact, Monsignor Frederick McManus later said of The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations:

Probably no statement of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy has had the impact of this one, either in its original version or as revised and expanded in 1972. 17

Since it was issued only months after the Holy See’s document, PMEC should have been an implementation of Musicam Sacram for the US, but its recommendations sometimes actually contradict the Roman instruction.

Principles of PMEC

PMEC has four major sections. Each of the first three begin with a statement printed in capital letters, serving as the main principles of that section:

I. The Theology of Celebration


II. The Principle of Pastoral Celebration


III. The Place of Music in the Celebration


These principles differ radically from the principles of sacred music enunciated in the Holy See’s documents — from Tra le sollecitudini to Musicam Sacram. They correspond much more closely to views expressed elsewhere by Father Walsh, who refers to "the old and outmoded concept of `sacred music’":

The glorious inheritance of church music — chant, polyphony, baroque — is entirely choir and instrument oriented. As such it is not suited to a worship that focuses on the celebrating community as the center of worship, a worship that sees the role of music primarily as service to the celebrating community rather than as service to the text. 18

Out with the "outmoded"

Clearly there was a radical shift in the BCL’s new statement — with sweeping implications. The earlier documents all defined the purpose of sacred music as first, the glory of God, and second, the sanctification of men. It is not surprising, then, that the application of the "community-centered" principles of PMEC resulted in a very different set of recommendations for music in the liturgy — and its conclusions directly contradict Musicam Sacram.

"Humanly attractive celebration", is the focus of Section II of PMEC. It says that the "signs of sacramental celebration are vehicles of communication":

The celebration of any liturgical action, then, is to be governed by the need for the action to be clear, convincing, and humanly attractive; the degree of solemnity suitable for the occasion; the nature of the congregation; the resources that are available. (p. 98)

Thus it states,

Under this principle, there is little distinction to be made between the solemn, sung, and recited Mass. (p. 98, paragraph II B1 – emphasis added.)

But erasing the distinction between sung and recited Masses flatly contradicts provisions of Musicam Sacram. Ironical-ly, PMEC justifies this by a citation from that very document. PMEC (§ II B1) quotes a portion of MS §28: "for the sung Mass (Missa Cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness". But the same paragraph earlier made it clear that,

The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. (MS §28 – emphasis added.)

Then MS describes "different degrees of participation" possible for the sung Mass, and provides detailed specifications for the use of these three degrees.

These principles are ignored — and often contradicted — by PMEC. According to MS §28, the three "degrees" are arranged so that the first may be used alone but "the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first"; then specifies the parts of the Mass which are belong to each of the three degrees.

The "first degree of participation", Musicam Sacram (§7) says, includes the most important parts, "especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together".

It lists all the items of the first degree: those items that should always be sung whenever there is any singing at Mass. These are: the greeting of the priest and the people’s reply, the opening prayer, the Gospel acclamation, the prayer over the offerings, the preface dialogue, preface and Sanctus; the doxology of the Canon; the Lord’s Prayer; the Pax Domini; the prayer after Communion; the formulas of dismissal. (Many of these items are to be sung by the priest, and the people have short responses.)

Other parts of the Mass may be gradually added to those that are sung "according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone". (MS §7, emphasis added)

The second degree, then, includes those parts "proper to the people" — that is, the remaining sections of the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, Credo) and the Prayer of the Faithful. (MS §30)

The third degree includes those parts of the Mass "proper to the choir only" — that is, most of the Proper of the Mass: Entrance, Offertory, Communion, and song after the first reading (i.e. the Responsorial Psalm). The readings from Scripture may also be chanted in sung Masses of the third degree if this seems desirable. (MS §31)

The "three degrees" of a sung Mass in Musicam Sacram correspond closely to the three stages of the peoples’ participation outlined in the 1958 Instruction on music. (See the discussion of the 1958 Instruction in Part I. This and other major documents on music are available on the Adoremus web site – Church Documents section.)

"Humanly attractive experience" vs. heritage of Catholic music

In addition to eliminating the distinction between sung and recited Masses, PMEC draws yet another conclusion from its "humanly attractive experience" principle:

Under this principle, each single song must be understood in terms of its own specific nature and function. Therefore, the customary distinction between the Ordinary and Proper parts of the Mass with regard to musical settings and distribution of roles is irrelevant. For this reason, the musical settings of the past are usually not helpful models for composing truly contemporary pieces. (p. 98, Section II, paragraph II B3 – emphasis added.)

Again, ironically, Musicam Sacram (§6) is cited to justify this extraordinary conclusion of PMEC, which collapses the entire musical structure of the Mass as it had been known for centuries: the Ordinary (for every Mass) and the Propers (for feasts and seasons); and breezily trashes the treasury of sacred music — dismissed even as "helpful models" for new music.

Musicam Sacram (§6), in fact, repeats the requirement of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that each participant in the liturgy do all and only that which pertains to him. It continues:

This also demands that the meaning and proper nature of each part and of each song be carefully observed. To attain this, those parts especially should be sung which by their very nature require to be sung, using the kind and form of music which is proper to their character. (MS §6)

Neither does MS §6 reject the music of the past as a model for new compositions.

The kinds of sacred music listed in MS explicitly includes "Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony in its various forms both ancient and modern". (§4b)

In addition to referring in several places to the Proper and Ordinary and their musical settings, MS provides that settings of the Ordinary for several voices may be sung by the choir alone "according to the customary norms". (§34)

It suggests that parts of the Latin repertoire of sacred music written in earlier centuries could be used even in liturgies celebrated in the vernacular (§51), and,

Above all, the study and practice of Gregorian chant is to be promoted, because, with its special characteristics, it is a basis of great importance for the development of sacred music. (§52 – emphasis added.)

As to models for new compositions, Musicam Sacram specifies that:

Musicians will enter on this new work with the desire to continue that tradition which has furnished the Church, in her divine worship, with a truly abundant heritage. Let them examine the works of the past, their types and characteristics, but let them also pay careful attention to the new laws and requirements of the liturgy, so that "new forms may in some way grow organically from forms that already exist", and the new work will form a new part in the musical heritage of the Church, not unworthy of its past. (§59, emphasis added.)

Any logical process that could leap from the proposition in MS §6 to the conclusion PMEC §II B3 would require a bridge like: "The settings of Ordinary and Proper of the Mass written in past centuries rarely correspond to the meaning and proper nature of each song".

Of course, nothing of the sort is found in Musicam Sacram or in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. On the contrary, both hold the sacred music of the past in great esteem, recommend its continued use and stress the "organic" growth of the new from the old forms. But radical rethinking was clearly crucial to those who crafted PMEC.

Three "judgments" key in PMEC

The role of music has in making the liturgy "an attractive human experience" is stressed in Part III of PMEC, where it gives criteria used to judge whether a particular piece of music is appropriate to use in a liturgical rite. (Sec. C) These criteria are based on three judgments: the musical, the liturgical and the pastoral.

Monsignor McManus, commenting later on PMEC, emphasizes these key judgments:

Still, another telling feature of the statement, which required and received later elaboration, is its practical description of the threefold judgment to be made in the selection of music: musical, liturgical, pastoral. These interdependent considerations can resolve most of the conflicts between the pastoral and the musical emphases if they are thoughtfully applied. It is one of the statement’s major contributions, deserving even greater stress. 19

The first, or musical judgment, decides whether the music is good technically and aesthetically. However, though PMEC says this judgment is "basic and primary", it is not conclusive. No criteria are given for judging what "good music" is, and there are no references to any of the official documents on sacred music.

In the second, liturgical judgment, says PMEC, the "nature of the liturgy itself" will determine the type of music, who will sing it, and what parts should be given preference in deciding what is to be sung. There is no reference to the "three degrees of participation" outlined in MS. Instead, PMEC lists three items that must be considered.

The first, concerns requirements imposed by the text. The document does not consider the meaning of the text, but says that music is appropriate if it corresponds to the class of text.

Four principle classes of texts are listed: readings, acclamations, Psalms and hymns, and prayers. Though various texts are listed in each category, nothing is said about what musical requirement each class of text imposes, except that the "Holy, Holy" has the character of "an acclamation by all present".

Another item under the "liturgical judgment" heading is the differentiation of roles. Here the celebrant is mentioned and it is said that special attention must be given to the role of the cantor. There is a separate section on the role of the cantor. The role of the choir is not mentioned.

The "pastoral judgment"

The third, pastoral judgment, is related to the particular context of any given Mass. The music, PMEC says, must allow the congregation "to express their faith in this place, in this age, in this culture". As an example it suggests that though a musician may judge Gregorian chant to be good music this "says nothing about whether and how it is to be used in this celebration". (PMEC II C 3)

This seems to imply that at a "judgment" about chant must resolve two conflicting views: one committed to musical excellence and the other to pastoral concern. The fact that the Church judges Gregorian chant to be the music proper to the Roman rite, suitable for expressing her faith is ignored. Though this high estimate of Gregorian chant played a large part in the reform of the liturgy until (and including) the Council, it does not influence the threefold judgment of PMEC. Both PMEC itself and Monsignor McManus’s comment seem to assume an inherent conflict between musical and pastoral considerations, and that the "threefold judgment" must be employed to resolve it.

There is nothing in MS to suggest that a threefold judgment is necessary for selecting music for Mass. It says this:

In selecting the kind of sacred music to be used, whether it be for the choir or for the people, the capacities of those who are to sing the music must be taken into account. (MS §9)

This seems to be merely a practical consideration. The music should be something that the singers can perform well.

Again, we find that principles of PMEC are used to set criteria that contradict specific provisions of the Constitution on the Liturgy or Musicam Sacram.

In "Application of the Principles of Celebration to the Eucharist", PMEC gives specific recommendations for singing various parts of the Mass. The recommendations, not surprisingly, do not correspond either to the rubrics for a solemn Mass or to the degrees of participation outlined in MS for a sung Mass. According to PMEC:

The best places to sing are at the "Holy Holy Holy", the Amen at the conclusion of the eucharistic prayer, the communion song, the responsorial psalm following the lessons (PMEC Section IV, first paragraph).

Of these only the Sanctus and the Great Amen are included in the "first degree" to be sung in MS. The Communion hymn and responsorial Psalm belong to the "third degree".

Moreover, MS emphasizes that the parts of the Mass that are a dialogue between the priest and people should be sung. But PMEC never mentions these parts. Although the Lord’s Prayer belongs to the "first degree" in MS, it is merely listed as one of the "other places to sing" in PMEC.

"All else is secondary"?

A peculiar feature of PMEC is a description of the various sections of the Mass, specifying for each what the authors consider its most important parts. The list for each section ends with the remark: "All else is secondary".

In the entrance rite, the "secondary" elements include the Kyrie and Gloria, which, according to PMEC, are often better spoken than sung to avoid making the entrance rite "top-heavy". It also considers the Creed and the Prayer of the Faithful to be "secondary" parts of the Liturgy of the Word.

The Credo should be recited, rather than sung, according to PMEC, and for the Offertory, "The celebrant’s role and all prayers except the prayer over the gifts are secondary in the rite". (PMEC IV B1 3c)

In the Communion rite, the priest’s prayers and the Lamb of God are both called secondary in PMEC.

According to PMEC’s recommendations, four of the five prayers that make up the Ordinary of the Mass — the basis of all musical settings of the Mass used for centuries — are reduced to "secondary" elements, generally to be recited, even when other elements are sung. The sung Propers of the Mass are replaced by whatever songs are chosen by whoever plans the parish liturgy.

Although little direction is given by PMEC as to what is required in the choice of such songs, the exception is the Communion hymn, which should "foster an experience of unity". PMEC directs:

  • The ideal communion song is the short refrain sung by the people alternated with the cantor or choir. The song can be learned easily and quickly. The people are not burdened with books, papers, etc. For the same reason, the metric hymn is the least effective communion song.
  • The communion song can be any song that is fitting for the feast or the season; it can speak of the community aspects of the Eucharist. Most benediction hymns, by reason of their concentration on adoration, are not suitable. (PMEC IV B2 c3)

Nothing in the Constitution on the Liturgy or in Musicam Sacram justifies either relegating parts of the Mass to "secondary", or these requirements for the Communion hymn. No source is cited for these innovations either, though the preference for short refrains for the people with verses by a cantor is Jesuit Father Joseph Gélineau’s preferred method of liturgical singing. 20

Given its radical break with tradition, history and recent official Church documents, is not surprising that PMEC received "a less than calm and serene reception" 21 when it was issued in 1967. Questions were raised about its canonical status and its binding force.

Monsignor McManus contends, however, that this was not a substantive issue:

With great care, the committee had insisted in 1967 that the statement [PMEC] eschewed any "set or rigid pattern", merely intending to "offer criteria" in the form of "recommendations and attempts at guidance"…. The same language was employed … in the 1972 edition. This was done each time precisely because the statements draw their strength from the reasoned presentation and the force of their exposition. 22

One might expect to read "the force of their arguments". However, PMEC does not present arguments, but rather a series of quite forceful statements, evidently intended to be understood as requirements and not mere "guidance". Monsignor McManus tellingly admits that, despite the disclaimer about setting norms, "the text [of PMEC] is somewhat apodictic in setting forth criteria":

One instance is the succession of theses in capital letters; another is the repeated declaration in pointing out the principal elements of some part of the eucharistic rite, "All else is secondary".

This tone is explained almost as an attention getting device, a desire to say as forcefully as possible what had, in fact, been overlooked by the professional church musicians. 23

Apparently the Constitution on the Liturgy and Musicam Sacram "overlooked" the very same points because neither PMEC’s theses printed in capital letters nor the division of the prayers of the Mass into "primary" and "secondary" categories can be found therein.

Despite disclaimers, the language of The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations was that of rules, not guidance or recommendations. This is also the way it was presented in the press and in the parishes.

The pattern PMEC initiated is, in fact, what is found in most parishes today — essentially the four-hymn pattern that the Holy See’s 1958 Instruction recommended only for "indirect" participation of the people in a Latin Low Mass. The Sanctus, Acclamation and Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer are now often sung, however, as is the Agnus Dei. (The opinions of liturgists change — the "breaking of the bread", no longer considered "secondary", is now strongly emphasized.)

The pattern established by PMEC for the music at Mass is not that of a sung Mass according to the norms of Musicam Sacram, but of a recited Mass with some parts sung.

Why were the provisions of Musicam Sacram not followed by the bishops during the reform of the liturgy following the Council? And what liturgical theories led their Music Advisory Board to enshrine the contrary principles of The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations in the parishes of America? For complex reasons, these theories have dominated not only the development of music, but virtually every other aspect of Catholic worship ever since.

Part I, Part II, Part IV, Part V



1. See Rt. Rev. Johannes Overath "Introduction" in Sacred Music and Liturgy Reform after Vatican II: Proceedings of the Fifth International Music Congress Chicago-Milwaukee, August 21-28, 1966. Edited by Johannes Overath, Consociatio Internationalis Musicae Sacrae, Rome 1969; pp 22-23 for quotations from several diocesan documents.

2. Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal, edited with an introduction and commentaries by Frederick R. McManus (Washington, DC: Secretariat Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1987) p. 107.

3. People’s Mass Book, 2nd edition (Cincinnati, OH: World Library of Sacred Music, 1964).

4. The Book of Catholic Worship (Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1966). The editorial board included very influential liturgists, several of whom are still active today: Msgr. Frederick McManus, Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, and Gabe Huck, current director of Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago. It also included Fr. Eugene Walsh, SS (who served on the Music Advisory Committee for the BCL), and Fr. Robert Hovda, the principle author of the BCL’s controversial 1978 document, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship.

5. Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, "A Chronicle of Reform" in Cum Angelis Canere ed. Robert Skeris, (St. Paul, MN: Catholic Church Music Associates, 1990) p. 379.

6. The complete text of "The Use of Music for Special Groups" can be found in Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal, Statements of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, p. 44.

7. Francis P. Schmitt, "Leaning Right?" in Crisis in Church Music? Proceedings of a meeting conducted by the Liturgical Conference, Inc., and the Church Music Association of America (Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1967), p. 60.

8. Ibid.

9. Dennis Fitzpatrick, "From the Far Left" in Crisis in Church Music? (supra p. 88)

10. Ray Repp, "Maybe We Shouldn’t Be Singing in Church", in Pastoral Music, Vol 14, #5 (June-July 1990), pp. 46.

11. Repp, p. 47.

12. Repp, p. 48.

13. Repp, p. 49

14. Jacques Chailley, "Disputed Statements" in Sacred Music and Liturgy Reform, p. 176.

15. Schuler, p. 394. See also p. 383, fn. 10 for a list of members retired and their replacements.

16. Schuler, p. 394.

17. McManus, Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal p. 92. Full text of The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations is found on pp. 96-104. The revision of PMEC he mentions was issued as a statement of the BCL entitled Music in Catholic Worship.

18. Eugene A, Walsh, SS, Practical Suggestion for Celebrating Sunday Mass (Glendale, AZ: Pastoral Arts Associates, 1978) pp. 62-63. See also his The Theology of Celebration, (Glendale, AZ: Pastoral Arts Associates, 1977) which stresses laws of communication and a "new" theology of the sacraments which he calls "radical".

19. McManus, Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal, p. 95.

20. See the discussion of the ideas of Father Joseph Gélineau in Part II of Buried Treasure (AB April 2001, p 1.ff).

21. McManus, p. 93.

22. McManus, p. 93; phrases in quotation marks are from the introduction to PMEC, see p. 96.

23. McManus, p. 95.



Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.