A: The liturgical reformers foresaw that music would accompany the newly-restored procession at the offertory, and this is confirmed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) 74: “The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the Offertory Chant (cf. no. 37 b), which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar. The norms on the manner of singing are the same as for the Entrance Chant (cf. no. 48). Singing may always accompany the rite at the Offertory, even when there is no procession with the gifts.”
What is ambiguous in the current English wording of GIRM 74 is the source of texts to be sung at the offertory—for none appear in the Missal itself, even though antiphons for the Entrance and Communion chants are printed.
But does “manner of singing” govern only the execution of the chant, that is, who sings the antiphon (namely, the choir and the people, or a cantor and the people, or the people alone, or the choir alone)? When one looks at the universal Latin version of the GIRM (“Normæ de modo cantandi eædem sunt ac pro cantu ad introitum”), it is clear that the “manner of singing” includes not only who sings, but also what is sung. The options for the source of music and its texts are described in GIRM 48:
“(1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting; (2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.”
The first option presents a slight difficulty since there is no “antiphon from the Missal” for the Offertory. We may overlook this problem though, since the Latin texts and Gregorian melodies of the Offertory Chant are readily available in the Graduale Romanum, and the texts there have also been set to magnificent polyphonic music throughout the ages. The publication Offertoriale Triplex from Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes augments the chant settings from the Graduale by including the lengthy medieval verses. Likewise, the Graduale Simplex includes an “antiphona ad offertorium” in each Mass collection.
Less common are collections which fit the criteria of option (3) from GIRM 48, while the most common is option (4), choosing another suitable liturgical chant, even though the necessity of it being “approved by the Conference of Bishops” has not been made fully available to Catholics in the United States. In some cases, collections of chants have been submitted to and approved by the local ordinary.
Beyond the options mentioned in GIRM 48, silence can be observed, and in the silence the priest can recite some of the Offertory prayers aloud, or he can also recite them quietly. The GIRM (142) also foresees many places continuing the tradition of organ music or another suitable instrumental piece, except on those days when no solo instrumental music is permitted.
A difficulty arises in the use of the vernacular for singing the Offertory. In recent decades, a number of composers, wanting to encourage singing of the proper texts of the Mass, have sought to set to music the proper texts in the vernacular. While the body of U.S. bishops have not approved translations of offertory chants, many collections have an individual bishop’s approval. For the Entrance and Communion antiphons, some composers have used the vernacular texts in the Missal, even though they were intended only to be spoken and often vary (especially the Communions) from the text in the Graduale Romanum.
This incorporation of the Missal’s antiphons in musical settings has been done because composers have wanted to set an official translation, since, for now, no official translation of the texts of the Graduale Romanum exists. It seems that, since composers have been diligent in their efforts in this regard, the U.S. bishops have changed the U.S. versions of GIRM 48 and 87 to include the antiphon as found in the Missal as an option for the textual source of musical settings, even placing it in the first option in the list of possible sources.
Since there is no Offertory text whatsoever in the Missal, composers have either omitted the Offertory from their collections, sought episcopal approval on the local level, employed texts such as the translations contained in the Gregorian Missal, or used other semi-official texts found in historical hand missals approved by censores librorum.
—Answered by Jennifer Donelson,
Associate Professor and Director of Sacred Music
St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie), New York