Traditionis custodes & Antiphons

In last week’s bulletin, we talked about the impact of song lyrics and why it is so critical that the songs we sing at Mass are Catholic. Just as we expect our priest’s homilies to be filled with Catholic teaching, and not ideas that are schismatic or heretical, schismatic or heretical song lyrics have no place in a Catholic Mass. Over the past two weeks, we have talked about the Holy Father’s recent motu proprio that calls for a stricter adherence to the liturgical documents promulgated from Vatican II.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, or GIRM, is one of those books. The best analogy that I can make about what the GIRM is is that it is essentially the “playbook” or “script” of the Mass. The GIRM stipulates precisely how Mass is to be celebrated, the order in which it is to be celebrated, and what is permissible. The Catholic Mass is filled with symbolism that has transcended the last 2000 years. This symbolism is greatly lost when it has never been explicitly taught to the pew going Catholic during the formative years or, as is the case in many parishes, is greatly deviated from.

Prior to serving as Pope, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI served as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The oldest congregation in the Roman Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is responsible for promulgating and defending Catholic doctrine including liturgical abuses. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI brought his experiences from his prior assignment into the papacy. In his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, he wrote:

The eucharistic celebration is enhanced when priests and liturgical leaders are committed to making known the current liturgical texts and norms, making available the great riches found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Order of Readings for Mass. Perhaps we take it for granted that our ecclesial communities already know and appreciate these resources, but this is not always the case. These texts contain riches which have preserved and expressed the faith and experience of the People of God over its two-thousand-year history.

We can see from this, and Pope Francis’ recent comments, that both men feel strongly on following the books promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. In last week’s article I shared how as a parish we have started to become more thoughtful, prayerful, and reverent in our communal celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. One way that we have done that is by singing the antiphons at all of our liturgies. The GIRM gives four options for what can be sung during the entrance, offertory, and Communion. Three of these four options are antiphons.

So what exactly is an antiphon? Antiphons are said to have originated with Pope Celestine I around 432 AD. Since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the antiphon has been shortened to be sung before and after the Psalm. Over the past year, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they feel like we’re singing a lot of more Psalms, which has really increased their spiritual experience at Mass and improved their knowledge of this sacred Scripture, and they thank our parish liturgy team for making this a reality. I often joke with them that David’s Psalms are the original “praise and worship” songs. In all seriousness, the reality is that we are simply doing our job and what the Holy Mother Church asks of all of us, especially those in a position to affect change.

One common misconception is that antiphons are strictly chants. While the Second Vatican Council through the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, and subsequent teachings from Vatican II explicitly tell us that chant is the most suitable form of music for the Catholic Church, Vatican II purposefully opened the door to allow other forms of music to coexist alongside chant. The actuality of what happened is that the primary form of musical expression, chant and organ, have largely been discarded – contrary to Vatican II. This has resulted in several generations believing that Vatican II “banned” these things or that the Church mandates that only “feel good” music be sung (often cited by those leaving the Church for some other Christian denomination), which is categorically false and a gross misrepresentation.

While chant is the primary form of musical expression, it is most certainly not the only form. The antiphon collection we currently use has texts from both the Roman Missal and the Graduale Romanum, two of the four options listed in the GIRM, and uses a metrical refrain with a “classical” sound with chanted verses. Basically, the same stylistic format of the Responsorial Psalm that we have been singing for years. There are some newer collections coming out from “contemporary-style” and other “traditional-style” composers that we will be integrating in the coming months. 

As a music team, we wanted to be very deliberate in our introduction of antiphons. We knew that for some the move would be substantial. We knew that for others, it might be completely unwanted. We also knew that for others, it would be very welcome. Ultimately the move came about as we realized that our parish had much room to grow in coming more in line with Vatican II.

This coming Easter will be our second anniversary of using the antiphons – in one way or another – at most of our Masses. As we move into year three, expect new sounds. We’ll be singing the same old texts, but with different music that will allow us more variety. If you are someone that prefers the more “solemn” and “traditional” sound, please know that our 4 PM Mass on Sunday will continue in much the same way that it has been.

By virtue of our Baptism, we are all called to exit our comfort zones and strive to become better disciples of Christ. As a member of this parish family, I’m just glad and grateful to be along for the ride beside you.