Congregational Singing

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Numerous directives and exhortations concerning the place of congregational singing in liturgical worship have issued from the Holy See in modern times. They begin with the motu proprio on sacred music by St. Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini (1903), and culminate in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of vatican council ii, promulgated by Pope Paul VI on Dec. 4, 1963. The most detailed document is the Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy (Sept. 3, 1958), which offers a blueprint for modern congregational worship by providing specific plans and methods for various types of liturgical services. Although written with the Latin liturgy in view, much of the Instruction remains applicable to a vernacular liturgy as well. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy repeatedly stresses the importance and necessity of congregational participation; no other document in the Church's history is as insistent and clear on this point. Chapter 6, which deals specifically with sacred music, refers several times to congregational singing. Paragraph 118 may be taken as representative: "Religious singing by the people is to be fostered, so that in devotions and sacred exercises, as also during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out according to the norms and requirements of the rubrics."

Early History. The influence of the Jewish synagogue on early Christian worship, the casual suggestions of St. Paul in Eph 5.19 and Col 3.16, and deductions from the general development of the liturgy in the early centuries entitle us to assume that some kind of singing by the assembled faithful was an accepted part of the earliest Christian liturgy. Modern liturgical scholars, relying on the didache, Justin Martyr's outline of the early Mass in his First Apology, and the Apostolic Tradition, and similar scattered texts, conclude that the community-sung Mass early became the normal manner of celebrating the sacred mysteries. In individual cases, however, as pointed out by Bruno Stäblein, one cannot always decide whether the sources, which are literary rather than musical, indicate that the acclamations and responses were spoken, shouted, sung, or proclaimed by some disordered combination of these.

By the fourth century, references to various types of psalm singing, hymns, acclamations, and other sung liturgical activities are to be found with increasing frequency in Patristic writings (along with cautions against contaminations from profane, theatrical music). Much of the testimony is by way of commentary and exhortation, as for instance St. John Chrysostom's advice in his Exposition of Psalm XLI: "Even though the meaning of the words be unknown to you, teach your mouth to utter them meanwhile. For the tongue is made holy by the words." Although these references to plural activity suggest some degree of response on the part of the faithful, we have no clearly stated documents (nor musically notated liturgical books) that provide accurate information as to how universally the use of music was employed and encouraged, or how many of the faithful in a given area were capable of joining in the parts assigned to them. The success achieved in this matter by St. Ambrose (and to a certain degree by St. Augustine) was probably not attained in churches where neither clergy nor faithful had sufficient education and background to enable them to perform the music.

From the fifth century on, a gradual diminution of community singing appears in both East and West, although the causes were not always the same. A number of explanations are brought forward: the barbarian invasions, the problem of liturgical language, the lack of books and the multiplicity of texts, the gradual separation of the people from the altar, and especially the incorporation of more difficult music into the liturgy, a practice that gave rise to the formation of scholae cantorum. The Ordo Romanus I (c. 700) hardly adverts to the parts traditionally assigned to the faithful. Although in Charlemagne's empire a revival of communal singing was attempted and encouraged, it had no widespread or lasting effect. From the Protestant Reformation to the 20th-century liturgical renewal, congregational singing was hardly a memory.

The Problem in the U. S. Despite the impressive array of papal documents encouraging the restoration of congregational singing, several major obstacles have combined to retard the realization of this goal in the U.S. The most general causes of this failure would appear to be a widespread lack of understanding of the purposes of communal worship, and the consequent lack of conviction concerning its value and necessitytheological shortcomings not restricted to the U. S. To these must be added special American problems arising from customs inherited from earlier generations and from the attitude many American Catholics manifest regarding the place of music in life.

Thus, the Church in America during the 19th century, consisting in the main of many diverse settlements of immigrants from Europe, was incapable of developing a unified tradition of congregational singing, even if the hierarchy had perceived this as a desirable goal. Since the silent low Mass was the usual form of Sunday worship, the congregation was expected to pray both privately and silently; no need for development of a repertory of congregational music for the Mass was felt. Unlike the major white Protestant churches with their hymns and chorales, and also unlike Black Catholics, who took singing in worship for granted, neither the native-born Catholics nor the immigrants possessed a body of service music, written in a contemporary idiom and shared by a majority of the dioceses. The singing of hymns in schools, as well as in churches, during Benediction and other pious devotions, has been fairly widespread; but in parishes where a Sunday Missa cantata was celebrated, the performance of the music has customarily been left to a specially trained choir. In those German parishes where the influence of the caecilian movement prevailed, the singing of hymns by the congregation was strongly encouraged; with the change of clergy and the appearance of new generations of the faithful; however, the potency of this movement gradually subsided.

Following upon the legislation of St. Pius X, valiant efforts were put forth in some churches to restore grego rian chant as the universal prayer music. Notable success in these efforts was achieved in seminaries, convents, and in those schools and churches in which a program of intensive training could be carried out. In most parishes, however, the singing of chant Masses by the people never took hold; not only was a tradition of singing lacking, but since the chant, written in a medieval style and a dead language, was not an indigenous expression of 20th-century Christians, the modern adult parishioner was incapable of employing it as a personal and meaningful instrument of prayer. By mid-century some leading liturgists began to express openly their doubts about the effectiveness of chant in parochial liturgy; many were also of the opinion that the Latin language was a major deterrent to the spread of communal worship. Their urgent appeals for the use of the vernacular language in the liturgy were coupled with requests that composers of liturgical music should provide simple and rhythmic melodies that the ordinary congregation could master and perform after a short rehearsal. Even before World War II a number of choir-and-congregation Mass settings had been published whose purpose was to enlist the services of the choir while providing an active part in the ceremonies for the congregation. Numerous Masses of this kind, as well as unison Masses for the faithful, were published after the war.

After the Instruction of 1958, when a more widespread attempt to achieve congregational participation was made throughout the U. S., numbers of "people's Masses" made their appearance. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II finally paved the way for the introduction of the vernacular, and in December 1964 most dioceses began to employ the English language for many parts of the Mass, with congregational participation in the Ordinary. As a significant result of this change, the revival of chant has for the present been sidetracked, whereas the publication of congregational Masses, now being set to English texts, continues apace.

Although, as this brief sketch indicates, much energy has been expended since the publication of the Constitution, particularly since the introduction of English, and much attention devoted to the revival of congregational singing, the program was, as a rule, successful only in those parishes where an informed pastor and a competent music director worked together to prepare the people and set an organized plan into motion. In other parishes the response of many adults was less than spontaneous at first. This negative reaction resulted from a variety of causes: omission of positive directives from the bishops, musically indifferent pastors, inadequate musical directors, large and acoustically unsuitable church buildings, lack of time in which to train a majority of the congregation (particularly in large urban parishes), absence of appropriate and practical musical materials, and an inveterate shyness or lack of self-confidence in the people themselves. American Catholic men in particular appear to espouse the notion that singing is the special domain of women, children, and those few who are especially trained for it. For many Americans, the use of song except in certain types of entertainment and on rare and solemn occasionsis not a customary or spontaneous mode of communication or public expression. This inhibition carries over and affects their conduct in public worship.

In the ensuing years following the Second Vatican Council, the accepted norm for congregational participation was, in most parishes, the so-called four-hymn Mass (entrance-offertory-communion-recessional). Although it originated to fill the need for congregational singing within the context of a pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy, the four-hymn "tradition" is, unfortunately, still all too common today. The revision of the Eucharistic Liturgy itself in 1970 makes it possible to place the emphasis where it belongson the congregational singing of those elements that are an integral part of the liturgy. The 1972 statement from the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Music in Catholic Worship, followed by a subsequent document, Liturgical Music Today both indicate that there are five acclamations that ought to be sung "even at Masses in which little else is sung": the Alleluia; the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord; the Memorial Acclamation; the Great Amen; and the Doxology to the Lord's Prayer. Congregational participation in the processional chants at the Entrance and the Communion is also encouraged, as is the singing of the Responsorial Psalm after the first reading. Singing by choir or congregation is encouraged, although not demanded, at the Lord, Have Mercy; the Glory to God; the General Intercessions; the song during the Preparation of the Gifts; the Lord's Prayer; the Lamb of God; the song after Communion; and the recessional song. Of these, the General Intercessions and the Lord's Prayer should, when sung, always belong to the congregation. How much music a given congregation sings is to be determined by ability and need, rather than by distinctions between high or low Mass. The choir is seen in a role supportive of congregational singing, as well as in its traditional role of singing alone.

The larger part of congregational music used in churches today is taken either from the rich tradition of Reformation hymnody or from the folk-style music that has grown up as a part of the liturgical renewal. Congregational singing of a limited repertory of Latin gregori an chant was recommended for the whole Church.

The question of hymnals and other aids to congregational participation remains a large one, although the recent publication of several fine hymnals has been encouraging (see hymns and hymnals ii: vatican ii and beyond). The use of missalettes is still prevalent; it is difficult for them to include the variety of options available while maintaining a body of familiar material. The question of a national hymnal has been discussed at length, and the Canadian bishops have actually adopted one. Although a national hymnal can provide music from different publishers in one book, it runs the risk of arresting further development. The proliferation of mimeographed song sheets at the local level, while solving many problems, has brought on the legal problem of copyright infringement.

Many problems remain to be solved, and a body of good congregational music is still being developed, but the 1980s and 1990s have seen American Catholic congregations move from a relatively passive role to one in which their singing is a normal part of worship.

Bibliography: j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, tr. f. a. brunner, 2 v. (New York 195155). l. duchesne, Christian Worship, tr. m. l. mcclure (5th ed. repr. New York 1949). e. routley, The Church and Music (New York 1950). f. van der meer, Augustine the Bishop, tr. b. battershaw and g. r. lamb (New York 1962), pt. 2, ch. 11. j. gelineau, Voices and Instruments in Christian Worship, tr. c. howell (Collegeville, Minn.1964). "Music and the Vernacular Liturgy: The Role of the Choir and Congregation," Musart 17 (1964), j. h. miller, "The Liturgist's View," 8, 4850 and r. f. hayburn, "The Liturgical Musician's View," 9, 5152. Liturgical Conference, A Manual for Church Musicians (Washington 1964). l. deiss, Spirit and Song of the New Liturgy (Cincinnati 1970). Bishop's Committee for Liturgy. Music in Catholic Worship (Washington, D.C. 1972); Liturgical Music Today (Washington, D.C. 1982). l. deiss, Visions of Liturgy and Music for a New Century (Collegeville 1996).

[f. j. guentner/

r. b. haller/eds.]

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Congregational Singing

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