Sunday, October 19, 2008

Now is the Unacceptable Time for the Poor Man's Propers

In the Traditional Rite, with the exception of October 26, every week from now until Advent will use today's Propers, the chants for the XXIII Sunday after Pentecost. This offers virtually an entire month to become familiar with these chants, and I might say that this particular set of Propers is stunningly spectacular.

I've already warned my schola that I will be using this time to get to know these chants intimately, to perfect them more and more each week. We will be able to approach details for which we normally do not have time in the usual grind from week to week.

The thought also struck me that this might offer an opportunity for those scholas who are not usually capable of doing the real Propers from the Roman Gradual. With the extra practice time, groups might be able to work their way off Rossini or whichever poor man's version they're using and slowly make use of the real Propers as these last weeks of Pentecost approach. There might need to be an exception in some cases for the Gradual and Alleluia which are particularly difficult, even as the melismatic interlectionary chants tend to go.

There is no telling what this might do for your schola or your parish. For your schola, it will give them not only a sense of what is required to do the authentic Propers, but it will also offer the experience of the unmatched joy in singing them--a joy that cannot be created by any of the diluted versions. Doing the authentic Propers may also draw more members into your schola. Keep in mind what Albert Jay Nock called Gresham's Law: The bad money drives away the good money. In this respect, bad music keeps good singers away. For your parish, the use of the Propers from the Roman Gradual will offer a glimpse into the multi-idiomatic nature of the chant genre. Many people will probably realize for the first time that not all chant sounds like Mass XVIII.

What about those parishes which never do the Propers? (And in this, I include most especially those places where the Low Mass is said with the Four Hymn Sandwich.) Well, this string of weeks offers the opportunity to start singing the Propers. Any excuses emanating from time constraints are suspended from now until Advent.

Finally, what of the Novus Ordo? In the 1974 Gradual, the Propers continue to change from week to week until the end of the year. But, as I like to say, as long as the plague known as alius cantus aptus is with us, we may as well put it to good use. That is to say, a traditional use. Why not use the Propers from the XXIII Sunday after Pentecost from now until the end of the year, with the exception of the Feast of Christ the King? (The XXIII Sunday after Pentecost corresponds roughly, I believe with the 33rd Sunday in the 74 Gradual.) This way, Novus Ordo parishes can also benefit from doing the same Propers several weeks in a row. And for heaven's sake, do it right and sing from the Roman Gradual, not any of those other books.

This string of weeks offers us musicians a great opportunity, an opportunity to perfect, or maybe even just to begin, the singing of the Propers. In either case, now is the acceptable time.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: