The Propers for the Feast of All Saints: A Commentary

Article excerpt

The church has assigned some outstanding chants for the Mass on the Feast of All Saints. These certainly deserve to be studied and we will do so here, paying particular attention to the musical exegesis that the texts receive. We cannot in any way be exhaustive, so our aim is only to give the reader enough of a background to achieve a more nuanced performance of these chants. Any suggestions given for performance are general, but the nuances discussed can be a guide to a more precise rendering. In what follows, the reader should consult the current Roman Gradual. These propers are the same for both forms of the Roman Rite.

This feast was a late addition to the church calendar, becoming widely celebrated only as late as the ninth century. Most of the propers for this feast have been borrowed from commemorations or feasts of martyrs. Only the Alleluia and communion antiphon seem to have been composed specifically for this feast. Except for the Alleluia, all of the chants are in mode one, a mode whose seriousness helps us to meditate piously on the magnificent ideas contained in the texts. (1) The Alleluia was composed in mode eight, a very solemn mode, and therefore the perfect one to highlight the sacredness of the text in accordance with the event being celebrated.

The Introit

This introit originates from the feast of St. Agatha, virgin and martyr. It is also assigned to other feasts of saints, and certain feasts of Our Lady. The text is from liturgical poetry and is likely of Greek origin. (2) Only a few words are changed to make the text conform to the particular feast being celebrated. In this introit the church invites us to rejoice along with the angels. There is plenty of energy in the melody that firmly maintains an air of joy throughout. It begins with a classic intonation for mode one, which immediately lifts our hearts to a height that can partake in the joy found in the heavenly realm. The extended ornamentation of the reciting tone (la) on the word "Domino" (Lord) is particularly joyful, and is surely meant to express thanks to our Lord for this gift of joy to the saints in heaven.

The melody over "Angeli" (Angels) is both very joyful and yet solemn, illustrating the magnificence of the heavenly realm where both the saints and the angels enjoy the beatific vision. On the first syllable we have the Kaire motive, fa-sol-la-sol-la taken from the first few notes of the offertory Ave Maria for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. (3) In the latter the Angel Gabriel joyfully greets Mary with "Ave" (Hail), or in the Greek text, Kaire, which really means "Rejoice." This motive, or musical formula, is an expression of angelic joy on a solemn occasion such as when Mary was asked to be the Mother of God. Here, the angels solemnly rejoice at the beatific vision of all the saints and martyrs.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

References to the angels are found in several of today's propers, because they reside in the heavenly realm where all the saints dwell. Even the entire epistle of the extraordinary form of the Roman Mass is devoted to St. John's awesome vision of the angels adoring God in the heavenly realm.

This introit could be sung with a joyful energy, paying attention to the added solemnity and joy of "angeli."

The Gradual

This gradual is a suitable meditation on the awesome nature of heaven as just described by St.

John in the epistle for the extraordinary form of the Mass, although it may have been borrowed from one originally assigned to a Mass for martyrs. The fear of the Lord is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. We should not look at this fear in a sense of dread in the face of some physical pain, torment, or punishment that will befall us; rather, Christians become afraid to offend the Lord precisely because of their love for him. The fear of the Lord is in regard to our moral and spiritual well being, not bodily. This has been difficult to convey and much has been written on the subject. …