The Proper Place of Mass Propers

By Tucker, Jeffrey | Sacred Music, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Proper Place of Mass Propers

Tucker, Jeffrey, Sacred Music

I sometimes wish that I could be released from my continuing focus on the question of what went wrong with Catholic music in the 1960s and 1970s. Somehow, however, I can't get past the suspicion that in these years we might find the answer to why it is that the average Catholic parish offers a liturgical experience that no Catholic in the history of the faith would recognize as aesthetically familiar. And if we can focus in a very precise way on what it is that happened, we will have a clearer idea of where to go in the future.

Investigations keep leading back to a central idea: hymns have replaced proper texts of the Mass. Think of it. The Sunday Mass has four given proper texts: introit, gradual, Alleluia or tract, offertory, and communion. The gradual and Alleluia of old may be licitly replaced by this new idea called the responsorial psalm and a dramatically shrunken Alleluia while the "gospel acclamation" has displaced the glorious tracts of old. That much I understand.

But what about the introit, offertory, and communion? The offertory chant text doesn't appear in the missal, apparently because the missal only includes spoken propers whereas the offertory is a sung proper. Even so, what is not in the missal doesn't usually make an appearance at Mass. As a result, the priest and people sit following the prayers of the faithful and it feels like little more than intermission that permits the parish to collect money from people and for the choir to sing what the Protestants call their "special music" of the day. That sense of ritual and liturgy comes to a screeching halt, and we take a breather in anticipation of the start of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Still, the offertory appears in the Graduale Romanum for all to see. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) refers to the "chants at the ... offertory" (37b), says that "the procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the offertory chant" (74), and notes that "when the prayer of the faithful is completed, all sit, and the offertory chant begins" (139). To underscore the point, the GIRM sums up: "The norms laid down in their proper places are to be observed for the choice of chant ... at the offertory" (367).

Many celebrants today don't even know that there is such a thing as the offertory chant. In fact, they wouldn't know unless they happen to be browsing through the Graduale Romanum or the Gregorian Missal, books that most Catholic choirs and music directors in the United States are yet unaware even exist. How can the rubrics be followed if people don't even know that central parts exist? They can't, which is why this part of the Mass seems like an accounted-for break of some sort.

The entrance and communion chants are nearly always displaced by some other form of music besides chant--hymns, hymns, hymns, world without end--and the texts are taken from anywhere and everywhere but the proper chant of the day. Indeed, the proliferation of hymns at the expense of propers has gone on without correction since the new missal was first promulgated in 1969 and 1970.

Now, it seems clear that this was never the intention of Vatican II. The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy went to great lengths to elevate the chants of the Mass to the highest possible priority. Chant deserves primacy of place, the document said. The people should be actively involved in singing the parts that belong to them. As for new compositions--and this is a critical passage--"the texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources." Chiefly! The liturgical sources of course are the propers, and these are drawn from scripture.

Now, six years passed between the promulgation of this constitution and the new Mass which is now called the ordinary form of the Roman Rite. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Proper Place of Mass Propers


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.