They arrive in the mail several times a year. They are given as “extras” in every package you receive from Catholic publishing companies. They are given out in gift bags at conferences and are posted online at company websites….they are liturgical planning guides and they are an ubiquitous fixture in parish music ministry. They promise to make easier the weekly task of selecting music for the liturgy with bullet-pointed lists of appropriate and exciting musical selections. For the more ambitious choirs, some suggest appropriate choral anthems or separately available Octavo versions of the songs found in the disposable music books. For those who are overwhelmed by the never-ending cycle of the liturgical year and the sheer volume of music in the ever increasing body of resources created by commercial publishers, these planning guides are impossible to resist.
For me, it would be easy enough to disregard these publications if they didn’t have real consequences for the sacred and liturgical music which they methodically expunge from the liturgies in every Catholic parish which makes use of them. And since these guides arrive in the mailboxes of nearly every parish in the U.S, that has to be a considerable number of parishes!
To begin, let’s consider what these publications aren’t, and what they actually are. They aren’t objective guides for preparing and selecting the most appropriate music for the liturgy – that is done rather handily in a very concise book called the Graduale Romanum. Admittedly, the selections in the Graduale Romanum are not always accessible to every parish, but the Graduale does provide us with the most appropriate selections and the selections therein should at least point us in the right direction in terms of what texts are part of the Mass. If the planning guides were actually an objective guide, they might at least suggest the selections given as the first option in the liturgical documents. Consider the instruction in the GIRM regarding the Entrance:
In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.
However, a planning guide might present us with something like the following (this particular example is for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time from Today’s Liturgy, Summer/Fall 2009)
Table of Plenty (Schutte) BB/MI 310 CP2 475 GP2 530 H 467 J 744
J2 793 NTY 75 SS1 163 UC 527 VOZ 786 OCP 9846TL
I Am the Bread of Life/Yo Soy el Pan de Vida (Toolan) BB/MI 338
CM 104 CP2 478 H 482 R2 196 UC 561
Alleluia! Give the Glory (Canedo/Hurd) BB/MI 902 CP2 164 GP2 70
H 24 J 520 NTY 3 SS1 5 UC 104 VOZ 113 OCP 9788TL
Now As We Gather (Castillo) BB/MI 309 J 700 OCP 9547TL
Ven al Banquete/Come to the Feast (Hurd) BB/MI 307 CP2 477 H 465
J2 795 NTY 80 R2 204 SS1 164 UC 512 VOZ 779 OCP 10336TL
In This Place (Thomson/Thomson) BB/MI 308 J 999 NTY 18 R2 302
For the Beauty of the Earth DIX BB/MI 624 CM 162 CP2 383 GP2 704
H 382 J 464 J2 642 NTY 139 R 24 R2 293 UC 741 VOZ 602
Praise to the Lord LOBE DEN HERREN BB 203 CM 156 CP2 356 GP2 686
H 360 J 338 J2 597 R 25 R2 253 TM 27 UC 726 VOZ 588
Gather Your People (Hurd) BB/MI 315 CP2 474 GP2 529 H 470 J 681
J2 798 NTY 10 SS1 111 UC 518 VOZ 782 OCP 9699TL
No mention of the Antiphon from the Roman Missal, or of the Psalm from the Roman Gradual, or of the seasonal antiphon from the Simple Gradual, or even of a song from another collection of Psalms and Antiphons approved by the conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. What we get instead is a list of selections from the 4th and last category, the “other suitable liturgical song” option. And in addition, all of the selections they propose are, not coincidentally, from their own publications (that’s what all of those abbreviations and numbers are) without even a pretense of objectivity. So what these publications actually are is rather obvious. They are lists of songs by the corresponding publisher that can be substituted for the actual texts and music of the liturgy by exclusively exercising the 4th and last option given for the Antiphons and Gradual of the Mass in the Church’s liturgical books.
Of course, I wouldn’t expect that a publisher would recommend selections from another publisher’s product… that would be bad business! But the Graduale Romanum, not to mention the vast body of settings of the Antiphons in Latin and in the vernacular that are in the public domain, are not competition. If a publisher sees them as such, then there needs to be an honest evaluation of whether music resource publishing companies are really serving the Church. Publishing companies most often claim that they are committed to serving the liturgy and providing parishes with the very best resources, or some variation on that theme. And yet there is no mention in the above list of a setting of God is in His Holy Dwelling (the Antiphon from the Missal) or of a setting of Psalm 68 (the Psalm from the Roman Gradual). None of the selections suggested on the list are connected in any way to the actual texts for that Sunday, and this is pretty much the norm across the spectrum.
Instead, the list we are given seems to support the contention that the options which the Church considers to be the least desirable are, in fact, the most desirable to exercise in every instance possible. From there, it isn’t that much of a stretch to conclude that the publisher’s intention is to expunge the actual Mass texts and musical settings in favor of less appropriate selections drawn from their own products.
With the USCCB document on music, Sing To The Lord: Music In Divine Worship, the Bishops have urged a restoration of the actual Mass texts found in the Proper Antiphons for each Sunday:
Proper antiphons from the liturgical books are to be esteemed and used especially because they are the very voice of God speaking to us in the Scriptures. Here, “the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.”96 The Christian faithful are to be led to an ever deeper appreciation of the psalms as the voice of Christ and the voice of his Church at prayer.
And yet, more than two years after this document was promulgated, there has been no real effort to incorporate settings of the Proper Psalms into any of the major disposable missals, and no effort to even mention them as options for the Entrance, Offertory or Communion in the planning guides. Why not? Even the Bishops have come out and said “We need to be singing the Propers, not substituting other songs”, and yet the publishers have made no effort to respond to this call.
Of course, it’s easy enough to find settings for these Antiphons that can be sung by just about any choir. The Simple Choral Gradual is available online at no charge, and there are very good settings of the Antiphons in psalm-tone settings in the Anglican Use Gradual, also available online for free. Every day, there are more and more settings of these texts made available online, most all of them at no charge, and there are even some published sets appearing from major publishers (although these are not yet showing up in their worship aids). The question then is why are none of these suggested by any of the planning guides? Most of these settings are either copyright free or are published under creative commons and can be used and re-printed with nothing more than a request for permission and acknowledgment. Doing so would give at least some credibility to these guides insofar as they would at least appear to be making an effort to instruct the reader that there are actual designated selections for these parts of the liturgy.
As it is right now, those who would prefer to follow the instruction of the Church, whether that might come from Tra le Solecitudini, Musicae Sacrae Disciplinae, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Musicam Sacram, The General Instruction of the Roman Missal or Sing To The Lord – are going to have to turn to the actual texts of those documents for guidance and keep a copy of the Graduale Romanum (or the Gregorian Missal if their Latin is a little rusty!) on their desk. Such ambitious persons will essentially have to make their own planning guides from resources that they have determined are appropriate for the liturgy. This isn’t really as difficult as it might first seem.
At times, it might be possible to use the actual Gregorian Propers given in these books, maybe in place of an Opening Hymn or Communion Song, or even in addition to these songs. If this might be a bit ambitious for your abilities, these books will at least give you the texts and psalm citations for each Sunday’s Mass. From there, settings can be found from among the options that are available for free or perhaps it might even be possible to find a setting in one of those disposable resources, although If that’s possible, I can assure you that it will not have been given as a suggestion in their planning guide!
It would be an understatement to say that Catholic liturgical music is in transition at this time. There are obvious changes taking place and current liturgical reforms such as the new translation of the Roman Missal and recent liturgical documents such as Sacramentum Caritatis and Summorum Pontificum, even if not exclusively addressing the issue of liturgical music are encouraging a new way of looking at the issue in light of the Church’s musical traditions. These changes are inevitable, and are obvious to everyone it seems except the publishers of these planning guides, where the same handful of popular selections appear over and over again in place of those which might express the actual texts from the liturgy.
It’s my understanding that the Pope’s latest encyclical encourages industry to take seriously the call for environmental sensitivity, conserving valuable resources and avoiding wasteful practices that use them foolishly. Among these resources, I would include paper. Might we propose an excellent initiative by Catholic publishing companies to discontinue the printing and distributing of these Planning Guides? Such an initiative would go a long way towards helping the environment… and Catholic liturgical music!