In a newly released pastoral letter  to the Diocese of Marquette, Bishop Alexander Sample (now archbishop-designate of Portland) calls for implementation of Church teaching on the use of sacred music in the liturgy.

Drawing on a century’s worth of papal and council documents, he points out that Catholics do not just “take the Mass and simply ‘tack on’ four songs.” Rather, “since sacred music is integral to the Mass, the role of sacred music is to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself [the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Psalm, Alleluia, etc.], not just ornament it.” In short, “we  sing the Mass at Mass, rather than  sing songs during Mass ” (emphasis his).

Bishop Sample also reviews the qualities of sacred music and its traditional forms from Gregorian chant, which the Second Vatican Council gives “pride of place” in the Mass, to polyphony, hymnody, psalmody, and others. About singing hymns at Mass, a subject we’ve debated here before , he writes:

Hymns are a musical form pertaining more properly to the Liturgy of the Hours, rather than the Mass. Hymn-singing at Mass originated in the custom of the people singing vernacular devotional hymns at Low Mass during the celebrant’s silent recitation of the Latin prayers. However, the current Missal as well as official liturgical documents envision a singing of the Mass as outlined above.

The Roman Missal assigns a few hymns to various Masses in the course of the liturgical calendar . . . However, the hymns and songs commonly sung at Mass every week at the Entrance, Preparation of the Gifts and Communion are not identified in the Missal. It is important to recognize that when we sings hymns at these moments during Mass, it is because we are omitting some of the Mass chants.


While the Proper chants in the Missal should be sung if at all possible, he concludes, “singing hymns in place of [some] Proper chants is permissible for pastoral reasons.”

Read the whole pastoral letter  here . And let us hope that the Diocese of Marquette is not the only place that will carry out Bishop Sample’s instructions.

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