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A new idea for a missalette: Sing a New Song Print
Guest column
Abbot Marcel Rooney

Recently there has been published a missalette which embodies a rather new concept for popular participation at Holy Mass in our churches and chapels.

It is the missalette, Sing a New Song, published by A-R Editions, Inc. in Middleton, Wis. The composer of all the Antiphons and Responsories is myself, Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB. The principles on which this new work is based are really four.

1. Theological principle. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (#14) stated this: "Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy . . ."

The reason for this is that the sacred liturgy belongs to all of us, not just the clergy who are principal celebrants of it. We are all celebrants. I grew up with the idea that Holy Mass was "Father's Mass", and I went to it, saying, "I am going to attend Father's Mass . . ." This was only partially correct. It was and is very definitely "Father's Mass". But it is also our Mass -- God has called us to be Church all together, and that means all need to offer the Holy Sacrifice, all need to share Holy Communion.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal gives directives for the implementation of how we are to do this. We may take as an example the Entrance Antiphon in the missal. Since we have generally lacked music appropriate for the singing of this Antiphon (and it is intended to be sung, not merely recited), most liturgical leaders for 50 years have fallen back on the habit of singing hymns for the entrance to Holy Mass.

The good thing about that practice is that it succeeds oftentimes in involving many of the congregation in this opening element of Holy Mass. But it is not the tradition of the Roman Church. We have always reserved opening various liturgies with hymns to other liturgies, e.g., the Liturgy of the Hours. Holy Mass always had an Antiphon and Psalm for this opening element.

This new missalette is intended to address this lacuna of the last 50 years, and in a way that makes it possible for the largest number of people to participate as we begin Holy Mass.

We should note what the General Instruction says about the Entrance Antiphon (#48). There are four options given for handling the Antiphon:

1. The Antiphon with its Psalm from the Roman Gradual is sung.

2. The Antiphon with its Psalm from the Simple Gradual is sung.

3. A chant from another collection of Psalms and Antiphons may be sung.

4. Another liturgical chant that is suitable may be sung.

The Instruction clearly states that these musical elements are sung by a cantor and the people alternating, or by the people themselves. Only lastly, does it allow for a choir to sing this alone (if all else seems impossible for a given worshiping community).

Now, the Roman Gradual and the Simple Gradual have been in Latin, although some have recently been translating them. Even when translated into English, there is a problem with these: the Antiphons as given in the Roman Missal are quite long and extensive —practically impossible for the people to sing a new one every Sunday and feast day.

That is where this new missalette comes in. It provides Antiphons that are taken directly from the missal. But there is provided melodic development for only a small part of the very lengthy original Antiphon, and the rest of the original is treated as verses which can be sung by a cantor or choir, with the people repeating the singing of the Antiphon in between each of these verses.

The Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time illustrates this. The full original Antiphon in the Missal is: "Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me. For you are my rock, my stronghold! Lead me, guide me, for the sake of your name."

This is very lengthy, and there is a new Antiphon like it every Sunday -- which makes it practically impossible for the people to sing the Antiphon as the Church desires. This new missalette has this for the people's part: "Be my protector, O my God."

Just six words, with a simple melody. Then the rest of the original Roman Missal Antiphon is turned into two verses which may be sung by a cantor or choir. This provides a double blessing: 1) it enables the people to participate in the Antiphons which the Church wants for its Entrance Processions of Holy Mass -- they are short enough that people usually pick them up with one hearing -- and also, 2) it introduces Holy Mass with the rich Scriptural texts which have served over centuries (in the Catholic tradition) rather than hymns which may or may not have a very satisfactory connection to the celebration of this Sunday or feast or season.

2. Musical principle. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council stated this in #116: "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as especially suited to the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given

pride of place in liturgical services."

The Antiphons in the missalette Sing a New Song are all based in Gregorian chant. The composer has sung the chant for decades and his musical and prayer formation has been affected by the chant very profoundly. The reader will note that each Antiphon even has the number of the Gregorian mode in which it is composed.

The author has provided a simple set of melodies embodying the eight ancient modal melodies, and it is indicated at the beginning of each Antiphon. The cantor's verses will be sung in that mode, then, maintaining the spirit of the Antiphon itself.

3. Pastoral principle. As has been stated already in regard to the directives of #48 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the people are to pray and sing the Antiphons provided by the Church.

The music composed for the Antiphons in this Missalette embody the belief that the people's part should be kept to a small part of the original Antiphon, so that they can indeed participate fully. The composer has had the opportunity to try out these Antiphons in typical parishes, and with outstanding results, as regards the enthusiastic participation of the people, who pick up the melodies after only one or two repetitions.

4. Practical principle. It is a concern for anyone who cares about the environment, that as a normal practice our parishes, taken as a whole, are throwing away every year thousands and thousands of missalettes, and then buying new ones in time for the First Sunday of Advent.

One of the values of this missalette is that the Sundays are not dated by the given year's calendar, but by the liturgical year's calendar. That means that they can be used over and over again.

This missalette will be published in separate editions for the A-Year, B-Year, and C-Year. That means that the greater part of the expense of the missalette will be born only in the first three years a community uses them.

At the end of the year, the sacristan can box them up and save them for reuse three years later. This will mean a very great saving for our budgets, as also a saving of our environment. Those preparing this Missalette have had this practical goal in mind from the outset.

A special note for pastors: The price of the missalette goes down the more that are purchased. It would be well, then, if a given pastor is pleased with the new missalette, that he speak with his neighboring pastor(s) and try to pool the purchase of their missalettes, for a much reduced price. The prices are given on the A-R Editions website https://www.areditions.com and they are competitive with most other missalettes.

The ultimate aim of the composer-author is the same as that of the sacred liturgy as a whole: as more people get involved in participation according to the mind of the Church, this will mean giving greater glory to God, and a renewal of our people's faith in and love for the God who calls us together to worship in His Son and in the Holy Spirit.


The Right Rev. Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, is the founding president of the Orate Pastoral Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art.