Monday, February 19, 2007

On Gregorian communions

In response to Klaus’s brief defense of the use of psalmic Gregorian communion chants (i.e. chants that, unlike the bulk of communions, do not connect with the readings) in my previous post, I wanted to expound a bit on the origins of Gregorian communions and their development.

NB: I am not a liturgical scholar nor a chant scholar. Most of what I know is gleaned from practice and from the books I have read, esp. Tietze’s book on the origin of the introit chants.

A couple things interesting from Tietze’s book:

His defense of using introits seems to rest on the observation that the entrance chant in the Roman Rite traditionally has texts that do not generally connect to readings. Communions, however, *do* connect with readings more often than not.

It was not so in the beginning, though: psalmic communions are older than their non-psalmic brethren. This could indicate a development in the theology of the communion antiphon: the reception of the Eucharist was accompanied by singing of the Word (usu. the Gospel): we receive the Body of Christ as food, in the same way we have received Christ through hearing the Word (esp. Gospel). Thus, a connection is established between the reception of the Word and the reception of the physical Body.

Apparently, the goal of supplying lection-centric (?) communion chants simply was never completed before the Proper became (more or less) fixed.

Of course, the dramatic changes in the selection of readings makes it hard to maintain much of a connection between communions and readings - Solesmes seems to have done a fairly nice job of that regardless in the post-V2 Cantus ordo Missæ. However, since the introits are generally not related to readings, the Lectionary changes don’t affect them so much.

In short, those of us who advocate for Gregorian communion chants proper to the day do have some answering to do when we advocate “Passer invenit” in place of a newer tune that does quote the day’s Gospel. (Too lazy right now to look up the Gospels on 15OT, which is when Passer invenit comes up.) In this sense, a project like Psallité seems to have more merit than the Gregorian propers.

A couple interesting tidbits: Lenten weekday communions go from Psalm 1 to Psalm 26, more or less in sequence. (Tietze talks about this at good length.) 25OT through 28OT all use Ps. 119 (the really long psalm) - this sequence is also present in the pre-V2 Missal, though there are only 3 in sequence (weeks 19-21 after Pentecost, I believe).

The above, in conjunction with the fact that the Missal antiphons are generally not connected to readings, would suggest a justification for psalmic antiphons: they are additional Scripture excerpts to be sung in the Mass.

Anyway. Those reading this post looking for a nice, concise “wrap-up” might, now that I am finishing up, be frustrated. I don’t really have a good, polished answer to these problems. At the same time, there is definitely wisdom in implementing the Church’s liturgy as given officially (even when other options are given) - including the use of psalmic Communions.


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