It’s been just over three months since I put together a small group of chanters to make up the Schola Cantorum for our 5:00 Traditional Latin Mass. Our little motley crew has been faithful in attendance and enthusiasm. Due to the difficulty of immersing volunteers headfirst into neumes and propers in a “dead” language, we have employed psalm tones to make the sung Propers of the Mass more accessible. This is especially useful when rehearsals are limited to approximately one hour once a week.
We’ve gotten into a groove with our Psalm tones. After I intone the first portion of a Proper, the Schola enters with confidence. It’s almost as if the terminations have become second nature! This is an exciting time!
During Lent, it is most preferable if the organ is silent from Ash Wednesday to Easter Vigil, though it can be used to aid the singing if the Schola is not proficient in singing the chant alone. We are a fledgling Schola, so we’re still getting the hang of it. (This is why we’re using the organ during Lent). The organ’s silence poses several other interesting “difficulties”:
1. There is far more silence in the Mass
This is actually not a difficulty at all. Silence is golden, and should give the faithful a beautiful time to prepare themselves for the Communion they are about to recieve.
2. The difficulty for the Schola is that the Offertory and Communion Antiphon are short, and setting them to Psalm tones typically makes them even shorter. I’m not saying that we have to fill as much time with music as possible, but it is nice to be able to cover the liturgical action carried out by the sacred ministers.
3. What can we do that keeps with the Season of Lent, but still allows us to cover the liturgical action? We are five people in total counting our organist. We don’t have the voices to sing four part motets (yet).
While perusing the MusicaSacra website, I found the answer. In the Latin basic chant resources available, I stumbled upon a wonderful little book entitled “Communio” that contains Psalm verses connected to each communion antiphon used in the TLM. This is a great way to sing during the distribution of Holy Communion and help elevate the prayers of the faithful! There’s only one catch: it uses the actual communion chant found in the Liber Usualis. This means that we have to “step up” a little and learn one authentic chant per Mass.
This is a great opportunity for a beginning schola. We’ve gotten comfortable with seeing a variety of neumes in the Psalm tones, and the next logical step is to “up the difficulty” without completely overwhelming the schola, which is made of volunteers.
We will attempt this approach during Mass for the first time tonight, as Father John Zuhlsdorf, author of the Catholic blog Reading Francis through Benedict (formerly known as What Does The Prayer Really Say), closes our Lenten Mission with a Solemn High Mass (the first one celebrated in our parish in over 50 years). Hopefully, the chant will be a beautiful addition to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! I’m also hoping next year to sing the chant unaccompanied for the season of Lent. 😉 We’ll see where we are when that time comes!