In many parishes it has been common for the cantor or choir to extend the Lamb of God by adding additional statements, known as tropes, to it.

The Holy See has been taking an increasingly firm line against this, and now they've issued a clear mandate that it stop.

Here's the story . . .


What's Supposed to Happen

According to the Order of Mass, after the sign of peace,

129. Then [the priest] takes the host, breaks it over the paten, and places a small piece in the chalice, saying quietly:

May this mingling of the Body and Blood

of our Lord Jesus Christ

bring eternal life to us who receive it.

130. Meanwhile the following is sung or said:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,

have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,

have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,

grant us peace.


The invocation may even be repeated several times if the fraction is prolonged. Only the final time, however, is grant us peace said.

Got that?

If they need to extend the Lamb of God, they're supposed to keep repeating "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us" until they're ready to finish it with a "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace."

And extended versions of the Lamb of God have been more common because in many parishes Communion is being distributed to a large number of the faithful under both kinds, and it takes longer to divide it up for the different people who will be distributing it.

But they haven't been extending the prayer in the way that's indicated in the text.


What's Been Happening Instead

In many parishes they've been using musical settings by Catholic publishers that have a bunch of different tropes beyond "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world."

For example:

  • Jesus, Bread of Life, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
  • Jesus, Prince of Peace, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
  • Jesus, Son of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
  • Jesus, Word of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
  • Jesus, Tree of Life, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
  • Jesus, Fire of Love, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
  • Jesus, Bread of Peace, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
  • Jesus, Hope of All, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.


So What?

It must be admitted that tropes of this type are usually quite benign. They are unlikely to contain heresies that will cause the sun to darken and the moon to turn to blood and the stars to fall from the sky.

Some of them are actual titles of Christ in Scripture ("Bread of Life," "Prince of Peace"), and others can be understood in a perfectly acceptable way ("Bread of Peace," "Hope of All").

But there is a matter of principle here, and the principle is that people can't go adding text to the liturgy on their own authority, however benign the text is.

You see, although it is often set to music, the Lamb of God (or, to use its Latin title, the Agnus Dei) is not a hymn. It is a prayer of the liturgy itself. That's why it's in the Order of Mass.

To add basically inoffensive material to the Lamb of God just because it seems nice would be like adding basically inoffensive material to the Eucharistic Prayer or the Creed or the Gloria or any other prayer of the Mass.

If a parish was doing any of those things, the Holy See would take a very dim view, because people giving themselves permission to tinker with the texts of the Mass--however innocuously it seems to them--introduces divisions into the Church's worship, bewilders the faithful, and has led to an unimaginable amount of liturgical abuse.

In fact, it's contrary to the basic principle of the Holy See's program of the last twenty or so years of tightening up the celebration of the liturgy so that, as Fr. Z says, one should "Say the Black. Do the Red."

Mind you, given the benign nature that the tropes tend to have, it wouldn't bother me if their use were approved, but that's the question: Is their use approved or not?


Authorized or Not?

As part of my ongoing research into the liturgy, some years ago I contacted the U.S. bishops' Committee on Divine Liturgy (then the Bishops' Committee on Liturgy) to inquire whether the musical settings of the Lamb of God with the added tropes were approved for liturgical use or not.

This inquiry was needed because, when music gets involved, everything gets looser--or at least it has in recent decades. In order to fit the liturgical or biblical texts to music, composers and music publishers were given much more liberty adapt them to the music. (Of course, other adaptations, like eliminating male references from them, were done also.)

The people at the bishops' committee were very helpful, but they indicated that they did not have the information on file and that I should contact the music publisher to see if they had it on file.

I thus contacted Oregon Catholic Press, but they never got back to me.


A New Hope

New hope arose for resolving the issue in the last few days, and I was thus very interested to see that there had been an announcement on this subject from the Committee on Divine Worship.

I first encountered this on the blogs The Chant Cafe and Gotta Sing Gotta Pray and more recently on The Curt Jester.

The Chant Cafe reported:

The Vatican has intervened in the guidelines for Catholic liturgical music in the U.S.. It has sent a messages to U.S. publishers that it objects to extending the official text of the Agnus Dei to add additional text. The practice is called “troping” but that’s using a rather high-minded and deeply historical term for what is actually just pop-music riffing. Further, the Congregation for Divine Worship has asked the USCCB for a change in its musical guidelines to reflect this.

As the blog Gotta Sing reports, one publisher received the following note:

In response to a request from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the USCCB Administrative Committee adopted a change on September 12, 2012 to the U.S. Bishops’ 2007 guidelines on liturgical music, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. Number 188 of the document has been altered to remove any further permission for the use of Christological tropes or other adaptations to the text of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

The Chant Cafe also wondered:

And yet, one wonders if this intervention will make any difference. Note that it removes “further permission” but says nothing about the settings already published and already in use.

It's true that the part quoted by Gotta Sing Gotta Pray didn't indicate whether "further permission" referred to future compositions or whether it included settings currently in use, but I realized this might be clarified in the CDW piece itself.

I thus was very keen to see the CDW Newsletter, which arrived today.


Not Authorized

The piece has some helpful background to the situation, but the most relevant part states (my emphasis in blue):

This alteration is effective immediately, and affects all existing and future musical settings of the Lamb of God.

The relevant paragraph [of the bishops' document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship] now reads (new text in underline):

188. The supplicatory chant Agnus Dei accompanies the Fraction Rite. It is, "asa rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending woth the word dona nobis pacem (grant us peace)" (GIRM, no. 83). The Agnus Dei should not be prolonged unnecessarily (see GIRM, no. 83) nor may other texts be added to this chant.

So . . . kewl.

We now have greater clarity on what's supposed to happen int he liturgy.

Like I said, I didn't loathe the content of the tropes that tended to be added in my experience, but I want to see the Church have clear rules that are known to everyone about what is and is not supposed to happen in the liturgy so that they can be followed more easily and, if a parish is not following them, this is easier to document and thus easier to deal with.

Clarity good.

What do you think?


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