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October 26, 2006



A tragic loss at Trent was the suppression of the sequences. We lost all but 4 (a fifth, the Stabat Mater, was added later.) This was a huge part of our musical heritage, all done away with at a stroke, due to the uneven quality and theological unsoundness of some.

Lesson #1: If people who produce liturgical music can't self-regulate a whole lot better than we're currently doing, someday it could be hammer-time.

Lesson # 2: We should be developing principles and criteria by which music is evaluated for its suitability in the liturgy. (Thomas Day's book may have been useful as a wake-up call, but his distinctions are not fine enough for this work.) The Subcommittee on the Liturgy mentions very important distinctions in their draft document, such as

"Any emphasis on the work of the members of the Church should always be balanced by an appreciation of the doctrine of grace and our complete dependence of the grace of God to accomplish anything."

That's a good norm, a sharp sword. That's the kind of discernment we had better start using.

Mary Kay

Amy, thanks for the link, looks like a good one, wish I had time to read it right this moment.


Richard Crocker (Emeritus, UBerkeley) is evidently the guy who wrote the book on sequences. Here's a reasonable wiki. The four that stayed in the Missal are certainly magnificent things. The Lauda Sion by Aquinas is one of the great glories of music (to say nothing of the brilliance of its text), closely followed by the Dies Irae. These are wonderful things, but it's difficult to see, given their length, their having a routine place at Sunday Mass. We don't even sing the florid Graduals anymore, having replaced them with the Psalm. So maybe the sequences are wisely reserved for the special occasions they're assigned to now. I wonder how many parishes actually sing these, let alone more.


Sequences are invaluable for deepening the theological understanding of the people. They are extended meditations on the feast of the day--able to form the imagination as well as the mind in a catechesis that can really deepen faith.

A sample verse from the Easter Sequence:

Dic nobis Maria, Quid vidisti in via?
Sepulcrum Christi viventis, et gloriam vidi resurgentis,

Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
I saw the tomb of the living Christ, and the glory of His rising.


Wouldn't it require a new Missal, Ephrem? In the meantime, with permission, they'd make good preludes. Don't you think?


Actually the Easter Sequence is one of "the five."

The loss of the Sequence is an example, a point of agreement with the original post:

Trent actually put a stop to a lot of that vitality with the suppression of some of the more entertaining medieval customs--though, in all fairness, that life had turned into a sort of absurd and frightneing decadence. But still, something was lost.

Fr. Totton

For those who think progressive solemnity is a valid idea (I am one) the sequences do add a special solemnity to the feasts on which they are allowed. I asked the choir to sing (an english rendering of) Victimae Paschali last easter. The organist and the choir director both looked at me, raised their eyebrows and asked: "WHEN are we supposed to sing this?" I answered: "after the second reading, before the Alleluia." They gave the distinct impression that this is somehow going to confuse people and tire the choir out, but agreed nonetheless. There was some nervous energy about the whole matter - people started to stand, because they thought this was the beginning of the Alleluia - so there are a few snags to work out, but overall it is a good idea.

Father Elijah

May I make a few more comments/ memories?

As a boy training for serving at the altar of God Who gives joy to my youth (youthful joy) and learning the ancient Latin responses I was taught that these responses USED TO BE responded by all the people, but over time, and with growing lack of the knowledge of Latin, the responses came to be the privilege of servers such as myself. The responses belonged at one time to ALL the People of God.

In the fifth grade, attending daily Mass during Lent in the evening, the young curate 9recently from Rome) invited us to stay for ten minutes after each Mass so he could introduce the new rites of Holy Week (and of course encouraged us to participate). It was there for the first time that I heard about what participation in the Liturgy meant: to participate in the Rite was to participate in the original saving Event [now read: Paschal Mystery]. I was astounded as a young boy but the best was yet to come-The Holy Week Liturgies! When I heard the Easter Proclamation (Exultet) for the first time I thought I had entered heaven-which of course is exactly what every Liturgy brings us to

In the eighth grade in Catholic school, the culmination of our learning Gregorian Chant (yes it WAS part of our curriculum and taught byt the nuns) we prepared all the responses and 'commons' for a Mass. We eventually found out that we were joining many other contemporaries at a Mass organized by the Catholic school office of the diocese. The day came and a large church full of pre-teens entered into full conscious participation in the Eucharist singing and responding in Latin (oops and Greek including the Kyries), the Gloria, Alleluias, Credo, Sanctus Agnus Dei and hymns.

Near my home was a Carmelite chapel. There the Carmelite priests celebrated Mass for people stopping in (the chapel was at a shopping center) What amazed me was that the ritual of the Mass that the Carmelite priest celebrated was somewhat different than the 'regular' Mass we had in my parish. There were actually variations of what we call the Tridentine Mass-that were celebrated by certain religious orders.

IN the ninth grade I was given an assignement in public school to do a paper on Eastern Christians. I found out soooooooo much! But keeping to the point- found out there were many rites in the Eastern Churches (Catholic and Orthodox and other Eastern Churches) All variations of the ONE Mass!

Entering the Seminary and singing in our choir I found out that the Tridentine Mass was but one form of the Latin Rite. There was and still is the Ambrosian Rite as well as other forms such as the Gallican Rite, Mozarabic (Spanish) and Sarum (English) which have over time basically disappeared and in some cases were suppressed and replaced by the Tridentine Mass.

These reflections and memories are rich with no jaundiced look toward the past. My point is this-for the last forty years or so Catholics have got ourselves into these 'either-or' stances: either the Tridentine (1962) Mass or the Pauline (1970) Mass. Our Western Tradition of liturgy does not allow us really to get into this 'either/or' mentality [here I am speaking of Liturgies celebrated within the Western Catholic Tradition-I am not speaking of Reformation Liturgies or services].

I believe we are about to enter a quieter but deeper time of appreciation, contemplation and 're-appropriation' of the wonderful richness of our Western Latin Tradition of the Mass. It is not an 'either or' but a 'both-and'!

Richard Jizba

Like most Americans, the only Mass I really know is the novus Ordo. I find it a beautiful and uncomplicated rite, although I am no fan of the bad music that often accompanies it.

Like most other Americans I do not speak or read Latin, even though I have had a year of college Latin. I like early music and have many CDs with Latin hymns or plainsong. It's beautiful music, but I have to read the liner notes to understand what the song is about. That's not how I want Mass to be.

I think the indult allowing priests to decide which mass to use is really inadvisable, and I fear it will result in a decline in mass attendance. I can forsee priests choosing the the older rite after listening to a vocal minority of their parishoners, rather than being reflective about the spiritual needs of the majority. I also think many people will see it as major concession to those who fiercely objected to the novus Ordo. What is the moral?: be adamantly and vocally disobedient and you will eventually get your way.

Richard Jizba

Daniel Mitsui

There are some 5000 extant medieval sequences. Most have been lost over the centuries, especially in the violence done to monastic libraries in the various D/Reformations and D/Revolutions.

However, even limiting the sample to those that are rhymed and metered (my preference) and that have no doctrinal irregularities, there are well more than enough to provide at least one for every sanctoral feast that was celebrated in the Middle Ages, and a dozen for every major temporal feast. The surviving work of Adam of St. Victor alone could cover the entire liturgical year, except for Lent and Passiontide. (I'm working, slowly, on a transcription of his surviving sequences.)

What is needed is a throrough scholarly study and codification of the music by some erudite monks. I'd think that, in certain traditionalist communities at least, it would be fairly easy to secure permission to use them in their proper place before the Gospel. Of course, nobody is stopping anyone from singing them as preludes, recessionals, or after the offertory and communion antiphons.

I don't think many people realize that the Council of Trent discarded half the musical repertory of the Church. And like many other decisions of Trent that I dislike, it was essentially a concession to Protestantism - the sequences are not scripture, so they were removed. And frankly, I think it a truth so universal and self-evident that it could be formulated as a creed of the Church: Worrying about what Protestants will think sucks all the fun out of being Catholic.


Of course, nobody is stopping anyone from singing them as preludes, recessionals, or after the offertory and communion antiphons.

Are these approved texts, then?


I would suggest a process shift for liturgical changes: the Missal and other ritual books only get updated for each Jubilee cycle (with an exception for supplements for new beati and sancti). And the liturgical changes of a living pope get rolled into that only after his death. That way, you dull the element of personal gratification, and also prevent the kind of ossification that can build up into unhealthy energy for dramatic change.

Sandra Miesel

For a large sample of these sequences, see Matthew Britt's HYMNS OF THE BREVIARY AND MISSAL. Since VII, I have hardly ever eard a sequence at Mass, not for Easter, Pentecost, anything. And it's a downright abomination to hear something other than Venantius Fortunatus' "Pange lingua" on Good Friday.


And it's a downright abomination to hear something other than Venantius Fortunatus' "Pange lingua" on Good Friday.

This is translated as "Sing my tongue the song of triumph" or "Sing my tongue the glorious battle."

reluctant penitent


While I accept your principle as generally true, are you sure that it it behind the prohibition of hymns and sequences? Luther composed metrical hymns and, therefore, could not have been opposed to singing them and other non-Biblical texts in Church. I was under the impression that hymns, sequences and tropes were eliminated because of a legitimate concern about heretical content.

Daniel Mitsui

While admitting that troping and the like tended to result in dramatic elaborations, I'm not convinced that there was a wealth of heresy in the sequences themselves.

I mean really - which heresy would it be? They were composed in the Latin Church of the High Middle Ages, which was mostly untouched by the heresies of the patristic Age, and as yet untouched by Protestantism. At most, certain apocryphal texts with gnostic influence may have been referenced.

More likely is that many of the sequences reflected the popular piety of the day, alluding to sanctoral legends and miracle stories that tried the credulity of the Protestants and their sympathizers. It's the same attitude that led the Counter-Reformers to disdain the Golden Legend and the old Martyrologies and Lectionaries, and to proscribe, for a time, the iconographic conventions of the Middle Ages. And that, I think, really is a concession to Protestantism, or at least its hermeneutic - it's the result of reading Catholic tradition in an exclusively literal sense.


I am no great fan of the Mass in Latin, or of the practice of the priest serving with his back to the laity.
I suspect the original Mass, that is the Last Supper, was said in Aramaic. After that primarily in Greek or Latin based upon who the faithful were. I also suspect that having the priest face away from the other participants in the meal was a practice that originated hundreds of years after the Apostolic period.
I have no nostolgia for the Post Reformation version of the Mass.
On the other hand I will agree that something should be done about liturgical music. I am a great fan of upbeat, modern composition. My greatest problem is with the disjointed nature of modern liturgical music. The eclectic mixing of musical styles reduces the dignity of the Mass, not because the music is played on guitar, piano or horns, but because spiritual, celtic and modern is mixed together without any attempt to create a cognitive whole.


"I believe we are about to enter a quieter but deeper time of appreciation, contemplation and 're-appropriation' of the wonderful richness of our Western Latin Tradition of the Mass. It is not an 'either or' but a 'both-and'!"

Father Elijah, from your mouth to God's ears!

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