After the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church retained this principle: the chants of the Proper are an integral part of the Mass, hence should be sung in Latin (as Gregorian chant or a polyphonic setting), or at least recited by the celebrant. But by this time, as a consequence of historical processes, the system of institutions that formerly maintained and supported the continuity of chanting, had collapsed. In some churches there remained choirs (capellae) executing the pale and “boring” Gregorian Propers as a ritual obligation between the performance of two splendid movements of a polyphonic Ordinary. Some monasteries were also able to maintain the regular singing of the Proper chants. In the majority of Masses, however, it was left to the celebrant to read the texts in silence whilst the congregation nurtured its own religious feelings and passed the time by singing the pious hymns created as a result of Protestant influence. The mere reading of the Proper chants shriveled the texts into brief “logia,” bits of connective tissue between the “important” parts of the service.
No wonder, then, that for many the Proper chants became an obligatory but very subordinate, non-essential part of the liturgy, incapable of offering much spiritual sustenance even to the priest celebrant. Problems of this nature were but of marginal interest to the religious movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, and only the liturgical renewal of the 19th century (Dom Gueranger, Bishop J. M. Sailer) offered any chance for the a reversal of the decline. The best efforts at reform, however, encountered serious obstacles, and the results were rather narrowly circumscribed. But their real significance lay in the “appeal” they voiced: to look for and work toward a better future. The apostles of liturgical renewal urged the establishment of choirs in many churches, with appropriate musical formation to enable them to sing the chant, including the Proper chants (largely to Gregorian tunes) according to the rules of the Church.
What was missing, unfortunately, was the supporting system of institutions, which would guarantee the universal and uninterrupted achievement of this goal -, independently of personal and individual zeal. Along with the other texts, the Proper chants were also transmitted to the faithful in the bilingual missals whose influence was enormous. For many Catholics the missal became their most important spiritual nourishment, more important perhaps than even the Bible, because once drawn into the rhythm of the Church’s life, they received God’s word and the Church’s prayer within the vivid context of the liturgy under the protecting wings of liturgical observation. Such persons also became attached to the Proper chants as to sacred texts… but only as texts. (While singing, a text extends in space and time, and thus touches not only the intellect, but other spheres of the heart and soul as well).
The liturgical renewal greatly enriched and supported both priests and layfolk by publishing explanations of the liturgy. Drawn from good sources, these commentaries transcended the moral sermonizing of Baroque and Enlightenment schoolbooks, and did not fail to include the chants of the Proper, interpreting them in the spirit of the liturgy. It is regrettable that these commentaries did not reach the entire larger community of the faithful, and even more regrettable that they did not permeate the great majority of the clergy either.
Complete success was not achieved because of three failures or deficiencies: 1) The liturgical renewal remained more of an exhortation and a pious desire than a concrete program energetically taken up and vigorously executed by the entire institution of the Church. 2) No mechanism was developed for combining the true preservation of Latin with the linguistic communication of the liturgy to persons unfamiliar with Latin. 3) There was no bold creative action to find ways of presenting music to people of the age, unable to perform universally the Proper chants in their full form. Vatican II was predestined to accept and pass on the noble legacy of the century-old liturgical renewal and to solve the problems that had emerged. Though the principles of the Council’s Liturgical Constitution promised the restoration of liturgical singing, events after the Council in fact led to the disappearance of liturgical singing.