Four-Hymn sandwich

At many Masses, contemporary Catholics will encounter a musical model described as the “Four-Hymn Sandwich”. It consists in replacing the singing of the Proper Antiphons of a specific Mass by hymns, as in the table below.


What are the liturgical consequences?

  • The texts of the Proper are biblical and specific to the liturgy of each Mass. The text of hymns are more general, devotional in nature. The words of the song’s lyricist replace the Word.
  • The first degree of participation in the liturgy are the dialogues and responses. These are chanted (monophonic, unaccompanied) because the priest leads the dialogue in chant. In liturgies with the “4-hymn sandwich”, dialogues are typically spoken, both for historical(see below) and musical reasons. The degrees of participation recommended by Church documents are thus turned around.

The “Four Hymn Sandwich” was actually invented before the implementation of Vatican II, in the mid-1960s, as a “back door” to introduce some vernacular in the Latin Mass. Per the rubrics of Latin Mass, this could be done only in a “Low Mass”, not in a “Sung Mass” or “High Mass” (see rules of the Tridentine Low Mass here: Music-for-low-mass). Priests reluctant to sing the Mass could then say (not chant) the Mass, and still satisfy the congregation with “some music”.

It then became the “new normal” as parish priests were looking to foster “active participation” while not having to chant themselves.

Return to “Active Participation”

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