Rorate Caeli

Palm Sunday and Good Friday -- singing the Passion

A common question at traditional Latin Mass parishes and chapels this time of year is: Who is allowed to chant the Passion?

The answer: Three deacons, or priests vested as deacons.

There are no exceptions to this rule outside of the schola being permitted to chant the full crowd's parts. We are talking about the Gospel of the Mass. The Passion of Saint Matthew is the Gospel for Palm Sunday. The Passion of Saint Mark is the Gospel for Tuesday in Holy Week. The Passion of Saint Luke is the Gospel for Wednesday in Holy Week. The Passion of Saint John is the Gospel on Good Friday.

According to Sancta Missa:

Q. On Palm Sunday and Good Friday, during the singing of the Passion Gospel, are laymen permitted to sing the role of the Synogaga or Chronista?

A. The Rites of Holy Week by Fr Frederick McManus, published in 1956 by the St Anthony Guild Press, Paterson, NJ, states that, the "Passion is divided into 3 parts: the narration (C for Chronista), the words of Christ (+), and the words of the crowd or of anyone else (S for Synogoga)...The choir (even of lay persons) may take the part of the crowd; the 3rd deacon then sings only the words of individuals (i.e. Pilate, Peter, etc)." (page 69).

McManus states that "the restored order of Holy Week does not provide for the case in which 3 deacons are not available to chant the Passion. It would seem that then the deacon of the Mass should read or chant the Passion in a clear voice, since the entire Passion now constitutes the Gospel of the Mass."In the Ritus Simplex the priest singing the Liturgy (i.e. Missa Cantata), has the option of just reading the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday instead of singing it. If he chooses to sing it, he must sing all three roles, but if a choir is available they could sing the parts of the crowd (Synagoga) that are not the voices of individuals (i.e. Peter, etc)

Summary: help your local clergy learn the chanted parts of the Passion, starting with the two most often sung (Matthew and John).

Musica Sacra has each part here, here and here:

In the meantime, laymen chanting the Passion on Palm Sunday or Good Friday is as illicit as laymen chanting the Gospel at Mass any other day of the year.


  1. Welcome to the team, Ken!

  2. Anonymous5:48 PM

    Yes, welcome aboard!

  3. cyrillist6:12 PM

    At our FSSP chapel, during the St. John Passion on Good Friday, the lay choir sings the Tomas Luis de Victoria settings of the crowd responses. Licit?

  4. Absolutely: "The choir (even of lay persons) may take the part of the crowd..."

  5. Petrus Radii9:06 PM

    With all due respect, your information is not completely accurate.

    1-In 1965, Pope Paul VI permitted that a mere cleric, even if he be not a deacon, or, in necessity, even a layman, may assist at the singing of the Passion in Holy Week. If the cleric is not a deacon, he ought to be at least ordained a lector, if possible. The cleric or layman wears amice, alb, and cincture, but no stole. The chanting of the Passion must occur outside of the sanctuary and clerical choir (but still towards liturgical North), if one of the chanters is only a layman.

    I am not endorsing this innovation, as it is a serious departure from Tradition, but there are strong canonical arguments which can be made that the Pauline decree may apply to celebrations of Holy Week in the Traditional Roman Rite in Latin at the present day. This is because the Sacred Liturgy, as it existed in 1965, is still substantially that of the reform of St. Pius V, and the decree of Paul VI was never abrogated.

    Consequently, it is over the top to suggest that the use of other clerics or laymen is "illicit", since that would imply objectively grave sinfulness in so serious a matter. Other terms, however may be applied. ("Stupid, wrong-headed, and foolish" come to mind!) Because of the uncertainty of the status of the applicable liturgical laws, the suggestion of illiceity and the necessarily consequent sinfulness ought to be avoided, so as not to wrongfully burden the conscience of those in truly extraordinary circumstances where they might consider using a cleric or layman necessary.

    True Catholic Traditionalists should, without doubt, hold to the Apostolic Tradition that only a man who is ordained at least a deacon may sing or recite the Gospel of the Mass or the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (Indeed, one might wish to argue that Paul VI's decree was invalid, due to its being contrary to Apostolic Tradition, but a definitive decision would have to be made by Apostolic Authority.)

    Even prior to 1965, it was required that the part of Christus must be sung by the Celebrant, if three deacons are not present.

    2-I would dispute the claim---by McManus or another of the more progressive rubricists---that the choir or the people would be permitted to sing the part of the Synagoga---expecially since he says, "It seems," without a source citation. Those are weasel words and mean nothing in terms of law.

    It is true that there are many polyphonic settings from former ages, and that the Novus Ordo certainly permits such things. However, it is my recollection that either Pope St. Pius X, in the reform of the chant, or the 1955 Holy Week devastation---um, "renovation"---by Bugnini, specifically abrogated the practice of the choir or people taking the part of the Synagoga, specifically reserving it to someone at least ordained a deacon, and to the use of chant only. Thus, for the 1960 rubrics/1962 Missal, the use of the choir or people for singing the Synagoga would appear to be forbidden. Since I do not have the source at hand, I am open to correction on this second point, if a proper citation from relevant documents of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, or an authoritative rubricist, such as Fortescue, O'Connell, or Kieffer, etc., can be supplied.

  6. "1-In 1965..."

    Your argument is stricken down right there.

  7. Petrus Radii:

    1- "28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962."

    So if the decree of 1965 is incompatible with the rubrics of 1962, which it clearly is, then it does not apply to the traditional rite.

    2- Here I think you are correct. I was a by-listener in a discussion on this topic just this week in which the priest involved (FSSP) was quite insistant that the schola may not sign the parts of the crowd.

  8. Gregory DiPippo12:12 AM

    S.R.C. 4044, 2 In the singing of the Passion, it is permitted that the deacon who represents the synagogue sing only those sentences which are spoken by one person, such as Peter, Pilate, Caiaphas etc, and the sentences of the crowd be sung by the schola, which ordinarily consists of lay people.

    This was not repealed by the Holy Week revisions of Pope Pius XII.

  9. Anonymous12:26 AM

    Wow, 1965 eh? Not sure I'd start an argument on that foundation ...

  10. Petrus Radii and wsxyz, the Sacred Congregation of Rites explicitly allowed the turba (crowd) parts to be sung by a lay choir in Decr. Auth. 4044, July 7, 1899.

    If anyone wants to declare that this widespread custom is no longer permitted, they need to show a citation, not just allege it.

  11. cyrillist1:28 AM

    I look forward to knowing for sure, one way or the other. If we shouldn't be singing the crowd parts, our pastor will need to be informed sooner rather than later. So can we have that cite, please? Anybody? Bueller?

    In any case, if it was abrogated by the 1955 atrocity, I'd be pretty stunned. Hard to believe that Bugnini would take a dim view of anything that allowed the laity to Do More Stuff. (Er, I mean, "actively participate," of course. ;-) )

  12. I sympathize with those who say the parts of the crowd should only be sung by the deacon representing the synagogue. Although not expressed in above comments, it is probably based on the fact that those words of the Passion would not be said or sung by any ordained clergy. Prior to the Pius XII (Bugnini) reforms, the celebrant would have recited the entire Passion at the altar while the three deacons sung the Passion.

    This is another instance where restoring pre-John XXIII and Pius XII reforms would heal divisions and, honestly, repair some broken logic.

    But that is not within our control. It seems pretty clear that 1962 (and previous) law dictates the synagogue part, if sung, must be chanted by a deacon (or priest vested as a deacon) and the option for a schola on the lines of the crowd within that part was and is licit. Note, though, that it is merely an option.

  13. Petrus Radii9:51 PM

    Below is a link to a summary of certain rubrics, with citations from authoritative sources, which apply to the discussion at hand.


    While I stand corrected on the matter of even laity singing the Turba parts of the Synagoga/Chronista, please note that the permission appears to apply only when there are insufficient clerics who are at least deacons, and who can themselves adequately sing or recite the Passion. Moreover, it is categorically forbidden for women to sing any part of the Passion, so the "choir" must be all-male. A fortiori, *if* indeed the polyphonic settings of the Turba are still permitted post-1955 (a debatable point, especially in view of the fact that a choral "Lumen Christi" in the Vigil was specifically reprobated), the polyphonic choir must also be all-male, i.e., men or men and boys.

  14. Gregory DiPippo8:07 AM

    Petrus, in no sense is it a debatable point; permission was granted "explicitis et apertis verbis" for a choir of lay persons to sing the Turba, and not repudiated by any subsequent legislation. The prohibition on singing a polyphonic Lumen Christi is a prohibition on singing a polyphonic Lumen Christi, and has nothing to do with the singing of the Passion. The S.R.C. was always very precise about these sorts of things, and if, when prohibiting a polyphonic Lumen Christi, they had intended to derogate from 4044, 2, they would have said so. Furthermore, said decree does NOT specify that the lay choir may sing the Turba only if there are not enough deacons, and does not specify that the lay choir must be only men.

    It is important to remember that prior to the 1955 Holy Week reform, the Passion was not treated as the Gospel of the Mass. The celebrant read it on the on the Epistle side, facing forward, immediately after the Gradual or Tract, without saying Munda cor meum, beforehand; likewise, the three deacons who sang the Passion did not say the Munda cor. The Gospel of the Mass was only the final part. The celebrant of the Mass said the Munda cor meum, and then read it on the Gospel side (except on Good Friday), and the deacon of the Mass, not the Chronista, sung it with (mostly) the usual ceremonies of Solemn Mass. Therefore, the singing of a number of sentences by a lay choir does not in any way compromise the integrity of the principle that the Gospel is said by the deacon. At Saint Peter's in Rome, it was not unheard of to have all three parts of the Passion sung by lay cantors, since the celebrant was doubling the Passion at the altar, and the deacon sang the last part: no problema!

    Although the ritual was changed in 1955, the prior legislation remains in effect unless it directly contradicts the actual rubrics or text of the Missal. Unless and until the competent authorities formally prohibit the singing of the Turba by women, and formally require that lay men sing the Turba only in the absence of sufficient clerics, even the most scrupulous conscience may continue to use the polyphonic settings written for women's voices.

  15. Gregory DiPippo11:21 AM

    Sorry, I ought to have written "a mixed choir of mens' and women's voices".

  16. "At Saint Peter's in Rome, it was not unheard of to have all three parts of the Passion sung by lay cantors,..."

    Illicitly, I would argue -- even given the location. If this indeed happened, there is no evidence that a pope granted an indult. What did the laymen wear -- diaconate stoles and maniples?

    There has never -- pre-1955, or between 1955 and the 1962 missal -- been permission for laymen to chant the Passion (outside of the choir given the option of singing the Turba portion of the Synagoga voice).

  17. Petrus Radii9:45 PM

    Mr. DiPippo does not provide sources for his rather heated assertions, nor even for his ridiculous claim that laymen "frequently" sang the Passion in St. Peter's in Rome. He also does not seem to have read the footnotes to the article to which I linked, in which it is specifically stated that the SCR expressly forbade women from singing or saying *any* part of the Passion. It did *not* say, "except for polyphonic settings". Consequently, Mr. DiPippo is in error on this point, and any custom to the contrary is "contra jus" and null and void.

    Moreover, the Church's legislation *never* permitted even men amongst the laity to sing or say anything except the Turba parts (as an exception, and not as a rule). My first spiritual director, the late Rev. John C. Selner, S.S., who was a liturgist of impeccable credentials and a leading figure in the good side of the Liturgical Movement in the US, as well as a personal friend of more than one director of the Sistine Choir (amongst others), stated absolutely that it was always required by the Church throughout her history, that those who sang or read the Passion must be at least deacons. No permission for lesser clerics or laymen---apart from the Turba issue---was ever permitted prior to that.

    Mr. DiPippo engages in a certain amount of obfuscation and sophistry in attempting to prove his point, making many bald assertions without proving them. His claim that the "Lumen Christi" issue has no relation to the Passion is not adequate. He must demonstrate positively from post-1955 legislation that my doubts about a polyphonic Turba are ill-founded, as the Bugnini Holy Week was a new ordering of the rites. It is also my recollection that there was also a specific prohibition of the polyphonic Turba, although I do not know the source anymore. Even polyphonic responories at Tenebrae seem to have been discouraged, although perhaps not completely reprobated.

  18. Petrus Radii12:37 AM

    Oops! The end of the second paragraph in my last post should read: "was ever permitted prior to 1965."


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