The curious case of the missing ‘O’

Reposted from Dei præsidio suffultus

Holy Week is now upon us. Today is Palm Sunday already. For those who consider themselves immersed in the bibliography of Holy Week, as one way of putting it, having elected which side of 1955 to hold dear to their hearts, it is a time to ponder again about the missing ‘O’ in the antiphon Hosánna fílio David.

The Missale Romanum, up until the 1962 edition by Saint John XXIII, printed the antiphon with the O. So did the 2004 re-typesetting of the 1920 edition, and the 1862 Pustet edition.

Hosánna fílio David : benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini. O Rex Israël : Hosánna in excélsis.

The interjection ‘O’ disappears in the books from 1962 onward:

Now, we are talking about the text of the Liturgy, the published text. Let us now examine the music printed for this text. Understandably, the 1962 edition of the Liber usualis (which received a thick wad of signatures inserted in the place of the Old Holy Week) did not have the interjection. Interestingly, however, we discover that in the edition of the Liber usualis prior to 1962, we likewise do not see the interjection!

The 1954 edition did not have. So did the 1924 edition in modern notation. In the 1903 edition (as Paroissien Romain), however, we find the interjection, with a slightly different chant; as well as in the 1896 edition.

Before the advent of a unified chant book, particular churches held their own chant traditions. Chant books were produced by churches endowed with enough resources to commission such monuments to sacred music. We say monuments because of their sheer size and volume, and the detail with which they were created. Had human frailty and compromise with the times not intervened, these chant books would have survived.

Let us concern ourselves with the chant books of the Philippines, as this is our locus. We have hypothesised here that only after the onset of American colonisation did the Philippine Church move from the Spanish colonial church music practice to the wider Roman practice, buoyed collaterally by the general desire to rid the Philippine Church of certain perceived abuses in praxis inherited from the Spaniards.

From the Introitale Baclaianum, we have the following entry:

We can see that the interjection is present.

Why the interjection disappeared from the Liber usualis from the 1920’s onward, even if it remained in the Missale Romanum until 1962, is a very delicious question. We may never know why exactly the interjection disappeared in the Liber usualis. Perhaps, we can accept the theory that, when the reform of Gregorian chant gained ground, intent on recovering the authentic chant that had long fallen into misuse and corruption, the resulting recovered chant had no place for the lowly interjection, and the people charged with this objective thought it best to banish it into oblivion.

Many believe that the removal of the interjection in the latter editions of the Missal was encouraged in part by its disappearance in the chant books. (This would not be the first time that choral praxis altered the Liturgy. After years of seeing the propers of Advent inserted ahead of Christmas in chant books, the Liturgy finally gave in and the liturgical year now begins with Advent.) Since the text of the Mass and the chant of the Mass existed in disparity, the reformers decided to adjust the text and ended up removing one letter from it.

In any case, this would be the second liturgical ‘O’ that failed to survive. The first one is great ‘O’ prolonged immediately upon intonation, at the Magnificat during the transferred feast of the Annunciation in Spain. Hopefully, in both cases, we can find an answer in our lifetime why the interjection fell out of use.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


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