Unmercenary Sacred Music

Questions from Christians Around the World

I have received many requests and questions from Christians around the world.  It has been my pleasure to help all those who love and worship the Trinity.  When Christians gather to worship, they have the awesome responsibility to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.  The world and its prince (Satan) does not support this mission.  Here at Unmercenary Sacred Music, the mission is to provide Christians with the tools to do this in simple, dignified, and traditional ways.  While, I am an Orthodox Christian, I have not limited the texts and music to those derived from Byzantine Orthodox traditions.  Since the foundation of the Church, division has been a constant cross we have had to bear.  I do not think the current ecumenical movements are the key to unity.  However, we need to focus on our common ground and challenge each other to regain and make the best of our core liturgical tradition whether it be Byzantine, Latin, Antiochene, West Syrian, or Alexandrian in origin.  As such, I provide liturgical settings in both the Roman and Byzantine traditions.  While I am sure that there are those who do not agree with me, I will continue to share what I have with anyone who desires to better communally praise God.

From the various requests I have received, occasionally I am asked more in-depth questions.  Some of those questions I have posted here with my response.  My answers are not intended to be the most comprehensive answers, but those who have love for liturgy (and for God) may find interest in these questions and answers.  It may also spawn more questions.  If so, please feel free to send those questions on to Unmercenary Sacred Music.

Sloan Rolando


Question:  I was alerted to this page by visiting the Mary Page link.  I have some questions:  1) I would be very interested in receiving information on this "Akathist matins" service.  2) I wonder why it is set in Matins because in the Eastern Orthodox setting it is combined with Compline?

And one more question:  I noticed on the Mary Page it is described as "the 13th station."  Does this come from your material?  The statement there is that the Akathist is about Panagia mourning at the foot of the cross.  The Akathist in the eastern orthodox church is centered on the theology of the Annunciation (related to Lent because of the feast day in March).

Answer:  The Orthodox Church uses the akathist in more than one service.  The Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh, for example, sets their service in the context of little compline. At the Orthodox parish that I attend, we use matins.  They use Russian styles of liturgy.  Some Eastern-Catholic churches use an akathist hymn that is independent of any particular liturgical hour.  The setting available here (See is based on the instructions laid out in the Lenten Triodion.  It specifies it as part of matins of the Saturday of the fifth week of lent.

As far as the thirteenth station, I find any such link to the stations of the cross as anachronistic since the stations of the cross is a medieval Roman devotion that was part of the official ministry of the Franciscan Friars for centuries.  It is now a very popular Roman Lenten practice whereas the Office of Praise of the Theotokos was composed in 532.  This office has the full akathist hymn and the canon consisting of eight odes.  From this setting, one can use it within the office of matins or in a modified compline.


Question:  I am looking for a lexicon (introit, collect, etc.) for the Julian Calendar in English.  Can you help me?

Answer:  We may have different understandings of the Julian Calendar.  As far as I am concerned, the Julian Calendar is a civil calendar that is essentially the same as the Gregorian Calendar, except that it is thirteen days behind the Gregorian.  However, if you are talking about the Byzantine Festal Calendar and the Latin Festal Calendar, then it is a little more complicated since only the major feasts have the same nominal date.  But for the moment, if I assume that you use a Latin Festal cycle on Julian days, then I know of a source that could help.  I happen to own a 1968 Roman Seraphic Missal.  This Missal (in English and Latin) has the Mass Text, the propers for the Mass (Introit Antiphon, Gradual, Alleluia verse, Offertory Antiphon, Prayer over the Gifts, the Prefaces [with music for priest], communion Antiphon, and prayer after communion) and the Lectionary (Epistles and Gospels) in it.  The unique thing about this text is that it has the lectionary in English that has since been replaced by the Roman Church in 1977 by a three year lectionary.  It also seems to be essentially the Mass that filled the gap between the Tridentine Mass and current Mass used by the Roman Catholic Church.  This may or may not be close to what you use.  Now, finding this book is the trick.  I picked it up at a closed Franciscan Seminary about four years ago for free.  Roman Catholic parishes in your area may still have one since they do not throw these things away readily.  Used book stores might have it too.  But, if you are looking for feasts that are particular to the East (like Protection of the Theotokos, Oct 1, and Pre-feast of Theophany Jan 2.), I think you are going to have a hard time since these feasts have never had corresponding feasts in the West.  Therefore, their texts will have the epistle, gospel, troparion, kontakion, Prokiemenon, and alleluia.  This leaves you short of introit, gradual, communion antiphon and the priest’s prayers.  You may want to contact a Western Orthodox Church that is under the Antiochian Orthodox Church in this country or those western rite churches in union with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.  They may have some insight into this matter.

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Editorial note:  As it turned out, this is exactly what this person needed.  I have been in search of more copies of the 1967 and 1968 missals.  If anyone has an unneeded copy, I would be grateful to added it to my library so I can pass it along to those who require a copy.


Question:  We are developing the Liturgy of the Hours in our parish and I would like to have more details, especially English settings of the Benedictus and Magnificat.

Answer:  Both pieces, which I have arranged, are set in two ways: solemn and ordinary.  The Benedictus is the Canticle of Zachariah used at Morning Prayer from Luke 1:68 ("Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…."  The Magnificat is the Canticle of Mary used at evening prayer from Luke 1:46 ("My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….")  Both use Gregorian psalm tones.  In the case of the Benedictus, it is in Gregorian tone 2 for the ordinary and Gregorian tone 8g for the solemn.  The Magnificat is in tone 8g for both ordinary and solemn.  The only difference in the solemn and ordinary psalm tones is that the solemn tone is slightly more ornate.

The settings are not set like hymns; each word is not set beneath a note of music.  Instead, in keeping with the traditional way of praying scripture in liturgy, the tone is given at the top of the page and the text is presented below.  The text is broken up into stanzas as prescribed by the Liturgy of the Hours service books.  The lines are then pointed to tell the singer how to fit the text to the psalm tone.  All the psalms I have set for the liturgy of the hours are done this way (except for two psalms not set for use in the divine office).  The text is derived directly from the Liturgy of the Hours volumes published for the English-speaking Roman churches.  They use the Grail Psalmody, the New American Bible, and ICEL as sources for scripture and liturgical canticles (like the Te Deum).

Note:  See for related music and texts.


Question:  Do you have a communal setting of the Exsultet?

Answer:  I assume you mean the Paschal Preconium that is sung at the Easter Vigil after the blessing of the Paschal fire and candle.  I have a musical setting of it from the 1966 Roman Missal.  However, the Exsultet is not for communal singing as far as I am concerned.  My rule of thumb concerning deviation from a rubric is as follows: alter rubrics based on the nature of the text and its usage.  The rubric in this case is that the deacon sings it.   Possible deviations from the rubric would be as follows:  have it sung by a celebrant, concelebrant, lector, or congregation.  I would immediately rule out congregational singing of it based on the text’s voice.  It contains imperatives, first person singular declarations, and explanations.  The general feel is that one is teaching and directing a group of people.  For example, "Let this place ring out with rejoicing with the song of all these people gathered here.  And you, my dearest friends (In Latin, "Quapropter astantes vos, fratres carissimi…," which translates better, although not politically correct in some circles, as "most beloved brethren"), who are standing here near the brightness of this sacred light, join with me in prayer to the almighty God.  Let us ask that he show us mercy.  He chose me to serve him, unworthy as I am to be his minister."  As such, it is clearly in the voice of one person (not a community’s) and this person is a minister.  This leaves us with a bishop, priest, or lector.  We can rule out lector, because of the presidential nature of the text, which makes it only appropriate for a cleric in major orders to perform. As far as  a bishop or priest or doing it, it would be appropriate if no deacon was present or if he could not sing it without doing the music a great injustice.


Question:  I am looking for a complete Traditional Latin Catholic hymnal/score to organize a choir by at my parish, are you aware of where I might find or look for one?  Thanks in advance for your help.

Answers:  There are several levels of traditional that I could suggest.

In the category of very traditional, I would suggest the St. Gregory’s Catholic Hymnal.  I happen to own two of them.  They were published in the twenties through the fifties by the St. Gregory Guild.  I happened to pick up the two I have at older religious houses.  One came from the Sister’s of Mercy Regional Community in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  Back in the early 90’s they had stacks of them, and nobody was using them.  The other one I found at the now closed Duns Scotus Seminary in Southfield, Michigan.  These types of places are the only places you would probably find such books.  Some used book stores might have them.

Now when you say Latin Catholic, are you referring to the Latin Roman rite as used by the church of Rome under John Paul, the Pope of Old Rome, or do you mean an old Catholic parish that observes the Tridentine ritual services?  If the latter is so, the above book is an all around helpful book.  It has an even mix of Latin Language hymns, psalms, and motets and English language hymns.  The advantage to this book is that it uses western musical notation.  However, if you are serious about doing Latin Liturgy, you need to get a Liber Usualis.  It is available from St. Bonaventure publications.  It is the same as the 1956 edition that most used until 1966 for all the major masses and divine offices of the Roman Rite.  However, it requires knowledge of four line Gregorian notation (which is very much worth knowing or learning).

However, if you mean Latin as in the Latin Rite and not the language, the Worship III hymnal seems to be the best made and most available traditional hymnal on the market.  It is published by GIA (formerly known as the Gregorian Institute of America).  I am, for the most part not very found of GIA, but this book does not offend my Eastern Orthodox Soul too much.  I believe they may sell the Liber Usualis, too.  They are found at


Question:  I would like to have a copy of: Night Prayer Complete with Music.  Could you also send information on how to use this in a parish or home setting?

Answer:  Although not required, the Divine office is best done by having three roles plus the choir.  The choir is all the people of the congregation.  The three roles are those of presider, lector, and cantor.  The presider can be anyone although fully designed for a deacon, priest, or bishop.  The lector reads (or chants) the scripture reading.  The cantor begins and leads all songs and chants.

Evening prayer begins with all standing.  The presider says, "God, come to my assistance."   All make the sign of the cross.  The choir responds with "O, Lord, make haste to help me." It is followed by the doxology (Glory to the Father…) and apart from Lent, Alleluia.  The general instructions say, "a brief examination of conscience may be made.  In the communal celebration of the office, a penitential rite using the formulas of the Mass may be inserted here."  The cantor then begins the hymn.  I have not included the hymns, but any night time hymn works well here.  I suggest the following Gregorian and Byzantine hymns We praise you, Father, for your gifts (Te lucis ante terminum), O. Christ, you are the light and day (Christe qui Lux es et Dies), and O Joyful Light/O Gladsome light (Phos Hilarion).  These hymns have been used by the eastern and western Christians at night services for well over 1000 years.  You can find them in any decent hymnal.

The Psalmody consists of one or two psalms.  The psalms can be done in several different manners.  In each case, the cantor begins by singing the antiphon.
Choir Methods
1. The cantor sings the first line of psalm or canticle.  Choir one, which is on the same side as the cantor, joins in and sings the first strophe.  With the next strophe, the choir on the opposite side sings.  The two choirs alternate until the end of the doxology.  The cantor then sings the antiphon again.
2. OR the cantor sings the first strophe and then the whole choir sings.  Choir and cantor alternate singing each strophe until the end of the doxology.  The cantor then sings the antiphon again.
Responsorial Method
After the cantor sings the antiphon, the choir repeats it.  The choir repeats the antiphon after each strophe and after the doxology.  This method is most commonly used in the Mass.
Unison Method
The cantor sings the first line of psalm or canticle.  The full choir joins in and sings each strophe and the doxology.  The cantor then sings the antiphon again.
Other methods also can be used.

The lector reads a selection from scripture.  The General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours does not specify an introduction for the scripture reading (except for readings from the office of readings) nor a closing declaration as done in the Mass.  After the reading, it is appropriate to have a period of silence.

The response to the reading is done as follows.  The cantor sings the full verse, and the choir repeats it as the response.  The cantor then sings the second verse, and the choir responds with the second half of the original verse.  The cantor then sings the first half of the doxology (Glory to Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit).  The choir responds with the original verse.

The Gospel canticle at night prayer is the Canticle of St. Simeon.   All stand and make the sign of the cross to reverence the Holy Gospel.  From this point to the end, all will remain standing.  The Gospel canticle is sung in the same ways that psalms are sung.

When the Trinitarian doxologies are sung or said, it is accompanied with a bow.  The general instructions specify setting through the psalms, but I prefer standing during psalms so that the bow can be properly executed.  Little thought is given in the West to posture any more, but for the fullest liturgical experience, it is best to pray and worship with one’s whole body.  Thus worship becomes more than just a "lip service."  Remember, no alleluias in Lent in the Roman rite.  Also, extra alleluias in the Easter/Paschal season.  Alleluia replaces the psalm antiphons and is added to the Gospel canticle’s antiphon and to the responsory during the Paschal season.  I have provided music for each of these using the same melodies.

These instructions are appropriate for both home and parish setting.  Night prayer (formerly known as compline) is the simplest and easiest service to do.  Its simplicity lends itself to memorization. I also suggest a minimum amount of lights during the service.  The whole tone of night prayer is one of preparation for sleep,  both the sleep of night and that final sleep, death.  Night prayer is fundamentally eschatological, that is, concerned with the last things (in the best sense).  It is perfect for home use and should be the last act of the day.  For this reason, few parishes ever do this service.  It is more commonly used in monasteries.  However, this is no reason not to try it in a parish.  I would suggest its use after seven or eight at night.  Hopefully, it would be a good way to move towards using Vespers (Evening prayer) and Matins (Morning prayer) and other liturgy of the hours services in a parish setting.  Night prayer is the simplest introduction one can have.

Note:  See for related music and texts.

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