Saturday, November 06, 2010

Wanted: A Priest/Parish to "Sing the Mass"

I recently attended a Hindu-Catholic conversation on chanting. Hindus, of course, have maintained a very ancient form of chant that forms an integral part of their prayer and spirituality. The Catholic who presented on our behalf, a priest, brought along the Liber Usualis (you can download a complete copy here) and beautifully and expertly led us in some of the great variety of chants from this resource. And yet, when I asked him afterwards, he said that he does not believe that the chant can or should be revived. "It's time is past", he said.

Is it?

Fr Nick Pearce writes about a new book called "Gut Check" by Tarek Saab. He quotes from Saab's book as follows:
I attended mass at my local parish like I had every Sunday, but I failed to connect with the promise of mystery in my Catholic belief. Absorbing the mind numbing sappy, guitar hymns, or the fiftieth iteration of the “God loves you” sermon from a happy-go-lucky preacher, was a gut-wrenching experience for any man with an ounce of testosterone.” (p124)

...In my local church, like many other, the treasured master pieces of Catholic art were replaced in favour of sandal clad caricatures with all the realism of a Hanna-Babera cartoon. It could have been tolerable if I had sensed any level of reverence from the community, but apathy had found a new home in the cargo shorts and unkempt appearance of communicants, while others claimed to be “on fire” with a form of trendy, secular Christianity.”(p125)

This is such an accurate description of the experience many have of modern Catholic liturgy. Some time ago, Jeffrey Tucker wrote a book called "Sing like a Catholic". I disagreed with Tucker about his attitude to hymnody (which I think can have a positive place alongside the use of the chant in mass) but entirely agreed with him that we need to reclaim our treasured heritage of chant if we wish to reclaim the authentic spirit of the Roman Rite. (Just try to imagine for the moment a liturgy in the Byzantine or Syriac Rite spoken, if you want to understand what I mean.)

I have my own theory about why chant has been completely lost from the Roman rite, and partly it is because when it was done it was only ever done by the Schola rather than the congregation, and partly because the dominant form of liturgy in parishes before the Council was Low Mass, in which no chant (no music!) was used at all. Others argue that the chant has to be in Latin and cannot be in English. But from my experience of the traditional Lutheran liturgy I KNOW that the chant can be in English and that the ordo of the mass can be sung by a congregation (with the propers done by a Schola).

The fact that the new English missal will have the chants for both the celebrant AND the congregation seems a clear enough indication that the Church actually WANTS us to sing the mass (the whole issue of the singing of the propers in English is another thing altogether - see this interesting project by Adam Bartlett and Jeffrey Tucker here). The question is, what are we going to do about it? Where is the Parish or the Priest that will take the bull by the horns and actually schedule a regular weekly mass that puts this vision into action?

There are two papers that I can point to that should encourage this attempt. The first is "Towards the Future – Singing the Mass", a keynote-address to the Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium by Msgr Andrew R Wadsworth, Executive Director of The ICEL Secretariat given in Atlanta, Georgia on August 21 this year. The second is a comment on this by Adam Bartlett called "An Experiment in Sacred Music Resource Production: Let’s Lay an Egg!". Again, my question is: is there anyone who can put this into practice? It would take either a parish or at least a priest with the vision to give this a go. Let me say at once that if any such parish or priest is willing to take up the challenge, I would be more than happy to be a part of the team helping to bring it to reality.

It's not just the chant, of course, but the whole shebang: ad orientam celebration, kneeling for reception of communion, good challenging Catholic preaching, good solid (musically, lyrically and doctrinally etc.) hymnody, faithfulness to GIRM and the rubrics etc. But if we are going to start somewhere we need at least a priest to be the celebrant, and a parish willing to host such an oddity which can be a model for the whole archdiocese.


At Saturday, November 06, 2010 11:52:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Do you have any suggestions - beyond the Anglican Ordinariates - of how we can bring our (admittedly extra-Catholic) experience and "patrimony" into our Catholic parishes? How can we (and here I mean as much we as laity as you as a priest) do something about this? If I were a parish priest, I would have a real opportunity to do something. Not being a such, and not even being very influential in my own parish, I feel a bit helpless. I see the vision, but I am frustrated in not knowing how to reach it.

At Sunday, November 07, 2010 1:22:00 am , Anonymous Matthias said...

As you know I am a Baptist ,and considered becomming aCatholic via the east door-to quote Fr Lawrence Cross. I found the Byzantine Rite to be most beautiful the time i attended a Eastern catholic mass and experienced the richness of the Liturgy there that is lacking in my own church.Saab's comments about unkemptness and secular trendy Christianity are ever present in my own church. You never know Schutz perhaps I might be going through that East door someday

At Sunday, November 07, 2010 6:43:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

What can be read on is most relevant to all this...

At Sunday, November 07, 2010 4:19:00 pm , Anonymous Father John Fleming said...

The responsibility rests with bishops in the first place, and then the priests. The bishops should insist that Seminaries do their job properly in terms of preparing young men for the priesthood where the celebration of the Divine Liturgy is concerned. They can also insist Parishes have a sung Mass and provide the workshops necessary to bring priests up to speed and to train laity who can, in turn, set up scholas and also teach the laity the basic chants.

I know some priests will say "I can't sing", but in nearly all such cases this simply isn't true. We can all learn to sing and the bishops need to want to put the resources in place to ensure the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated to the highest possible attainable standards.

At Sunday, November 07, 2010 7:12:00 pm , Anonymous jules said...

I sometimes teach in a private catholic school. There is a fabulous music teacher there . The choral singing by the children could equal any choir if given half the chance. Obviously chanting , and Latin are least on the minds of the Dominicans that run the school. I'm usually disappointed with their liturgies due to lack of solid preaching, reverent worship and additions - not appropriate to Mass.

At Sunday, November 07, 2010 9:38:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Yes, the schools could be the very place to begin this "revolution", Jules. It is well known too, that the parish priest usually leaves the choice of the music and style of music at school masses up to the school teachers, or the teacher in charge of the liturgy. Perhaps I should have a different post saying "Wanted: A School/Teacher willing to "Sing the Mass".

At Sunday, November 07, 2010 9:42:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

But you have just added to my frustration, Fr John. I am a layman, not a priest. I have no opportunity to put the "sing the mass" movement into action without the support of a priest. Priests have some opportunity to put the "sing the mass" movement into practice. But they can't do much unless they have the support of their bishop. So that's where it ends. We yearn, we wait, we hope... But does it have to end there. What can WE do, both laypeople and priests, to bring about the necessary developments ourselves?

(Nb. I just sat through mass this morning that had two songs using "yahweh" in them. I had informed the music leader before that these songs are contrary to the instruction of the church, but unless the parish priest, or in fact, someone even higher up the ecclesial food chain, acts to put an end to such songs, they will be with us for some time to come, I think.)

At Sunday, November 07, 2010 10:52:00 pm , Anonymous jules said...

That is true, and the priests that are 'burnt-out' have been 'ground-down' into submitting to the teachers' choices, and 'additions' to the Mass.
While we know that participation is important at Mass deflection and distractions from the sacrifice, the Eucharist , the Gospel and worship is not a good thing. Here is a video I posted on Cath Pews not too long ago. I think it may be relevant to this topic.

Schools are a good place to start the 'revolution' as you say David. I also think it would be really nice if the Latin Mass choirs could visit schools to give 'mini concerts' to encourage a love for sacred music and chant.

The choir at The Maternal Heart of Mary, sings beautifully and I often wonder if they were approached to do school visits how they would feel about that?

At Tuesday, November 09, 2010 12:46:00 pm , Anonymous Christine said...

As for the EF, I attended a “low” EF in Adelaide recently (not a Missa Cantata) and my only thought is: “this is how it used to be every Sunday for most Catholics; NOW I understand.”

Yup. Sometimes in twenty minutes or less :)

I can sympathize with Taab. Which further underscores the absurdity of Catholics being asked to sing evangelical praise songs, with their "decision theology" at Mass. That's like asking a Pentecostal congregation to sing sacred polyphony.

I think that's what makes the current situation in the Catholic Church so burdensome. Quite frankly, I'd rather have a spoken low Mass with no music than the hybrid liturgy we have in some parishes today, which for all practical purposes IS a low Mass with some awful Oregon Catholic Press music thrown in (at least here in the U.S.) I was feeling particularly evil at Mass this past weekend. The entrance song was an OCP ditty that I particularly detest so I made sure I sat right up front where the celebrant was sure to see that I wasn't singing. Yes, yes, I know, it isn't all about me and my tastes but looking around most of the rest of the people weren't singing either.

Amazing, though, when the bishop made a visit to the parish a couple of years ago how all of a sudden all sorts of old Latin hymns and other traditional goodies were trotted out. Can't speak for anyone else's parish, but at mine whenever the parishioners get a dose of "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" all of a sudden the people seem to find their voices.

If I want to hear chant, I mean really beautiful chant, I need to pop in to the Russian Orthodox parish down the street. They have a very keen aesthetic sense.

Oh, and as for ad orientem, you'll find it quite often in certain Lutheran parishes. What the Catholic Church throws away other traditions preserve.

At Wednesday, November 10, 2010 1:39:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Mayhap. But then we know, from previous CDW rulings, that the Church does not wish to suggest that standing is mandatory, nor that kneeling is forbidden. If in a given a place and at a given time all decide to show their "unity" by kneeling together, is that a problem? The sense in which all standing or all kneeling at a given time sufficiently maintains the "sign". Moreover, the Holy Father by his own demonstration sees no problem with some kneeling to receive communion (those who receive communion from him) and others standing. Even when the Pope was in Australia for WYD those receiving communion from him knelt while others stood. So if the Pope himself interprets GIRM in this way, that's good enough for me. Kneeling is allowed, even by GIRM, and even if everyone else stands. I can hardly see that it breaks the sign of unity if everyone chooses to kneel. Standing for communion, as you agree, is NOT mandated, though it is described as the common way in which communion is received. The concern for maintaining some unity of posture among communicants is served as well by everyone kneeling as by everyone standing.

At Wednesday, November 10, 2010 11:50:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

I guess the one thing I was sure of was that the mass at the EF celebration was at least faithful to the rubrics.

Of that I have no doubt and I am grateful that at my parish the priests are also faithful to the rubrics. They also give some pretty dang good homilies so the music issue is really the only one I have at this parish.

But I do value congregational participation in song as an intensification of prayer, and so did find the low mass a little lacking.

Quite understandable in the context of our Lutheran backgrounds, David and I agree completely. I, too, welcome congregational singing. Lutherans and Anglicans were always blessed with hymns that were not only aesthetically beautiful but theologically strong as well. The closest I've come to hearing that is in the use of the Adoremus Hymnal (and happy are those parishes that use it :)

I have no illusions that that will become the norm in most Catholic parishes, but surely we can do better than the 70's campfire songs that are still making the rounds in some of them. Perhaps, in time. Many Catholics didn't have the experience of congregational singing back in the day.

At Friday, November 12, 2010 11:05:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Ah, Deacon Anthony, a person after the heart of the Queen of Spain! Seriously, it might come as a bit of a shock to you, but I think you will find that the Holy Father IS "above GIRM", at least the Australian version of it. He is, after all, the one who ultimately approves these things. And it is precisely because he is the one who ultimately has approved GIRM Australia, that I cannot interpret said GIRM in the way you and Perry have done, ie. as a discouragement of the practice of kneeling.


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