Thursday, October 20, 2011

Musical Memories of Mass, and "Mystical Body, Mystical Voice"

I have some memories about coming into the Church that have to do with music.
First, I remember thinking that Catholic music was particularly bad. Of course, I was comparing it to the “contemporary Christian” music which was played at the Pentecostal church I attended. The music at my church was better, I thought, precisely because it was contemporary; it was “relevant”. It also had a beat, and you could dance to it, which we did. Oh my!
Back in those RCIA days, I said I was going to maintain dual citizenship because I wanted to go to the Pentecostal church - for the music. I only went back once, though; learning about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist made me acutely aware that, despite what I felt about the music, something was certainly missing at the Pentecostal church.
Second, I remember when Lent started and the “adult choir” (as opposed to the “folk group”) sang the Agnus Dei. In Latin. Gregorian chant. I had not a clue what was going on; it was so far removed from what we’d been singing that I turned to my husband and asked him what it was. It was different, I thought. In a good way.
The third memory is from the second Easter vigil I attended – the one year anniversary of my having been received into the Church. We had moved from California to Baker City, Oregon in that year, and I was experiencing the Easter vigil at the Cathedral. It happened that a certain monk – a hermit – also attended.  I have written of it elsewhere:
As Mass began, I spotted a tall, hooded figure in the procession. Turning to my cradle-Catholic husband, I asked, “What is that?” This was also my first introduction to Gregorian chant: The Monk sang the Exultet. I didn’t know what I was hearing, but I knew it that it was ancient and sacred, and it evoked in me a new depth of longing for God. (From “My Favorite Priest”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May 2007)
He didn’t even sing it in Latin. But it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.
On The Chant CafĂ©, I found posted the full text of Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth's speech at the 2010 Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium, August 21, 2010. It’s well worth reading in its entirety. Here are some of his comments (my emphases):
…I am sure that many of you here today were among the first to recognize that a change of translation, a change which implies a difference of style, register and content, would have considerable implications for our liturgical music. I am sure it will have occurred to you that it would not just be a matter of adapting our current settings and songs to the new texts, rather in the way that one might alter an old and well-loved garment to meet the demands of an increasing or decreasing waist-line! But rather, the new texts would quite naturally inspire new music which responds more directly to the character of the texts themselves, reflecting in an original way their patterns of accentuation, their cadence and their phrasing. Is it too much to hope that this might be a wonderful opportunity for reassessing the current repertoire of liturgical music in the light of our rich musical patrimony and like the good housekeeper being able to bring out of the store treasures both new and old?
Unfortunately, I am seeing in our diocese a tendency to want to do just exactly what Msgr. Wadsworth suggests is a mistake: adapting current musical settings to the new texts. The new translation – the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal – contains more music than any previous edition. And folks, it is NOT music by Marty Haugen and Bob Hurd! And we do have a “rich musical patrimony” to draw from, but it is NOT meant to be accompanied by guitars, tambourines, and/or trumpets. It is Gregorian chant. In the new Missal, it is Gregorian chant in both Latin and English; it is simplified and certainly singable (and will make you thirst for the authentic Latin stuff!). It makes sense in the context of the Mass itself. What a concept!
Having attended a workshop which utilized some materials from the Mystical Body, Mystical Voice program, I understand exactly what Msgr. Wadsworth is saying in this next paragraph:
Maybe the greatest challenge that lies before us is the invitation once again to sing the Mass rather than merely to sing at Mass. This echoes the injunctions of the Council Fathers in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and reflects our deeply held instinct that the majority of the texts contained in the Missal can and in many cases should be sung. This means not only the congregational acclamations of the Order of Mass, but also the orations, the chants in response to the readings, the Eucharistic prayer and the antiphons which accompany the Entrance, the Offertory and the Communion processions. These proper texts are usually replaced by hymns or songs that have little relationship to the texts proposed by the Missal or the Graduale Romanum and as such a whole element of the liturgy of the day is lost or consigned to oblivion. For the most part, they exist only as spoken texts. We are much the poorer for this, as these texts (which are often either Scriptural or a gloss on the Biblical text) represent the Church’s own reading and meditation on the Scriptures. As chants, they are a sort of musical lectio divina pointing us towards the riches expressed in that day’s liturgy. For this reason, I believe that it is seriously deficient to consider that planning music for the liturgy ever begins with a blank sheet: there are texts given for every Mass in the Missal and these texts are intended for singing.
In the workshop I attended, which was sponsored by the Society of St. Gregory the Great, participants were reminded of the rich Catholic heritage that lies beneath the surface of the Liturgy, building on 2000 years of Christianity as well as several thousand years more of our roots in Judaism. The Mass is more than it appears on the surface, and participants were led into a renewal of their understanding of the liturgy's spiritual depths and its true meaning. Instruction in singing the Mass was also included, making use of all that music in the new edition. This highlighted the fact that the USCCB is encouraging priests and the faithful to reclaim some of the lost traditions of the Church by singing the Mass from start to finish.
So…from my scattered memories of my initial Catholic music experience, coupled with my experience with chant over the last few years, and joining that to the potential of the new translation, I must simply urge you:
Go! Run – do not walk! – to the nearest “Mystical Body, Mystical Voice” workshop (or use the on-line resources)! But SING THE MASS!!!
If you live within a half-day’s drive of Bend, Oregon, plan on attending the “Mystical Body, Mystical Voice” workshop there on Nov. 11-12. See the SSGG blog for details.

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