Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Lumen Christi Simple Gradual as a Component of a Parish Music Program

Today there is a veritable flood of outstanding sacred music publications. And they are coming not a moment too soon, as we see the desire for authentic Catholic liturgy growing, opportunities for learning multiplying, and a generational shift under way. Even if this shift is sometimes leading to a certain polarization among the faithful, nevertheless the need for reconnecting with our past heritage is widely recognized by many, including mainstream publishers.

As I discussed last week at Views from the Choir Loft, one of the most crucial things that must be done everywhere is the recovery of the Propers of the Mass. In this noble and necessary task, the Simple English Propers were a step in the right direction, but its author Adam Bartlett freely admits that it was an interim solution until something more complete could be put in its place. (That's not to say that the SEP can't continue to function well in places that are accustomed to using it, but only that musicians should be sure to check out the Lumen Christi Gradual and Fr. Weber's Proper of the Mass when these volumes appear, as each of them will contain all that the SEP has—and a great deal more.)

Most NLM readers are familiar with Bartlett’s company Illuminare Publications, which is bringing out the Lumen Christi line of books. By offering a panoply of English chant that accounts for all the inherent needs of the liturgy, the Lumen Christi series faciliates, for the first time—or at least, for the first time with any ease of execution—a fully chanted English Ordinary Form liturgy.

Not long ago I received review copies of both the LC Simple Gradual and the LC Simple Gradual Choir Edition, and I was quite impressed with the quality of their musical content, internal organization, crisp typesetting, and sturdy production. These should be no surprise to those who have already held in their hands the comprehensive and elegant Lumen Christi Missal.

The LC Simple Gradual is nothing but an excerpted version of the LC Missal—that is, it contains all the chants of the Missal but not the Lectionary readings and devotions. (The LC Simple Gradual Choir Edition adds pointed Psalm verses.) Some parishes don’t want Lectionary readings and are just looking for a sleek, inexpensive volume for the pew in order to begin singing the Mass as the Church desires. This is the niche that the LC Simple Gradual fills, and fills more economically due to its slender size. The LC Missal and LC Simple Gradual are therefore alternatives, based upon community needs and financial ability. The forthcoming LC Hymnal can function as a companion to either. The LC Gradual will complete the series by furnishing a more extensive selection of chants, including more elaborate melodies, for the choir’s use on Sundays and Holydays.

The series may seem a bit complex, but it’s actually quite simple:
  • Do you want the lectionary readings as well as congregational chant? Your book is the LC Missal.
  • Do you want just the congregational chant? Your book is the LC Simple Gradual, with a few copies of the Choir Edition for the cantors/choir.
  • Do you want to add a substantial collection of classic hymns? Add the LC Hymnal (once it’s available, which I hear is relatively soon).
  • Do you wish to have fuller or more complex chants for the cantors/choir? Add the LC Gradual (once it’s available).
The LC Simple Gradual Choir Edition comes with a masterful introduction that describes in detail what the guiding ideals are and how the books are intended to be used. Readers should keep in mind that this is indeed a Simple Gradual, with a full Gradual to follow it. The Simple Gradual provides a repertoire that is aimed at congregational singing through seasonal introduction of antiphons. The full Gradual will have every proper text set in a few different ways (including the Simple Gradual settings). Think of it this way: the Simple Gradual is a base repertoire for congregational singing, hence the seasonal options and sometimes abbreviated texts, whereas the Gradual is the book for the choir, which sets the full proper in its full integrity.

For now, the role of the LC Simple Gradual is clear, so long as it is understood for what it is: a selection of liturgical chant for parishes to help them begin “singing the Mass” rather than “singing at Mass.” One can imagine the book sitting alongside various hymnals, with parishes introducing a few new antiphons each season, leading the faithful beyond a total reliance upon hymnody. In time, a base repertoire is built up, the parish gets used to chant, and hymns begin to take a backseat. This is a very non-radical approach to the problem, but one that is more palatable for most parishes today.

As they watch the rise of newly composed vernacular chant, some traditionally-minded Catholics fear that the ancient and magnificent Gregorian repertoire will be forgotten in the midst of this mini-renaissance. The beautiful thing about the LC Simple Gradual, as with its parent publication the LC Missal, is that it doesn’t necessarily require the sacrificing of the authentic Gregorian repertoire; it can work in tandem with it. As Adam Bartlett explained to me, at the Cathedral in Phoenix there are three different Sunday Masses, all of which feature traditional sacred music—but in different proportions of Latin and English, chant and polyphony and hymns:

1. Saturday evening: LC Simple Gradual antiphons, with a few hymns.

2. Sunday at 9:00 am: Entrance hymn followed by LC Simple Gradual antiphon; English antiphon at Offertory or something more substantial on occasion; Gregorian Proper antiphon at Communion, at the beginning and end of the LC Simple Gradual antiphon, sung with English verses, and with congregation singing the English antiphon.

3. Sunday at 11:00 am: Gregorian Introit and Communion, Lumen Christi chants everywhere else, along with much polyphony.

All of this is done in the context of a fully sung Order of Mass and chanted Ordinaries in Latin and English, as a norm. Bartlett tells me that it has worked out beautifully.

Some parishes, relying more heavily on hymnody, may inch more slowly into the Lumen Christi material. Still, it has the great merit of being accessible to them, and has the potential to open the door to so much more when the time is ripe. Here, a policy of incrementalism in the Ordinary Form context would seem to be more prudent, more realistic about the habits that need to be inculcated, and ultimately more assured of success, as people grow to appreciate the musical and textual prayerfulness that chanted Propers and Ordinary bring to the celebration of the Mass.

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