Friday, January 29, 2016

No Parish Left Behind

An early manuscript of Jubilate Deo or "Rejoice in the Lord," the Introit for the 3rd Sunday of Easter
This past Tuesday, Bishop John Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, issued a pastoral instruction Sing to the Lord, All the Earth, which would initiate bold and sweeping reforms to liturgical music throughout his diocese.
Among the provisions: 
  • All parishes and schools will learn to sing the Ordinary at masses according to the 2010 ICEL Setting in English and the Jubilate Deo Latin setting. 
  • Parishes will sing the Communion antiphon proper, even if sung simply, at all Sunday masses. 
  • A diocesan hymnal, to be released in Advent 2017, will replace all parish hymnals. No new hymnals may be purchased. 
Bishop Doerfler references the letter Rejoice in the Lord Always written by his predecessor, Bishop Alexander Sample (now Archbishop in Portland, Oregon). Rejoice in the Lord Always is, in my opinion, the best summary of the liturgical and musical goals of the Church, in context of our sacred music tradition and the norms of Vatican II. There's a lot of practical common sense, a lot of orthodoxy, and a lot of wisdom in Rejoice in the Lord Always, and I strongly suggest reading it.

Where Bishop Sample outlined the ideals, now Bishop Doerfler is the executive. Instead of talking about things in the abstract, he is putting them into practice. It is a bold move, and I wish the Diocese of Marquette well. I would be thrilled if a similar project were under way in my part of the country, and I would be the first in my diocese to sign up to help.

As an educator, I can only hope that considerable time, expertise, and resources are being invested in this project. When the goals are high and the timeline is short, the possibility of failure is real. All it would take is chant written in keys too high, lack of proper education in parishes on how to do chant effectively (at a quick pace, please), inadequate time to get copyright permissions (hymnal publishers may not look kindly on the project, which cuts into their business), and lack of "buy-in" from key parishes and constituencies. Chant can die the death quickly from seemingly insignificant things, too, like a pastor singing too loudly on his mic.

There's a minefield ahead, but I commend Bishop Doerfler for his courage. When it comes to doing chant, we should not live in fear. We should do it, and learn how to do it by doing it. Left to right, bottom to top. Dot means double, squiggle means "wait, then go." Solfege down from DO, and then go. There's no other way. If it feels slow, make it faster. If it feels too high, set it lower. Do what you need to do to make it successful, but nonetheless, do the chant and do it well. Don't wait until your Schola sounds like Solesmes. Not to mention, organ accompaniment helps for Ordinaries. Add nuance and sweetness to your interpretation after you have achieved confidence.

I trust that Bishop Doerfler has already recruited a qualified staff for this project. I hope you will join me in praying that the work is received positively. High quality work, coupled together with EDUCATION in our parishes, is the only way to success. Pius X and Justine Ward knew this. Time has come to teach parishes not just to sing their prayers, but also to love our faith. This initiative is a bold step in a good direction. Let's hope and pray it's carried through to a glorious completion.

Meanwhile, if you know how to teach chant and good sacred music, please get to work... there may be new jobs in Michigan!

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