Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Motu Proprio Musical Frenzy

I've been fielding lots of emails from people who are scrambling to put together a musical program for the 1962 Missal. I've noticed several main problems cropping up, and I do plan a series of posts going into detail on these, but let me just quickly sum up the primary mistaken notions:

1) Hymnomania: Many people see the 1962 Missal as a chance to revive the good old hymns from yesteryear that have received such shabby treatment post 1970, and are looking for hymnbooks that can help them. The general thrust of this is a mistake. Hymns are not the musical foundation of the Mass. They are permissible in a recessional song perhaps but the ideal does not include them, even if they won't entirely disappear in practice. The focus must be on the ordinary chants and the proper chants, and if hymns are used, they should be Latin plainchant for the most part. Let us please not repeat the mistakes of the past. The "four-hymn sandwich" came not with the new form but was inherited from the old form. It was the norm. It continues to be the bane of modern liturgical life, a regrettable gift from days of yore to our own times. Bringing back a lost liturgy should not mean bringing back the mistakes and errors and even abuses of the past. If you are talking only about what hymns you are going to sing, you are on the wrong track.

2) Propermania: There is no way that a new schola is going to be able to sing all the propers from the Graduale. Nor will a new schola be able to sing the Introit and Communio only. I doubt that a new schola will be able to sing the Communio only every week. It is a mistake to attempt this because it will collapse into what has been sadly common in the Indult world: one hot-shot chanter dragging around a ball-and-chain of a pseudo-schola that has mastered only the ability to imitate what the master is doing a split second after he does it. This practice ends up creating a great and persistent liturgical mush. Better to do one proper and do it well rather than go for the perception of virtuosity that lacks any basis in reality. The opportunity to do the 1962 Missal does not magically confer on local singers the ability to read and sing chant. This takes years and years. You must think about the long term. Focus on the ordinary at first, and do the propers in tones, while always looking for the ideal.

3) Mass 8, saecula saeculorum. Yes, it is a temptation to drag out the Missa de Angelis because there is a vague memory of it in a subset of the parish. Please resist the temptation! The Gloria from Mass 8 is very late, barely Gregorian at all. They are nearly modern in their phrasing and melody. If you start with Mass 8, you will never leave it and you will be stuck with it forever. Don't go there, not even as a temporary measure. The Church gives us a vast number of Glorias and Credos to sing, some of which are far more accessible than Mass 8 and Credo 3. Pick one and stick with it for a while. Don't give in to the popular desire to drag out preconcilar musical corpses (ok, that is too strong a phrase to describe Mass 8, but it is a good phrase and I couldn't resist the rhetoric).

In the next weeks, I'll work on a few posts giving positive steps that people can take. In general, please keep in mind here that the goal is not merely to "turn back the clock" or resurrect the past in all ways. The revival of the classical use provides an opportunity to go forward to the ideal that was long forgotten before 1970 and 1962. Let's don't miss the chance to do something wonderful here.

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