Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sanctus for the Pope's Mass: Haugen's Mass of Creation

Some of us doubted the authenticity of this report when it was first linked on a comment box on NLM. It might indeed be some sort of hoax; it certainly should be.

The music in New York and at Vespers in Washington at the Shrine is forward looking and impressive. It seems impossible that at the Pope's April 17th Mass in Washington, D.C., that anyone could possibly schedule The Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen,: the Sanctus, the "Great Amen," and Agnus Dei. Composed in 1984 (I think), with obvious Broadway influence and overdone melodrama, it has been an unrelenting presence in parishes all over the country. In fact, it is legendarily over used, in every season, again and again and again, so much so that these parts of the Mass sometimes seems like the movie Groundhog Day.

There are parishes that have used nothing but this Mass setting for the last 25 years -- the very musical embodiment of the stasis that reigns in American parishes, despite every effort by the Vatican to push change. Indeed, this setting has become a source of jokes in all Catholic gatherings. Try this yourself: make the four organ chords with your voice, the ones before the "Great Amen," and people will begin yelling no no no! not that!

"God of Power, God of Might." "Jesus, Lamb of God." The text departs not only from the Latin but even from the ICEL translation approved for English use. In this sense--and it is a small thing with big symbolic importance--how could it be possible that this setting would be used at a Mass celebrated by the Pope?

How could be that people would come from all over the country to attend a Papal Mass and hear music that is nothing but an overdone version of the cheap Broadway styles that they have to endure in their own parishes every week? How could organizers possibly use an English Mass setting such as this when the Pope has been working so hard to encourage liturgies that live up to the promise of Vatican II, which placed primacy on Gregorian chant?

Not even the "praise music" crowd is willing to defend this Mass setting anymore. They have regretted its prominence for years. For most young priests, it is the bane of their liturgical lives. They stamp it out as soon as they arrive in a new parish. On the street, it is known as the "Massive Cremation." This is hardly the best America has to offer.

There are 18 incredible chant settings in the Graduale -- the 100th anniversary of which we celebrate this year -- and many date to the earliest times of the Church and grew up alongside the Mass. There are hundreds of thousands of polyphonic versions composed from the Golden Age to our own. This is a treasure of greater value than all other arts.

Surely, organizers would not shun this for Benedict XVI and surely they would not bypass this in favor of what might be the most embarrassing aspect of American liturgy? What signal would the organizers be sending to the Pope by scheduling the Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen? That America is stuck in the past, refuses to update itself, refuses the aesthetic leadership of the Vatican, refuses even the approved texts of the Mass, refuses to get passed the confused times of the postconciliar era and embrace the new times, and refuses to make the larger tradition of our faith a living presence in our lives?

And yet it seems increasingly clear that this report is most likely true. It has not finally been confirmed. And if someone knows a way to get this confirmed or refuted, I hope it will be posted in the comment section.

So who is responsible? The name that keeps coming up is Thomas V. Stehle, who directs music at Our Lady of Mercy, in Potomac, Maryland. (He is also available to be hired as a consultant on architecture.) The diocesan paper announced that he would be organizing the music for the Pope's visit, and here is what he said is guiding him when it comes to making musical choices:

"The most important thing to me is that everyone present is fully engaged," he said. "The music is aimed at allowing the assembly to take up its role and not just be spectators, but full participants in the celebration, no matter where they are sitting."

Well, it so happens that Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an entire book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, to explode this anthropocentric, community-obsessed view of liturgy. In his writings, he actually said of this perspective, that liturgy is all about maximizing the singing of the congregation, is "insipid pedagogic rationalism."

Do the organizers of this Mass care at all about the cause to which this Pope is so obviously dedicated? Are they seeking to say: your cause is not our cause?

This isn't responsible liturgical planning. This is an insult. American Catholics should be deeply embarrassed and outraged.

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