Friday, April 04, 2008

The Gloria Issue

This weekend is a big one for our parish and our schola. We've long used an English Gloria in our parish that works fantastically well. It is set to plainchant by Kurt Poterack. People sing it with a level of expertise not usually heard in Catholic parishes. The spacing is flawless. The singing is universal. The sound and feel changes week to week depending on the liturgical atmosphere. It might look simple on paper but in real life, it is incredibly effective, solemn, dignified, and excellent in every way. It is so ingrained in parish culture that people must assume that it is somehow the official, universal Gloria.

So, on one level, it makes no sense to change. I doubt that anyone wants to change. Certainly I seriously doubt that a single soul in the congregation wants to tackle a Latin Gloria. Nonetheless: there comes a time when it is necessary to push forward toward new challenges. This is what we are doing this Sunday when Gloria XV from the Gregorian repertoire.

There is also the need for Catholic congregations to become familiar with Latin beyond the Sanctus and Agnus. The Gloria has a wonderful text, though I can easily imagine that people are going to have a great deal of difficulty with "suscipe deprecationem nostram." Anticipating other tricky spots, we can anticipate that few people will get the "mi fa" figure in the Amen since the Fa has not appeared anywhere in the chant. It is beautiful but it could take some getting used to.

In the end, it may seem peculiar to make this switch that will probably not be welcome by too many people. But at the same time, progress often comes with a bit of discomfort. This is not an elitist stance, as if we have something to teach people. The point is that our tradition has much to teach all of us. We should strive to embrace it and make it our own. In the end, we will be much happier as Catholics and feel a closer unity the whole of our tradition and Church.

Last night, I was very impressed at how our own schola sounded on this piece. It was very compelling. If we can convey this conviction in our singing on Sunday, I do believe that all will be well.

Just a quick note to anticipate a comment. Why not do Gloria VIII, which everyone knows? Well, this may surprise you, but the fact is that no one in our parish knows Gloria VIII. Where this is no living memory, there is opportunity for a fresh start.

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