Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sing to the Lord a New Song

The mood among America's liturgical musicians is exuberant today following the Mass for the Pope at St. Patrick's, so it is fitting that tomorrow's introit for the Fifth Sunday in Easter would set the famous text: Sing to the Lord a new song, alleluia; for the Lord has accomplished wondrous deeds, alleluia; he has revealed his justice in the sight of the Gentiles, alleluia.

What struck me about this melody, the first time I heard it, is not so much its happy mood, which you might expect from the text, but its serenity and calm, its steadiness and orderliness. The same lifting figure emerges three times, but mostly the chant allows the "new song" to cover only a small range, very comfortable for both the voice and the ear.

With all the talk recently of music appropriate to the new liturgy, there has been the usual debate about old vs. new. We can see from this chant that there is a sense in which the debate is fruitless. What is need is not dated music, whether or or new, but timeless music, which is ever renewed in liturgy.

The communio of the day, meanwhile, offers a completely different musical sense. It is deeply mysterious, as it should be, because it is tell the story of Christ's presence after rising from the dead. "Have I been so long a time with you and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also: do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?"

What need should there be for looking for exotica in strange places when we have such challenging and interesting music given to us by the Church? Again, this piece is neither old sounding or new sounding but eternal in the manner in which it touches our hearts, teaching us and inspiring us.

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