Sunday, September 21, 2008

All Latin Ordinary Without Hymns in Your Parish

Our schola has been singing in our parish now for eight years, and this day was an important one that came about so inconspicuously that we almost forgot about it. It certainly wasn’t noted in particular by the congregation or the celebrant. What happened is this: the entire congregation sang the ordinary in Latin (excluding the credo). And it wasn’t the Missa Primitiva that many people sing in Lent (which, in general, needs a rest).

What’s more, we sang the propers in English and Latin in the course of a liturgy that any singers in any parish anywhere in the English-speaking world could do, no matter that skill level of the schola and no matter the budget. In fact, all the music is free. And it excludes all hymns except the recessional.

If I may, I would like to present to you the lineup. But first a note about pacing throughout these years. We started with a mandatory Mass of Creation or St. Louis Jesuits Mass – these were our only choices. We unplugged the instruments and made them work the best we could until we replaced the Gloria with a psalm tone Gloria in English. Step by step we’ve worked through these long years, two steps forward and one step back such as the following: when we introduced a Latin Gloria we reverted the Sanctus and Agnus to English. This was the approach we’ve taken for years until the full ordinary seemed inevitable.

The Mass today began with the English introit from the Anglican Use Gradual (I wish it had a different name because it is right for every Catholic parish not using Latin propers). It begins as a strong announcement, sung by the schola alone, that immediately establishes the critical point about liturgy: the space in which people have gather is not like any other space in the world, and what they will participate in will be unlike any event they have attended this week. It is a spectacular opening.

The tones are intuitive, so no printed music is really necessary for the congregation. All they need is the words. They hear the schola sings it one time, followed by the Gloria Patri and the entire entrance antiphon is repeated, this time with everyone. People sing – not that this is the standard but it is very satisfying.

It is so much better than any most hymn you could ever choose. Hymns are too imposing, leave too strong an impression, and crowd out everything else. The Entrance antiphon sung this way sets the stage and prepares. It is inconspicuous: no one will come up and say "wow, that was a great entrance today!" The point is precisely that it is not conspicuous. The only thing better, in my view, would be the Gregorian introit.

Moving to the Gloria, we use Gloria XV because it is syllabic and helps teach the text in a beautiful way.

Following the Gloria and the first Psalm, we sang this simple Psalm tone, written by our director, along with Psalm tone verses sung alternatively by men and women. (Here is the full score.) It goes without saying that people can sing this immediately after one hearing.

These Psalms and many others (again, no charge) are easy to download from Chabanel Psalms.

Next we sang a simple Alleuia.

At the offertory, the schola sang two English motets: O Lord Increase my Faith, by Loosemore, and If Ye Love Me by Tallis, consistent with the readings. Both are very easy and can be sung by most scholas.

The Sanctus is from Mass XIII, Stelliferi, again a syllabic chant that anyone can learn. We hadn’t sung this in nearly a year but everyone remembered it.

The Mysterium was English tones: “Dying you destroyed our death…”

The Agnus is from the Cantus ad Libitum, consistent with the style of the rest of the chants of the Mass. Again, the congregational singing was nearly universal.

For communion, we sang Tu Mandasti, the communion proper of the day plus three sets of Psalms, which pretty well took up the entire time. It is not a difficult proper as these things go.

Finally, at the recessional, we did schedule a hymn, but it was not disproportionate to the rest of the liturgy and it was the last thing and therefore could not have such a distorting effect, though my own preference would be for a silent or organ recessional.

As I say, all of this music is completely free, congregationally sung Latin with only one hymn at the end. It was gorgeous and liturgical in its spirit. I wouldn't hold this up as an ideal--that is found in a consistent use of the authentic Roman Gradual--but it comes far closer that most of what one hears parish to parish.

Again, this is not difficult material. It is within the capacity of any parish anywhere. It is, ultimately, very simple. One might say--I can't resist--that it is a gift to be simple.

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