Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Importance of Inclina Domine

It's taken a few days for this to settle into my brain--when really serious revolutions are in process, sometimes one doesn't entirely notice them--but the new CD from OCP, Inclina Domine, has a significance that is only now clearly dawning on me.

I don't need to rehearse for anyone the background of the OCP. Founded nearly a century ago, once called the Catholic Truth Society, in the postconciliar period it has been a leader in the commercialization of music for Catholic liturgy, and I mean that in two senses.

OCP forged the model that marketed music for parishes in the same way other products are marketed to us everyday: not by appeal to ecclesiastical authority or doctrine but by the pure art of selling stuff that the proprietor thinks we might like and want to buy. They figured out how to appeal to and teach the regular guitarist, pianist, and cantor who were selecting music for the Mass each week. They learned the language and the approach, speaking not from on high but directly to people's regular experiences.

The advent of this approach came with the massive confusion over what music was supposed to match the new Mass; OCP beat everyone in capturing that market. And the products they have sold have also generally (and famously) fit within the category of what might be called commercial too. There is much to say about this--and I'm hardly alone in believing this to be a problem--but this is not the time or place.

Right now I would like to draw attention to the utility, meaning, and significance this new CD, which would be a major event no matter what the publisher is.

It is the ordinary form in Latin. For most people who listen, it will be the first time they have ever heard the Roman Rite in the modern form sung in its normative form. The new Missal has been around nearly 40 years and yet because of vernacular permissions, culture upheavals, and other factors, it is hardly ever heard in the way that accords with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. For this reason alone, this recording serves an extremely important purpose. It shows us what might have been and what might yet be.

You can try this at home. Put it on with Catholics around. Someone will say, oh yes, that's the Mass from the old days. You can just respond, no, this is the reformed Mass from 1970 sung in its universal form. You might see a look of shock. For those who are forever decrying the evils of the reform--and there was plenty wrong with it and many mistakes were made--listening to this will help focus arguments and hone intellectual clarity on precisely what it is that you are for and against, and what precisely it is we are speaking of when we talk of the Novus Ordo Missae.

This is the Novus Ordo Missae. No matter what else you hear in your parish, no matter what else OCP is selling, no matter what else your director of music says, this is the music of the Novus Ordo Missae. When I was listening to this, I asked another parishioner what section of the Mass we were hearing. She didn't have a clue but she found it very beautiful. Well, it was the Prayer of the Faithful - which is probably the most dreaded part of the Mass aside from the Sign of Peace. Well, in the normative form in which Cantores sings it, it is wonderful. Another sign that this is the new Mass is the tutti singing on the Pater Noster.

Second, this is an important CD for priests who aspire to sing the Mass. There are training seminars in the extraordinary form going on around the country, and I'm involved in helping to organize one in Connecticut. But even if you have no interest in the EF, you can still sing the Mass in your own parish right now in Latin. This recording provides all the dialogues, readings, and priest's parts, expertly sung. Any priest can use it as a tutorial. Indeed it is one of the best there is.

Third, it is massively significant that OCP itself is responsible for the production and distribution of this CD. The liner notes alone provide an important tutorial in truth. They are beautifully written.

Now, you might say: oh it doesn't matter at all. This is only OCP serving a niche market. These capitalists will do anything for a buck, even good things. So what that chant is now part of the Catholic jukebox that includes reggae, rock, calypso, and jingles of all sorts?

Well, here is the thing that I think even the promoters of pop sounds have to recognize. With Gregorian chant, we cannot be speaking of just one form among many choices. Chant is the ideal. Chant is the standard, normatively and historically. There is not getting around this fact. It is stated plainly in the documents. Moreover, most all Catholics know this in their hearts.

It's like a multiple choice exam. There are many options but only one answer that is correct every time.

This is one reason I believe that chant has been suppressed in many circles; indeed that there was a war on chant in the 1960s and 1970s is a well-documented truth that no one need deny. Let the chant out and it tends to spread. It defines, clarifies, and draws people. We begin to measure other forms of music against this ideal. In other words, it changes everything. It is not likely to remain just one part of an overall diversity. It will ascend.

I do think there is a mystical role that Cantores in Ecclesia plays in this great historical drama. Dean Applegate is a man of quiet temperament but his sweet demeanor masks a dogged determination and fearlessness in doing what he knows to be right. He has learned through the years to never compromise in doing the ideal. He will leave a parish before he will give up one note from the Graduale Romanum. His approach is so fierce that even his friends have sometimes winced; but in the end, look what he has done!

He came to Portland, Oregon, many years ago with the idea of a transplanting the English liturgical choral tradition via Mary Berry in the United States. He succeeded. So we can see how the tradition was transmitted: Solesmes to London to Portand.

In the same town, the center of the contemporary music movement was developing. These two very powerful forces with two opposing views of music at Mass grew up alongside each other. But it would be a miracle if the OCP could remain untouched by Dean's work, which is world famous.

The first steps toward cooperation occurred last year with a recording that quickly became the best-selling CD in the entire catalog. That is a beautiful recording but it is only chant hymns. This, however, is the Mass. The Mass!

Take note of this seemingly inauspicious release. We might look back someday and see it as a turning point in the history of American Catholic music.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: