Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Funereal Sanctus - at a Wedding?

A person wrote me recently in great confusion. He had been away from the Catholic Church for some decades when he found himself at a Catholic wedding. The wedding was not of the goofy sort using pop music--so his experience was not as shocking as it might have been--but rather a somber and serious affair using Latin chant. When the Sanctus came, my correspondent express some confusion. This was the same Sanctus he heard as a child as part of the Requiem Mass for weekdays, the "Mass for the Dead." Why was this being sung at a wedding?

He is of course speaking of what was once called the Missa pro Defunctis, but which was later to emerge in 1967 as the Sanctus in the "Missa Primativa" and later came to be the main Mass setting published for every parish in Pope Paul VI's Jubilate Deo of 1974 (which was published into the public domain as an effort to spread it widely). It was a sort of last ditch effort to save the liturgical music from a complete plunge into pop culture, but it was both too little and too late.

Meanwhile, today, many parishes just starting out to recapture history and sing chant as Vatican II suggests are beginning with this setting, without an awareness of its historic use in the Requiem MAss. To me, the confusion of the correspondent illustrates the problem of beginning here and getting stuck here. It is a gorgeous setting in some contexts but a bad fit for Sunday Masses in Ordinary Time much less at a wedding. This gentlemen had an association that is reinforced by the stark and simplified sound of the setting.

It is long past time that we move beyond this Sanctus.

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