Friday, June 25, 2010

The Privatization of Liturgy and the Suffering of Publishers

One stands in amazement at what the USCCB and ICEL - in fact, it is rather difficult to locate the center of responsibility here - are forcing upon publishers as they frantically attempt to provide musical settings of the Mass for the forthcoming new English translation.

I do not deny the right of the national conferences to regulate the texts of the Mass but the policies in place to keep this text and its music under wraps defy all good sense. No one has explained why it is so absolutely necessary that no publisher on the planet be permitted to distribute full Mass settings of the upcoming translation, even though the texts are widely available and many efforts are underway to educate the faithful. Is having music available not part of education?

ICEL has even opened up a website to explain why the new translation is necessary and wonderful (and I agree): I've enjoyed these videos (which feature Vivaldi's Latin settings as background music!) but I still find no instructions concerning what may or may not be published and under what conditions. Nor does the USCCB website seem to explain this.

The instructions must be arriving via private email. But here is the bottom line in the words of World Library:
We have been asked by the United States Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship to remind you that no publisher may take orders for Mass settings until the final text of the Missal is issued. We have also been asked to remind you that the musical settings are for preview only and not yet approved for liturgical use. In addition, we are not yet being allowed to share any complete settings.

Moreover, it is not even clear what power is being invoked in order to prevent production and distribution. Is it a matter of copyright or a matter of religious obedience? It is hard to say.

Nonetheless, the publishers are doing heroic work, trying to be obedient while attempting to preview their music without giving full versions or permitting you to buy it: WLP, OCP, GIA, and Liturgical Press (which doesn't seem to have a special section on this set up yet).

You will enjoy touring the WLP site. I appreciate the efforts puts into this strangely truncated preview, even if the settings conform to the convention of metrical songs that are dependent on accompaniment and are based on tunes regarded as catchy in a popular sense. The Richard Proulx Gloria is of high quality, and Lisa Stafford's Mass of Grace has potential, and surely we cannot place blame on either the composer or the publishers for attempting to turn the Gloria into an antiphon/response structure; the root of the problem is really deeper here.

I would love to understand the thinking of those who are so emphatic about keeping the texts from being released until the last possible minute. If the goal is to put as much financial pressure on the publishers as possible, that surely must be counted as success. But how this approach is helping to prepare the way for the new texts is unclear.
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