I’ve been listening to many new ordinary settings being rolled out by many publishers in anticipation of the new translation of the Mass forthcoming (at some point). They vary in quality, and one’s judgment on them largely depends on one’s tastes. But there are common characteristics. The composer is restricted to writing songs that are catchy and metrical, and when they are not accompanied, something essential seems to be lacking. They all have a tendency to remind one of some music one has heard somewhere, though it isn’t always clear where. I do think this is deliberate: the ethos in the Catholic publishing world fears offering music that seems unfamiliar or drawn from a cultural context outside the daily world in which we live. The idea seems to be that the composer should take the stuff we have in our head and use it to invite us to participate in a religious experience. It seems like a good idea but the problem is that this hope isn’t quite visionary and radical enough. It is insufficiently challenging. It dares nothing.
In contrast, consider Sanctus from Mass XII. Now this is the type of music that gives us something completely new, something that sweeps us off our feet, something that invites us to think and pray in a completely new way. I really can’t explain how the Gregorian tradition does it, but somehow it manages to be ever fresh and ever destabilizing in the best possible sense. It shakes us and moves us. I do not envy composers today, who have this kind of material to compete against: