Monday, August 23, 2010

Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth's Speech at the 2010 Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium

So far as I know, no blogger or news source has yet commented on Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth's speech at the 2010 Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium . Msrg. Wadsworth is Executive Secretary of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. His speech was given the day following the historic release of the new English translation of the Missal that will be implemented fully and finally on Advent 2011, with no grace period of transition.

I do not have the transcript. (Update: that is now available here.) Nor do I have a recording. Surely both will come in time. I do have my own (inevitably selective) memory, so I will reconstruct the high points for me.

But first let me say this: this was easily the most momentous and extraordinary speech on music I've ever heard from  any member of the clergy with his high position in the Church. His speech was warm, funny, engaging, articulate, well crafted, poignant, clear, and brilliant in every way. It displayed vast knowledge of the significance of the new translation, the current reality in parish life, and the ways in which the new Missal will help to achieve the heretofore elusive dream of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Most of all, this speech revealed something that I had not entirely grasped before: the music issue is very well understood within ICEL; indeed, reform of music is part of the process of reform that the new translation represents. Msgr. Wadsworth is himself a student and protege of the brilliant chant scholar Mary Berry, founder of the Schola Gregoriana, and an outstanding singer, as we learned from his celebration of Mass that morning.

And, by the way, the speech was extremely well received. Monsignor was surrounded by people all weekend asking for his autograph.

What did he say? I hesitate to summarize without direct quotes because I do believe that this speech will be looked back upon as a major turning point in modern Catholic liturgical history. But let me summarize his major themes as they affect music. The clarity of the new translation provides an opportunity to revisit the meaning and purpose of music at the Mass, and the hope of St. Pius X that the primary musical goal of the Mass of should be to sing the Mass and not merely sing songs at Mass.

Singing at Mass means giving priority to chant because chant is the Roman Rite's mode of expressing text in song. It has always been so from the earliest years: there is no separating liturgical text from liturgical song. They are bound up with each other in every way. Further, it is through chant that we achieve unity between the music of the celebrant, schola, and people. Gregorian chant in Latin is the standard; English settings of chant require adaption from Latin but this is not an impossible task, as the many online editions of English chant demonstrate.

Msgr. Wadsworth's primary emphasis was on the texts of the propers of the Mass, which have been the source for liturgical song for the whole history of the Roman Rite but which were unduly neglected before the Second Vatican Council (Low Mass with hymns was a common practice), and, this neglect has continued in the postconcilar period. He urged musicians to revisit the propers as the source of liturgical song. The propers are the texts of the Mass itself and should become the primary focus of composers and publishers in the years ahead.

I don't need to explain further what a dramatic shift of focus that a new emphasis on Mass propers would be for Catholic music. It would mean a completely paradigm shift. I think back at that famous comment by the Concilium in 1969 (Notitiae 5, 406):
That rule [permitting vernacular hymns] has been superseded. What must be sung is the Mass, its Ordinary and Proper, not "something", no matter how consistent, that is imposed on the Mass. Because the liturgical service is one, it has only one countenance, one motif, one voice, the voice of the Church. To continue to replace the texts of the Mass being celebrated with motets that are reverent and devout, yet out of keeping with the Mass of the day amounts to continuing an unacceptable ambiguity: it is to cheat the people. Liturgical song involves not mere melody, but words, text, thought and the sentiments that the poetry and music contain. Thus texts must be those of the Mass, not others, and singing means singing the Mass not just singing during Mass.
This statement is not an isolated instance. It represents a thread of thought that was alive in 1963 when the Constitution was passed, and it has been cited by the U.S. Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, BCL Newsletter, Volume XXIX, August-Sept 1993.

There were many other themes to his talk, e.g. he addressed relations between publishers and ICEL and clarified the role of ICEL has the guardian of the texts.

A few more points emerged in the question and answer period:
  • The human voice is the primary instrument of liturgy; it doesn't matter how many tympani and trumpets that one adds to a song, if one is not singing Mass texts, the music will not be intimately integrated into the liturgy.
  • The differences between the Missal and Gradual propers are not a matter of importance right now; either text can be used as a source of music.
  • Part of ICEL's mission here is related to priest training; it is of utmost importance for the restoration of the sung Mass that the celebrant's voice be part of the musical structure, and, to this end, ICEL is supporting training videos and recordings for free posting online. 
My summary notes on the points that stood out to me (again, as understood through my highly subjective mental filter) should not be considered authoritative by any means. The full text will appear in print in a matter of weeks.

As a diversion from the topic of this post, let me also add that I was very honored to have been invited to present at this conference. I'll have more on that experience in a later post, but it was a special occasion of grace for me to have the opportunity to spend some wonderful evening hours with  Jerry Galipeau and David Haas, fine gentlemen and outstanding musicians whose knowledge of and experience in the Catholic music world far exceed my own.
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