Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Loss of Holy Week

This time of year, the losses in the area of music for Holy Week strikes me. I look through the Liber Usualis and I compare with what appears in the Missalette, and the result is absolutely devastating. Then I compare what is in the modern Graduale - which isn't all that different from the old Graduale - and the effect is the same: a sense of near-total loss. Even our own schola, which strives to be liturgically proper and works hard to retain and revive, ends up singing truncated versions and perhaps 30% of the total music that is given in the books. As for the Missalettes, one wonders if the compilers ever even bothered to look at the normative liturgical books for the Roman Rite.

And yet what is given in the authentic liturgical books is absolutely unbelievable and stunning. The sound and feel of the chants are unlike anything else the entire year. The chant hymns are jewels. The narratives are set in unusual formulas that do not appear anywhere else. The drama is extremely intense. I would not call the music "beautiful" in the normal sense. It is instead severe, strict, stern, dark, emotional, alarming - choose whatever word you like. The overall effect is not what is called beauty in the sense we think of that term. No one walks away with the same sense of inspiration that you get from a concert or even from a regular liturgical motet. Instead, there is a sense of something else. Terror perhaps? Shock? I'm not sure what to call it.

And yet I suspect that this is not what will happen in 95% of parishes. Why have we lost so much? Even after years of study, the full truth eludes me here. I don't really understand how this could have happened. Maybe our culture is afraid of everything Holy Week represents? Can we not handle the truth? Perhaps that is part of it.

In any case, there is so much work left undone in the area of sacred music. But the reclaiming of Holy Week - not just the music but the sensibility that the music represents - must be part of the agenda.