Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Making Beautiful Liturgy Happen Everywhere

Fr. Martin Fox offers a beautiful post about a  Mass that he celebrated just as an experiment. He stripped away all the hymn singing except for the recessional and instead had the choir chant the propers in English. He faced the altar for the Mass. He reports an interesting thing: " I have to tell you, there is something tremendously powerful, for the priest, in offering Mass toward the Lord. For one, the architecture of the church makes so much more sense. As I offered the Sacrifice, I was aware of the beautiful sanctuary lamp over my head, I was gazing at the massive crucifix ahead of all of us, and above that, the Good Shepherd window in the apse. The light from the evening sun poured in through the windows, a dappled gold light."

The event was a great success. People reported having a sense of awe and mystery that is much intensified with these small changes. Of course I was curious about the musical resources that were used, though I intuitively knew in advance. The answer: The Simple English Propers and the Psalm by Arlene Oost-Zinner. These two resources are the things that are making this sort of change happen - not just in small outposts but in regular parishes, the Masses that ordinary people attend every week.

It has slowly dawned on those of us who live and breath this world of liturgy and sacred music that are are many obstacles to realizing the goal of beautiful liturgy, but a main one, and the one that has too often been overlooked in the past, is that we need good musical resources, readily available, that can be used in any parish environment to make a compelling case. That is arguably the first step because, quite frankly, such resources really haven't existed for a very long time. That is now changing, and the results are remarkable. We are singing the liturgy chanted in places where it otherwise would not have been. And we aren't just talking about small parishes either; cathedrals are using these now, realizing that they make an important contribution. You can add all the tympani and string players you want but if the music you are using is not liturgical, the Mass won't become more solemn or true to itself.

I'm not surprised (and no one should be) that the choice here was SEP, but I'm intrigued at the use of the Oost-Zinner Psalm. Of all the Psalms available today, it's long been my own view that these are the ones that best combine beauty of music and language plus ease of use. It really is a matter of print and sing. They are perfect every time. I gather that many others have figured this out too. But the problem: they are not completed and they are not in print in a single volume.

Please consider giving to this Chip In campaign to bring these Simple English Psalms into print. With this resource, every parish can have what it needs to get going on the right path toward the best music that the Church has to offer.