The Year of Sacred Music

Hello again to all of my friends at the ChantCafe. It has been a while since I’ve been with you here, though this has in no way been intentional – I’m sure you can understand that I’ve been a bit busy lately. I look forward, though, to joining you in the great year in sacred music that lies ahead. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that we’re not only about to enter the Year of Faith, but are about to enter what history will also record as being a Year of Sacred Music.

We are now eight months past the implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in the English speaking world. After all of the buildup and anxiety surrounding the Missal’s reception, we can now see that for most parishes and for most Catholics in the pews, this really was not that big of a deal.

Many parishes have used the new translation as an opportunity for deeper catechesis on the Mass itself, drawing upon the clarified scriptural allusions in the Missal and the greater theological precision brought about by the clearer translation, and have helped guide parishioners into a deeper and more actual participation in the sacred mysteries of the liturgy. But many are now asking, what will be the next step?

The answer seems very clear: The next step is sacred music.

More parishes than ever have been taking up the task of singing the Order of Mass. This is made possible, of course, by the fact that the sung parts of the Mass are placed in the heart of the Roman Missal itself. Bishops and Church leaders have emphasized the importance of singing these texts, and parishes all around the world are responding and are achieving success.

I experienced proof of this just a few weeks ago when I returned to the small town in the Midwest where I was raised, and as a child strummed songs from Glory and Praise week after week: The priest sang his parts from the Missal, sang them well, and the people responded with enthusiasm and vigor. I never could have imagined this. The framework for a renewal in sacred music is now in place. What people will see, and are now seeing, is that guitars, drums, and folk/pop music really do not have a place in this picture. The need to fully sing the Mass is becoming very strikingly and pressingly apparent.

What people are finding is that the sung Order of Mass simply cries out for Mass Propers. It cries out for chanted Ordinaries. When people experience chanted Propers and Ordinaries amidst the sung orations and dialogues they feel a profound sense of relief, an aha moment. They often say things like “it just makes so much sense!”, or “it just feels right!”. This is the genius of the Roman Rite speaking, there is no doubt.

The sense of the faithful is calling for the sung liturgy, and when parishes achieve it in practice suddenly they are seeing that their pews are filling up with young families, collections go up, the parish is reinvigorated with life and vitality.

Parishes have been taking advantage of the recent surge in sacred music resources, many of which have been made available by the CMAA, some of which have been brought to life in our midst here at ChantCafe. I am personally blown away by the way in which parishes have found success using the Simple English Propers, and the various other wonderful resources that have made inroads in parishes in the past few years. It is the dedicated parish musicians, priests and pastors who are to be commended for their patient and prudent work of liturgical renewal. Many of them are now finding that their parishioners are grateful for their work, for opening up to them many of the spiritual treasures of the liturgy that they had never before known.

The coming year, I believe, will be a year where the momentum that has so far been gained will begin to snowball, and where sacred music will reach more parishes than ever.

I am personally very excited to announce that my latest effort, the Lumen Christi Missal, has now been approved for publication by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has received the Episcopal Imprimatur of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, and is now being sent to print. It will begin shipping in September.

I believe that this book will help many parishes take the next step. It will put in the hands of the faithful the sung liturgy, and a complete resource that can help deepen parishes’ fruitful participation in the sacred mysteries. It is not the only solution, or even a solution at all – the only solution to our needs can be found in Christ – but it does hold the promise of equipping parishes with the tools that they need for the liturgical renewal that was envisioned by the Second Vatican Council, and that is now being brought to life by God’s grace in our day.

In this coming Year of Faith, as we recall the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, let’s hope and pray for an authentic renewal of sacred music in our parishes. The foundation has been laid, and the tools are being made available to us. Glorious days indeed lie ahead.