Friday, September 7, 2012

A Priest On Using All of these Musical Resources!


The CMAA has so many projects going on, I can hardly keep up with them all.  I know that most of the people who read this blog are musicians or ordinary Catholics who appreciate the Church’s treasury of sacred music.  I also know that many of my brother priests are out there who love Chant Café, but they are at a loss as to how to figure out how to use all of this embarrassment of riches on the ground in their parishes.  So, reverend and dear Fathers, and the lay faithful who love you and want you to be successful in your efforts to restore the sacred, let me share some thoughts about how we can go about using all of this wonderfulness CMAA is putting out there.

I know a lot of parishes have a hymnal in the pews.  Sometimes two, as the Worship/Gather combination has become standard at least in my part of the world.  I grew up with the Baptist Hymnal and learned to love the Episcopal Hymnal.  But in those churches, we knew how to use them!  The Minister of Music would lead us to find the right hymn, whose title and number were already on our Order of Worship.  Sometimes there was even a screen we could find the name and number, and sometimes even lyrics and music!  In the Anglican Church, we had an Order of Worship, and I could set out my Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal on the pew with that perfect ridge in it so I could set the books out and mark them with the bulletin or ribbons according to the numbers proudly displayed on the hymn board which was visible to me no matter where I sat.

As I found out very quickly after I started to go to the Catholic church, such preparedness or enthusiastic alacrity in finding the right hymn in the right book was rare to find.  When I became a cantor, I was instructed in how to try to prepare the people for those moments in the Mass where people had to find their page in Worship or Gather.  At least we only used one hymnal and each Mass.  Good morning and welcome to St Mary’s!  Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption.  Let us stand and greet our celebrant with number (whatever it was) Hail Holy Queen, number (whatever it was).  (Pause for facepalm.)  Some of you may still be doing this routine.  Cantor at a stand near the altar, coaching the people.  It may sound like a good way of encouraging the faithful to actively participate, but I am still convinced that we need to get away from it and ring the bell and get on with things, and see the cantor as less of a protagonist in the celebration. 

But how then, should we go about communicating to the people what to sing?  My first parish and my current parish use music sheets that are designed to be one-stop shopping for all the music you will need to sing at Mass.  With the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, there is the pew card and the music sheet, which complicates things a bit.  In my second parish, I bought the St Michael Hymnal, the fruit of the tireless labor of the indomitable Linda Schaefer from St Boniface in Lafayette, Indiana.  Especially at the time, it was the only hymnal I felt that provided original hymn texts and a plethora of music for a Catholic parish on its way to restoring the sacred.  I have not seen the new edition of the hymnal, but I am sure it is a very good product indeed.  When there is no hymnal, the music sheet is a useful tool.

If a music sheet is printed on nice paper, has beautiful clip art, nice fonts, and a good layout, it is a pleasure to sing from.  But it has its limits.  It is time consuming: if the Music Director does not have a volunteer assistant or the Pastor has a staff member do them, Music Directors can spend a lot of time doing them.  But, it is also a way to introduce the Propers as well as Hymns into the Mass. 

But why would we want do that?  The CMAA speaks very much about the Paradigm for liturgical worship: a fully sung Latin liturgy with the proper chants.  The Graduale Romanum really is one-stop shopping for all your musical needs.  The only place where I have ever seen it used outside of monasteries by laypeople in the pews is Saint Nicholas-du-Chardonnet, in Paris, where the faithful bring their own copies of the Liber usualis to Mass and Vespers and sing from them as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and, as far as singing congregations go, they do a pretty nice job of it! 

I don’t know about your parish, dear readers, but I know none of the parishes I have blessed to serve are quite at the level of that lovely SSPX church in the Cité des Lumières.  But the Propers are there.  They are in the Roman Missal, begging to be used.  And so we print them in the music sheet.  At our 10a Solemn English Mass every Sunday, the Proper Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphon are sung from the Simple English Propers.  The cantor sings them before the Entrance and Offertory Hymns, and at the beginning of the distribution of Holy Communion.  One day, I hope we can encourage everyone to sing them.  At the other sung OF Masses, we do not sing the Propers, but they are printed, and from time to time I call attention to the people to meditate upon those texts.  In my parish, we have the EF every day, so we have read and sung Propers there, and every Sunday we have a nicely produced sheet.  For Low Mass (which is during the summer), we use the Una Voce Orange County sheets, and for Sung Masses, we produce a beautiful music sheet with everything in English and Latin.

Music sheet vs. hymnal is a difficult question.  I continue to remind people that hymns are not a part of the Roman Eucharistic Liturgy.  But the 4-Hymn Sandwich, originating in a Low Mass mentality, is unfortunately ingrained in many of our faithful, so I think it is important that, for some parishes, there be a “safety valve” Mass where hymns and propers can co-exist.  One way to introduce Propers is the way we do it at my current parish, by pairing Propers and Hymns.  Advent and Lent are good times to introduce Introits, in English and then in Latin, and encourage congregational participation in the Simple English Propers.  Of course, doing that means that a hymnal is of limited use.  Many congregations are not up to the task of switching back and forth between music sheet with propers and hymnal with hymns. 

This is where the Vatican II Hymnal can be useful.  If the Choir sings the Propers in Latin or in English, or even if the Congregation is urged to sing the Propers in simple English tones that are accessible, the Vatican II Hymnal is a great resource, because it has the texts for those Propers.  I am not aware of any other hymnal on the market that includes those texts.  Because the Propers and not Hymns, are integral to the Roman liturgy, a wise pastor seeking to inch towards the Paradigm, will find the Vatican II Hymnal a great resource.

The Vatican II Hymnal is also a great resource for another very practical reason.  It does not only offer good hymns and non-bawdlerized texts.  It also presents the readings for Sunday.  Now, I used to love going to the Traditional Latin Mass with my Missal with the Latin and English.  It was a great way to prepare for Mass, and a good way to follow the Mass, especially as I was learning Latin.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand why people would want to follow along in a book the readings at Mass while they are being proclaimed in a vernacular they understand.  It is entirely non-sensical to me.  But many do.  And, in any given congregation, there will be people for whom English is not their mother tongue.  And there are those who, thanks be to God for them, like to prepare for Mass by reading through the readings before Mass.  In my parish, we have a congregation with Tagalog, Vietnamese, French, German, and of course, Spanish speakers.  It is helpful for them, as well as those who like to pray over the lectionary as part of their spiritual life.

But how do you do that?  The disposable Missalettes from OCP and Liturgical Press and other companies fill a need.  Many of them are well produced and they sit nicely in pew racks.  They are easy to handle and people like to take them home.  But they always give a sense of transience, of tenuousness, to the liturgy.  A beautiful and well-produced book like the Vatican II Hymnal provides all of the texts for the liturgy, without the connotation of a liturgy made in loose-leaf.  It can be a serious investment for a parish, but a very good one for parishes which want to introduce Propers, still have hymns and also provide for the lectionary readings.

So why have I not bought the Vatican II Hymnal for my parish?  Well, good question. We have a large Hispanic population in my area, and so the bilingual missalettes are the only resource around for a bilingual congregation, let alone a congregation like mine, which has many cultures and languages.  Also, we have the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form every day.  We do not have Low Mass with Hymns, so the Vatican II Hymnal is not as helpful as it would be for congregations which have OF and EF with hymns.  Also, I like the flexibility of the music sheets even as it is not very green! 

Another thing I like about the music sheet as opposed to hymnal is that we can pick and choose from the numerous good offerings CMAA is putting out for the Responsorial Psalm.  Now, of course, I am all in favor of the Graduale Romanum for that, too, but many parishes are still wedded to the Responsorial Psalm.  So, as long as we are going to continue to use them, we might as well have dignified settings of them.  The Vatican II Hymnal has very good options, but those options are in the text of lectionary.  The other settings, which are not in the readings themselves, are good but entail a greater complication in how the faithful are supposed to get to them.  Are they announced, are they written in a music sheet or in a hymn board?

At my parish we have been using the Chabanel Psalms for nearly a year, replacing the Guimont compositions.  We have a schola do the proper Gradual, Alleluia or Tract on certain occasions, but the faithful have taken to the easily accessible Chabanel Psalms very well. 

Now that Arlene Oost-Zinner’s Parish Book of Psalms is out, there is yet another wonderful resource of good, accessible music for the Psalms.  For parishes that employ a music sheet and do not want to be tied down to what is in the Vatican II Hymnal in the Lectionary section, this is a great way to have some variety in selections for the Psalms, and the nicely produced book will also be a great boon for any choir loft.

Another CMAA resource that is coming out soon that I am very excited about is the Lumen Christi Missal.  This beautiful tome can have a home in just about any Catholic parish.  For the pastor who wants to be rid once and for all of the disposable missalettes, then this is the best way to replace just that and at the same time have music which can be used to introduce the Propers.  In the hands of a competent liturgist and musician, it can even lead to the singing of Propers and other texts at Daily Mass, which could create an amazing liturgical culture in a parish.  You can use those psalms directly within their lectionary context, psalms which are easily singable and noble compositions.  If you continue to use a music sheet, you don’t clog up the pew racks but still provide a nice book for the readings as well as Mass Ordinaries.  Because it also has a wealth of devotional material, it is also a great spiritual resource for the people in the pew.  If a parish is already at the point of doing the switchover from hymns to propers, or even if it is the early stages of introducing propers, then this is a phenomenal book.

Of course, no review of good CMAA material is complete without a glance at the Parish Book of Chant.  I know several priests, liturgists and musicians who rave about this book.  If Gregorian chant is the music of the Church, parishes need something which provides the repertoire that every Catholic should have in his treasure chest.  This book is excellent for parish and school choirs, obviating the need for photocopies or several books of Gregorian chant.  If a choir does the propers at Mass, then they can have the Graduale Romanum and the Parish Book of Chant.  While it is nice to have the Kyriale, the Offertorium, the Graduale Triplex, the Cantus Selecti, the Processionale Monasticum, and the Liber cantualis all at your fingertips, the reality is that, for most choirs, and certainly for most congregations, that is a lot of books and a lot of money.  The Parish Book of Chant is great for choir and pews, especially if the parish uses a lot of Latin chant.  In many ways, it is the new “useful book,” the Liber usualis of our times.  The fact that is equally valid for the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms makes it helpful for those places, which have either or both.

I know that this has been a long commercial for CMAA-related materials.  Here is a summary of my recommendations to pastors and to the musicians who get the job done:

- If you are in a parish that uses lots of Latin chant, at the Ordinary and/or Extraordinary Form, buy the Parish Book of Chant, first for your choirs, then for your school, and then for your pews.
- If you are in a parish that has an English Mass that uses hymns and you want a hymnal that has the benefit of the readings in it, the texts of the propers, good music and traditional texts, buy the Vatican II Hymnal for choir, school and pews.
- If you still use music sheets but can’t fit in either readings, ordinary or texts for the propers, or you want something with those things in it to supplement a hymnal that is not the Vatican II Hymnal, then start the campaign to put the Lumen Christi Missal in the pews.
- if you just want to get rid of disposable missalettes, then buy the Lumen Christi Missal.     
- pastors, buy your choir director a copy of the Simple English Propers and the Parish Book of Psalms and give them the link to the Chabanel Psalms website.  Throw out the dated materials from the music publishers that come out new and not always improved from the usual editing houses, and go for something more permanent.
- pastors, but your choir director and choir copies of the Graduale Romanum and the Parish Book of Chant and send as many as you can to the CMAA Chant Workshops and the annual Colloquium.  Even if you are not able right now to move towards the Paradigm, get into the hands and consciousness of your people that there is more out there!

At my parish, we have both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form, so we have a lot of Latin and a lot of English.  I hope to equip music director, choirs and faithful with the best the treasury of sacred music has to offer.  Seven years ago when I was ordained, I despaired for lack of truly usable materials to assist in the propagation of the Extraordinary Form and the Reform of the Reform.  Now, we have almost too many resources at our fingertips.  Hopefully this will help us wade through all of this loveliness and put in the hands of the People of God the tools with which they can praise God in beauty and truth!