Musician Adam Bartlett has been super busy for the last twelve months on a project I suspected was extremely important to the future of Catholic liturgy. He tried many times to engage me and talk to me about what he was doing, but I had a hard time keeping up with his plans and ideas. He admits now that he found this fact very frustrating since we had been close collaborators on his book Simple English Propers. I had finally resolved that I would wait until the product appeared on my doorstep to begin to make sense of it.
I’ve now had this book in front of me for two days. Initially, I found myself tongue-tied, nearly speechless about what to say. Having now spent two days with the book, I do know this: this book has an amazing future. If I were a parish priest, regardless of the parish’s history of demographic, I wouldn’t hesitate to put it in the pew racks. The money spent is pure investment in the knowledge of the parishioners and the savings from having to buy any more throw-away materials, ever.
The book is not what I had expected at all, which was an expansion of the Simple English Propers with lectionary texts. No, this goes far beyond that. It is a reworking of the entire liturgical experience for the average person in the pew. And somehow this book manages this seemingly impossible feat without creating a book that is forbidding or alarming or requires a risky leap into a new conception of the ordinary form of the Mass. Somehow, Adam’s clarity of mind has produced that singular thing, and at long last, a resource that exudes clarity of purpose even within a Catholic liturgical culture too often characterized by directionless confusion.
Perhaps the most thrilling single fact I’ve found about the Lumen Christi Missal: it is a book that could right now be put in the pews of any parish and make everyone extremely happy. It doesn’t matter what the outlook or traditions of the parish or the parish priest are or have been. This book is a viable replacement for, and an upgrade to, all the seasonal missalettes and resources that parishes pay for now. It is the one book that a parish would need. If the pastor bought it and left for another parish, his successor would thank his predecessor for years to come. And I really mean that it could go into any parish, without shock or alarm but rather great relief.
The book is itself beautiful, like it was meant to exist. The printing is gold and the cover red, and it has two ribbons so you can mark the day and the Mass setting you are using. It is one thousand pages, but the book is not too thick. In fact, it is thinner than the Worship Hymbook. But keep in mind: this is not a hymnbook. In fact, once you see it, you begin to understand that a hymbook is not really what needs to be in the pews, since hymns are not really part of liturgy. The liturgy is part of liturgy, and that’s what you will find in here: the parts of the Mass that pertain to the people. That means readings, ordinary chants, propers of the Mass, and extra material for Benediction, Stations, and other matters.
Let me explain the structure here. For daily Mass throughout the year, it has the entrance and communion antiphons with the mode marked. The last page of the Missal contains the tones that pertain so that they can easily be sung. The text is pointed for singing. It also contains an original but very simple antiphon for the Responsorial Psalm. This is what is necessary for daily Mass.
Then Sunday comes on the next page. We have the entrance antiphon in text and the music for this appears in the back in an incredibly economical Gradual for the entire year. The antiphon is in English and Latin so that we don’t lose sight of our heritage. “Cantate Domino Sunday” will mean something again. If the parish starts singing the Graduale Romanum, the translations are there for everyone.
Then we have the full first and second readings in English plus the Gospel. The Responsorial Psalm and the Alleluia is here, beautiful compositions that are just slightly more complex than the settings for daily Mass.
Sundays include the offertory antiphon. This is a huge benefit. This does not appear in the altar Missal, a fact I very much regret. But it is here printed so that it is obvious that the offertory is something more than an intermission with a money collection. This addition will subtly shift attitudes. The offertory is of course takent from the Roman Gradual. Then Sundays finish with a communion antiphon. Again, all the music is in the back for these.
All three years are covered.
The next section is the Order of Mass. This is from the Missal and offers the music in easy-to-sing four-line staffs. It contains all forms and prayers. The pages are shaded at the edge so that users can quickly find where they need to be. It also contains guidelines for receiving communion. This is the ultimate section for the sung Mass. If you can do this in your parish, you have what you need. This section also contains excellent English and Latin versions of the sprinkling rite for Easter and the the rest of the year.
The next section is amazing. It has Mass settings in English and Latin, fully 18 of them. Some are newly composed, and these are wonderful. Some come from the Graduale Romanum and some are from the Graduale Simplex (which might be the most overlooked official liturgical book of the Church). The notation is outstanding in every way. This section alone makes the entire book worth owning even as an individual, but remember: this book is for the pew, not the altar or loft or the bookshelf. That’s what makes it distinctive.
The “Simple Gradual” is next. I don’t know how Adam did this but it has entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons for the entire year, not just words but music too. It excludes the Psalms for each because those belong to the choir. The Simple Gradual herein also covers votive Masses, Ritual Masses, and common Responsorial Psalms for the entire year. There is also a long list of alternate Alleluias.
Then we move to the devotional section: preparation for Mass, thanksgiving after Mass, prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the sacrament of penance, forumas of Catholic doctrine, prayers before confession, prayers after confession, common prayers, the rosary, the Memorare, and much more. It has the Rosary, Stations, and a full service of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction with the correct chants for these (it might be the only book in print that has these correct).
Finally, we have Te Deum. Bring it back!
The indexes are complete. The back page has the entire lectionary cycle table and the antiphon tones for daily and Sunday Psalms.
This book is a triumph. It is a treasure. It belongs in every pew.
If you have read carefully, this fact stands out: it contains no hymns of the sort that we are used to singing. You might think that this would kill this product. On the contrary, I’m convinced that this enhances its value. The hymn repertoire is too broad and diverse, and parishes tend to land again and again on 15 to 20 hymns (in my experience) aside from seasonal standards. What’s the point in printing 500 hymns to cover every possible use? Regardless, hymns aren’t even part of the official liturgy. If you want to sing them, nothing prevents a parish from making its own little book or getting some small hymn supplement from its favorite publisher. This sends a message: these hymns are not part of the official liturgy. They might be important, they might meet certain pastoral needs, and they might be perfectly appropriate, but they are external to the liturgical word itself.
Even if you parish doesn’t use sung propers, even not one person in the pew has a consciousness about the new changes in the liturgy, even if the pastor has no interest whatever in doing the liturgy the way it is intended, this book will be immediately useful. It is just dazzling and beautiful in every way. It is a book for the universal Church in the English speaking world. It really lifts the spirits. And it will gradually lead the congregation toward a better and better understand of the liturgy.
The Lumen Christi Missal is bold, brave, brilliant, and paradigm changing. This might be the first word you have heard about it but it won’t be the last. This book will have a very long life in the annals of Church history. You can find out more at Illuminare Publications.
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