Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sung Liturgy in Ordinary Parish Life

Over the past few years we have witnessed a groundswell in sung liturgy, and in the renewal of sacred music in parish life. This has been taking place in parishes, cathedrals, seminaries, universities and institutes, religious houses, and elsewhere, both here in the U.S. and abroad. This movement has not been reserved to specialists, but has become a popular one. With the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal in 2011, the foundational song for the liturgy in chanted form found a home on every altar and in every sacristy throughout the English-speaking world.

Those who have followed Chant Cafe over the past few years have witnessed the development of enterprising resources such as Simple English Propers, among many others. These projects which have come from such humble beginnings have not just been niche or esoteric in their scope, but have begun to find a home in many places in the ordinary, day-to-day events of Catholic life. We continue to receive reports from parishes and cathedrals around the country, notes from Europe, and even words of thanks from Rome. It's all very hard to believe, and it is certainly not something we ever would have imagined.

Still, even after all of the progress that has been made, when we step back and take an inventory of our current situation we begin to realize how much more work still needs to be done in order to make sung liturgy a regular part of ordinary parish life.

In the parishes that have achieved and maintained any regular practice of sung liturgy so far, there is typically an extremely dedicated, faith-filled, and talented leader at the center of it. This may be a full-time music director, a part-time coordinator, or even a committed volunteer. This individual has to work extraordinarily hard not only to teach, catechize and train cantors, choirs, organists, members of the faithful, even parish staff and clergy, but also to pull together and execute sung liturgies week after week. It is true that this task is easier than it was five years ago, but still, it is a monumental task.

Just last week I read a note from a colleague in my diocese who went on vacation and planned to fly back home on Saturday night in order to direct his music program on Sunday morning. Well, his flight was delayed twice and finally cancelled, which would have been cause for a typical music director to begin scrambling for a sub. But his situation is different. He wrote:

In order to sub for me you have to read neumes, be able to sing in Latin, come up with accompaniments to chants and hymns on the fly, dabble your way through 3 books and a binder and keep the nice choir ladies on key.... so I couldn't just call in some AGO-sub-lister. So what does an organist do? He flies into Los Angeles at midnight, rents a car, then drives through the night and makes it home just in time for his 7am Mass with no sleep.

This, my friends, is dedication. And — somewhat unfortunately — it is the kind of dedication that is currently needed to successfully sustain a program of sacred music in a parish today.

And this brings me to my next observation.

When we assess the musical programs in the majority of parishes, we do not find this kind of superhuman music director. In fact, in most parishes we see a mishmash of volunteers, perhaps a few stipended musicians, and maybe a part-time coordinator. Truly, parishes with full-time directors of music are the exception, not the norm.

Most of these parishes rely upon pre-packaged programs of liturgical music from the major commercial publishers that give them everything that is needed to get through weekend liturgies. These resources are utterly relied upon from week to week. There is the hymnal/missal for the pew, accompaniment books for the accompanist, and the cantor and choir editions for the singers that correspond to the books in the pews, et cetera. Everything is in place. All that is needed is for the musical leader of the Mass to select four songs from the planning guide, pick out a Mass setting, put the numbers on the board, and they're ready to go.

We all know the drill very well. What makes us uneasy about this is not the drill itself, but it is the music in the popular commercial liturgical products that we know so often lacks dignity, doesn't set the liturgical text, has strong associations with (often dated) popular music, and is a far cry from what we might describe as sacred music.

So far, we have been very blessed to have begun reaping the fruits of the chant revival, and new publications in recent years have helped make this possible. There are heroic music directors and dedicated volunteers among us who perform miracle after miracle — Sunday after Sunday, in order to help foster a culture of sacred music and sung liturgy in their parishes.

But we also have to realize that in order to make this happen in ordinary parishes we need to have a comprehensive program of sacred music that is packaged like the programs from the big commercial publishers. We need the complete package: Books for the pews, books for the choir and cantor that match, and accompaniment editions for it all.

And most importantly this program of sacred music needs to be born of the mind of the Church, organically developed out of the Church's timeless tradition, a reflection of the priorities of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, beautiful, sacred, dignified, and able to sung every week by ordinary parishes with limited resources.

I would like to introduce you to a solution to these needs:

Meet the Lumen Christi Series from Illuminare Publications.

The Lumen Christi Missal is already being used in many parishes across the country, and hundreds rely upon the Illuminare Score Library every week for free downloads for the cantor and choir, and for organ accompaniments.

The Lumen Christi Hymnal, Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, and Lumen Christi Gradual are all on their way and will begin shipping in early 2014.

Sung liturgy cannot be reserved to the domain of specialists, or the dedicated few, but must be shared in by all. The Lumen Christi Series is ready to help you make this a reality in your parish.

Click here to learn more. You can follow the Illuminare Publications blog or subscribe to the mailing list for future publication announcements and updates.

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