On this Feast of Saint Barnabas, Apostle, the Roman Canon provides us once again with great wisdom. The Sacred music of our beloved Catholic Church should unite mankind with Heaven and “graciously grant some share and fellowship with Thy Holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John (the Baptist), Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and with all Thy saints.”
Gregorian chant is the most perfect expression of this Divine fellowship. A Treasure of Inestimable Value. Instead, it appears altogether easy in our present age to avoid this Heavenly banquet, in favor of personal taste. Unfortunately, and often unintendedly, the result is one of a liturgical jukebox mentality. Shorten the prayers, omit sung orations and responses, even favor simple vernacular chants over the true, beautiful, and universal. We put our quarter into the offering, and expect to choose “D4” for the offertory ditty.
The Sacred Liturgy is not a jukebox, subject to our eclectic, and often taste-deprived aural palate. The Mass is not a “chant café” in which one should be free to ask: “What music did you do for Pentecost Sunday?”
How many sang/prayed Spiritus Domini, Veni Creator, Factus est Repente
? If not, what’s stopping you?
Certainly there are local considerations of ability, leadership, social and sometimes financial resources—one can make a case with nearly any fathomable excuse. We can even say that the Church allows for such substitutions. The reality, however, is that as Church musicians and clergy, it is our undeniable duty, our service, to simply comply with Sacred and Liturgical norms. We conform our will to that of the Fathers. We decrease, so that HE may increase! As a dear friend so wisely remarks in light of musical directives, only strengthened at Vatican II: “Obedience alone would be an adequate response.”
One must be vigilant and careful to mistake a brick-by-brick approach with that of lethargy. There is a clear distinction between prudence and procrastination. Are you taking steps toward the Liber Usualis, Graduale/Gregorian Missal? Has your choir even heard of these books? What is your timeline?
Certainly this has been discussed before, although it is worth repeating with a resounding cannon or non-roamin’ missile: too much time and money are spent “planning” the Mass. Many parishes pay musicians to choose alternate music and styles for Mass.
Instead, use that time to PREPARE for the Sacred Liturgy, both musically and Spiritually. Start a schola. Improve your choir. Encourage them and trust them with real music, rather than feeding them the latest hit from 1970. Choir members are the heart of the parish! They need your trust, confident smile, and liturgical leadership!
So as the Saints throughout the year are named and remembered at Mass, either at the Altar and/or in the pew, may we remember our beautiful music and worship are Sacred, Universal, and outside of ourselves.