“The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.”

Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: “You are my God.
My happiness lies in you alone.”

He has put into my heart a marvelous love
for the faithful ones who dwell in his land.

Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows.
Never will I offer their offerings of blood.
Never will I take their name upon my lips.

O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize.
The lot marked out for me is my delight:
welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me!

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm.

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay.

You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever.

Brick by Interminable Brick

Like a commuter passing a car wreck, I can’t help but look at every liturgical livefeed that Rocco Palmo tweets, even the LA Religious Ed Congress. Egads. Everything sounds exactly like We Are the World, even the (why? why?) trilingual troping of the Agnus Dei. Is there some reason people can’t just sing “Lamb of God” in Vietnamese, Spanish and English?

We Are the World was a hit in 1985. That was almost 30 years ago, well before the featured soloists were born. And that music is dated, while chants written a millennium prior are not. The reason is: the earlier music was not ephemeral. It was not written to satisfy a perceived (usually hopelessly outdated) current theological or musical trend, but to give expression to the deep faith that can truly sustain a Christian.

Not only the music, but the words too, sound exactly like We Are the World, which, with admirable clarity, expresses secular humanism.

The one exception to the We Are the World sound is the the Congress’ theme song, which may be found on this page, and which sounds exactly like the theme to The Love Boat, except with maracas.

During what decade did The Love Boat air, again?

…we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.

Apart from the occasional slipups on the part of the celebrant (prevenient grace?) the choir (better learn those chant responses before Holy Week–and look out for the Showing of the Cross and the Lumen Christi!) and certain bad habits of some of the people (and also with your spirit), adapting to the new translation of the Mass seems to be going rather well. And how easily the change of diction has already elevated the entire atmosphere of the Mass!

However, there is one particular liturgical moment that does not seem to be going well. At a spoken Mass, such as many daily Masses, the first line of the Sanctus isn’t making sense. In the old translation, it was spoken like this:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,/ God of power and might.
Now, it seems to be often spoken like this:

Holy, holy, holy Lord/ God of hosts.

We may be missing something important here, which perhaps the translation intended to resolve. In the older translation, the pause between Lord and God had a grammatical effect. “God of power and might” functioned grammatically as an apositive, effectively a description, of Lord.

In the new translation, it seems much clearer now that the words are meant to be invoked as a proper name, “Lord God of Hosts,” “Adonai Elohim Zabaoth,” as we read powerfully in the prophetic Books and the Psalms, or “Dominus Deus Sabaoth” in Latin, which also comes across, phonetically, as a name of power.

I think that in our spoken Masses, we can reclaim a liturgical sense of this revealed power by simply following the punctuation. The rhythm is like the passage from the Gettysburg Address quoted in the title of this post:

Holy,/ holy,/ holy Lord God of hosts.

Vespers. Just Do It.

In every parish, there are people who are hungry for the Psalms, and if a service of the Liturgy of the Hours is held, people will attend. This has been my experience in a number of different parish settings, on both coasts, and in campus ministry. While it would be wonderful to chant the Office, a mere reading is nourishing. People will attend and eagerly participate.

The internet has made resources available that take all of the guesswork (and a lot of page flipping and ribbons) out of the process. The Liturgy of the Hours is available online here. I find it helpful to mark the text when working with a new group, so that everyone knows when to speak: Leader, Reader, All, etc. Other groups mark up a breviary with ribbons. If a breviary is used, the parish hymn board can be changed to a Morning Prayer board during the week, with breviary page numbers posted in the sequence in which they will be used, so people can mark up their own books.

Expect a small but stable group, whether meeting before or after the morning Mass, or at Vespers time. Some parishes have Sunday Vespers just before the last Sunday Mass, which might draw a larger crowd and can be done with greater solemnity, perhaps with a deacon or priest presiding. However it is done, the Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer experience that can be provided for very little trouble, is almost certain to be successful in a small way, and is properly liturgical.

The Basilica Series of Sacred Music

Among the many blessings that have accompanied the recent English translation of the Roman Missal is a flowering of beautiful compositions of the Ordinary of the Mass. From Richard Rice to Deacon Br. Michael O’Connor to Aristotle Esguerra to Jeff Ostrowski to my own writing partners C.H. Giffen and Colin Brumby, along with so many others, an historic creative explosion has occurred, in the specific musical area of English Ordinaries.

It was not a revolution I saw coming, but I once spoke with someone who did. In a chance conversation several years ago with Msgr. Rossi, the Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he mentioned that new Mass settings were an urgent need. However, like many others at the time I was content with the high-church sensibility of Richard Proulx. I did not foresee that the future of the Ordinary lay in vernacular chant.

Under Msgr. Rossi’s leadership, the Basilica has produced two outstanding Mass settings under its own imprint, The Basilica Series of Sacred Music. Like many of the newer Masses, these are not grand but quiet, not high-Church but supple, musical, melody-centered, and ethereal, like the noble simplicity of the chant itself. They were composed by Peter Latona and Russell Weismann, the Director and Associate Director of Music at the Basilica.

It is a truly remarkable time. Vernacular chant has somehow become the new “normal” for the Mass Ordinary, replacing louder settings that might disrupt the recollection of the Eucharistic prayers. The sound is very much like our Liturgy’s native idiom, Gregorian chant, but the language is our own, accessible to all.