Hymns, Hymns and more Hymns!

The subject of hymns replacing Mass Propers is not a new one.  Often there is a simple misunderstanding of spoken versus sung Mass, and the lack of catechesis on this topic. It appears common in our age to prefer neither High or Low, trading it in for a confused “Middle Mass”.

At the Middle Mass, clergy can remain comfortable in their way of praying, apart from obedience to the Liturgy.  Musicians in turn “choose” music at whim, trying their best to select something close to the readings, with an occasional sung antiphon.  The Alleluia is sung on weekdays, to avoid that awkward silence during the Gospel procession, while the Psalm itself is spoken.  Chant is simply an option, often inserted to check a rubrical box.  Is this really what the Church intends?  Creativity and hymns?  As has been thoroughly discussed, I quote a previous article from this forum:   Instead of receiving the Mass that is given, we make the Mass that we choose.
In a recent diocesan Instruction on Sacred Music, there is a good desire put forth to unify parishes and their music programs.  A five year plan is promulgated which requires the use of a diocesan hymnal (for better or worse), simple English congregational communion antiphons, and learning English/Latin versions of the Funeral Mass.   At its current charge, music directors now have to submit their choral music to the chancery for approval.  Palestrina, Handel and Byrd, look out; but modern hymnody is ok!
This instruction causes much confusion, departing from earlier instruction and conflicts greatly with Ecclesial directives on Sacred music.  In essence, it encourages hymns and once again endorses the Middle Mass.  

At a Sung Mass, the Priest and Deacon sing their parts, primarily leading acclamations that are responded to:  “The Lord be with You”, “The Gospel of the Lord”, etc.

At a Sung Mass, the Choir sings the Mass Propers: Introit, Psalm, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion.  

At a Sung Mass, the congregation or choir may sing the Mass Ordinary: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.  

At a Spoken Mass, none of these parts are sung:  Acclamations, Mass Propers, or Mass Ordinary. Hymns have been permitted as devotional items, with their principal use remaining within the Divine Office.
Mass Propers can be sung in various settings, chiefly Gregorian chant and Sacred polyphony. Choirs and scholae hold an esteemed place of beauty, adornment, and solemn praise.  They provide a spiritual haven for the congregation to pray, as their diligent work promotes Sacred scripture, clothing it in beauty.  Truly vocal and choral music provide the glorification of God and sanctification of the faithful.

The silence and austere awe that is present at a spoken Mass is truly a gift for God and for us.  Let us not lose this!  

The joy and exuberant melismaticism present in the sung Mass is truly a gift for God and for us.  Let us not lose this!

The Middle Mass pushes an agenda of mediocrity, hoping to please all.  We dumb-down chant as merely an option.  Choral music is often discouraged or altogether deleted, in favor of the cantor or choir as an “extension of the people”.  Hymns, often replete with non-Catholic Theology become the norm.  The problem is not hymns or hymnals, it is the Middle Mass.  
Clergy and faithful alike need to reclaim our musical heritage.  Certainly a stepwise approach can be taken, but these steps are not 5 year plans to learn the ICEL chants/funeral Mass, or simple communion refrain ditties in English, resulting in an increased impoverishment of choirs and cracking down on those already adhering to orthodoxy.  
Hymns shouldn’t replace Propers!  Propers should replace hymns!  Sing the Mass!  If you can’t, then let it be silent!

Silence at Papal Liturgy

It is so refreshing to hear Sacred Silence at the Papal Liturgy this morning in St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington.  It is an excellent example of the importance of the absence of sound as beauty, accompanying the Sacred sound of liturgical music. Not every liturgical action needs the cacophony of a loud blasting hymn, although suitable in its own place.

This can be easily used as a teaching tool; not only silence itself, but the use of a similar reverential peace within Sacred chant, polyphony, and congregational music.

In the Two Hearts: Beauty in Prayerful Repetition

Some of the most beloved chants are present in the Masses of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Whether celebrated in Solemnity or throughout the year, these gems of Gregorian chant afford a beautiful repetition that can foster greater devotional prayer, as well as increased love of Sacred music.

A cursory list of liturgical possibilites in both Ordinary and Extraordinary Form may resemble as follows, with sensitivity to rank:

  • Today’s Solemnity of the Sacred Heart – 19 days after Pentecost
  • Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary – Octave of Assumption, August 22 
  • 12 First Fridays 
  • 12 First Saturdays
  • Ferial Fridays or Saturdays
More than a dozen times throughout the year, the Missa Cogitationes and various propers for both liturgical celebrations can provide a stable repertoire for scholas and choirs, particularly for those starting out.  
It has been common practice for workshops, chants camps, and parishes to utilize this repetition. Variety of skill level, color, dance-like idioms and richness of prayer provide a refreshing body of sung chant and polyphony throughout the year.

Extraordinary Confirmation

A Solemn Pontifical Mass at the Faldstool was recently celebrated at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Minnesota. This likely marks a first in 50 years!
Prior to Holy Mass, His Excellency, +Bishop Andrew Cozzens confirmed about 40 teenagers in the Extraordinary Form. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter was present to assist. Nicholas Lemme directed the Schola from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, NE.  Deacon Ian Verrier directed the same seminary’s polyphonic choir.  Lawrence Lawyer masterfully served as organist.

Many noted the natural fusion and exquisite beauty of Sacred art, architecture, and music in the sights, sounds, and liturgical grace.  Average age of those in attendance was between 35-45. 

Renewal: Part II

The word RENEWAL in conjunction with Catholic Sacred music may likely include three definitions:

 1) “the action of extending the period of validity of a license, subscription, or contract.”
 2) “an instance of resuming an activity or state after an interruption.”
 3) “the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.”

In our modern age, we are constantly bombarded with licensing, a vast majority of American parishes subscribing to annual or quarterly liturgical resources for the pew and choir.   Perhaps it is the allure of having something new, year after year, that leads many to think that this form of Sacred Music is ‘renewal’?  Yet, the notion of Sacred music as property to be purchased, often yearly, to fulfill a legal contract is certainly at the heart of our present state of liturgical music and its need for improvement.

With a mind toward restoration, we find that the music of the past several decades has done more to divide, causing a deep-rooted selfishness, especially with the insertion of popular secular styles into Sacred space.

Rather than extend our yearly contract to pay for church music, we should make a renewal of the mind, in constant conversion to our Father’s Divine Will, following Mother Church.

Finally, upon recognizing our need for spiritual rejuvenation, we can mend our broken “pleasing-ourselves-mentality”, and sing with the Saints and Angels in the Heavenly and timeless Banquet, the source and summit of our faith: the Sacred Liturgy.

“Gregorian chant, as proper to the Roman liturgy, should be given pride of place…”

Does your choir/schola chant?  Use a Graduale?  Do they even know it exists?  

Renewal: Part I

Renewal.  We all want it, but what does it mean?

There were many movements, especially in the 1980s and 90s, infatuated with this concept of “making all things new.”  Magically, felt banners proclaiming: “RENEW” and so-forth somehow were supposed to enrich and enliven.

Now, 30+ years later, we ask, were these “ministries” an embodiment of true liturgical renewal, or simply a fuzzy fad?

Certainly God makes all things new.  Although God is often purposefully mislabeled, with references to Jesus as “I” and “you”.  Instead “We” became important, as so many disposable subscription pew books and hymnals continue to propose:

We Are Called
We Are God’s People  
We Are Known and Not Unnumbered
We Are Many Parts / Muchos Miembros Hay
We Are Marching / Siyahamba
We Cannot Own the Sunlit Sky  
We Come to You for Healing, Lord
We Glory in the Cross
We Have Been Told
We hold the death of the Lord
We Praise You, Lord, for Jesus Christ 
We praise you, we praise your holy 
We Remember
We should glory in the cross 
We Sing Your Praise, O Christ 
We Three Kings of Orient Are 
We Walk by Faith
We Walk His Way / Ewe, Thina
We Will Walk with God / Sizohamba  

Departing from the failed attempt of an egocentric view, one is instead reminded of Pope St. Pius X’s motto on the same, but Christo-centric holy theme:

Instaurare Omnia in Christo (To Restore all things in Christ!)

This is true RENEWAL!  Christ centered. Christ needs to return to the center of our renewal.  With this in mind, we can turn toward a true understanding of the term, by analyzing the definition and practice…

Do you still see felt banners, figuratively and/or literally?  

S. Maria Magdalena – Apostle to the Apostles

Saint Mary of Magdala, in debated multiplicity of biblical character, is honored in both East and West as first among the disciples of Jesus.  Even the Saints share a variety of ideas on her life as “the woman who was a sinner”, sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, footwasher at Simon’s house, etc. Regardless of the debate, one which continues to add interest to this very day, she remains a supreme model of conversion, servitude and faithfulness for us all.

We do know for certain our Lord cast seven demons out of her, after which she became a faithful and inseparable disciple. Mary Magdalene stood at the very Cross of Christ, witnessed the burial of Jesus, was the first to discover the empty tomb on Easter, and the first to see the risen Lord. (Mk 15:40, Mt 27:56, Jn 19:25, Jn 20:1-18).

St. Augustine, mirroring several before him, gave Mary Magdalene the title “Apostle to the Apostles” for her blessed place as steady and devoted servant, during, throughout and following the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

It is no surprise therefore that in Sacred Art, Sacred Architecture, and Sacred Music, we have been gifted with numerous treasures in her honor.  Think of the many glorious churches dedicated to her, notably in Italy, Spain, France, and the Americas to name a few.

In Sacred Music, we find a wonderful musical depiction of her quintessential servitude on Earth, with “the other Mary” in Francisco Guerrero’s six-part Easter Motet Maria Magdalene et altera Maria, 1570.

With homophonic mastery, Guerrero was ahead of his time in the use of a through composed, non-repetitive, and highly emotional narrative.  The motet has two main sections, a true feast for all the human senses.

In the first part, Guerrero transports us with the two Marys to the tomb of the buried Jesus Christ.  The scene is vividly painted in sight, sound, touch, color, and most interesting, smell.  The sweet embellishment of the words “emerunt aromata” (“they bought sweet spices”) depicts an importance of their loving and virtuous charism to adorn the Divine body.  One also receives a colorful sense of time, foreshadowing the Resurrection with the rising of the first morning sun, ushering a new beginning in weekly and Eternal time.  The entire first section one can easily hear and feel the simple rising sun, growing in musical and supernatural crescendo, granting light, peace, and newness of life to God’s faithful.  The close of the first section completes our initial honor and praise of the Almighty with a well adorned Alleluia, ending in half cadence.

In opposition of the first section, the second begins with entrance of stacked voices in reverse order, this time low to high, creating a varied mysterioso.  As we are now at the tomb itself, rather than an introductory surrounding, we are drawn into the incomparable suspense of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary seeking the Holy crucified Jesus.  Guerrero draws out the text “viderunt iuvenem” adding to the exciting uncertainty and fear of the man in white.

As the stranger speaks (“qui dicit illis, Iesum…”), metrical and harmonic rhythm slow to a suspenseful new sound, again showing the Spanish composer’s mastery of simple, yet emotionally complex use of homophonic musical structure.  A series of surprising key changes as well as a gorgeous 20-note flourish in the tenor, ushers in the climax, breaking the news of Jesus’ Resurrection and thus absence from the tomb (“crucifixus, surrexit…”).  

May we honor St. Mary Magdalene and follow her example as devoted servant of our Lord, willing to accept present sorrow, face the Cross, and eternally proclaim utmost joy!

Text & Translation:

Latin English
Maria Magdalene, et altera Maria
emerunt aromata,

ut venientes ungerent Iesum.
Et valde mane una Sabbatorum,
veniunt ad monumentum,
orto iam sole, alleluia.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary bought spices, intending to go and anoint Jesus.
And very early on the first day of the week they came to the tomb just after sunrise, alleluia.
Et intro euntes in monumentum
viderunt iuvenem sedentem in dextris,
coopertum stola candida, et obstupuerunt.
Qui dixit illis: Iesum quem quaeritis
Nazarenum, crucifixum:
surrexit, non est hic,
ecce locus ubi posuerunt eum. Alleluia.
And as they entered the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right dressed in a white robe, and they were afraid.
He said to them: You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here, see, this is the place where they laid him. Alleluia.