On Singing the Mass

During Lent (and I think we will be doing it again in Advent) at St Philip’s Blackburn North, we are using the Gregorian chant Mass XVII setting for the ordinary of the mass. It is going quite well, I think. It seemed difficult to start with, but we are learning the patterns in the chant, and this is making it easier. We don’t sound like the monks of Solesmes but I don’t think that is a requirement. And odd thing happens when a congregation (rather than a choir) sings the chant – all the little rhythmical nuances get ironed out and it all becomes a little “plain” (I guess it IS plainchant afterall!). I am the chief of sinners here – we are so used to singing metred music that we find ourselves imposing something of a metre on the chant. But there you are. It is beautiful nonetheless in a “grass roots” kind of way!

We are also using the entrance chants from Illuminare Publications. These are much simpler than the “Simple English Propers“, and the congregation (and cantor) are finding them easy to grasp and sing.

I have recently come across two good articles on “Singing the Mass” (rather than “singing at mass”). The first is in The Catholic World Report (“The Renaissance of the Mass Propers“), which gives a comprehensive explanation of how to go about introducing singing the chant and the propers of the Mass. Our own Dr Paul Taylor even gets a mention and his advice is quoted.

The second is not so much an article as an episcopal decree – how one bishop in the States has decided to encourage his own “renaissance” of true “mass music” in his diocese (“Rejoice in the Lord always: Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music in Divine Worship”). I am not quite sure what the fate of this decree will be, since ten days after issuing it, Bishop Alex Sample was translated from the Diocese of Marquette to the Archdiocese of Portland. He does seem to be realistic in this directive and was not demanding a complete change in one hit. Rather he was setting out the ideal standard and giving suggestions for how the parishes of the diocese can work toward this goal. I wonder too whether he will try the same thing in Portland now? HT to Fr Z for this one.

I haven’t myself adopted a totalitarian approach to chant – nor has our parish. We still like our hymns. I know that apart from the sequences, hymns were never a part of the Roman Rite in its “pristine” form, but just because they were not so in the past need not mean they cannot be so in the present. As long as they meet the criteria for truly “sacred” music, that is. There. That ought to start an argument…

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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