Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On Liturgy and Music

Things tend to get chewed over in conversation a lot in the Darwin household. One of the frequent topics for the last couple weeks has been liturgy, most specifically in regard to music. (Indeed, now I see that MrsDarwin has proved this point by already posting on the topic of liturgical music today...)

All this started, perhaps appropriately enough, with the coming of the motu proprio. Now, we we've only gone to Tridentine masses together twice (both low masses) and I can't say it was love at first sight. So it's not particularly that we're eager to form a "stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition", but rather that all the reading up about the pope's letter inspired a lot of discussion of liturgy at our church and in general. (Which, after all, was one of the pope's stated purposes, wasn't it?)

We've both got into listening to sacred music from all periods of the Church's history, and some of the Eastern as well as the Western variety. (Hint: has some great Orthodox sacred music.) However, we've been to masses (while traveling in Europe) which are full concert productions using a mass composed by Mozart, or even Schubert. You'll hit something like the Gloria and everyone sits down for ten minutes and listens, concert style, then everyone stands up and resumes the mass. It seems rather like a mass with concert interruptions.

I don't think that a "big production" mass of this sort is never appropriate (though I'm not sure about the sit-down-and-listen approach). I could see it as much more fitting on certain big occasions (papal visits, diocesan conferences, major sacraments, etc.) than some of the special liturgies that I've seen people try to pull off in recent years. (Going to LA Archdiocese youth conferences certainly gets you the whole range of potential liturgical abuses...)

However, it seems to me that in the regular parish setting, it is best for the liturgical understanding/participation of the congregation if the music is of a sort that the entire congregation can join in. This certainly doesn't mean that it has to be some sort of modern pop-hymn, but it does seem to mean that it can't be five part polyphany (sorry Palestrina) or chant with so much melisma (when a single vowel is drawn out across many notes) that it becomes hard to tell what the notes are.

Embarrassingly, what sticks in my head in regards to this is something I recall from the music course that we listened to, in which the instructor talked about Lutheran congregational singing being rooted in Martin Luther's insistence that the entire congregation pray together through song. (And while at one level I object to the concept, I have to admit that it's always a relief (to the ears at least) when something written by Luther or one of the leaders of the English reformation shows up at mass.

I suspect that the best solution to this is the use of the basic chants (which will probably found familiar to nearly all ordinary Catholics) in either English or Latin for the parts of the mass. These aren't exciting pieces to work up, but then I'm not sure that parish music direction ought to be exciting. Generally speaking, if something is a really exciting performance piece, it's probably something that most of the congregation has to just listen to rather than joining in.

I know that I've heard these settings used, and we found a recording on an ancient Daughters of St. Paul cassette tape that had come over from my parents' house, along with various relics of childhood, however we haven't run across them in a modern (preferable electronic) format. Does anyone know where a CD or (even better) MP3 of the basic chants of the ordinary of the mass can be found?


Ana Braga-Henebry said...

Mr and Mrs Darwin, try Jenny's blog's sidebar--under liturgical music--for a treasure trove of resources. She directs a schola for a Novus Ordo in Latin in the Lincoln, NE diocese.

Ana Braga-Henebry said...

Sorry-- here is the right link-- although she's also on my blog link.

mrsdarwin said...

Thank you, Ana. Looking around on Jenny's blog, I've already found some resources I'd been searching for, including the Jubilate Deo chants. Thanks for the recommendation.

Unknown said...

Jubilate Deo is indeed excellent for the Mass settings, but, if you want to learn to sing the Propers but are scared of melismas then it's the Graduale Simplex for you. Rather than simplified chants the editors used other settings in the books (sometimes older than the versions in the Graduale Romanum) or dug up chants from the Mozarabic or Ambrosian uses. The Simplex was the book which was intended to be used (and usable) in all Parishes, as opposed to the Graduale Romanum which requires a trained schola. Of course, it didn't happen that way (and it wasn't all because of the folk takeover in church music!).

mrsdarwin said...


I'll look up the Simplex. For myself, the melismas don't bother me; I can read chant notation and sing it passably. But for everyday congregational singing, it does seem that something simpler should be the order of the day.

Not that we're likely to see use of the Propers at our Parish anytime soon, alas...

Bernard Brandt said...

Dear Darwin and MrsDarwin:

Why leave it to Jubilate Deo or the Graduale Simplex. If I recall correctly, on over at one of the sites I lurk at, you can download the entire Liber Usualis, gratis. I'll be happy to steer you in that direction, if you wish.

But wait, there is more! If you'd like to breathe with the other lung (using the metaphor of one whom I venerate, Sanctus Papa Ioannis Paulus Secundus Magnus), you could do worse than to go to or and fly with the eagles.


mrsdarwin said...


Please do post a link -- I'd love to see the Liber Usualis. And now I'm off to look at the sites you mentioned.

Whenever you're ready to post your next installment on how to sing, I'll be reading. :)

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Darwin. What's with this chant stuff... sing along with me. Ah-one and ah-two...

"And he will raaaaaaaaaaaise you up on eeeeeeeeeeeagles wings..."