Friday, August 12, 2011

Conspiracy Against Chant?

Until the seminary, when someone spoke about a Mass being composed, I had no idea what they were talking about. I've come to realize that when someone talks about a "Mass" musically, they mean the following: the parts of the Mass that would be sung on a typical Sunday Mass. Those pieces would include the following:

The Introit (entrance)
Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy...)
The Gloria
Santcus (Holy Holy Holy)
Agnus Dei
Communion antiphon

Some who write a Mass might include the Alleluia and the Our Father. Most Masses that get put on a CD are over the top difficult and are performed usually with highly skilled choirs.

This doesn't mean that all "Mass settings" have to be difficult, however. Sure, Mozart, Bach, Tallis, etc. all composed Masses that are famous, but there are also much simpler versions of Masses in existence.

As part of the New Translation, I recently received in the mail a catalogue offering the sheet music and CD's for more than 50 new Masses that have been composed. These are just some of the Masses that have been composed, hoping to win the hearts (and money) of parishes (and music directors at parishes) around the country

Unity Mass
Mass of Renewal
Mass of the Immigrants
Mass of Light
Mass of Joy
Mass of Joy and Peace
Mass of Grace
Mass of Charity and Love
Mass of Awakening
Mass for the City
Mass for a New World
Black Mountain Liturgy

The list goes on.

Here is the point - although you can buy song sheets, and presider's books, and CD's, and SATB choir sheets for any hundreds of Masses out there - there is nothing out there with the music the Church actually asks people to use first.

That's right - in the new Missal there is a Mass setting that wasn't written by someone trying to make a lot of money, it was put together by ... the Church. The music is in the book that priests use every day at Mass, but its black-listed for two reasons

1. There isn't nearly as much money to be made in helping parishes implement the Mass the Church has given us

and 2. The Mass the Church gives us features the red-headed step-child for pastoral musicians - chant.

Let's first of all look at the difference between chant and your standard parish music you hear in most parishes today. The first clip is a video that popped up when I searched for "All are Welcome" - a standard ditty in most parishes today. That it is being played at the "ordination" ceremony for women "priests" should be telling.

Now compare that to a very simple chant done by the monks of St. Meinrad that could be easily done by a parish community - the community repeats the refrain "by His wounds, we have been healed" while a cantor sings the verses.

Does one sound more prayerful to you?

We've looked elsewhere on this blog at the NUMEROUS places where the Church has said chant is the preferred method for music at Mass. Why - it is really quite simple - chant is prayer, while music is, usually, not prayer. Most of the stuff that passes for Church music in the U.S. today has nothing to do with prayer but is instead very often a bad attempt at theological brainwashing which seeks to produce an army of people passionate about the same fluff that the "composer" finds to be important on his own personal "value index" - an index invariably at odds with the Church's recommendation of priorities. Church music today, far from producing the effect of prayer, is very often a litany of primal chest-pounding which serves to let anyone who cares to listen know how great we are and what we like to do in the realm of social justice. Needless to say, I've never heard anything from the Gather Hymnal and thought "hum, that's really prayerful!"

On this matter, I'd like to bring in Msgr. Valentino Grau, President of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, citing an essay he wrote on chant vs. music

"Congregational Gregorian chant not only can but must be restored, along with the chanting of the schola and the celebrants, if we desire a return to the liturgical seriousness, holiness, sound form and universality that should characterize all liturgical music worthy of the could a bunch of silly tunes, cranked out in imitation of the most trivial popular music, ever replace the nobility and sturdiness of the Gregorian melodies, even the simplest ones, which are capable of lifting the hearts of the people up to heaven?"

The mindset that originally caused those with authority to look the other way as the "pop Mass songs" commenced their liturgical invasion grew out of a larger effort by some to make the Mass more "hip" or "digestible." The young people I work with, and most of the young adults that I know SCOFF at the notion that the guitarish clappy music as it is performed in most parishes today is in any way "cool" or "digestable." My kids at Ritter listen to Little Wayne, Katy Perry, and Beyonce Knowles, and my friends listen to Coldplay, John Mellencamp, and U2 - if anyone thinks that the stuff at most Masses today sounds anything like the music the past two generations listen to is sadly mistaken. The tambourine and guitar ballads that make up much of the Haugen/Haas record label come from a style of music that enjoyed about a ten year window of popularity, a window which has long since closed. If you want to be modern today, you better get some turn tables and a computer program that will crank out some rap beats.


We can give up on the 30 year experiment to be "hip" - admitting, as Cardinal Ratzinger noted, that people might actually prefer (and that God might prefer they have) a different experience at Mass than the same stuff they encounter throughout the other 167 hours of their week.

"But it is so difficult to do chant" some may argue. However, Msgr. Crau goes on "We have underestimated the Christian people's ability to learn; we have almost forced them to forget the Gregorian melodies that they knew instead of expanding and deepening their knowledge of them, through proper instruction on the meaning of the texts. Instead, we have stuffed them full of banalities."

I agree with the Msgr. 100% - it isn't rocket science - I learned chant and I can't read one note of music. Being able to chant has nothing to do with singing ability (see: me). Not everyone can sing; everyone can chant, and quite easily at that!

I close with one last thought from the Msgr. "Why this resistance to restoring, either completely or partially, depending on circumstances, the Mass with Gregorian chant and in Latin [chant can be done in English as well]?...The Church wants this. Why should we lack the courage needed for a "conversion"? Gregorian chant must not remain in the preserve of academia, or of the concert hall, or of recordings; it must not be mummified like a museum exhibit but must return as living song, sung also by the assembly, which will find therein the satisfaction of their most profound spiritual yearnings and will feel that it is truly the people of God. It is time to stop procrastinating, and the shining example must come from the cathedral churches, the major churches, the monasteries, the convents, the seminaries and the houses of religious formation, and thus even the parishes will end up finding the supreme beauty of the chant of the Church contagious."

Chant is awesome, it has changed everything about how I approach the Mass, and what I spend my time during Mass doing (at least at the Masses that utilize chant) and I think we, as a country, can pull off a return to chant that our Church has been calling us and encouraging us to for a long time.

[excerpts taken from "Gregorian Chant and Congregational Participation: the Possibilities and Conditions for a Revival." The essay is found in Musica Sacra - Sacred Music: A Liturgical and Pastoral Challenge]