Saturday, June 24, 2006

Making progress at the colloquium

We've been marching through gregorian chant and polyphony this week, with our patient instructors maintaining good cheer at all times; and I can imagine them saying, a la Professor Higgins: "By George, I think they've got it! I think they've really got it!" (Replace a British with a German accent, and you have our consistently humorous choir director.)

I am sorry not to have posted on Friday; however, I somehow posted Thursday's twice, so you'll have to take that as consolation.

As mentioned, each day we've been practicing polyphony--that is, multi-part music--and chant. The polyphonous music has been the ordinary prayers of the Mass: the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. There is some controversy in liturgy-nerd circles about whether one should have such music at Mass, as it means the assembly is not singing these. Well, there is a lot to be said on that, and anyone who wants to can quote relevant documents in the comments.

But I would say this: first, as one of our speakers pointed out, one can have these prayers sung by everyone almost all Sundays, and have these pieces for special occasions. Second, it's not totally true that the assembly can't participate; for one, they participate by being blessed and moved by the beauty and content of the prayer; and two, when what is prayed is a familiar prayer, they can more easily pray along than when it is a one-time piece.

We've also been learning gregorian chant, something I only had an introduction to in the seminary. This is something that can be more accessible, especially simpler chants, and when the same settings are used over and over, folks can learn them. (By the way, does anyone know if there's any progress in setting more English texts to gregorian-style chant? This has all been Latin.)

Well, I missed yesterday morning's practice; I was preparing for Mass, as I rashly volunteered to be celebrant, then realized, "I will hardly have a more discriminating assembly for which to offer Mass! Oh my!" Then, I figured, "it's a win-win: either I'll do well, or they'll never ask me to do it again!"

Anyway, we sung almost everything. The only things we didn't sing were the readings, (which were sung at some of the Masses), the entirety of the petitions (I sang the intro and conclusion of them, and the cantor sang the "we pray to the Lord" and the assembly the response--in four-part harmony!), parts of the Eucharistic prayer (actually, I chant the entire Eucharistic Prayer fairly often, but our leader, Father Skeris, suggested doing it this way)--i.e., from the epiclesis to the end of the "offering" (which comes right after the "memorial acclamation"). And I recited the prayer that begins "Lord Jesus Christ..."; I could have chanted it, but I didn't know a chant for the Peace that follows, so I thought it would be a little clunky. And I recited the "This is the Lamb of God"--actually, I believe its been recited by everyone this week. Maybe next year, I'll come back and really dazzle 'em and sing that!

Meanwhile, I had several parts I sang that I don't usually sing, and I needed to get those right: an intro to a Gloria that was new to me, and the Credo. Both in Latina, of course. Most of what I prayed was in English, with some in Latin.

But I have to say, it was awesome! We had Mass in the Holy Rosary chapel at the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and with all it's stone-faced walls, the sound blossomed. One of the attendees stepped out into the main body of the church, and said the music went everywhere.

There was no homily, and one regret was no incense! Probably that was not an option in that situation; too bad, I'd've smoked 'em up!

However, being a pastor, I did make an adaptation: as there was a plenary indulgence associated with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, I thought, I really should enable the folks to receive that. Well, it involves praying an act of reparation. I found the text online, and I started to copy it out, longhand, and then thought, "this is crazy--there's got to be a way to get this printed out." Some folks in the music department helped me out, and we had handouts for immediately after Mass.

Well, once Mass was over, Father was tired; but it was a joy. The rest of the day was more chant practice, a lecture on liturgical theology, and after dinner, a lecture on the nature of chant as it pertains to the sacred liturgy, then a nice wine-and-cheese gathering.

Today, we had briefer rehearsals before Mass at the Franciscan Monastery here in D.C., that is a hidden gem of the U.S. capital. Father Robert Skeris had the Mass, and we did mostly chant; it was very nice. He got incense; that's what you get when you're in charge, I guess! Then a nice lunch, rest of the day free.


Anonymous said...

Hi Father,

I knew you looked familiar. I just couldn't figure out why until now! I'm one of the colloquium "commuters" so I got to spend the afternoon at home.

By the way, does anyone know if there's any progress in setting more English texts to gregorian-style chant? This has all been Latin.

The only resourse I know is 'By Flowing Waters' published by Liturgical Press. It has some nice melodies and provides chants for the whole Church year but uses the NRSV translation of the texts. Sigh. I've used the tunes for responsorial psalms and changed the text but it would be laborious to do the whole book that way.

Anyway, you did a great job at Mass as did all your brother priests. Each one was different but wonderfully sacred. It's funny (but I guess it shouldn't be) to hear a priest say the Mass was awesome!. You guys always look so cool. :)

And don't worry- you weren't the only one who was nervous about keeping up with the big kids. I think we pulled it off!

Anonymous said...

Re: The Rosary Chapel

Isn't that a beautiful chapel? I think that's my second favorite one there. Mind you, I change my mind most every time I go which ones are my favorites--there are just so many to choose from.

Anonymous said...

For thoughts on the necessity of the congregation singing, I recommend reading Pope Benedicts book, A New Song for the Lord.

My dad, who is there at the colloquium with you, is working on simple 4-part english settings for the entire proper of the liturgy.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin: You seem to have a gift for singing/chanting the Mass. I served recently with an Episcopal "Anglo-Catholic" priest who loved to chant, and he was good at it. Yet...I've seen clergy who had a hard time carrying a tune! It can be painful and distracting to me (but I'm a critic). Do you think it's hard for parishioners to worship when the priest is a bad singer (I know it should not matter, but does it, do you think?)

PS...would you mind if I added a link to your website on my blog? I'm trying to offer some "high standard" diversity-that Pontifications blog you suggested is amazing! Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. Have you ever been to an Orthodox church? We have no hymnody; no extra-liturgical music. Everything in every service (Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy, Typika, etc.) is chanted. Most churches have choirs.

The practice of the congregation not chanting along, or singing along with the choir, never developed in the East. Come to my church, and we all chant along with the choir, even though the tones (Byzantine equivalent of modes) change from week to week (there are eight tones). Nothing is spoken, save for the Eucharist prayer (the Byzantine equivalent of "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you ..." though it's a good deal longer -- and in some parishes, the Lord's Prayer is spoken, but not ours).

Chant does not preclude congregational participation, nor do you need to add non-liturgical music to get the congregation to participate.

Anonymous said...

Hi, again:

Question for American Orthodox-in the Orthodox tradition, when the congregation also sings, then what is the purpose of the choir?

Certainly sung responsorials, including psalms, allow for congregational participation in a way that is integral to the service.

As to hymns-I'm guessing that in the Roman Catholic tradition, as in my own, hymnody is part of the liturgy, part of the work of the people of God. Hymns are chosen so as to enhance, amplify and augment praise.

I do wonder why the Western and Eastern traditions diverged on this issue.

Anonymous said...


Actually, hymns are only part of the Roman liturgy in the Divine Office and a few other points; they are never part of the Mass - except, I suppose, Palm Sunday (“Gloria, laus, et honor” - “All Glory, Laud, & Honor”) and maybe a few other times I’m forgetting.

The practice of substituting in hymns for the Propers is, in my opinion, one of the biggest blunders of the post-V2 era.

Anonymous said...

The choir leads us. The Orthodox approach to worship is different from the West. There is no strict rule for when we cross ourselves; Catholics often remark on how often we sign ourselves. When we reverence the icons or the cross, some of us cross ourselves before and after, some of us make the metania -- crossing yourself then bowing and brushing your fingers to the floor -- twice, then once after. During the litanies, some of us cross ourselves at the end of the priest's prayer, some at the kyrie, and others not at all (there are nine litanies in the Divine Liturgy).

The same is true of the music. The choir is there not to be the only participants, but to lead the response. Many congregants chant along, but not all. The point is that there is no pressure to either chant along or not.

But my point is that chanting and congregational participation are not mutually exclusive. (We have no instruments either -- all of the chanting is a capella). Nor am I saying there is anything wrong with hymnody -- just that you don't have to have hymns for the congregation to participate.

What I have noticed is the different approaches to singing. What I've seen in Roman Catholic churches (and I realize this may not be generally true, just that it's been my experience) is someone from the choir coming up front and leading the congregation with his hand, as if it were some sort of performance. You won't see this in an Orthodox church (then, we stand throughout and have no pews, and do not kneel).

Argent said...

Hi, Father.

You might be interested in this: Anglican Use Gradual.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your illuminating comments, Cantor and American Orthodox. I'm interested in your comment about why substituting hymns for propers was a mistake...I'm actually puzzled as to how/why/under what circumstances one would do that, Cantor! Upon reflection, I don't think we "normally" (but what is normal in an Episcopal church because we have such variation from "low" to "high"?) use hymns in the Eucharist. We have one at the beginning, one at the end, one as a gradual before the Gospel or the homily, and sometimes during Communion.

American Orthodox-is there a liturgical/theological reason for not using instruments?


Anonymous said...

There is no theological reason for not having instruments. It is just an innovation that never happened in the Byzantine Empire. A number of Greek churches have organs, but they are the exception (to say the least), and many of them are getting rid of the organs, as many churches that had pews are getting rid of them.

The Nicene Creed is never spoken, as far as I know, in any Orthodox church. The Lord's Prayer is in some (just not mine). The only spoken part of the Divine Liturgy in our parish is the Prayer Before the Eucharist:

"I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Moreover, I believe that this is truly Thy most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine Own Precious Blood. Wherefore, I pray Thee: Have mercy on me and forgive me my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and in deed, in knowledge and in ignorance. And vouchsafe me to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries unto the remission of sins and life everlasting.

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, receive me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the Thief do I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom.

Let not the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be unto me for judgment or condemnation, O Lord, but for healing of soul and body."

During the Eucharist, all Orthodox churches chant the same prayer:

"Receive ye the Body of Christ; taste ye of the Fountain of Immortality. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."

Dad29 said...

"English-language Chant?"--try the Episcopalians.

You're too young to recall the 10-rounder between Mgr. Schuler (St. Paul) and Mgr. Schmitt (Boys'Town) over 'whether one should set English text to Gregorian Chant.'

At best, it's difficult with uneven results--not unlike trying to set the texts of "My Fair Lady" to tunes from "West Side Story."

Best stick with the Episcopalian stuff, if you can.

And, to the question of substituting hymns for Propers: yes, it was a horrendous error. The Propers were/are integral to the Mass; the particular texts are there for a REASON.

They were just dumped, for practical purposes, in the name of "participation." Thus, some elements of Scripture were removed so that...Catholics could "participate."

Doh. Wrong move.

Anonymous said...

"They were just dumped, for practical purposes, in the name of "participation." Thus, some elements of Scripture were removed so that...Catholics could "participate.""

Without getting into this issue, this touches on what I was saying, that it is a mistaken assumption to make that congregations will only sing hymns.

Anonymous said...

Hi Father,

I think you did a wonderful job! Ought to know-- I was there. Last week was the first time in a long time that I felt I'd truly "been to Mass". At my regular organist job, there's always changing the music books, watching the choir director, hoping that the soloist will be OK, etc. Last week, as a rank and file member of the choir, and very much the new kid on the block at the Colloquium, I felt renewed and confirmed in my faith all over again -- and you were one of the priests who helped, with the reverence and conviction you showed in the Mass. God bless - it was great meeting you. Pat Gonzalez