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Friday, January 21, 2011

Singing the Words of the Church's Liturgy

I really do not know what to make of the trend that appears prevalent in many composers to make  wholesale edits to the Ordinary of the Mass.  What perplexes me further is that the publishing houses do not even exercise much quality control to ensure that their finished products meet the standards set forth by the Church in her authoritative documents.

According to Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy:

3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.

Redemptionis Sacramentum drives home the point even further:

[59.] The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.
Liturgiam Authenticam throws this in for good measure:

60. A great part of the liturgical texts are composed with the intention of their being sung by the priest celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, the people, or the choir. For this reason, the texts should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music. Still, in preparing the musical accompaniment, full account must be taken of the authority of the text itself. Whether it be a question of the texts of Sacred Scripture or of those taken from the Liturgy and already duly confirmed, paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place.39

This last section makes me wonder if the composers have even read the authoritative documents of the Church when they are setting the parts of the Mass to music.  In 2008, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Francis Cardinal Arinze, wrote this statement in his letter to the USCCB announcing the release of the newly revised Ordinary of the Mass:

It will likewise facilitate the devising of musical settings for the parts of the Mass, bearing in mind the criteria set forth in the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, n. 60, which requires that the musical settings of liturgical texts use only the actual approved texts and never be paraphrased.

Even with all of the documentation and admonishments, paraphrases to the parts of the Mass continue.  One glaring example is found in OCP's Spirit and Song book which includes a setting of the Gloria that not only parphrases the prayer, but, it also edits out significant parts of the text.

Here it is:

Compare what is sung to the proper text (that will become obsolete on November 26-27, 2011):

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you,

we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ,
only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

When I pointed out the ilicitness of the setting in question (including citing the appropriate documentation from the Holy See) to an individual who had been recommending it for use in parishes, the response I received was rather chilling.  The person, a parish music director, wrote back that even though the setting was ilicit, that did not matter.  As long as it got the parishioners to sing, the music director thought that it was fine.

Excuse me, as I continue to channel my inner Vicky Guerrero (from WWE's Smackdown)!  It makes no difference whether my parish or I like a particular Mass setting.  If the text does not fit, the usage has to quit.  I would love to give the composer the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he did not know about the prescriptions of the Church.  However, even that would not necessarily work.  If a composer is going to offer to set the Ordinary of the Mass to music, he needs to familiarize himself with the Church's requirements.  He needs to read the authoritative documents of the Holy See instead of taking a red pen and striking texts that do not "flow" with the music and then adding stuff that does not belong there in the first place.  The publisher, too, shares a lot of the blame because it is placing this music out for parishes to use, under the guise that it's  dynamic, engaging and inspiring.  Unsuspecting parish music directors, who probably are not familiar with the Church's guidelines, wind up using something that is ilicit and continue to perpetuate the problem.

As I noted in a previous post, the requirements are not that the music, especially the Mass settings, be dynamic, engaging and inspiring.  The Mass settings need to be faithful, word-for-word to the official texts that the Church provides.  If the setting does not match what is in the Roman Missal, it should not be used.  It's plain and simple.

I wonder, now that the revised Ordinary has been set to music by various composers, if the guidelines will be followed or if we will be subjected to more of the same.  To paraphrase what the late Catholic Southern author Flannery O'Conner once said:  "Sometimes we suffer more in the Church than for the Church."

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