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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Disarming the Liturgical Winchester


A few years ago, I took ill with a bad case of the flu.  It necessitated my having to stay home for a couple of days.  During my convalescence I stumbled upon a marathon of an old Western TV show called "The Rifleman".  To say that Lucas McCain (portrayed by the late Chuck Conners) was sharp with that repeating Winchester was an understatement.  That rifle went off more times per episode than I could count.

From what I gathered, repeating rifles pretty much won the West and were quite useful for hunting and protection.  The rapid-fire repeats were a life-saving necessity...

...but, not when it comes to the sacred liturgy.

In his great opus Tra Le Sollecitundini, Pope St. Pius X warned against the dangers of mishandling liturgical texts when setting them to music.  He strongly exhorted that 
The liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words, without undue repetition, without breaking syllables, and always in a manner intelligible to the faithful who listen. 
In other words, the musical compositions need to respect the integrity of the liturgical texts and maintain the status quo.

Furthermore, the venerable Pontiff observed that:
It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy. According to the ecclesiastical prescriptions the Sanctus of the Mass should be over before the elevation, and therefore the priest must here have regard for the singers. The Gloria and the Credo ought, according to the Gregorian tradition, to be relatively short.
These wise words, written 110 years ago, remain the standard used to govern our liturgical music and should be followed.  Yet, there is a phenomena that crept into the Church with a vengeance over the course of the last 40 years, something that seems to be diametrically opposed to the instructions set forth by Pius X:  the Responsorial Gloria.

Both OCP and GIA have assaulted parishes with various lackluster compositions that employ the "repeating Gloria."  Marty Haugen, David Haas, Dan Schutte, Bob Hurd and several other composers have made use of this format of the Gloria with poor results.  Schutte's "Mass of Christ the Savior" version of the Gloria sounds like the theme from "My Little Pony".  Spanish versions of the "Responsorial Gloria" are equally horrid and the bilingual versions, which really are discouraged for use in liturgy, are cause for disdain, with one of the worst being "Missa Santa Cecilia" from OCP, which reduces the Gloria to a sound that can only be described as akin to "Latin Night" on Dancing with the Stars.

The Gloria is a text that is meant to be prayed straight-through, either recited or chanted.  Inserting a response to the Gloria breaks up the natural flow of the prayer.  Just as it would sound strange to insert a refrain to the Gloria when it is recited, it is equally jarring to do the same thing when the prayer is set to music.

Furthermore, when the Congregation for Divine Worship released the revised translation of the Ordinary of the Mass, then-prefect Francis Cardinal Arinze warned national episcopal conferences that the Mass settings needed to be faithful to the text.  He cited Liturgiam Authenticam No. 60, which notes that:
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
If we look at footnote 39, it references the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which specifically states that:
53. The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other. It is intoned by the Priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by everybody together or by two choirs responding one to the other.
Now, there will be some who will say, "But the documents don't prohibit a 'Responsorial Gloria'.  Even the GIRM allows it!"  Hold on partners, not so fast.  "By the people alternately with the choir" does not necessarily mean that the people sing a refrain during the Gloria.  If one has ever participated in the Liturgy of the Hours, one will note that praying "alternately" means that one side prays one part of the Psalm while the other side takes up the next part.  In the case of the Gloria, this citation from the GIRM simply means that the choir can sing one portion of it and the faithful can join in with the other (but, not repeating the same thing). 

In addition, the next statement reminds composers of the importance of setting the Ordinary to fitting music because: 
61. Texts that are intended to be sung are particularly important because they convey to the faithful a sense of the solemnity of the celebration, and manifest unity in faith and charity by means of a union of voices.40
These words are noble prayers and should be treated with the solemnity and dignity they convey.  Using a setting that sounds like something from a Disney cartoon or a pop song does the liturgy a terrible disservice.

Now, insofar as bilingual Mass settings are concerned, these are not necessarily a good idea, especially when a "Responsorial Gloria" is employed.  Pope Benedict addressed this issue in 2007 when he issued his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. He noted that:
62. None of the above observations should cast doubt upon the importance of such large-scale liturgies. I am thinking here particularly of celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency. The most should be made of these occasions. In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, (182) that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers (183) of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. 
Latin is the unifier because it is the language of the Church.  When we split up the Gloria into a mishmash of English and Spanish or whatever combination of language is chosen, we run the risk of breaking up the important significance of the prayer and running the flow.  It also runs the risk of unduly prolonging the prayer because, more often than not, this will include a "Responsorial Gloria", as evidenced in the dreaded "Missa Santa Cecilia". 

Repetition may work for rifles and learning, but, when it comes to the sacred liturgy, it is time that we fully disarm the Liturgical Winchester known as the "Responsorial Gloria."

1 comment:

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