Friday, March 4, 2011

The Role of Music in the Implementation of the New Missal

A major effort is being made to ensure that, alongside of the proper implementation of the words in the 3rd edition of the Missal, the music to accompany the Mass is being given the same attention.

Much of this is owed to those who work tirelessly in parishes and dioceses, but also through organizations such as the Church Music Association of America, in order to bring about an authentic renewal of church music.

An example of this perceived "new" importance placed on music is in the layout of the new Missal: a departure from the current edition of the Missal in the fact that the chant tones for the Mass that the priest can sing will actually be in the "Ordinary" section of the new Missal, rather than as a seeming afterthought, stuck in an appendix to the current Missal.

Now, I'm sure that most of us realize that if there is anything in the Mass that resonates on such a subjective and personal level for the congregation, it is the music. For that reason, substantial change to the music in a parish almost always causes enmity and discord.

The aim of the Church in this area is to ask the question, "Is it one--does it convey the unity of God? Is it true-- does it well express the mysteries of God? Is it good-- does it elevate the soul toward virtue in God? Is it beautiful-- does it lift the heart to contemplate the perfection of God?" and, by asking these questions, to evaluate the music's suitability for the liturgy based on objective criteria. How do we work to change the stigma surrounding "traditional" music, alongside of the real challenge our pastors and bishops face in the shifting of such a paradigm?

My colleague in the parish here where I work, Mr. Francis Koerber, has written a book to help assist with the implementation of the new Missal. Entitled, "What Should we be Singing Now?" it is a free e-book (though, you can order hardcopies) designed to bring together all of the current legislation on music and the Mass, in order to propose an ideal toward which we should all be working in re-introducing the music so venerable to the Roman Rite back in to the celebration of the liturgy.

I think that it is a phenomenal contribution to the ongoing discussion of implementation, especially the rather wrong-headed notion of "inculturation" that we have seen in so many parish music programs since the Council. (Every time I hear "The Canticle of Turning," I can't help but think of the Irish drinking song from whence the tune was borrowed...)

In a truly pastoral way, Mr. Koerber uses quotes from such persons as Pope Benedict XVI, Francis Cardinal Arinze, and Msgr. Guido Marini to reinforce what the Church has consistently taught in the area of music and the Mass.

In addition to solid teaching on the purpose and orientation of sacred music in the liturgy, Mr. Koerber also shares a wealth of free resources which he has compiled from various authors, all free and in the public domain available over the Internet.

Utilizing these resources alone makes it possible for a music director in a parish to very easily implement the music of the Mass--the actual words of the Mass for a particular celebration--through the use of the Propers; and also to use an objective criterion for selection of hymns, and discern when they are and are not appropriate to use at Mass. These resources would be an invaluable collection, whether one be a volunteer musician in a small mission church or a full-time director of music in a cathedral. Indeed, our diocesan liturgy committees would also benefit from these resources in developing a unified pastoral plan to support the parishes of the diocese.

One of the more appealing aspects of this book and the resources, to me, is the fact they're all free to use and in the public domain. There has been quite a lot of contention surrounding the release of the new Missal-- specifically over copyrights and ICEL, and, as regards music, the seeming reality that three music publishers in the USA have a corner on the market, thus limiting the ability for others to write music as an alternative to what they publish, all because of the copyrighted nature of the words of the Mass in English.

The fact that, for no more than the cost of an Internet connection and some ink and paper, we can elevate the quality of the liturgy through the use of the music so venerable to our patrimony in the Roman Rite, seems to me a win-win-win scenario.

I highly endorse this new venture by Mr. Koerber, already a renowned composer, and now having written a book that will assuredly be of great assistance in the pastoral planning and direction of Catholic music in the implementation of the 3rd Typical Edition of the Roman Missal, and indeed, for the next generation of Catholics.

To download the book, please visit:

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