Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Musical Power of the Priest in the Ordinary Form

I recently received an email from another priest asking if I knew of someone to recommend to him as a possible organist/music director for his parish and I had to email back that I knew of no one available at the time. I believe this is a common problem in some parishes that are perhaps smaller or in more rural settings. It is difficult to find sufficient qualified help because large quantities of church musicians have not been formed. Another problem I encounter is the pastor who has musicians in his parish who faithfully show up every Sunday, but who have been formed in the “if the congregation can’t participate and the actual music isn’t of the lowest common denominator we refuse to use it” attitude. These scenarios are especially hard for the new pastor who hasn’t had time to build relationships with his musicians and parishioners and therefore is reluctant to implement any changes. This begs the question, should the priest simply give up? Fortunately not.

One musical advantage for the priest celebrating the Ordinary Form is that he can play an active role leading the music, yet still celebrate Mass. While I realize this isn’t ideal, one must take every advantage one can. If you are a priest in a rural parish with no musicians to speak of, you could still lead an a cappella hymn during the Entrance, sing the Introductory and Penitential Rites before leading the Kyrie and Gloria. If you were to proceed in the same manner through the Mass, you would probably have a greater portion of your Sunday Mass sung than most American Cathedrals.

If you already have musicians who provide music for your parish, it is probably of the “four hymns and Mass parts” variety. If you are new, don’t fight what your musicians are doing unless it is outright heretical. Just begin singing the Mass piece by piece (I think starting with the Preface Dialogue and Preface has the most impact). I firmly believe this will help people to enter into the Sacrifice of the Mass much more than merely changing the hymns and who plays them. It amazes me that Cathedral musicians sometimes take this approach. They play the same four mediocre hymns as the average parish, only they use the organ, strings, tympani and a trumpet. Immediately following the Entrance Hymn the rector speaks the Introductory Rites and what could have been an uplifting moment comes crashing back to earth.

I obviously don’t have the clout of Cardinal Sarah, but I nevertheless challenge you to begin singing at least a part of Holy Mass this Advent when you turn East to await that glorious day when Christ shall come in all His Glory.

Ad Orientem and Sacred Music

I continually struggle to understand the relationship between the treasury of sacred music (specifically the ordinary of the Mass) and Mass celebrated in the Ordinary Form, but a recent conversation with my pastor might shed a small ray of light on the subject from the perspective of the priest.

In our parish, the congregation regularly sings the Mass XVI Kyrie along with a metrical setting of the rest of the Ordinary. However, after the Schola Cantorum returned from Rome last January, the choristers asked me before Mass if they could continue singing all of Mass IX (Cum jubilo), which they had sung at St. Peter’s. I decided it wouldn’t cause too much of a tizzy if the choir sang the Kyrie from Mass IX by themselves, so they sang it for the next few Sundays. After a few weeks the pastor asked me about it and in the nicest way possible told me he really didn’t care for it. I was a little taken aback simply because it was a very minor change to only one Mass of our Sunday Masses. I asked him if he could pinpoint for me what it was specifically about the Kyrie that bothered him in order for me to understand better. Was it the sound of Gregorian chant, or that the congregation couldn’t sing it, or that each invocation was repeated three times? His answer was something I had never thought of before. He told me that he felt extremely awkward standing in the sanctuary for 2 minutes while the congregation did nothing but look at him. I would be curious to know how this affects other priests.

It is true that in the Ordinary Form of the Mass the priest doesn’t face east during the Kyrie and Gloria, but if the priest were to change the direction of his chair so that he wouldn’t be directly facing the congregation (for example, facing liturgical north), it would help. A choral Sanctus or Agnus Dei might not be so awkward if the priest were facing east. He could even close his eyes and pray during that time!

I realize that the obstacles to celebrating Mass ad orientem and restoring a tradition of good sacred music (both choral and congregational) are varied and numerous and I don’t want to simply a complex problem, but perhaps this is another facet to a complex problem.

Sing the Mass

One could entitle this post An Open Letter to Pastors, but regardless, I offer the following both as a plea as well as a challenge to all of our priests.

Fathers, I know that most of you are overwhelmed in your work to the point of breaking. You were taught in seminary to save souls, but when you dare to challenge your flocks to greatness, you turn around to find that few have your backs. You are required to be de facto CEOs of your parishes and schools, which allows you almost no time to form meaningful relationships with your parishioners so that they trust you when you spur them on to greater things. Or, as soon as they begin to trust you you are transferred. This begs the question, why would you ever want to spend the time and energy to fix the music in your parishes. I know that many writers in the traditional camp claim that by changing the music in your parishes, overnight your churches will swell in numbers and everything will be alright. That’s not true. You will more than likely loose parishioners (although you will also gain a few). Of the people who remain in your parishes, some will grumble and hope for your eventual transfer. However, you must remember that you weren’t ordained to seek the status quo, but to be great just as you ask your parish families to be great.

Whether your particular parishes are rich or poor, big or small, love sacred music or hate it, there is one thing that I challenge all of you to do, and that is to sing the Mass. Most people who know me personally know that I believe that if a priest could do only one thing to change his parish for the good, I believe it would be to reinstate ad orientem worship. Most of you are not prepared to do that, I realize. However, the second best thing you could do would be to sing the Mass (and please start with the Preface Dialogue and Preface). If you are afraid of any backlash, just pick one thing (the Preface Dialogue and Preface) and sing it for the next year at all of your Sunday Masses. If someone asks you why you sing the Mass and you are afraid to begin a liturgical discussion, you can honestly answer that you just like to sing. Those who enjoy it will congratulate you, while those who don’t won’t usually jump ship over such a matter.

If you do this each year for the 6 years you might find yourself at a parish, between you and your congregations, the Preface Dialogue and Preface (year 1), the Collect , Prayer over the Gifts and the Prayer after Communion (year 2), the Dialogue before and after the Gospel (year 3),  the Lord’s Prayer (year 4), the Introductory Rites and Closing Rites (year 5) and finally any other small dialogues in the Mass (year 6) will be sung. You could do this without ever challenging your volunteer musicians, praise bands, or whoever or whatever else makes music in your parishes to change anything. At the same time, you will have changed the way your parishioners perceive what is really going on when you celebrate your Sunday Masses. They will at least understand that something out of the ordinary is taking place!

What are you waiting for? Get to it!