Sunday, July 16, 2006

MCW 30-38

The Liturgical Judgment

30. The nature of the liturgy itself will help to determine what kind of music is called for, what parts are to be preferred for singing, and who is to sing them.

This is kinda treading on Musicam sacram’s feet here; a U.S. bishops’ document should dicuss Mass in the U.S. alone, not give a whole different schema of singing in liturgy. Anyway.

A. Structural Requirements

31. The choice of sung parts, the balance between them, and the style of musical setting used should reflect the relative importance of the parts of the Mass or other service) and the nature of each part. Thus elaborate settings of the entrance song, "Lord have Mercy" and "Glory to God" may make the proclamation of the word seem unimportant; and an overly elaborate offertory song with a spoken "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord" may make the eucharistic prayer seem less important.

MCW’s writers apparently didn’t envision the all-sung Mass that was in mind when the SCR issued Musicam sacram.

This little paragraph can be used to justify the near-exclusion of any art music from the Mass, since it doesn’t take a whole lot of artistry to “make the proclamation of the word seem unimportant”. Actually, I am fairly sure that just about any music goes along with that: no one walks out humming the homily - or the Epistle.

ISTM also that this thinking would preclude the use of the great Gregorian tracts of 1st Lent and Palm Sunday.

This does, though, speak to the natural tension between musical progress and keeping it accessible for the layperson. I had this discussion lately: the Mass as it stands in most parishes offers little for the introspective, cultured individual. The usual response to this observation is something like “go to the cathedral, then” - really unfortunate, considering that many (most?) cathedral parishes do not offer the same sense of community that a regular parish does. It also reinforces the idea that we know what’s good for us - “this isn’t nourishing me”, someone says - well, how do you know that it’s not what you need?

Granted, this could go right back to artsy folks - how do we know that simple music isn’t what we need? I suppose tradition speaks to the validity of art music in the liturgy, though.

B. Textual Requirements

32. Does the music express and interpret the text correctly and make it more meaningful? Is the form of the text respected? In making these judgments the principal classes of texts must be kept in mind: proclamations, acclamations, psalms and hymns, and prayers. Each has a specific function which must be served by the music chosen for a text. In most instances there is an official liturgical text approved by the episcopal conference. "Vernacular texts set to music composed in earlier periods," however, "may be used in liturgical texts."'3 As noted elsewhere, criteria have been provided for the texts which may replace the processional chants of Mass. In these cases and in the choice of all supplementary music, the texts "must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources."'4

It stops short of explicitly saying texts (other than the processionals) must conform fully to approved liturgical texts, though I believe this is stated elsewhere. (would appreciate a reference?)

Of course, one wonders about strophic musical settings of texts: do these “express” the texts? Or, psalm-tones: do these traditional elements of liturgical music “express” anything? (generally, no)

I do like the attention given to function being regarded in the composition of the music. ISTM that responsorial Glorias kinda fall under this concern: the Gloria is not a responsorial prayer, so why are there so many responsorial settings of it?

C. Role Differentiation

33. "In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy."'5 Special musical concern must be given to the role of the congregation, the cantor, the choir, and the instrumentalists.

Good stuff - different strokes for the different folks who sing/play.

D. The Congregation

34. Music for the congregation must be within its members' performance capability. The congregation must be comfortable and secure with what they are doing in order to celebrate well.

Are the editors of Spirit & Song reading this paragraph - “within its members’ performance capability”.

The second sentence kinda argues for not giving the congregation the Proper, since by its very nature it does not lend itself to giving congregations “comfort” or “security”. (Instead, what we generally have done is opt for singing songs in place of Proper texts: valuing congregational singing enough to dislodge the Proper.)

E. The Cantor

35. While there is no place in the liturgy for display of virtuosity for its own sake, artistry is valued, and an individual singer can effectively lead the assembly, attractively proclaim the Word of God in the psalm sung between the readings, and take his or her part in other responsorial singing. "Provision should be made for at least one or two properly trained singers, especially where there is no possibility of setting up even a small choir. The singer will present some simpler musical settings, with the people taking part, and can lead and support the faithful as far as is needed. The presence of such a singer is desirable even in churches which have a choir, for those celebrations in which the choir cannot take part but which may fittingly be performed with some solemnity and therefore with singing."'6 Although a cantor "cannot enhance the service of worship in the same way as a choir, a trained and competent cantor can perform an important ministry by leading the congregation in common sacred song and in responsorial singing."'7

ISTM that a cantor serves a very different function liturgically from a choir: a choir sings as a distinct body, whereas a cantor either leads congregational singing (leading a body rather than singing as a part of it) or sings verses of responsorial chants/songs. And of course, the cantor needs to be visible to the people, while the choir does not (and, IMHO, should not).

F. The Choir

36. A well.trained choir adds beauty and solemnity to the liturgy and also assists and encourages the singing of the congregation. The Second Vatican Council, speaking of the choir, stated emphatically: "Choirs must be diligently promoted," provided that "the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs."'8

The tension between what the choir sings versus what the people’s great to have the congregation sing the Kyrie, but that effectively rules out polyphony and anything else that is not congregational (simple, homophonic, etc.)

"At times the choir, within the congregation of the faithful and as part of it, will assume the role of leadership, while at other times it will retain its own distinctive ministry. This means that the choir will lead the people in sung prayer, by alternating or reinforcing the sacred song of the congregation, or by enhancing it with the addition of a musical elaboration. At other times in the course of liturgical celebration the choir alone will sing works whose musical demands enlist and challenge its competence."'9

Important here: the choir is within the congregation - not “performing” in front of it!

G. The Organist and Other Instrumentalists

37. Song is not the only kind of music suitable for liturgical celebration. Music performed on the organ and other instruments can stimulate feelings of joy and contemplation at appropriate times.20 This can be done effectively at the following points: an instrumental prelude, a soft background to a spoken psalm, at the preparation of the gifts in place of singing, during portions of the communion rite, and the recessional. In the dioceses of the United States, "musical instruments other than the organ may be used in liturgical services, provided they are played in a manner that is suitable to public worship."2' This decision deliberately refrains from singling out specific instruments. Their use depends on circumstances, the nature of the congregation, etc.

Et cetera? In a liturgical document???

It would be helpful for guidelines less subjective than “suitable to public worship”. I think just about anything could be (and probably is) justified under that criterion.

38. The proper placing of the organ and choir according to the arrangement and acoustics of the church will facilitate celebration. Practically speaking, the choir must be near the director and the organ (both console and sound). The choir ought to be able to perform without too much distraction; the acoustics ought to give a lively presence of sound in the choir area and allow both tone and word to reach the congregation with clarity. Visually it is desirable that the choir appear to be part of the worshiping community, yet a part which serves in a unique way. Locating the organ console too far from the congregation causes a time lag which tends to make the singing drag unless the organist is trained to cope with it. A location near the front pews will facilitate congregational singing.

A bit of nonsense here:

1) The organ console does not make sound; the organ’s pipes (and/or, alas, speakers) are the issue with lag.

2) Churches have been built with organ consoles away from the front for centuries now, and the arrangement was perfectly conducive to congregational singing. Now, in the 20th century, some Catholics (who have no substantial tradition of congregational singing) come along and say we need organ consoles in the front? Poppycock.


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