Monday, 8 July 2013

Sung English Mass

My parish is well known for having Mass celebrated according to the usus antiquior as part of our schedule. However, most of our Masses are celebrated in English in the modern rite. The 9am Mass on Sunday is sung, and we have a steady plan for improvement, according to our resources. We cannot afford to pay professional organists or singers, but enjoy the superb work of our (very generous) volunteers.

At the sung English Mass, we currently sing the Introit and the Communion antiphon to a psalm tone, with a gentle organ accompaniment. Beginning Mass with the Introit makes an enormous difference. There is no mistaking the fact that we are starting an act of worship, not entertainment. As someone put it, nobody is going to say "Wow! that was a really groovy introit!"

In the roadmap for further liturgical improvement we have the introduction of the Gradual/Alleluia and the Offertorium - all to be sung in English, with psalm tones to start with and possibly using some of the excellent resources from our brothers across the pond in due course. It does seem a great lacuna that our liturgical books do not include these texts. We will use those provided in the Gregorian Missal. We also need to look at the memorial acclamation and the Our Father. For the latter, I am inclined to suggest the Rimsky Korsakov melody rather than the English plainchant which doesn't really work.

Hymns have a place - though a subordinate one. We have managed to shed the "4 random hymns" model of English sung Mass in favour of actually singing the Mass itself. I sing the parts that have traditionally been sung as part of the Mass, including the Collect and the Post-communion prayers. (These work much better with the new translation.) The hymns at the Offertory and Communion are complementary to the sung parts of the Mass, offering a devotional support to people's participation at the Mass. So we are careful to ensure that the hymns are genuinely devotional, sound in doctrine, and "popular" in their melodies.

It was lovely this Sunday to reintroduce that glorious hymn in honour of the Precious Blood "Hail Jesus Hail who for my sake." With modern "print-on-demand" technology, I hope to produce a home-grown hymnal for the parish which includes hymns such as this, eschews the bowlderisations of Christmas carols (Good christians all rejoice etc.) and can include texts for Benediction and devotional prayers, especially before and after Communion.

Joseph who plays the organ at the English Mass, enjoys the freedom of not having a "recessional hymn" and my carte blanche permission to strike up with a voluntary of his choice. Yesterday we had Mendelssohn's "War March of the Priests." There are many young families with children who come to this Mass and it is good for them to be exposed to a variety of good music.
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