Singing the English Mass

Singing the texts of the Mass brings a solemnity and gravitas to the Liturgy: this is particularly noticeable in the introduction of the new texts for the Novus Ordo. Mgr Andrew Wadsworth in various talks and articles has stressed how the new version of the English Missal contains much more music and that we are encouraged to sing the Mass.

Over the past couple of days I have begun to do this much more, using the simple chants that are printed in the Missal, singing the “The Lord be with you” and the orations at Mass. To my surprise, people actually joined in, even though I have not yet got round to printing out sheets for them. There is an instinct for sacred music just under the surface, I think, and it can be easily recovered.

In the new translation it is easier to sing the Collects since the grammatical structure of the prayers makes it more straightforward to determine where the metrum and flex should be. The antiphons can easily be sung to a psalm tone: later perhaps the children’s choir could have a stab at the “Simple Propers” settings. The setting for the ordinary is about as simple as it could be, yet is unmistakeably sacred music rather than an “Israeli Mass” type setting.

To sing the Mass in this way rather than simply to have a couple of more or less random hymns or songs makes a major impact on the celebration of Mass and it is a significant contribution to the recovery of the sacred in the Liturgy. At the family Mass yesterday for All Saints, the children joined in quite easily with singing the responses; with the other parts of the Mass sung simply, there was a real sense of sung worship rather than simply singing songs while we worship.

Taking this relatively easy step of singing the new texts of the Mass is not so much “brick by brick” but a large section of wall in the reform of the reform that can be built almost overnight.

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