Friday, July 6, 2012

Sacred Music Colloquium: The Masses (Part I)

This is a report from Stephanie Swee, President of the Society of St. Gregory the Great:

I have already given my general impressions and thoughts about the Sacred Music Colloquium that the Church Music Association of America held in Salt Lake City this year. The focus, of course, was the liturgy, because that is what sacred music is all about.

During the six days of the event, there were six Masses and one solemn Vespers. There was morning and evening prayer most days as well, but those occasions featured simple psalmody sung alternately by men and women and did not require much work on anyone’s part, since most of those who attended knew how to sing the office.

Of the Masses celebrated, four were in the ordinary form and two in the extraordinary. All had music in Latin, except for a couple of English motets and one English hymn. Some of the celebrants used Latin responses, some English. The last ordinary form Mass sung was on Sunday, July 1, and was the regular 11 a.m. cathedral parish Mass for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It was also the longest of all the Masses.

The polyphonic choir sang a Monteverdi ordinary. This is a work in five parts and is unearthly in its beauty. The propers were the regular chant ones for the day and the Introit for that Sunday was from Psalm 46, “Omnes gentes, plaudite minibus” (All you nations, clap your hands.”)  As with all the other Masses, the Introit was started as the procession entered, the way it is supposed to be sung, and the choir continued it while the ministers assembled and the celebrant incensed the altar. As with most of the Masses, Father Pasley, the chaplain of CMAA, sang the Mass.  He is a pastor from New Jersey whose diocesan parish celebrates Mass always in the extraordinary form – the only such parish in the country.

The men’s group sang the Gradual  - “Venite, filii, audite me” (“Come, children, hearken unto me.”) and the Alleluia following it. In the ordinary form, the Gradual follows the first reading and Alleluia the second, where many churches use first the Responsorial psalm and then the common Alleluia.

Part of our training in the schola was to apply some markings of the ninth-century St. Gall Psalter to the square-note notation. What this meant in practice was lengthening some notes slightly to emphasize certain parts of the Latin phrases.
Photo from The Chant Cafe blog 

Those in the congregation who knew it were invited to join in Credo III, probably the easiest and most familiar of the sung Latin professions of faith. After the Offertory, “Sicut in holocaust” (“ As a holocaust of rams and bullocks … let our sacrifice be in your sight this day”),  the polyphonic choir sang a motet by Morales, O Sacrum Convivium. The Sanctus by Monteverdi followed the Preface and the Agnus Dei came just before Communion. It was interesting to see how the Latin propers, written for the older form of the Mass, could fit just as easily into the Novus Ordo.

The Communion, as in all six Masses, was sung with both antiphon and verses of the psalm. When the choir finished a certain number of verses, the magnificent organ of the cathedral took over and played variations on the melody until all had received the Eucharist. Then a motet was usually sung; on Sunday it was the Bruckner Ave Maria.

As far as one could tell, the congregation seemed to be happy with the celebration. Although those in the colloquium were all urged to consider receiving Communion kneeling and on the tongue, there were priests distributing the sacrament for those who wished to receive standing and in the hand.  In the Extraordinary Form Masses, of course, one must receive the host on the tongue.

Next time I will review an example of one of the extraordinary form Masses the colloquium sponsored. 

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