Jeffrey Tucker, my new friend and leading candidate for the position of “my arch nemesis,” was kind enough to send me the entire set of the new ICEL chants that go with the new translation of the Roman Missal. First of all- thanks!
Let me preface my thoughts on the new settings with some context about me. I like contemporary music in Mass. I like pop and folk based composed through Mass settings. I generally consider myself a progressive when it comes to music in Liturgy. I do not particularly care for the new translations, and I strongly disagree with the need to implement them.
I’m saying all of that because I want my next statement to surprise you:
I think every parish in the English speaking world should start using the chants when they begin using the new texts. In fact- I think the chants are going to save the new translations.
At this point I’ll hedge my progressive street cred a bit by saying- I like chant anyway. BUT normally I would not advocate chant over other styles of music as a universal norm (I’m much more of a case-by-case basis kind of guy). Also- I’m trying (as best I can) to separate my thoughts on the effectiveness of the chants from my personal tastes.
So, let me elaborate a bit.
Part of what I dislike about the new translations is that they are (as was intended) more Latinate and hieratic. As much as “Et cum spiritu tuo” makes sense in Latin, “And with your spirit” sound ridiculous in English.
Let me correct, though- It sounds ridiculous in spoken English. As soon as I chanted it (even by myself in my apartment, hunched over my crap keyboard) it made so much more sense. (Especially the tune used in the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer).
Page after page I had that realization. These texts (in my humble opinion) are awful…. when spoken. They are lovely when chanted. (And the few that aren’t lovely are at least passable when chanted). Even my absolute least favorite line of the new text, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” works when chanted in a way that simply does not work spoken.
And, while I can’t be sure without hearing some attempts, I have a pretty strong feeling that these simple chants will be much more effective than composed through settings in any style (contemporary or classical). I can tell you at least from my own experience- I’ve been trying to write a Mass setting with these new texts since I first saw them and have been completely unable to do so.
I would be very sad to see a wholesale reform of the Liturgy that excludes the singing of contemporary music. However, I think that simple chant, rather than composed-through settings, is the most viable way forward for the new translations of the Ordinary. The ease of the tunes, and the nature of unaccompanied monophonic congregational singing, brings both a powerful earthiness and a solemn heavenliness that most Mass settings lack (even the ones I like). Also, their unadorned nature means they will sit well in any other musical milieu- that is (while the real champions of the chants may disagree), this will feel equally “right” sitting next to Palestrina, David Haas, or Blue Grass- something no composed-through setting can ever accomplish.
Besides their inherent quality, I also think that using the new chant settings will help everyone “reset” their brains. It’s going to be very hard to use an adapted Mass of Creation: everyone will just sing what they already know. Likewise spoken dialogues such as the preface- what’s going to stop everyone from just saying what they’ve been saying for 40 years? Having to think about a chant tune, that’s what.
Also, these chants are free to use. That’s a whole lot better than having to buy 20 more choir editions (each) of the Mass of Creation, the Mass of Light, the Mass of Glory, the Mass of Endless Descants, the Mass of Faux multi-culturalism, the Mass of White People Clapping, and all the other Mass settings your parish has been mixing and matching acclamations out of for the last decade.
So- Use the chants.
Especially those of you least likely to use them: progressive suburban parishes that don’t like the new translations. I encourage you, before you give up on the new translations, or decide to grin and bear it while you wait for the Ecumenical Catholic Church to set up shop in your home town (ain’t gonna happen), give the new chants a try. Really- I’m way more like you than I am like them- and I think they’re exactly what we need.