Monday, October 09, 2006


I had a long discussion with one of my parishioners about music I always seem to have discussions about music: Lord send us musicians, is my constant prayer. Now I always have to add whole list of footnotes to this,
1. who will deepen our prayerfullness at the liturgy
2. who understand what the liturgy and prayer are about
3. who sing in tune and follow the right rhythm
4. who if they are going to want a fee, because they are that good, will somehow not charge us because we are a poor parish
5. who will be much more concerned about singing the texts of the liturgy rather hymns
6. who will not alienate the people

Well what God knows I want, is a group of people that will sing Missa di Angelis, Orbis Factor, the Lent/Advent Mass, an occasional anthem, maybe a little bit of polyphony, a cantor or two who could sing a psalm, the verse of the Alleluia for our morning Mass and them maybe something that will call younger people into actual participation in the evening Mass. I don't really mind if itis Latin or English, except the Endlish translations areso dreadful, and most modern setting are pretty ghastly.
It isn't much to ask God, is it?
We are multi-cultural community, English isn't really a common language, it would be good if music was but it isn't. Even the music used at our local secondary school, most of the adults in our congregation most probably wouldn't want to sing.
The New Liturgical Movement, Chiesa, Open Book (see the sidebar) and also James MacMillan the Scottish composer all seem to be writing about music at the moment .


Anonymous said...

I am sure that many people in many parishes could echo your frustration with regard to Music during the Mass.

Anonymous said...

How do you know that most of the adults in your congregation most probably wouldn't want to sing the music used in your local secondary school?
I've been to various liturgies over the years at Cardinal Newman Catholic School, your local Secondary, and the liturgy has always been not only excellent but also inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Gregorian Chant is on every Thursday starting at 7.30pm if anyone is interested. Ran by Simon Nicolls, one of our altar servers, it is an wonderful evening of prayer through song. I am going this week, on Thursday and encourage you all to come along and join in. Not sure if this is what Father has in mind, but anyway its good. I have a guitar too, but I am not sure guitars really fit into Church music! Not when I've heard them anyway.

Fr Ray Blake said...

“How do I know what my congregation wants to sing?” By empirical observation, by asking them, by reading the letters we receive when we have had youth events here (mainly from younger parishioners incidently).
My personal criticism, is that most liturgies that are “designed” for young people tend to emphasise hymn sing rather than the singing the Sacred Liturgy itself. It is the Liturgy that is important, unfortunately I think that English Mass settings are very difficult to sing; can you suggest a good “Gloria” or Creed” or even a Sanctus or Agnus Dei?

Do read the MacMillan article

Anonymous said...

“the liturgy has always been not only excellent but also inspirational”
“Excellence” when speaking of the Liturgy presumably means that it brings out the Word of God and the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. “Inspirational”, I think I understand what you mean, that they sing beautifully etc. I think this might be better applied to a concert or other performance. It is the Words of God and actions of Christ, in the Mass that should be “inspirational”.
Those who arrange school liturgies like these so often forget, who offers the Liturgy: Christ. And to whom it is offered: the Father.
How many of the people who put on these “liturgies” go to Mass on Sunday?
I ask because I suffered from stuff like this at school until I discovered the Classical Latin Mass, where silence and prayer are more important than performing. Most of the people at the Mass I attend are students like me who hated “inspirational liturgy”.

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered why we sing hymns at all at Mass when composers in the past set the five sections of the Ordinary and way back the "Ite missa est' too. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak are not famous hymn writers though they all wrote Mass settings and motets. The hymns we have serve no purpose than to fill up bits of the Mass when we could have some silence with a whole pile of extra words - don't we have enough to dwell on?! (A bit radical. I suggested this to a friend and she did look a bit shocked.)

Four part strophic hymns are as far as I can see a Lutheran invention and though the Chorales by Bach provide an excellent vehicle for Music students to learn the fundememtals of harmony ( if only the modern hymn writers had studied them....)they aren't exacly Catholic. We don't take passages from the services of other Christian denominations into the Mass, so why take the music?

Also, for example, modern settings of the Gloria in English, tend to turn it into a verse chorus form when again composers in the past set the words without doing this. Surely, if we were supposed to keep repeating the opening as a refrain, then the text would have been passed down to us in that form? There seems to be a free for all with texts that should presumably be treated with the utmost care and devotion.

Plainsong has so many remarkable attributes; passed down a millennia in notated form and definitely before that as an oral tradition, no named composers so no egos involved, woven into the fabic of medieval, renaissance and later polyphony, the melodies worn smooth by the centuries, restricted vocal range making it easy to sing .... and that's before you consider anything to do with its rightness for the liturgy.

I'm very tempted to give a monster rant on the thankless task of being the Head of Music in a Catholic school and what it's ike having to play all the grating rubbish, knowing that Catholic Sacred Music is truly the best music created by western man .... but that isn't really the point. (Yes, I did try to do 'proper music,' no it was not particularly welcomed.) A great deal of the music used in schools and parishes doesn't do the job. It isn't devotional, it is very poor quality (that's the music, not how it is played,)and I don't blame people for not singing. Maybe congregations want some silence to pray. If you only go to Mass on Sunday, why would you want to sing some trite Communion hymn when you've got 5/10 precious minutes to say your prayers? Maybe the folks in the pews know instinctively what you are articulating, Father.

Great blog, Father and it looks from these posts that you have some people practising Gregorian Chant, so your prayers are being answered.

Anonymous said...

My son, when he went to university, stopped going to Mass at the chaplaincy as it was too 'happy clappy'.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...