Church in the World
Composers face dilemma as plainsong suggested for new Missal Abigail Frymann, Michael Sean Winters, Mark Brolly
- 1 August 2009
Music settings for the new English translation of the Missal reveal a greater use of plainchant and the altered wording may require composers to re-work their settings or write new versions of the Mass.
On restricted-access pages of the website of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) seen by The Tablet are pages of sheet music for the Order of Mass, the four Eucharistic Prayers and various other chants. An introduction to the pages notes says that ICEL aimed to “preserve and recover the tradition of unaccompanied singing in the Roman Rite” and “facilitate full and active participation by all the people”.
A spokesman for ICEL said that while the text had to be approved by the Vatican, it would be for ICEL’s various member conferences to decide what was musically acceptable for parish use. Mgr Anthony Sherman, executive director of the Office of Divine Worship at the US bishops’ conference, said that the uploaded examples aimed to ensure there was something immediately available when the Vatican approves the translations, and to give guidance to composers and publishers.
UK music publisher Kevin Mayhew said his firm would be commissioning many new Masses, but said worshippers would take months to learn new settings, and felt sure that favourites such as the “Clap-Hands Gloria” and the “Israeli Mass” would remain in use. He said they would immediately revise Hymns Old & New to include the new Mass texts but he thought parishes may be reluctant to buy new sets of books during the recession.
Randall DeBruyn, executive editor for missals and hymnals at the Oregon Catholic Press, said composers were split “50-50” between those planning on writing new compositions and those who think they will be able to adapt Mass settings they have already composed. “The next couple of years will have a pretty heavy workload,” Mr DeBruyn said.
Changes that could be difficult to accommodate in existing music occur in the Gloria: “Glory to God in the highest / and on earth peace to people of goodwill / We praise you / we bless you / we adore you / we glorify you.”
In many instances the melodies suggested for the new English phrases are those used for centuries with the traditional Latin translation. These include the new response “And with your spirit”, the Preface “It is truly right”, the Sanctus and the Memorial Acclamation. One promiment British composer said this was problematic. “The translations follow the Latin syntax, and that’s not how English is spoken,” he said, and questioned whether churchgoers might “forget about the new texts and just go on auto-pilot” or whether the un-familiarity of the new Missal would demand people follow the Mass in the book and miss out on its visual aspects.
Meanwhile in Australia, composers are already working on settings and adapting their earlier compositions following an invitation to do so from bishops last year. Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra and Goulburn said at the time that he hoped three or four settings of the Mass would emerge that would “engage in a conversation with Gregorian chant to produce music which is both contemporary and traditional”.