Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Hymns Are Out
As an example, in the directions regarding the procession, various options for chant are given and then the parish musician and priest were given this option: or, (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. One blogger complained: The reality is that the Church has official entrance texts composed for every Mass of the year. In the Gregorian books they are known Introit chants. Much like the psalm that comes after the first reading, there are similar pieces for the entrance. They are official texts of the Mass, and chant is the official music of the Church. Notice that the first three options all reference the use of chants and/or psalms in various forms. Only the last one departs from this. Unfortunately, the last option is the one chosen almost universally in American parishes. More than that, the song chosen often has little to do with the given text from the Roman Missal or the Roman Gradual. It has basically become a free-for-all, chose whatever suits our whims, kind of selection.
While the Latin rubrics have not changed, the translation has. The offending option four now reads: (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. Liturgical song, i. e. hymn, has given way to liturgical chant.
There are choices -- all of them meant to be liturgical chants appointed by the Church or, specifically, those appointed as part of the pericopes. Hymns are not among the choices (unless you want to rename all hymns chant, rename the hymnal the chant book, and have people chant "On Eagles' Wings! -- as one wag put it).
All of this seems rather confusing and, well, petty, to a church in which singing is so much a part of it all. We sing the hymns, we sing the liturgy (sing means that most of our current liturgies have through composed ordinary texts and not strictly "chant" settings of the ordinary). Of course, as this blog notes, if you want to get the comments button going all you need to do is mention Pastors chanting (not singing but actually chanting) and things get heated.
Eugene Brand, the tireless staff director of the inter-Lutheran hymnal project that resulted in those very popular through composed settings of the ordinary, has had some second thoughts. He wonders now if it was wise to depose chant from the norm and replace it with what we have now in the Divine Services originating from LBW and its cousin LW. As one who longs to hear sung again the wonderful chant setting 3 of SBH, I am not unsympathetic to this point of view.
On the other hand, we have what we have. Generations have grown up singing the ordinary to the through composed settings so very much in use among Lutherans today. Given the alternative of praise bands and solo singers with backups, I will vote for the through composed ordinary every time. In fact, given the alternative, I will also vote for a hymn setting of the ordinary (ala Divine Service, Setting 3, of LSB) over no ordinary at all.
Yet.... chant is the musical form that came to identify with the Church and singing in worship and I am saddened greatly that chant has largely disappeared from the songbook of God's people. Liturgical chant has become for us a synonym for hymns. Now I do not anticipate making much change in this identification any more than I would predict that tomorrow the ubiquitous praise band will be replaced by a pipe organ and a liturgical choir. But... perhaps it would be a good thing for us to reintroduce into the repertoire of the people the most ancient form of liturgical song so that it is still a part of our singing and not some distant memory... even for Lutherans there is something to think about here...