A New Mass Setting for Maryknoll

The Pray Tell editors suggested that I write a short notice about a compositional project I’ve been working on for the last year or so.  Since many new musical settings of the Order of Mass prompted by the new translation of the English texts will appear in the next few years, it might be of interest to hear how one church composer is going about the task of providing scores for future sung prayer.

I was deeply honored when, in preparation for the 2011 celebration of the centennial of papal approval of the Catholic Foreign Missions Society, Maryknoll officials through Fr. Michael Duggan contacted me about creating a musical setting of the new English translations of the texts for Roman Rite Eucharist that could be used both by the Maryknoll missioners and by the English-speaking churches. (For more information on Maryknoll visit the website at: http://home.maryknoll.org/maryknoll/)

One of the most intriguing parts of the commission was that the various movements should represent musically both Maryknoll’s United States heritage and the diverse cultures in which Maryknoll missioners serve.  From early 2009 through May 2010 I submitted the individual pieces as they were created to Michael who was assisted by Lucille Naughton, long-term music director at Maryknoll’s houses of formation in Ossining, New York, in determining how well what I was writing fulfilled the commission.  More than once Michael and Lucille sent me back to the drawing board and their comments have certainly improved the finished work.

After some discussion we decided to call the work the “Missa ‘Ad Gentes’” (Mass “To the Peoples”), drawing the title from the Second Vatican Council’s document on missionary activity.  We also decided to adopt “Maryknoll Centennial Mass” as a subtitle to recall the circumstances of the original commission.

Early in 2010, the Gregorian Institute of America, Inc., (GIA) agreed to publish this project, thus making the Maryknoll Mass available to a wider audience.  This brought a new round of collaboration during which Kelly Dobbs-Mickus, Joshua Evanovich, and Brian Streem made many detailed suggestions to improve the score.  (I also want to acknowledge Fred Vipond’s assistance in making the organ accompaniment more idiomatic, but due to time constraints I was unable to incorporate much of his work in the published scores.)

After that introduction, it might be of interest to listen to part of one of the segments of this Mass setting.  As is well known, at Roman Rite Eucharist the praying of the Our Father consists of four elements: 1) the priest’s recited or chanted invitation to pray; 2) the body of the prayer chanted or recited by the assembly; 3) an embolism expanding the petitions of the prayer recited or chanted by the priest; and 4) a concluding acclamation by the assembly.   In my setting the priest’s parts are in free speech rhythm, while the assembly’s texts are set metrically, but with great freedom in performance. Since at the time of this posting, the changed texts of the new English translation are still embargoed, I can only post the (unchanged) congregational portion of my new setting of the “Lord’s Payer.”  While it would be wonderful if the congregation were able to chant the prayer in four parts, I have deliberately kept the soprano tessitura in mid-range so that the congregation can sing the melody in unison in the soprano line. This setting is intended to evoke Russian Orthodox liturgical chant as filtered through my harmonic language in honor of Maryknoll’s mission in Siberia, a parish of which was entrusted to my friend and fellow liturgist from the Maryknoll community, Fr. Joe McCabe, MM.

It is my hope that the “Missa ‘Ad Gentes’” will not only celebrate the great contributions Maryknoll has made to people in physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual need over the past century, but will also assist English-speaking Roman Rite Catholics to worship with the new liturgical texts, faithful to their heritage but enriched by the great diversity of languages and cultures that make up the Church Catholic.

23 comments

  1. This sounds good to me as long as we are moving away from hymns that sound like something we would hear at a Broadway musical. I like the seeming primacy given to chant from what I’ve heard about the new translation. I hope this is true.
    This composers references multi-lingual celebrations. I think that is when the Church stresses the use of Latin, but, leaving that aside, I do wonder about the insertion of Spanish ordinaries in an otherwise English Mass. At least one Spanish language “Gloria” (from OCP I think) seems to be a paraphrase version of the hymn of the angels. Will we persist in using paraphrase versions of the ordinary in Spanish language celebrations? Doesn’t LA apply there too?

  2. What a lovely setting – peaceful and elegant!!! It DOES evoke the Russian chant (we have used a bit of Eastern chant in our parish) and yet it is easy enough that congregations can learn it readily! (and thanks for the tessitura [says the mezzo])

  3. Sort of puts me to sleep, while I truly enjoy peaceful and elegant, at the old age of 55, I truly do enjoy getting up and praising God as well. The younger generation 20-33 is whom we are losing to other denominations who offer participation rather than sleeping.

    1. This reminds me of when I left parish music work to join the monastery, and all the grade-schoolers wrote me cards with their good wishes. A second grader said she liked my organ playing – it put her to sleep. I’m pretty sure she meant it as a compliment.
      You raise an important question about contemporary culture and evangelism. I would think that anything this beautiful would grab anyone’s attention – I think of it as soaring more than somnolent. But as for other people in our culture (I guess I’m not very much like many of them), I don’t know how they would receive it.
      awr

  4. Unfortunately the Lord’s Prayer is rarely sung: less than 10% of the time on Sundays and Holydays (in my experience across several parishes in the past ten years)

    But then, that is also true of the Kyrie: Maybe 15%

    And the Gloria: About 50% of possible

    And as for the Creed: Nothing! Can’t remember hearing it anytime, anywhere!

    Only the Sanctus and Agnus Dei remain as remnants of the sung Ordinary of the Mass.

    It seems to me our top priority should be the restoration of a sung Ordinary of the Mass ( dialogs, Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Our Father, Agnus Dei) at the principal and hopefully all the weekend Masses.

    Attention, frameworks, complexity, novelty, and attraction are important interrelated topics in one of my home disciplines, psychology.

    Re-establishing the overarching framework of the sung Ordinary of Mass appears to me to be the key to having an attractive ritual that manages attention, complexity, and novelty in ways that enhance rather than detract from the experience of the Mass

  5. A number of years ago, a survey conducted across the UK found that, of all the things sung at Mass, people’s favourite was the Our Father.

    Another perspective, however:

    The document “Music in the Mass” from the Church Music Committee of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (1987) says this:

    The Our Father is first and foremost a prayer, not a sung form. If it is always sung, some people may feel excluded from it.

    A 1997 update of the same document places the Our Father in category 5 of a 1 to 5 priority chart of things to be sung — i.e. the lowest category.

    I think an important parameter here is the make-up of the assembly. I have sat many times in assemblies in the US while Robert Snow’s setting was being sung and observed that at least 50% of the congregation were not opening their mouths at all. This was not just down to ethnic differences; a lot of Anglo folk, too, obviously either didn’t know the setting or didn’t find it a vehicle for their prayer. And of course not everyone can sing. If there’s one prayer that we all ought to be able to pray together, surely it’s the Lord’s Prayer.

    So I think the 1987 E&W note is valuable. “If it is always sung, some people may feel excluded from it.” It doesn’t say “Don’t sing it”, just “Don’t sing it all the time”. This is a request for pastoral sensitivity on the part of those managing the liturgy. We need to listen.

    1. I think this dichotomy between “prayer” and a “sung form” is both theologically silly and liturgically disastrous. It not only is a completely untraditional distinction, but it doesn’t even make any sense. Is the Sanctus not also a prayer? Is the Gloria? Isn’t the whole point of liturgical music not just to “sing at Mass” but to “sing the Mass”? This strikes me simply as a personal preference for which someone has gone in search of a theoretical justification.

      And the inclusivity argument is likewise specious. There are people who are incapable of speech, or who simply don’t like making the responses (ask any number of devotees of the Extraordinary Form of Mass). Does this mean that there should be no vocal participation by the assembly in any of the prayers?

      There might be good reasons not to sing the Lord’s Prayer, but these are not them.

      1. I hope I don’t detect denial here — unusual, because I often agree with what F C has to say. The point about prayer and sung form is precisely that there are acclamations, there are litanies, there are hymnic forms, etc, etc, and there are texts which are simply prayers. This is not a theological distinction but a formal one. No, the Sanctus and the Gloria are not prayers (even though we may in one sense pray them), they are respectively an acclamation and a hymn and thus require a different vocal treatment.

        As for the inclusivity argument, F C is opposing apples and oranges as regards context. The devotees of the EF form do not want to participate vocally at any time, so there is a completely different context. In the OF, people are encouraged to (and largely want to) participate. The point here is about allowing them to do so, at least from time to time, in an element of the rite which does not have to be sung (but which can be).

        And concerning those who are incapable of speech at all, I want to say that I am one of those who regularly inserts intentions into the intercessions for those who have no ears to hear God’s word, no lips to sing his praise, no limbs with which to dance before him. It’s desperately important to remember those people in our prayer, but not to use them as an excuse for not doing anything that everyone else can do.

      2. If liturgical “prayer” is being defined in some way more precise that “vocalization addressed to God” then it might be noted that the lay faithful traditionally didn’t “pray” in the Roman Rite at all, but only sang acclamations, responses, and hymns. As for the prayers-in-the-technical-sense, these were (at least when there was any singing at all) always sung by the person who vocalized them (i.e. the celebrant).

        My point is simply that the claim that some things should not (always) be sung because they are “prayers” is one that has no basis in the liturgical tradition. There might be other good reasons — anthropological, pastoral, practical, etc. — for making the claim, but the distinction between hymns/acclamations (normally sung) vs. prayers (normally not sung) begs the question entirely.

        Perhaps it’s just that I love singing the Lord’s Prayer, and almost never have a chance to do it (except when I’m by myself).

      3. The devotees of the EF form do not want to participate vocally at any time…

        I don’t see why. The Popes of the first half of the 20th century seemed to be encouraging vocal participation by the laity at Mass. Pius X in “Tra la la la”, Pius XI in “Divini Cultus”, Pius XII in “De Musica Sacra”. Of all those, I think Pius XI expressed it best:

        “In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian Chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it. It is most important that when the faithful assist at the sacred ceremonies, or when pious sodalities take part with the clergy in a procession, they should not be merely detached and silent spectators, but, filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy, they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir, as it is prescribed. If this is done, then it will no longer happen that the people either make no answer at all to the public prayers — whether in the language of the Liturgy or in the vernacular — or at best utter the responses in a low and subdued manner.

        Now, we can certainly disagree on whether Pius XI was right about the effect of re-introducing chant to the people… but it’s clear he and the other pontiffs expected the people to participate vocally at Mass.

        So if EF “devotees” are reticent to use their voices at Mass, they should reconsider and hearken to the magisterium.

      4. Jeffrey,

        While there are EF devotees who champion vocal participation by the congregation, they often complain about being hissed at, shushed or generally discouraged in their efforts. There appear to be many devotees whose preferred experience of EF Mass is the dry Low Mass with little or no vocal participation (“if it was good enough for the saints, it’s good enough for me” – I just wait for a brass band to strike up “Gimme That Ol’ Time Religion”).

        It would have been interesting if the Motu Proprio had squarely addressed this issue.

      5. Jeffrey, thank you for making this very good point. The manner of celebrating Mass from 1903 to 1962 underwent a lot of change, what with the Popes’ encouragement for ever greater active participation. I wonder (and I’m not in a position to know) how many EF Masses make use of vernacular hymns tied to the parts of Mass, or congregational Latin chant, or congregational recitation of responses. If they did, they would be truer to the actual state of affairs before Vatican II. But their proponents would also realize that the EF Mass is, in fact, a not-yet-reformed Mass, a Mass-heading-toward-reform, a Mass-about-to-be reformed. From their web statements I gather that proponents of the EF want to return to Unchanging Stasis. Which is to say, they want to create something unprecedented (I suspect in reaction to today’s social/ecclesial trends) rather than return to the dynamism of the preconciliar liturgy.
        awr

    2. Glad to have the data from England. As often the people are wiser than their bishops and the experts.

      I signed the petition and joined this blog largely because I think neither bishops nor experts listen to the people.

      In a comment elsewhere in this blog, someone said it was elementary that musicians don’t program people’s favorite hymns because that is all they would remember from the Mass.

      The second largest denomination in the USA is former Catholics. Can we really afford to not let our people sing the Our Father if that is there first choice like in England and to sing their favorite hymns since that would detract from the boredom of the Mass?

      1. UPDATE: Last evening’s liturgy was at a parish where I have often worshipped for over a decade and never heard the Lord’s Prayer sung. But there was a guest priest and it was sung to the Gregorian chant.

        From my location which could see about 2/3 of the church, I would say at least 80% perhaps as high as 90% participation. Among the few non participants, several young guys “goofing off.” Perhaps they did not know the chant.

        Surprising high participation rate for something that they had to do from memory. Maybe many were just mouthing the words but not singing. But it sounded loud. Wish I had known this would happen, Nice to have had other songs compared.

  6. As far as Michael’s setting is concerned, it is indeed very beautiful (apart from the unexpected unison in the midst of a fairly lush harmonic texture, and one strange grouping of phrases).

    My only concern would be the length of the phrases, at least as demonstrated on the recording. No assembly is ever going to be able to manage those phrases in one breath at that speed. If we can cope with that, fine; but it does sound to me more like choral music than assembly music. (And I should add that many assemblies in the UK sing the Rimsky-Korsakov Our Father setting, which is very similar in style but whose phrase-lengths and construction are more user-friendly than Michael’s.)

  7. I am grateful to all who have offered comments, mostly because they represent such various perspectives. In a certain sense, it was unfair to you to post only a single congregational segment since the contrast between the priest’s chanted text and the congregational metrical text was something I wanted to explore. In the light of Mr. Jenkins’ comments I’ll share what I consider to be a fun story from a workshop I did a couple of decades ago in Hawaii. We ended a VERY packed day by singing Compline, the settings of which grew increasingly simple in texture and instrumentation until we were singing monophonically. A lady came up afterwards absolutely furious that “we had disrespected the high spirits in song and dance of these natives. Why that music puts me to sleep!” What’s great about her comment is that Compline is the bedtime prayer of the Church, and we’re supposed to be sent to sleep right after it :-).

  8. I noticed that Paul Inwood in another post told a story in which I appeared startled that someone had the “temerity” to criticize one of my compositions. I have to say that I have NEVER found myself surprised by anyone’s criticism, positive or negative, and that I sometimes incorporate the critique if I am convinced by it and am able to do so. So in response to his comments, there actually is a reason why I chose to present an unexpected unison (hint: it has something to do with the words being set). Paul didn’t identify which was the “strange” grouping of phrases, but as one who has worshiped in English on both sides of the Pond (as has Paul), one pattern that clearly divides us is the US’s: “Your kingdom come / Your will be done / on earth as it is…” vs. English/Irish/Scots/Welsh?: “Your kingdom come / Your will be done on earth / as it is…” I tried to split the difference. I also tried to use some motivic cues to distinguish the “you” petitions of the opening with the “we” petitions of the second half. But as Paul knows from his own forays into church composition, you do the best you can at the time and hope that God’s people will use what they will of your composition for their prayer.

  9. Mike, I’m not sure that it’s good for two friends to debate like this in public, but,

    (hint: it has something to do with the words being set) Yes, I had grasped that, but am not convinced by the solution. A whole phrase in unison, perhaps, but not a single note out of the blue.

    The first phrase which the assembly will not manage in one breath is “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, though perhaps it does not matters so much if they all breath after “done”.

    The unnatural phrase grouping, in my view, is “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who tres — pass- against us” which is not only an impossibly long breath for the assembly (and even for trained singers) but also cuts against what every assembly will do, which is want to stop after “trespasses”.

    But apart from this, I reiterate, it is very beautiful and the concept is excellent.

    Perhapas I can palliate these remarks by saying how superb I thought your post on the Irish National Propers was in that other thread.

    1. Well, I prefer “thy will be done on earth // as it is in heaven”, which representes the older tradition of emphasis in that line.

      1. KLS and all – can anyone fill me in on where the sense lines “done on earth // as it is…” comes from and how it is an older tradition? In the most commonly used Latin chant it is clearly “thy will be done // on earth as it is…” I’ve heard the other claim many times and I’d like to know the basis for it.
        awr

    2. Isn’t the common chant: Thy kingdom come…thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven? I don’t think there is a break in the notation between “done” and “on.” That is one place where many times you get confusion because half the people put the break in and half don’t. It’s similar to the “new plainsong” sanctus.

  10. Dear Paul, I don’t think we’re really debating so much as exchanging information. I accept the judgment about the single note vs. and entire phrase in unison. I did intend that the congregation would breathe after “kingdom come,” and I think they will naturally. I also agree that the “And forgive us…against us” is “impossibly long” to sing on one breath (I assumed, I guess, that folks would naturally stagger their breathing) but I think I was trying to respect the syntax of the phrase that to my ear doesn’t have a natural break point; maybe “and forgive us our trespasses / as we forgive those / who trespass against us” is how I should have set it. As I’ve said before, I always find your comments helpful even when I disagree and I always learn something in our interchanges.

  11. I find this setting of the Lord’s Prayer to be deeply prayerful, and even joyful. While the harmonization drives the emotion, the melody/soprano is deceivingly simple and child-like. Each phrase of the text is painted to highlight its meaning, elevating its prayerfulness. With some repetition, the people can and will sing this more easily at a slightly faster tempo, but not much more. There is a lot of depth to this setting, and it deserves some time to bear it out.

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