Did you know that Morning Prayer at NPM is entirely in Latin, sung to Gregorian chant? But only one monk ever shows up, so they hold it in his hotel room. The Alternative Morning Prayer is in the convention hall, and over a thousand show up for that one. It’s in English.
Does NPM give Gregorian chant “pride of place” as Holy Mother Church taught at the Second Vatican Council? No, would be the obvious answer. Not much is in Latin at all. “Lauda Sion,” the Corpus Christi sequence, was sung in Latin during Communion at Mass last night, but the music (very solid, BTW) was by Michael Joncas. The choir sang “Christus vincit” in Latin before the closing hymn, “To Jesus Christ, our sovereign king.” But Ordinarium or Proprium Missae in Latin Gregorian chant? Nope.
At Morning Prayer the opening verse, “Lord, open my lips,” is in different settings each day, none of them based on Latin chant. About the only chant here is the Lord’s Prayer, in the eminently usable English setting by Robert J. Snow.
But wait. Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, the US bishops’ document on liturgical music, says this at no. 73: “The ‘pride of place’ given to Gregorian chant by the Second Vatican Council is modified by the important phrase ‘other things being equal.’ These ‘other things’ are the important liturgical and pastoral concerns facing every bishop, pastor, and liturgical musician. In considering the use of the treasures of chant, pastors and liturgical musicians should take care that the congregation is able to particpate in the Liturgy with song. They should be sensitive to the cultural and spiritual milieu of their communities, in order to build up the Church in unity and peace.”
NPM is following this advice – one almost wants to say, to the letter. Suppose the planners of a future NPM convention Mass programmed the entire Ordinary and much of the Proper in Latin chant, and used Latin for some of the presidential texts. It would be a sudden lurch, and it would feel like someone is pushing an agenda on everyone. One can hardly understate the depth of ill will and hurt feelings which would result. “But it’s the Church’s agenda,” someone will glibly object. Well, yes and no. “Building up the Church in unity and peace” is the Church’s agenda.
The music at NPM liturgies is a grab bag. Some (but not much) chant, quite a bit of so-called traditional hymnody and service music, and lots of contemporary music, sometimes in languages other than English. The music draws on the liturgy and the Bible and it reflects the people gathered. The music helps everyone to celebrate the sacred mysteries, to unite themselves to the Lord and each other in song.
NPM has a chant section. They asked me to start this a few years ago. Across NPM, interest in chant seems to be quite strong. Nobody is anti-chant, at least not publicly. Every speaker affirms and treasures chant. The chant section has lots of ideas: more breakouts on chant, many aspects and many levels of difficulty. Perhaps an optional early Mass entirely chanted, a mix of English (and other vernaculars) and Latin. Perhaps an optional Vespers entirely chanted, also a mix of vernacular and Latin. Perhaps there could be some sort of English chant “backdrop” to the plenum liturgies – a common Deus in adiutorium or other elements of the Ordinary of the Liturgy of the Hours. We’re thinking about lots of things.
But you can be sure that NPM will follow the full range of the Church’s teachings and directives in all this. I think only a few zealots will be disappointed.