Some observations, not suggestions or encouragements (especially in light of my work on an archdiocesan staff!). I am committed to working with our office of worship and ministerial groups in promoting and encouraging musicians and parishioners to embrace the new Mass text. But I sense that pragmatism will win out in many places.
At some point, whether it be 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005, we became comfortable with singing (and composing, and publishing, and allowing if not outright authorizing) variants of the Mass texts. We’ve proved quite comfortable with the little changes: “God of power and might” became “God of power, God of might” in our country’s most used setting. One of our most programmed settings of the Gloria incorporates a “sing” into the refrain. But then there are the bigger changes. Texts like “We remember how you loved us…” or “When we eat this Bread of Life” appear under the label of Memorial Acclamations in hymnals that were published “with permission of the Committee on the Liturgy, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops”. Check your Gather hymnals. Lucien Deiss’ “Keep in Mind” has been done in parishes as a Memorial Acclamation – this is a Canadian practice, is it not? So now will “Christ Has Died” be used as an acclamation? Sure it will. Not to condone, but simply to ask: how many years will it be this time before we start using altered texts again? Or is the question “will the altered texts this time simply be the older texts?’ Look at the differences between the present and proposed Memorial Acclamation When We Eat This Bread. Does changing one word constitute altering? Two words? Five words? How is the old different from the new?
I sense that we will tend towards pieces that use roughly the same the melody for both the 1970 and 2010 texts, letting the people sing the words they choose. Thus, in Proulx’s Community Mass Sanctus, we’ll all sing the first measure together correctly, we’ll use different words and melodies for measures 2-4, and then all fall back into place in glorious unison for measure 5 ‘til the end. Does simultaneously singing different words strike you as odd? It shouldn’t. Listen to the variants in the communion line on the Taize “Eat This Bread” or Toolan’s “I Am the Bread of Life,” both of which have been altered in the past few years. And we still don’t know if the person next to me in the pew is “a wretch like me” or if they believe that grace has “saved and set me free.” Listen carefully to the current “May the Lord accept the sacrifice…” as recited in your church. Whose hands? Whose name? Whose church? How many simultaneous variants are going in that response?
Will congregations invest time in learning a new through-composed Gloria setting, or will they simply keep singing the old ones? Will refrain settings of the Gloria win out and make through-composed settings a rarity? My prediction: the increased use of the choir-only Gloria. Some directors will decide it’s easier to teach the choir a Gloria than it is to teach a congregation.
With all due respect to those beloved, elderly, senior and venerable priests: will they make the change? Some of these fine men are still using the 1971 funeral rite!
And let’s challenge ourselves to look beyond our own English language comfort zone. If people are offended with the suggestion that there will be the inevitable tampering with the English text, where has all their concern been these past many years around variants in other languages? How many readers here are aware of what poses as service music in some Spanish congregations? Some Spanish language Gloria are simply nothing more than generic songs of praise. Where’s the outrage there? At best, we’re ignorant of the practices in other language communities; at worst we border on the arrogant if we see these changes simply as accommodations to people different from us. Do not English speaking suburban Americans have pastoral needs too? People aren’t opposed to change. People are only opposed to changes of which they are aware.
Some Lutheran pastor colleagues once enlightened me to the fact every time a new Lutheran hymnal comes out, it causes further division within the Lutheran church. What was meant to unify ends up dividing. I fear for us in a similar way. The new text as unifier might well end up being the new text as divider. This was to have been our great opportunity to learn the same Mass settings, get our celebrants singing, and get our congregations catechized. It still can be. Let’s do what we can to make the best of the new texts. But in the end, I sense faith-filled pragmatism will win out, as it always has.
Michael Silhavy is a liturgy graduate of Saint John’s University School of Theology·Seminary. He is on the Parish Services Team of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.