Blessed Fire!

We introduced a new Mass setting at daily Mass in the abbey this week: Blessed Fire, the wonderful setting by Adam Wood based on Shaker melodies.

Adam writes:

The Mass of the Blessed Fire is a new musical setting of the congregational acclamations and chants from the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

The setting is unaccompanied and unison, designed for easy, but beautiful and hardy, congregational singing. The melodies are based on the traditional music of the United Society of Believers, an American Protestant monastic group more commonly called The Shakers.

Here is a PDF of the abbey layout. (Don’t know why the PDF-maker skipped blank pages, but you get the idea of it.) We sing it unaccompanied, as Adam intends. On roll-out day we had the people repeat lines 1, 3, and 5 of the Sanctus after the cantors, but by the third day everyone was ready to sing everything.

This is inculturation at its best, I think – real, authentic American chant brought into the Roman liturgy. The melodies are sturdy and charming, and  I’m pretty sure they will wear well. The melodies move in almost predictable ways, oftentimes pentatonic, but the rhythmic alteration between 2s and 3s gives it just the right amount of interest.

I say this should be the second chant setting in the U.S. Roman missal, after the ICEL chants based on Latin chant. Whaddaya think?


PS. Here’s a story about the last three remaining Shakers from Busted Halo.


  1. WOW! Thank you. I’m humbled…

    Also, please note:

    The Christological invocations at the Agnus Dei were not included by me in the original. I am of the understanding that these are not permitted. However, I am not personally offended or injured in any way by their inclusion (so long as no one holds me personally responsible). Given my opinions on Intellectual Property (against) and pastoral adaptation of liturgical texts (for), I make absolutely no request that they be removed. I just want everyone to know they aren’t mine. Thanks.

  2. Agnus Dei: Sorry, I should have put in a note to protect Adam on this.
    Please know that this was printed up by the abbey BEFORE that ruling was made, so we aren’t contra legem! We printed up a whole bunch of Mass settings when the missal came out in 2011.

  3. So anyway- it’s going well? People are singing it with no problems? I’ve left the text on the site in a “it’s not quite done” mode because I haven’t been sure that everything is as singable as it ought to be.

  4. The blank pages are so that it prints out on both sides of two sheets and folded in center, to make an 8-page booklet, with just the first five pages containing text.

  5. Adam, why is your photo typsy? Are you listening for the train down the tracks?
    Beautiful settings. Apropos of the wonderful post about open sourcing over at MSF, and inasmuch as you don’t comment about this:
    How are you with letting us, the great unwash-ed, setting an accompaniment?

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #5:
      I was actually leaning over sideways when the pic was taken, and it turned out to be the best of the set. I’ve tried rotating it, but it looks really weird.

      As to accompaniment:
      Shaker music is, properly, unaccompanied. That is my preference, and I wrote the music with the idea that it would be a good setting in cases where accompaniment is not available- small churches, daily mass, etc.

      However, I have absolutely no objection to anyone writing and/or using an accompaniment- so long as it is always clear to whoever would want to know which thing I wrote and which thing someone else wrote. I have a hard time imagining it with instruments, but that should not stop someone who can from doing so.

      I’d be particularly interested and excited if someone who is conversant with shape-note/early-American music would write a four-part harmonization to be sung by a loud and untrained congregation.

  6. I guess you’re thinking that all PT participants read music or know which Shaker melodies you are employing. I would need some audio to consider.

  7. We don’t record daily Mass but I”m checking into whether it’s possible for it to be set up. I’ll do what I can.

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