Who’s Not Doing Latin and Chant?

Fr Martin Fox is asking the other question with 227 replies as of tonight. But a more accurate question, if you’re looking beyond token bits of music and/or language, would be to ask my question: who’s not doing it?

Just for the record, GIA Publications began selling music from Taize in the early 80′s, and you can find the best of those early bits in the hymnal, Gather to Remember. Even the oft-reviled Marty Haugen was composing for the congregation in Latin in the mid-80′s, not to mention making recordings of his arrangements of some plainsong tunes.

I wrote a few acclamations in Latin in the 80′s, too. I began including Latin and chant as part of my choirs’ and congregation repertoires over ten years ago in a more deliberate way. That doesn’t count Latin-chant items that have never gone away: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, two or three chant alleluias, the Lord’s Prayer, among others.

The real question we parish musicians and pastors should be asking is this: How does one contribute Latin and chant to the parish musical repertoire in a meaningful way? That is, does it contribute to the worship of God and the sanctification of the people? Or does it have the appearance of another gimmick?

For that reason, I’m avoiding a significant amount of new plainsong during Lent. If for no other reason, I don’t want people to get the impression that chant and Latin are things we do when we give up harmony and the vernacular for Lent. That’s not the message we want to send. Ordinary Time is a better first landing spot, especially for Mass settings or Mass parts in Latin, chant, or both.

Any parishes out there who never gave up on chant or Latin, especially progressive ones?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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9 Responses to Who’s Not Doing Latin and Chant?

  1. Liam says:

    Well, my parish, St Paul’s in Cambridge MA, was at the forefront (courtesy of the late, great Dr. Theodore (Ted) Marier) of vernacular chant in the liturgical reform, but maintains familiarity with Latin chant as well in the non-presidential sung parts of the Mass (ordinary and antiphons, though the latter depends more on the boy’s choir and men’s schola). Most of the Mass is sung/chanted, so metrical hymnody assumes a background role. Chant and Latin are simply non-issues, as they are part and parcel of the liturgical air we breath. And this is a parish with considerable turnover (it is the territorial parish that includes the central part of Harvard – which is as it should be because Harvard devastated the parish generations ago when it developed the river Houses out of a blue-collar Catholic neighborhood that once existed between Harvard and the Charles), but with many intentional congregants from afar.

  2. Tony says:

    When did Haugen, Haas and the St Louis Jesuits become sacred music and chant and Latin become a “gimmic”?

  3. I appreciate the plug. I am all for not associating Latin with Lent, and I concede our plan here could have contributed to that notion — we did choose Lent as the time to introduce the Sanctus in Latin; however, we are going to keep it, for Easter. After Easter, it will remain part of our repertoire, coming up in any season.

    At some point in the future, we’ll do the same with other parts of the Ordinary. The Agnus Dei was first (it’s about the easiest, I think), almost 2 years ago. So it’ll probably be another year — perhaps summer of ’08 — before we introduce another prayer.

    Is that a “gimmick”? I dunno; I am trying to find a relatively gentle way of getting to where Sacrosanctum Concilium envisioned every parish being: the faithful knowing how to sing or say together, in Latin, the parts of the Ordinary that pertain to them.

    Whether the query that occasioned the survey on my site was really the right question seems idle to me: it was in answer to an actual question asked by some parishioners, and with the help of folks all over, I got very helpful answers, including a number of parishes not far from mine.

  4. Gavin says:

    Ah, shame I missed this thread!

    I agree about NOT doing Latin during Lent – although I’d take it a step further and say do it during EASTER. That tells the congregation “this is a great thing, a happy thing, a Christian thing.”

    I generally think the point about Latin being a “gimmick” is a tasteless point. Most priests doing it don’t do it as such, and I suspect introduce it well enough that their congregations don’t see it as gimmicky. There is an amusing story I’ll share. My parish (as you know) has the occasional schola visit and Canon in Latin. At one of these, it was going well and after the Our Father, Fr. proceeded to say, “Pax vobiscum” and following dialogue in LATIN. It wasn’t in the program, I was never informed of it, however the congregation knew to respond “et cum…” I found it tremendously gimmicky, as though he were just trying to impress schola members. Later on I confronted him about it, and he responded “I did what?!” and then explained that he was “on autopilot” because at grad school he had attended a Latin Novus Ordo Mass weekly and simply kept rattling off the familiar (to him) words! Now that’s the only gimmicky Latin I’ve run into, and it was certainly a mistake!

  5. Gavin says:

    Ah and I meant to agree with Tony – if anything can be EASILY seen as gimmicky it’s the average parish music. I attended a Catholic chaplaincy Mass at a Marines base and the opening song was “in these days of Lenten journey”. The whole thing is gimmicky. I could go down a list of things to which one typically responds (at best) “oh, that’s cute”. There’s one piece in my church’s hymnal which quotes “Have Mercy, Lord, on Us”. I just have to think “neato, but why not just sing the original??” And, in an ideal world, Latin and chant would be the default for parish Masses and we would be worrying over “how do I make judicious usage of English without seeming gimmicky?”

  6. Todd says:

    There’s a difference between having the appearance of being a gimmick and actually being one. It’s a fair question. Does the arrival of a new pastor with differing priorities present such changes more as “Father’s preferences,” rather than the Church’s?

    While I have a high regard for the music of Jacques Berthier, I cannot claim to have ever had success with his Latin-refrain pieces in mainstream parishes. In the Taize setting, Latin is hardly a gimmick. But few composers have taken up the mantle of crafting liturgical music in Berthier’s vein. None that I know of are as successful or fruitful.

    Some chant die-hards might think of metered Taize refrains as gimmicky. And if the next pastor arrives and deep-sixes traditional music for other styles, it might well convince people that they are watching a succession of personal preferences, right?

  7. Tony says:

    There’s a difference between having the appearance of being a gimmick and actually being one. It’s a fair question. Does the arrival of a new pastor with differing priorities present such changes more as “Father’s preferences,” rather than the Church’s?

    Well, an easy way to tell is when they are not the Church’s preferences, then you can be sure it’s Father’s idea, or the Bishop’s idea, or the USCCB’s idea.

    Or do you mean when a priest does something that the people in the pews are not used to?

  8. Todd says:

    Pretty much, yes.

  9. Gavin says:

    Really, I find Berthier’s refrains somewhat gimmicky. Of course, that’s mostly the repetition in it. Still, what I see as gimmicky is “Latin for Latin’s sake” – doing Latin just because. I find it hard to have a reaction to Berthier’s refrains besides “oh, that’s cute.” That’s the advantage, as Tony points out, to doing chant: it’s the Church’s preference. 4th Sunday of Lent, we had a children’s choir sing the proper communion chant in Latin. We didn’t do it to be gimmicky or to be cute, but because it was something the children could do.

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