Celtic Mass

celtic-massOne thing I like about my parish is that the musicians never fail to let me hear about it. The parish initiated and learned Christopher Walker’s Celtic Mass before I arrived in June. It had a good run during the summer months. Since they put the effort into learning it, I thought we should bring it back before Lent.

First, let me offer some personal experiences and observations about this music.

I like the Celtic Alleluia well enough, especially the refrain by Fintan O’Carroll. Nice melody and easily arranged for just about any instrument. It works a cappella, too. I was at an NPM Choir Director School in ’88 and the staff was really, really promoting it heavily. Especially the OCP writer/musician on staff. That’s usually enough to turn me off, especially since at the participants’ conducting session I brought my own setting of Psalm 134, and the OCP person was offended that I used the time to “promote” my own material. One psalm setting. Unpublished. No matter that my friends liked the setting and we were, after all, given the freedom to conduct anything we wanted, especially if it were something that needed to be taught to the choir.

I didn’t care for the publicity campaign OCP Publications put into the Celtic Mass. I think I have two or three copies of the choral score in the basement–I received them in the mail. I like the SLJ’s old method: use the music in parishes and get all the bugs out before publishing.

Anyway, we use the Eucharistic acclamations and the Agnus Dei. One musician echoed what I think, “Why not use a theme from the very singable alleluia refrain, and expand it into the music for the Mass?” It’s a good question. Another group leader thinks the Lamb of God is very nice, but not enough to swing using the whole Mass. I might agree.

I agree the Agnus Dei is very good. But it has nothing from the original alleluia. I think the memorial acclamation is decent. The daily Mass people at my parish can sing the Sanctus a cappella –and that’s an accomplishment. I don’t like the melody line that much, though it’s not hard to make the accompaniment move–if you abandon the part as written.

One of the very good instrumentalists asked me to rewrite all the c-instrument parts.

Another singer confided she felt railroaded into using this Mass. “Everybody is using it,” they were told. The OCP page for the Mass confides that it has “become one of the most popular (Mass) settings ever written.”

Maybe it will grow on me. Anybody out there use it? What do you think?

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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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12 Responses to Celtic Mass

  1. Christian says:

    We recently started playing it at our parish. On the more significant feasts, we also usea a trumpet flute and violin in addition to our monstrous 90 year old organ. I have to say that the instrument selection is largely govenred by who we know that can play any instrument half decently. The violinist is the best musician by far, and improvises a harmony but sadly, I think only the choir can truly hear him.

    Frankly the Celtic mass is nice, and enjoyed by most congregants I talk to, who are usually pleased its a change away from the Creation Mass. We hardly touch that one anymore since it was so used overused in our parish.

    There was one musical selection that did generate a lot of surprising feedback from the parishioners though, and it is still fresh in my mind.
    At the Baptism of Our Lord, after the closing hymn Joy to the World, our oganist continued with a Bach fugue. This stopped most of the exiting congregation in their tracks, and at least 30 sat back down again. The question repeated several times over the week — why can’t we have music like that at Mass? We talked a bit about forming a small schola out of our choir, just to try out some older mass settings. We haven’t settled on anything, but we’ll see.

  2. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been somewhere that sang it regularly, but I recall being quite underwhelmed by it. I had the same thought as you did: why not build something around the Alleluia melody, which is very well-known and well-liked? Given how catchy the Alleluia is, I was struck by how UN-catchy the rest of it was.

  3. Liam says:

    I am not fond of the A-ha-lay-he-loo-hoo-hoo-yah as a piece of sung music. It has two basic flavors: overhocked (usually the choir) or with the dotted rhythms basically blurred away (usually the congregation). That’s a sign of a faulty piece of vocal music. I don’t miss it at all.

  4. Chase says:

    I’m not sure that I have strong feelings about the Celtic Mass either way. I do think, however that it probably is one of about 4 Mass settings that an “average” parish (from a rural perspective) is familiar with. Because of that, unfortunately, I feel that it’s become over used in many situations.

    An excellent Mass setting that’s virtually unknown in the U.S. is British Composer James MacMillan’s St. Anne’s Mass. It’s singable. It’s lyrical. Certainly worth trying!

  5. Todd,
    I personally like Chris Walker as a personality, etc.
    “The Celtic Mass,” despite whatever earnest effort he expended in its crafting, was doubtless a marketable concept at inception, a liturgical equivilent of “RIVERDANCE” except there’s really very little authentic “celtic” cultural evidence in its components, and without a “star” like Flatley (which would be Walker) that could masque the artistic deficiencies by a virtuostic performance in any parish using it. All I could do when OCP made it their default a decade ago or so was shake my head.
    They’ve had a knack for uplifting St. Thomas More alums for 20+ years instead of promoting many more homegrown offerings already in THEIR OWN CATALOG. Jiminy Cricket, in their hubris to take MoC face-on with “Celtic” they even buried fellow Brit Alstott’s Heritage/Good Shepherd which are, in my limited knowledge, still more widely used than “Celtic.” That fact that everyone still kvetches about MoC is testimony enough as to the success of that decision.
    Only church I’ve ever heard it used entirely? A parish on the central coast of California whose organist and choir members’ mean age was about 67. O dear.

  6. Randolph Nichols says:

    The works of Scottish composer James MacMillan are worth pursuing but his St. Anne’s Mass is not distributed by any of the Big 3 American Catholic music publishers. That’s a death knell for those hoping for widespread use in the U.S.

    I would susupect, however, that those attached to O’Carroll’s so-easy-to-parody ‘Alleluia’ will not be drawn to MacMillan.

  7. Chase says:

    Sorry, Scottish! I knew that! :)

  8. Very interesting book.
    I’m a Liturgical Music major at the University of Saint Thomas and am beginning to explore many different ways and styles and whatever for the Mass and Liturgy.

    About your last paragraph: I am becoming more comfortable with the idea of a weekly worship aid. Sticking everything from readings to songs to Mass parts is very easy for the congregation to follow…unfortunately, it is probably somewhat expensive.

  9. Columbkille says:

    Some years ago I gathered all the popular Mass settings I could find for a congregation that needed new music. The Walker was the best of the bunch, although, as a published composer myself, I thought it had limitations. Now I work in a parish that knows the Heritage Mass but honks out the Celtic Alleluia whenever my Msgr. allows it.

    My question and concern is the new USCCB text. I know people will be writing things, especially OCP’s stable of rather bad composers. I really dislike OCP, having inherited it from my predecessor, and am moving away from their materials as fast as I can. Do any readers know of good settings being composed?

  10. RP Burke says:

    I brought my own setting of Psalm 134, and the OCP person was offended that I used the time to “promote” my own material.

    I pulled this year-old post from the sidebar of recently posted comments, and this sentence jumped out at me in a way it didn’t when I first saw it. The OCP representative took offense at your doing something that she or he was doing? “How dare you promote your stuff when I’m promoting my stuff?” You have got to be kidding. Small wonder so many people’s neck hair stand up at the name OCP.

  11. Todd says:

    To be entirely fair, without revealing too much, this person was a parish music director who wasn’t/isn’t a composer. As I recall, there was an awkward circumstance in that a friend may have been a tad over-enthusiastic in suggesting “Not everything good is published,” or something along those lines. I was a bit embarrassed by the event, actually, and I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it, except that I and others found the ceaseless promotion of the Celtic Alleluia to be a bit much.

    As it happened, the OCP rep later apologized to me for the “misunderstanding.”

    Over the years, I have found OCP employees and the musicians/composers who represent them to be fine people to work with. I don’t agree with a lot of the commercialism, but as a consumer of OCP material, my hat’s off to their customer service. And believe me, I can be pretty demanding when I want or need something off the beaten path.

  12. Scott Jefferson says:

    I too remember when OCP sent out the major marketing blitz for Celtic Mass. Outside of the “Celtic Alleluia” it’s awkward, inconsistent and not easy for the assembly. I asked a number of other music directors in our diocese as well as friends at NPM and I dont know of anyone who uses it. “Mass of Glory”, “Mass of God’s Promise” are universally liked. “Heritage Mass is much better than the “Celtic”. I’m sure it will disappear with the new translation of the Missal.

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