New Mass Settings Found Wanting

When we last left off, we were discussing my parish’s five Mass settings and what to implement with the new Roman missal. I posted that the Archdiocese of Dubuque has recommended five settings to consider:

    • Community, revised, by Proulx
    • Black Mountain, revised, by Morris
    • Resurrection, revised, by DeBruyn
    • Christ the Savior, by Schutte
    • chant setting, ICEL

My hesitation in presenting this list is that I find all of these Mass settings deficient in some way. I confess I didn’t get involved in the overall discernment process this past year. I don’t want to appear too snipey about it. For the most part, these works are all well-crafted. In one instance, the music has served the church very well for centuries. Community is no better than Proulx’s 6th best Mass setting. And I have to ask: in a parish that uses five Masses, there’s a question. Why? I think the Gloria is a nice and interesting piece of organ music that happens to have a congregation’s sung part. The Sanctus is something like that, too. I think the Lamb is indeed a great piece of vocal music that happens to have an organ accompaniment. I wish that theme was used for a Mass instead of enjoyment at the console as the inspiration for this Mass.

One of my colleagues asked why a composer would write a Sanctus with four holy’s at the start instead of three. It’s sort of like going to a person’s house and finding they’ve dug a trench in the front yard. You can go around it or jump it. But you have to ask: why? On the plus side, I like the harmonization in the Black Mountain setting. It’s original and striking to play and hear. The main melody is vaguely reminiscent of “Now the Silence.” And there’s something to be said for a melody that waits till the seventh note to give you an interval of a second. Very American. Nice bluesy feel without being bothersome. But that curious “creativity” right out of the box …

I like a lot of Randy DeBruyn’s music. And Dan Schutte’s. Their two settings listed above are certainly well-crafted. A generation or two ago, they would have stood out amidst the other post-conciliar settings. Not today. The music is all safe and predictable. The DeBruyn Mass is a bit more adventurous in harmonization, but the first thing I noticed is that the first secondary dominant in the setting of the Gloria in each Mass is the V of vi chord. It was striking in the Schutte-Dufford Mass from Neither Silver Nor Gold. It sounds the same today, no matter what key it’s in. It’s become a cliche like the I-vi-IV-V chord progression in 60’s music.

The chant settings I’ve already commented on earlier this week. I think the cadence will be difficult for a congregation unfamiliar with plainsong. I think the choices aim low. I feel for my colleagues who have been required to implement this setting. Good luck.

One of my musicians emailed me after the diocesan presentation of these five settings and commented:

You didn’t ask for an evaluation, but we want to be on record as saying that we were generally unimpressed with the examples we sang through.  Our response has nothing to do with the performance of the musicians that led us through the evening.  They were great.  We think that the musical portion of liturgy should generate a sense of being moved or uplifted.  The music we sang through really didn’t do that for us.  We wish there were more (parish) ears present to either challenge or validate that impression.

We hope that we will continue to pursue at least the array of choices that we sang through at (our parish) at the music event on August 16.  We feel that those choices are more inviting, more singable, and more capable of creating a hopeful response in the singer and the listener.

This comment comes from a person who has served our parish community for many years and has a true sense of ministry. In some circles, the notion of liturgical music being uplifting, hopeful, or moving is set aside to favor solemn, and frequently these days, “orthodox.” Whatever the heck that means.

My friend’s comment it spot on. It is grounded not in a sense of entertainment, but in the cardinal virtue of hope. Faith is something we bring to church with us. Love is something we are inspired to do–it is more a conscious choice and commitment. Love is something we decide as a response to grace. Hope is the very stuff of liturgy. For many people, it’s the one thing they look for when they come to Mass, or even when they set foot inside a church. Music doesn’t need to entertain constantly. But I think it does need to be consistently hopeful. If the Mass settings we’re singing don’t communicate hope, I would take that input as seriously as any musical or theological factor.

Thoughts on these Mass settings or on the notion of hope? In the next post in this series, I’ll comment on the finalists for parish consideration.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to New Mass Settings Found Wanting

  1. T, the classic 50/60’s turn around was actually I-vi-ii-V(7)-I in most cases I remember. IV-V-I becomes de rigieur with La Bamba and Louie, Louie. The 60’s reinforce that weirdly by reversing the tonality to V-IV-I with Gloria and a host of imitators, which rightly could be called Mixolydian. But who gave a rip back then? Hence, Scholtes’ Misa Boss a Nova!
    Might I add to your consideration the Bolduc ST. ANN, WLP & MASS OF CHARITY AND HOPE, Warner, WLP.

  2. Todd says:

    The Bolduc Mass is one of our finalists. I need to look at Steve Warner’s work; thanks for the reminder.

  3. WLP’s stock of the Warner “Charity and LOVE” (my mistake) just recently arrived in Chicago. I glanced at it yesterday first time. It really looks interesting, basically 2 pt., melody/descant, chant-like contours without time signatured bars. I’m thinking this for my schola, believe it or not.
    From our use of Bolduc this last Sunday (as you likely already know) I think it’s going to fly in a lot of places.
    Ken Macek sent me a huge email about its reception and viability in a post-MOC world, which actually won’t pan out, that is MOC will likely live on.
    Off topic, Todd. I’m sitting here typing and Wendy just walked in and said “Magnificat’s got this endpiece about singing the preface, and the language….OMG(osh)!” I asked, “Was it MR3 language?” “Yes, it’s so beautiful.Anyone that doesn’t get this doesn’t know ‘English.'”
    Of course, mon ami, Wendy’s grandpa was an Anglican priest, so…..
    Have a great one, my brother.

  4. Ken Macek says:

    Just popping in…actually think the Bolduc will do very well and be widely-used; just don’t see it as resource-flexible, ‘all things to all people’ that MOC has been. MOC had a certain gravitas (OK, go ahead and chuckle!) that made it Cathedral-solemn when it needed to be, and for the life of me I can’t hear that in St.Ann. And that’s OK, it’s terrific for what it is. I think a lot of folks will come to a belated acknowledgement that it’s just not all that easy to write a MOC!!!

  5. Ken, I’m not chuckling, I gladly cede to your insights! MOC had more viability than most any other “Default” Mass before or after, including Proulx’s “Community,” the SLJ “Pastiche” or great oldies like “Peoples” or “Danish.” Like I said to Todd elsewhere, I think Janco’s “Angels and Saints” might have come the closest, almost in spite of GIA’s intentional and correlated marketing strategy of it outta the gate.
    Sometimes I wonder if folks like us oughtta start our own “We’re the Liturgical UFW working the fields” guild!?!
    I’m also gonna see if I’m still charmed by Steve Warner’s “Charity and Love.”

  6. Oh, I forgot….
    And the dreaded “Celtic.” Poor Fintan….sigh

  7. Ken Macek says:

    Oh, I think we’ll be holding on to “Celtic Alleluia” for a very long time! I slaved for an eternity setting Gospel Acclamation verses du jour for all 3 cycles…keeping the common Melody in 3 phrases or in 2 depending upon what I had to do with the text: verbatim, very close paraphrase, or – well, let’s say I took a few liberties and leave it at that. Thankfully, there are very few of those to be inflicted upon our liturgies….

  8. Yes, we’ll hold onto the “Alleluia” for a long time, K.
    The rest of Mssr. Walker’s Messe? Not for me to decide. ;-)

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