Monday, October 5, 2009

Jarring Rite

Happy Monday everyone. It has dawned beautifully here in Chicago, but rain is supposed to move in later tonight and into tomorrow.

I had an interesting experience yesterday at the 9:30 Mass at St. James. We were taught a new setting of the Kyrie. It was in Urdu, a language spoken primarily in Pakistan and parts of India. We have many international students in our assembly during the school year, since we are surrounded by several universities. I appreciate the efforts made at inclusion. The liturgy began with the strophic hymn All Creatures of Our God and King. Then we sang this new setting of the Kyrie, with the men on a perfect fifth drone throughout. It was haunting. But then, just as it finished, the cantor intoned the Gloria, which was set to a lovely chant tone. I was struck at how disconnected the entire introductory rite seemed. It seemed a bit schizophrenic to me, especially the move from the Urdu Kyrie right into the chant. 

What I wondered was whether or not the good principle of inclusion overshadowed a more basic liturgical principle here. That more basic principle has to do with the integrity of the rite itself. Should those who prepare music for the liturgy take a look at the integrity of the particular rite first and then plan music accordingly? I think we do a good job with the Eucharistic Prayer, choosing music for the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Great Amen usually from the same musical setting. This lends a certain consistency to the rite itself. Should the same be done when we look at the Introductory Rite? Just a question from this inquiring mind . . . 

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Charles said...

Dr. Jerry, you've nailed the $64K multicultural liturgy question on the head. If the juxtaposition of the Urdu chant (which I'd love to hear and experience) proved "jarring" to you, a liturgical veteran, imagine its effect upon the non-Urdu speaking portion of that congregation. I ask this not to be negatively critical, but to encourage your further personal and perhaps formal "forensics" with St. James' TPTB about how to proceed with making such repertoire choices for the opening rites. The Kyrie and Gloria are inexorably tied, though they have distinctly different ritual functions. If the Gloria intoned with chant, was in Latin or English (chanted or chorally set) it fulfills a more catholic ethos regarding actual/active participation, whether the congregation is enjoined or not. However, the Kyrie seems, to me, to more implicitly require actual congregational participation.
If the use of the Urdu setting was of specific import, then I would have advised the Gloria to likewise have been sung in the same language.
It is perhaps a unique moment in the movement of the Mass where conjunction is healthy, juxtaposition? Not so much. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

What Charles said...

The story of the Tower of Babel has relevance here..."Inclusion" and "Multi-Culturalism" may themselves seem like worthy goals, much as it seemed like a worthy goal to build a tower to the heavens. But as it is whenever we think that we know better, we end up making things worse. I will put my two cents in here...if you have more than one language group present at the liturgy, follow the advice that even our own Bishops have now suggested: Use the Latin.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like the issue is more the musical disconnect throughout the Introductory Rite, rather than the actual language used in any one part of the liturgy described at St. James.

Both the kyrie and gloria could have been in Latin, or English, or all Urdu with the same non-harmonious result. Not dissimilar to an alleluia themed hymn text that is set to a somber tune. The music perhaps always communicates more readily than the text when it comes to ritual.

Now it could be that all Urdu music is "dronish,” or that all Urdu kyrie tones are meant to sound very penitential. If so, it sounds like this one met its goal, but it also raises the question of how much is packed into the Introductory Rite EVERY time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.

While that can't be changed at this point, thinking about what is communicated by singing every part of the Introductory Rite and how each part relates to the other might be a place to start, as well as thinking through what emphasis is appropriate to each season; should the penitential rite have less emphasis during Ordinary Time versus Lent, etc.

Theoretically, every liturgy would/should have that same disconnect if we are singing all parts of the rite and choosing music that follows the intention of the rite, moment by moment. This would seem to result in a pretty jarring liturgical topography, if it is all sung with literal stylistic interpretation; the penitential rite sounding like a dirge and the gloria, glorious.

Ed Foley, Gary Daigle and others did quite a bit of work about ten years or so ago in looking at how the music can connect the whole of the Introductory Rite with a similar music style in a similar way that one would think about the acclamations for the Eucharistic prayer.

About 20 years ago now there was an often used Lamb of God that was written to connect with a communion song to bring a better ritual cohesion. The composer's name escapes me now, perhaps Parker?

I would propose consideration to tune, beyond the text and thinking about how a country's culture is imbedded with a particular style of music that in turn informs the experience of the rite when the two are united. If all Urdo is dronish, the Gloria would perhaps never sound uplifting to an ear and culture that expects the Gloria to be beautiful and joyous.

Great reflection Jerry. I think the same attentiveness needs to be paid to how all seasonal texts are paired with their tunes and in turn, with the liturgical landscape of the rite.

Culture then adds another layer to all of this, since there are always two present culture present from the beginning; Roman, as in the Roman culture of the Roman based Rite, and whatever culture we bring as a worshipper, whether it is in English, another language, or another musical preference, style, or ecclesial formation.

I think it is difficult to assess a liturgical experience when it includes a culture that is foreign to our own. Only because we most often do not know the culture as adequately as would be helpful or necessary to authentically determine if the integrity of the rite is being upheld – or just different from our experience.

While parishes are to be applauded for including texts in other languages, the culture behind those words is usually far from present. Example: A Spanish text, sung in Gregorian chant tone. Two cultures are present in that juxtaposition or four if you add my previous supposition.

I think it takes much time around the land or people of a language to understand the culture therein before we are able to incorporate music/culture/language of a particular country/nation and do so with integrity. But I do think it is worth the effort and the learning curve will most likely build community, or start a conversation. So, I vote – keep singing, keep praying, keep learning about the Body of Christ...

Chironomo said...

To the above post;

If all Urdo is dronish, the Gloria would perhaps never sound uplifting to an ear and culture that expects the Gloria to be beautiful and joyous.

One of the sad innovations of modern liturgical music is the assumption that the Gloria is "joyful", or that the Kyrie is "introspective" or "penitential"...and so contemporary settings express this assumption. I would point to the settings of these texts from the Gregorian repertoire as counter-examples:

Kyrie Cunctipotens Genitor Deus vs. Kyrie De Angelis - Solemn and mournful Kyrie vs. Joyful Kyrie

Gloria Lux et Origo vs. Gloria Orbis Factor - Joyful Gloria vs. Solemn and mournful Gloria.

...and these are by no means isolated examples. Historically, these texts are set in a variety of modal and rhythmic (syllabic vs. melismatic) permutations. It would thus not seem to be the TEXT that determines these aspects of the setting. Although it is difficult to state definitively (Gregorian settings of the Ordinary are seldom identified as specific to a particular Feats Day or Solemnity), the selection of an Ordinary setting is guided by the modal/ rhythmic characteristics of the other chants within the Mass (Antiphons/ Gradual). Thus, the "feel" of these settings is determined by the specific day, not by the text.

I always have asked "What is it about the Gloria that is specifically joyful?". Psalm 150? That's a joyful text, but the Gloria is a liturgical prayer. Praising and Glorifying God is an act of humility before God... not necessarily an occasion for dancing!

Anonymous said...

In response to snappy answers like "use Latin," it must be pointed out that the "Latin Mass" is actually bilingual because "Kyrie, eleison" is Greek.

Anonymous said...


Be serious. We are all aware that the Kyrie is in Greek...and the "Alleluia" is in Aramaic too...are you saying that the USCCB was giving a "snappy answer" when it suggested:

At international and multicultural gatherings of different language groups, it is most appropriate to celebrate the Liturgy in Latin, “with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful.” In addition, “selections of Gregorian chant should be sung” at such gatherings, whenever possible.

I wasn't giving a "snappy answer"...I was making a serious suggestion about how to solve the problem of multi-language liturgies by following the advice of the Church.