Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Translation Thursday: St. Cecilia, inspire-and startle-our composers! (And a recipe, too!)

Welcome to new translation Thursday, everyone! This is Alan Hommerding, Senior Liturgy Publications Editor here at WLP, with my final installment as guest blogger for Jerry Galipeau.

A while back I accepted an invitation to lead a St. Cecilia event for the archdiocese of Detroit in November of 2011. This past weekend it occurred to me that I would be standing in front of that roomful of parish musicians just a week or so before we begin using the new translation of the Mass! In a brief moment of panic, I wondered what that group of pastoral music ministers might look like at that point in time.

(Sometimes I cave in to the little demon sitting on my shoulder.)

The Holy Spirit—the Comforter—soon reminded me of these lines from W. H. Auden’s “Hymn to St. Cecilia” (known best in its musical setting by Benjamin Britten):

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire.
Since the new translation was on my mind, the next lines came to mind as well:

Translated Daughter, come down and startle

Composing mortals with immortal fire.

These lines have come back to me many times through the years when I’ve had to go to the WLP archives to look for some piece of music or other from 40 or 50 years ago. It’s impossible to go into any archive drawer without encountering the numerous Mass settings that came out in the 1960s and 1970s for the previous translations of the Mass, including “Mass of Our Lady of the Lake” (1964), by my first organ teacher/choir director, Ann Celeen Dohms, who joined St. Cecilia’s celestial music-making for eternity this past summer.

As Mike Novak reminded us last week, all vernacular translations of the Mass to date were intended to be temporary. So vast an undertaking cannot be accomplished with complete success in only a few attempts. As a matter of fact, when the translation we currently use came out, work began quite soon on another.

You might guess that with this most recent translation WLP has received a LOT of new musical settings. Some of them have been truly (to use Auden’s word) startling. I intentionally employ that word with the whole spectrum of implications it can have. But many settings have been clear manifestations of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Though I am an advocate (another of my favorite titles for the Spirit) of all parishes knowing the Ordinary of the Mass in its chant setting, we also need to be advocates for the wind of that same Spirit to continue blowing through the pens (or computer software) of our composers. Listen to their work at

All the new settings, like those settings now in the WLP archives, will need time, the wisdom and grace of the Spirit, and the living, praying, singing Body of Christ—the Church—to discern which have been truly inspired by St. Cecilia. We at WLP do our best to be good and faithful stewards of our composers’ talents, and insightful as we can be in our selection process to serve parishes. Editorial mortals also need to be inspired with immortal fire!

We, the Church vigilant, all wait for the final translation that Cecilia, Translated Daughter, and all the Church radiant have already experienced. We look to that day when we, like them, are (quoting Auden again)

Casual as birds
Playing among the ruined languages

of our best, but imperfect, linguistic, musical—in a word, mortal—efforts. In the meantime, we pray to St. Cecilia to appear, inspire—and startle!

To thank you for staying with this rather long post, and in the spirit of WLP = We Love Parties (or Phood), I’ll close with a “poetic” recipe for alfredo sauce…Cecilia was Italian, after all! 

It’s easy to remember the poem: 1-2-3/B-C-C:


1 part butter
2 parts cream
3 parts grated cheese (I like the blends of parmesan/romano/asiago)

Over low heat: melt butter, stir in cream, slowly fold in grated cheese until smooth. Flavor to taste with garlic, pepper, oregano or other Italian spices. Serve over pasta.

(I’ll admit that too much of this could hasten your membership in St. Cecilia’s celestial choir, but – enjoy!)

(Gotta eat!) Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Jenn the Greenmom said...

I think I will try this for my Mental Health Morning early lunch. And I'll listen to Britten while I eat it. :-) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think I know what I am making for dinner. And I think I may just spend some time with my St. Cecilia's Orchestra book tonight as well.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering:
Is there a "lite" version of your Alfredo sauce? I suppose one could try it using I Can't Believe It's Butter, evaporated skim milk, and reduced-fat cheese.

My fear is that all the thick goodness would be lost in the "lightened" translation. -bari