Thursday, January 27, 2011

Delaying New Musical Mass Settings?

Welcome to this edition of "New Translation Thrusday."

I am back in full swing with computer and phone here at WLP.

Over the weekend, I had a long talk with a pastor of a large parish with a well-established and well-funded music program. The singing at this particular parish is quite robust. It is obvious that great care has been taken over the years to establish a solid liturgy and music program at this parish.

When I asked the pastor what he planned to do when the new translation is implemented, I received an interesting answer. He told me that it had taken seventeen years for the parish to develop a repertoire of about twelve musical Mass settings that the people have grown to know and love. He felt strongly that to abandon these settings would be an un-wise pastoral move. His plans are to have the people change the spoken texts (And with your spirit, etc.) when the implementation date arrives, but to leave the musical settings alone.

I told him how wonderful many of the new and revised settings are, but he strongly feels that asking people to learn or re-learn settings would be too much all at once.  This is a parish with about a fifteen percent turnover rate annually. I wondered to myself what would happen when new families moved in, families coming from parishes that had taught new or revised settings only to find the old settings sung in their new parish. I also wondered about those families who would move to other parishes where there had been a concerted effort to teach the new or revised settings, which they obviously wouldn't know.

This is the first time I have encountered this approach. Have you heard of other places that might be adopting something like this?

Please feel free to comment.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Brent McWilliams said...

Quite frankly, I think this pastor's decision is an unwise pastoral move. I understand his concern, but I really believe that if we spend time catechizing in a deliberate and proactive way, the "switch" won't be as difficult as people are making it out. I have decided to use responses that are "call and response" so that we can introduce the new texts in a musical light that is non-threatening to the assembly. I have also decided to let Mass of Creation go by the wayside.

Anonymous said...

They know FIFTEEN settings!?

Our parish music director has been pounding out the Mass of Creation ad nauseum for years. I can only PRAY that we will be taught some new ones.

If the parish in question is that musically adept (ie about one setting a year) , it seems like they should have no trouble picking up a couple of new ones in the next year or so. I think the pastor should, perhaps, give his people a bit more credit for their abilities.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I mis-read.

They know TWELVE setting!?!?

Chironomo said...


Even 12 settings is a bit... uhmm..."overkill" maybe? Generally 3 or 4 is more than enough in a parish setting. What do they do... change each month?

And something is fishy about the statistics given also. If they have a 15% turnover annually, then they would have, literally a new parish every 6 years or so. Now of course, we all know that there are permanent parishioners who will not be part of the turnover, but it seems if this is true, then the Pastor's concerns about the parish having spent so long learning these settings is unfounded.

And Jerry's concerns about people moving into the parish are definitely on the mark. I served at a parish that had a very large "seasonal" population on a rather well-known resort island in south Florida. The Pastor there decided to not implement the changes to stand at the "pray brethren" when that change was made...for whatever reason, I don't know, but when our winter season came around, we suddenly had 3/4 of the people standing and our permanent residents not standing on the second Sunday in November. What may seem "pastoral" at first may not be so in the long run...

Anonymous said...

As a parishioner in said parish, I know there will be at least one setting that will be learned in a timely fashion. This is due to a request by the Bishop that all parishes in the diocese learn the one so that when there is a diocesan event at any of our churches, everyone will be able to participate. Personally, I am all for a "rip the band-aid off" kind of approach with proper catechesis, which we plan to do throughout the year.

Jennifer said...

Well, I can't comment for sure that I know anyone who's taken this approach, but aside from this pesky little "implementation date" detail, I think this pastor's approach makes good sense. If we all had had the opportunity to sort of "grandfather" in a couple of new settings, taking maybe 3 years to gently but completely change over from one set of texts to another-- This, IMO would be a very pastorally practical thing to do, especially for those of us who seldom feel compelled to musically link the Kyrie-Gloria Ordinary parts to the Eucharistic Acclamations. To learn two new settings over the course of two or three years could be done with real comfort and success, a couple of parts at a time.

And I honestly wouldn't be surprised if some people/parishes take this approach.

That said--aside from very likely NOT choosing to throw a new Gloria at the people abruptly on December 8, we plan to implement the new musical settings on Advent I of next year.

Anonymous said...

This pastors approach is, in a borrowed phrase, "a pastoral disaster." Texts have primacy, not music. The new texts must be used as of next Advent; the fact that a pastor is comfortable with a particular set of music is irrelevant. As noted already, with a turnover rate of 15% there will be great confusion as others join the parish... and great confusion as one set of texts is sopken and another sung! With that turnover rate I cannot see how he can say that the community has become attached to these 12 settings ... in as short as 3 years half your congregation has changed! Sorry... this is a very bad idea.

Anonymous said...

First, a 15% turn does not translate to a whole new parish every 6 years. 80-85% of the parish is truly static. We have a population that comes because of the universities, and, if you remember Jerry's original post, this is a parish in Michigan so the economy also plays a significant role in whether people remain in the area or not.

Second, 12 different settings are not necessarily overkill. I would posit that any good musician worth his salt would learn more than 5 or 6 pieces and create a repertoire that could be called upon in many different situations. As a parish, we are no different in approaching how we celebrate liturgy. We are graced with good musicians, why would we not allow them to manifest the gifts that God has given them because through them all the Jane & Joe Pews are indeed drawn into Eucharistic celebration in a fuller way. To be honest, in my travels, I have found although I am familiar with many settings, I seem on occasion to end up in a place where they use one I do not know. To that end, we will learn the spoken text and implement as directed; we are simply slowing down how the musical settings are introduced.

Third, give the pastor some credit. He has been a priest for a long time and pastor here for a good portion of that time. He certainly has a better sense of his flock--both new and longtime parishioners--than any of you who seem to have no problem taking him to task for his approach. What a great catechetical year this will be! We have this fabulous opportunity for all those Jane & Joe Pews to engage in a renewal of what Eucharist is and how we celebrate it. This has far greater ramifications than teaching the changes to those prepping for sacraments, returning to the Church, or becoming Catholic. As we prepare to implement through the spring and summer, the idea of a slower schedule for the music is not carved in stone. If, as we go through the introduction and catechesis, the pastor finds that parishioners are eagerly anticipating and not excessively anxious, he can easily ratchet up the timetable.

And, once a comfort level is established, I see no reason why we would not learn 12 MORE settings over the next 17 years.

Chironomo said...


Remember that it was Jerry who asked us to comment on this approach, so don't attack people for commenting.

If 85% of the parish is "static" then you don't really have a 15% turnover every year, at least not in the sense that that is meant statistically. It would be more acurate to say that "15% of the parish is subject to some turnover each year". Not the same thing.

I appreciate your defense of the number of Mass settings. With 34 years of experience in parish music, with a great many of those years in large urban and suburban parishes, I'm pretty familiar with the demands and abilities of such parishes. My question isn't whether I can learn that many - I have probably that many memorized over the years - and not really whether the assembly can learn them... I'm sure it's possible. My question is why a single parish would need that many for regular liturgical use. Do you use all of those settings throughout a year? Really more curious than just seems like a lot.

And BTW... I think I would speak for many bloggers and blog commenters in asking for an end to the "Anonymous" comments in these kinds of discussions... if there is an actual technical problem having to do with logging on or something, then just sign your name at the end of the post. It really erodes the credibility of the discussion to have 3 or 4 "Anon" commenters, particularly when some of them are being provocative or antagonistic. I am often antagonistic (Jerry will attest to that I think) but I at least have no problem letting everyone know who I am.

(A.K.A Jeffrey A. Herbert
Director of Music
Church of the Incarnation
Sarasota FL)

Charles Culbreth said...

Good subject, thoughtful comments.
I got hung up on one aspect, either the pastor's term or your's:
"the spoken parts....'The Lord be with you. And with your spirit."

Those "spoken parts" are delegated, whether or not a celebrant agrees or demurs, to be of the first order of importance to be cantillated antiphonally among celebrant and congregation. Musicam Sacram remains in force. The fact that most celebrants remain ignorant of its mandates, or dismiss them out of hand, does not excuse the casual attitude towards its law and wisdom.
I'm surprised you let that slip by.

AliasKate said...

Great discussion ... not only on on the implementation, but ritual music repertoire. How many settings is appropriate to support and engage the assembly's song? As a longtime music director, I can probably sing 20 settings by heart, but I live this stuff. My assembly does not. We have four settings, and my assembly sings them well (including the entire Gloria). I truly have a hard time imagining a parish in which 12 different Mass settings makes pastoral sense. (I'm not trying to pick a fight, I would like to actually know how this works, since Jerry affirmed robust assembly singing.) On the topic of implementation, I agree with others that this decision may turn out to be short-sighted and narrowly considered. If this is an assembly that is already engaged in singing, that could make it easier to introduce new song in a measured way. Finally, a question. Where is the parish music director in this decision? Why is this the pastor's decision? Shouldn't the music director be the "subject matter expert" when it comes to evaluating, choosing and introducing new music to the assembly?