If however, as an unsuspecting layperson in the Archdiocese of Southwark, I was seeking ideas about what I should be doing at an OF Mass, of a Sunday, I might well go here go here.
This would lead me to think that I should be choosing lots of hymns and carefully fitting the words to the readings. Big problem. There are all these other proper texts called PROPERS. They have been chosen by the Church. You can sing them in Latin to chant. You can sing them to any number of different English settings, but PROPER they are.
Choosing hymns is not good. First of all choosing. Who chooses? I have done that lots of times. The Roman Rite lays down all the words, all the gestures of the priest, in the GIRM, I believe, when the congregation stands, sits and kneels etc. Then some random person who may be a priest, but who is probably a layperson chooses some hymns. Doesn't that strike you as a bit odd? One person gets to impose their choices on everyone else? Maybe they spend ages doing it. Maybe they chuck some hymn numbers up just before the bell rings. Maybe they always do some stuff because the guitar chords are easier. Maybe there's a whole committee charged with the choosing. Whatever. The very fact that some people get to choose is bad. We don't make up the liturgy, it is given.
Then hymns. Hymns are not part of the Mass they are plonked in, usually to cover walking around bits. Priest enters and leaves. Offertory procession. People receiving Holy Communion. It's all about walking. They are just killing time music.
Hymns come from Low Mass usage in the Catholic Church, presumably because people didn't like all that silence - ding, genuflect, rustle, crash as kneelers go down, 'In nomine Patre...' Mutter, 'Orate, fratres...'
Hymns are often Protestant. Our hymn books are full of musical clangers and words that have seemingly never been checked for doctrinal fidelity. If you are a musician, it is clear they are written by idiots who do not understand the difference between an organ and a piano. Personally, I like my family to be treated by really well-qualified experienced doctors. In the Catholic Church we entrust music to people who do things which make other people deride the Church. (They don't even need to start on tricky moral stuff. The music, hah!)
Some people think music doesn't matter, it's just a frothy diversion. Lots of people freely tell you how they won't attend a certain Mass because they cannot stand the music. Did you ever hear anyone say that about the flower arrangements? The other people in the church? The quality of votive candles?
Where was I? Oh yes, hymns are often Protestant. Vernacular hymns in England were, it seems, a Methodist invention. Luther was there in Germany ages before selling sola scriptura via metrical ditties. We have the Wesleys. It ain't Catholic. Ben W said on Sat that the Anglicans pondered deeply, as Anglicans do and then introduced them anyway in the 19thC, also as Anglicans tend to do with tricky things. Cf any moral dilemma, you can think of. (That's my take on Anglicanism, btw, certainly not his, he is a true gent and far too polite for that sort of thing.)
As Joseph Cullen pointed out being metrical is not all that Catholic. He described setting the responsorial psalm and how he kept having to change the time sig all the time. Whenever I write them I just seem to go up and down a scale, basically. May as well, oo, use a psalm tone, not that they fit English terribly well.
Modern hymns frequently do not manage to be strophic. That causes untold problems. Note to the publishers of Hymns O&N, if every verse has to be written out separately and the hymn involves a page turn, it's rubbish for congregational use.
Now people often point at Catholics and gleefully go on about how we don't sing. There are lots of reasons for this. I believe, contrary it seems to many important people, that Mr and Mrs Catholic there on a Sunday, maybe with small children in tow, maybe old and frail, maybe on their own, whatever, all know that hymns are not part of the Mass and are just some arbitrary selection. Compare this to other parts of the Mass then, they are of no worth at all. So they don't sing. They try to block them out. They are a distraction. You don'y need this racket if something very serious is going on in your life and most modern hymns are not serious. Look outside, unfortunately many people's lives are touched by tragedy. Modern hymns are not robust enough to take it. Suffering never happens it seems.
Enthusiatic cantor people beware. We don't appreciate you. You distract visually from the liturgical action on the altar. You sing through a microphone lending your sweet voice a harshness and volume that is stressful to listen to. In a Cathedral you are lost in the echo. If you are a woman, why are you wearing something that looks a bit like a cassock? That's just dodgy. very well-meaning, but dodgy. If you like doing solos, get involved in secular music. Seriously. Performing, tis a great thing. Not at Mass.
Mr and Mrs Catholic may not have English as their first language or may not speak English at all. They are now further culturally dislocated from that which they should hold in common with everyone else.
Mr and Mrs Catholic are musical. They are grinding their teeth. Maybe they sing to be helpful. Maybe they stay silent. Maybe they drift away and find a church with helpful music or no music or just drift away. The Church seemingly not caring about its tradition or about really beautiful things.
You have favourite hymns and think they are all being rubbished and I am advocating banning them? No. We can sing them on extra liturgical type dos. Processions. Benediction. Maybe we need hymn singing dos for people who need that sort of thing. Then there's the car, iPod route. They might be really helpful for some people. But we don't all need to hear everyone else's favourites.
We need to hear the music that is proper to this Mass. We can then get on with singing the Ordinary. You know that's the real deal because it's part of the Mass. How often do we get 4 random hymns and muttered ordinary. What does that say about the priority given to the texts?
An autobiographical note. After spending 14 years being educated in Catholic schools, I spent 12 years teaching in them, 8 as a Head of Music. I'm now in my 20th year as a full-time in the class-room Music Teacher. All those hymns you hate. I have played them. I have sung them. I have attempted to get 14 year old boys to sing them. I've tried. I've gone against my better judgement. I am the empirical research.
PLAINCHANT IS THE ONLY WAY FORWARD.
IT IS THE SOUND OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AT PRAYER NOW AND FOR OODLES OF CENTURIES.
THAT AND TOTAL SILENCE WITH MAYBE A THURIBLE SWISHING AND A BABY COOING.
PS This was me six years ago.
Never been to an EF Mass then....
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