Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chrism Mass

So the Chrism Mass absolutely surpassed my expectations.
Awhile ago the office had gotten something in the mail saying we had to supply 3 oil bearers. It was decided that I could be one of them, and we picked two other people.
I thought that every church in the diocese had to have a few people carry up a little teeny jar of oil or something.
nope, for some reason (maybe cuz we're the oldest in the region?) St. P is the church from our whole entire region! (the county.) sweetness.
So, I carried up the giant jar of wonderful smelling oil in front of all those people (that was very heavy. but i did not drop it!)
I don't even know how to describe what I felt then, as the bishop blessed this oil for it to become sacred chrism, and I thought about all of the people that the oil will be used for this upcoming year. wow!
and having ALL of the priests in the whole diocese extend their hand over my oil (and that of the other 5 people,) was like...the apostolic power was like incredible!

now, to critique the music...
(I try to come in to things like this with an "open mind," also knowing in advance that I will probably hate the music, and therefore to not let it distract me. I succeeded.)
Judging from the front cover, the music should have been ideal, there was a copy of some chant "O Redemptor, sume carmen..." on it, but that doesn't mean that the congregation got to sing a lick of what is supposed to hold a "pride of place" for Catholic church music!
Opening: Baptized in Living Waters (Aurelia) I've already written how irritated I was the I couldn't watch the procession if I was singing. Text: all about "us," finishing with "us" being empowered by the Spirit.
Gloria: by Peter Jones. Used insertions of the "Glory to God" refrain. It was so neat, it like made me want to get up and dance! Such an ideal piece of music for...Mass? just kidding.
Psalm: by John Schiavone, Psalm 89 "Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord." By itself, it is a decent Psalm. (decent melody, easy to sing, not irreverent,) however, it's in the rather unusual time signature of 4/2. I observed that when the organist (or cantor, I can't remember,) did it the first time, they cut short a dotted-half-note rhythm. Whenever the congregation sang it, they instinctively tried to correct the rhythm, but were almost fighting the organ. it was strange. I sat there trying to figure out who was right, and the organist/cantor were definitely wrong.
Gospel Accl: "Praise and Honor to You etc" by GIA, no other attributions. It was in 6/8 (which I tend to find as a warning flag for music that is going to be goofy in church. Celtic Alleluia, anyone?) but it had a neat way of raising the "Praise and honor to you" part 3 times within every response of it, that was very natural to sing.
I'm not familiar with what is technically supposed to be sung while the oils are being brought up, they did "O Redeemer receive the song of those who sing you praise" as a refrain thingy by J. Chepponis, but I was otherwise very distracted and didn't listen to that part.
The choir sang a neat arrangement of Ubi Caritas at the Offertory (by Proulx, of course,) but there was certainly no invitation for the congregation to join in on the easy "Ubi Caritas" refrain. I think it involved handbells also.
Mass of Creation, of course. Interesting that this really is the one Mass that EVERY Catholic knows. I wonder what will happen when the translation changes? Like, what the heck am I gonna use at weddings and funerals? (not that Mass of Creation perfectly follows the text ANYHOW!)
I think we sang the Our Father that everyone knows. I only think this cuz I remember that the bishop did a very goofy singing of the part before "For the kingdom..." but speaking of which, does anyone know where what the priest is supposd to sing there can be found? What is transcribed in the Sacramentary is NOT what everyone knows!
Communion: Amen. El Cuerpo de Cristo by Schiavone. (I didn't sing because of course I wanted to be praying instead of singing!) I wonder for how many people there spanish is actually a first language... (actually, now that I really look at the words, they are pretty terribly focused on "us.")
followed by "Take and Eat" by Joncas. I admit I've used the at St. P before, but not recently. it's great for really long Communion processions, which of course this was. It is totally theologically sound, minus the "voice of God" problem, and it even speaks of "body and blood" rather than "bread and wine."
contrasted with the closing song, "We are One in Christ" by Chepponis (good grief, you'd think we only HAD 4 people who have ever written Catholic music!) which, um, not only focused almost completely on "we," but loved to talk about the "bread of life," with of course no mention of how this is actually the Body of Christ. What a waste of a wonderful melody, "Thaxted." However, I don't think I found it as awful as FG did, it's not like there was any actual heresy in any of the songs.

I wonder how long it will take for things to change musically in this little diocese beginning with an "L," in the middle of a state whose initials are "MI" once we get our new bishop...

speaking of which, I've signed up to sing at his installation at the end of April. They didn't say what music we would be singing, but half the reason I want to is to just find out!


Gavin said...

I'll restrain myself from starting a flame war over "I wanted to pray, not sing", but it's REALLY hard to do :P MUST... NOT... QUOTE... AUGUSTINE!!!!

I'm sure there will be a regime change in cathedral music in the next few years. The previous guy was pretty darn good as an organist and wrote some really nice music, but a lot of his hymn tunes are borrowed for some texts ("Thank you, God, for the Jews") that make me question his orthodoxy. I just hope Bishop B. waits until I have a degree to shake things up at the cathedral :P

As regards the ordinary, I find that the "Jubilate Deo" chants are pretty firmly in the Catholic DNA. So I use those at funerals, and anyway it's the traditional chants for funerals! Old people really will sing them, since they remember them.

Angela said...

I was reading your comments, and I am a little confused by them. You seem to be saying that the use of the term 'we' in Catholic songs is less than ideal. Can you explain this to me?

Mara Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mara Joy said...

The use of the term "we" is not intrinsically wrong, but if used excessively, it is a clear alarm sign towards songs that focus on US rather than God. (for example, I don't have the song "Gather Us In" in front of me, but by counting the pronouns it is clear that it barely or not at all refers to God but instead the entire song is about us instead of worshipping God!)

Anonymous said...

Please remember that the folks at the diocese do get bored from time to time and go poking around the blogosphere.

Mara Joy said...

Of this I am well aware.
In fact, I would WELCOME any constructive dialogue that anyone "from the diocese" might want to have with me about choosing sacred music for Mass, or other related topics.

Anonymous said...


I stumbled across your blog site a few days ago, and would like to make a few comments.

My name is Fr. Jim Chepponis, composer of the music for “O Redeemer” (that “refrain thingy”) and “We Are One In Christ” (“a waste of a wonderful melody”) used at your diocesan Chrism mass.

In a comment to another blogger, you mentioned that you “WELCOME any constructive dialogue that anyone ‘from the diocese’ might want to have” with you. In that light, I offer the following comments.

As a composer, I realize that the music and texts I write might not be liked by all. I also realize that people are free to express their opinions. It’s never easy for composers to hear negative remarks about their work, but I know that, despite our best efforts, that can be a result of having music published.

I do feel a few comments about my “We Are One In Christ” night be constructive. First of all, the reference to the Eucharist as “bread of life” is directly from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John! Jesus himself said, “I am the bread of life.” Therefore, I am puzzled by your comment. I don’t think there’s any doubt that this refers to the Eucharist.

As far as the “we” use… I happen to agree with you to a certain point that there are some liturgical songs that seem to focus too much on “us” and “we.” However, I don’t think that it is inappropriate that our response to God is mentioned in hymn texts. Texts of the liturgy itself deal with our response to God’s call (e.g. “Lift up your hearts… WE lift them up to the Lord” and “Let US give thanks to the Lord our God…”). Whether the use of “we” and “us” in a hymn text is “excessive” can be open to interpretation.

The text for “We Are One In Christ” has four verses, which correspond to the four “parts” of the mass. Each verse in some fashion sings about what God has done for us in the liturgy as well as our response to that. Therefore, I don’t think it is accurate to say that the text is “only focused almost completely on ‘we’”.

By the way, thanks for editing your original post by deleting what you said about some priests’ intentions concerning the worthy celebration of the liturgy.

God’s blessings,
Fr. Jim Chepponis

BONIFACE said...

Fr. Jim-

I don't think that the simple fact that we quote Scripture means that a line is automatically orthodox...Satan quoted Scriptures to Jesus, after all. The fact of the matter is, much of this music is too horizontally focused (to use common terminology) and not focused enough on worship of God.

I personally do not mind the "I" "we" usage as much as others, but I do mind that we are currently using music that was never heard of or seen before in the Roman rite for two thousand years...we have thrown out Latin and chant and replaced it with something our forefathers would not have recognized. While you are certainly free to write what you want, I think this genre of music in general has done tremendous damage to Catholic Faith and worship in the past 40 years.

Mara Joy said...

I agree with Boniface's response to the question of quoting Scripture in a song. The issue is also that of being horizontally focused, (rather than on God.) Of course it's alright once in a while to mention "we are the body of Christ," but when the social and cultural implications behind that--as in, the entire past 40 years since Vatican II--has been focused on WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST, rather than Christ Himself is the Body of Christ, TRULY present in the Eucharist, to the point of today where 90% of "Catholics" DENY the Real Presence...and well, why shouldn't they, when they have been spoon-fed "theology" and songs that focus mostly on US rather than God for the past 30 years!

I addition to the theology of these songs (the majority of songs written since VII, to make a generalization,) is their attempt along with other aspects of churches and the Mass to make everything that is sacred, banal.
We carpet our churches so they feel like our living rooms, rather than feeling like we ought to reverently tip-toe around because our heels click on the stone or wood floor! We have gotten rid of beautiful stained glass and replaced it with florescent lighting so we feel like we're at work. We have replaced a mysterious, sacred language with the language that we use in our banal, everyday conversation. Most churches rarely use incense, which to me is one of the strongest reminders of being in a sacred place which is different than the rest of our lives. We have cushioned the pews and brought in video screens so we can feel like we are cozy at home. And most importantly for this conversation, we have made the music into that like which we listen to on the radio and go to rock concerts to hear, and attempted to shovel 1500+ years of tradition down the drain.
All of this in attempt to eliminate anything the smells, feels, or sounds like reverence and sacredness, anything which is and SHOULD be different from our everyday lives.

Yes, Fr. Chepponis, I am quite convinced that the songs from composers of your generation have contributed to the downhill slide of cultural Catholicism. (see particularly my mention above about WHY most Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence.) But those of my generation have realized that they were denied something growing up. We have realized that we don't WANT Mass to be just like everything else in our lives. We have realized that things which are supposed to be sacred OUGHT to be different from everyday, banal things.

And Catholics (especially the young ones!) are starting to ask for music which is truly sacred to be brought back. And they will get it.

And if you either deny that, or think it's just a passing fad, just look at the seminarians in most dioceses. They are awesome, and pretty generally agree with me. Therefore, I will never be working for a schmuck! (for lack of a better word. :-) )

Angela said...

I feel very differently from your experience. I grew up with the music you describe as horizotnally focused, and I believe it had the opposite effect on me. Rather than making mass banal, I believe they helped me realize the holiness (and presence of Christ) in our everyday banal experiences.

Gavin said...

those of my generation have realized that they were denied something growing up. We have realized that we don't WANT Mass to be just like everything else in our lives. We have realized that things which are supposed to be sacred OUGHT to be different from everyday, banal things.

Brilliant, Mara! I don't know about you, but I grew up hearing from all my teachers and relatives how the "old Mass" was in Latin, the priest "had his back to the people" and there was Gregorian chant. And I had to ask, "why were these things bad?" Then, when I encountered them, I saw they weren't all so bad! My first experience with ANY Latin in liturgy was my very first job as music director where the parish did Tantum Ergo on Holy Thursday - it amazed me! My first experience with ad orientem was at a Lutheran service at C University, and my reaction was "oh, he's not facing us, he must be talking to God!" And when I first learned to read Gregorian chant (at the same Lutheran college) it was like having a whole world prior to 1685 opened up to me!

I wouldn't say us young people are going to band together and demand chant. But we aren't going to unquestioningly listen to our boomer forebears' prejudices and accept them. We, as with all young people, want to evaluate for ourselves and the mere prospect of chant and Latin being given an open honest evaluation frightens the Powers That Be!