Sunday, October 09, 2011

Speeding Up to Slow Down

Something interesting is going on in my diocese in preparation for the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal this Advent. In an attempt to make the Mass more standard from parish to parish, and in order to bring things more into conformity with the original Latin prayers, our Bishop desires that all new musical settings for the Gloria be faithful to the new English translation. To ensure this, he has, as of last week, mandated that every parish use a specific arrangement for the Gloria in English, the "Mass for a Servant Church" by Michael Guimont. You can listen to this Gloria here.

On the one hand, it is admirable that our bishop wants to promote a liturgical standard in the Diocese of Lansing, and even more so that he desires this standard to be based on texts that are completely faithful to the original Latin. I applaud these directives.

On the other hand, this mandate introduces several problems. First, what of parishes, like my own, that have already been accustomed to singing the Latin Gloria at our Ordinary Form Masses? As the directive stands (at least as it was explained to me), even parishes already using a Latin Gloria now have to use this English Gloria. This does not make sense. The goal of the directive is to ensure greater fidelity to the original Latin - you can't get much more faithful to the original Latin than actually using the original Latin.

Secondarily, we have the problem that this music is a bit awkward. One of the reasons for the dissimilarity between the Latin and the older English Gloria settings was the desire to make the Gloria more rhythmic and singable for an English audience. The new Gloria, literally translated from the Latin, does not fit well in an English musical setting. For example, take the old Gloria:

Glory to God in the highest
And peace to His people on earth

Each phrase has 8 syllables, making is easy to fit into the kind of structured, "hymnal" setting that most English speaking congregations are used to. But, if we are taking a translation directly from the Latin (which is meant to be chanted), we get something different:

Glory to God in the highest
And on earth peace to people of good will

Here the first phrase has 8 syllables, but the second has 10, meaning that it is more difficult to fit it together in a hymnal arrangement. To be sure it can be done, as Michael Guimont's arrangement demonstrates, but the manner in which the new phrases are shoved together makes it that much more difficult for the average parishioner to sing this piece. In my parish we are having difficulty with it, not just because it is new, but because in some places the only way it can get all the text into a measure is by moving extremely fast. Some parts move slowly, some quickly and the timing almost changes in every "verse" (the Gloria is not supposed to be set up in a verse/refrain structure, but I digress), making it extremely difficult to follow along with.

My point is that the new English translation of the Gloria does not lend itself as easily to a hymnal musical structure; nor should it. It is a literal translation of a prayer that is supposed to be chanted. If we want to promote fidelity to the original Latin, how about we encourage parishes to use the original Latin?  Duh.

Our parish is already ahead of most parishes in this country in that we were using all of the fixed Mass parts in Latin well before the new translation. We were where the pope wants the Church to be going; and now, in an effort to more fully implement the pope's thinking, the bishop is actually slowing our parish down. It's like we did all the speeding up just to be slowed down - in the name of speeding up!

I personally think this directive may in fact be uncanonical, though I am not sure, as a bishop's authority over the liturgy is complex. I do know that a bishop's discretion is only applicable in areas not regulated by the Holy See. How it applies to areas where there are not clear regulations but preferences, I'm not at all certain. Liturgically, Gregorian chant in Latin remains the number one preference of the Church and has pride of place, as Sacrosanctum Concilium states. If a parish is using the Church's traditional, preferred option, in keeping with the documents of Vatican II, does a bishop have the authority to mandate an equally valid but lesser liturgical option? Could he, say, mandate that every priest use Eucharistic Prayer 2 or a certain option for the Penitential Rite? I personally don't think so; I can see an argument for mandating the norms, but I don't see how he can mandate one of the lesser options when the Church asks for the norm; how can one mandate an exception and exclude the rule?

Here is how this problem could be solved: rework the directive so that it says all parishes must use the Guimont version of the English Gloria, unless they are already using the Latin. After all, the Latin is the measure by which we are judging the English. All problems relating to fidelity to the original prayers become moot if we just use the original prayers.

It seems tragic to compel a parish that has already made tremendous strides in introducing Latin to go back to vernacular, especially in the name of returning standardization to the liturgy.

Therefore, I earnestly petition and pray that our good bishop, who has done so much for tradition in our diocese, will relent in this matter and grant an exception allowing for the use of the Gloria in Latin. Or, if I am misunderstanding this directive and arguing against a straw-man, may somebody show me the truth and correct me.

Other posts on liturgical music:

"Our of the Mouths of Babes": A group of elementary school students learns the Our Father in Latin in three days, disproving forever the argument that the Latin prayers are "too hard" for the laity to learn.

"Singing Satan's Parts": Many object to singing God's words in liturgical music; what about when we sing Satan's parts?

"More Rock Music at Mass": When I take my kids to another parish where they play rock music, my kids start dancing in the pews.

"Contemporary Music Isolates the Elderly": The elderly suffer most from bizarre liturgical music.


Anonymous said...

I was not aware that this was a recent directive unless it was just recently made more public. It was communicated to parish staff members months ago that every parish was supposed to use the same Mass setting. There was nothing that was communicated to me at that time that implied that you could not use Latin, but that for the new English translation, the bishop wanted all parishes for the first 6 months to use the same setting. The purpose behind that was so that the people of the Diocese would all learn a setting that they could use when they came together for things like the Chrism Mass, Rite of Election etc. Now, something new may have come out since then, but this was my understanding of what parish staff members were told at the workshops we had to go to at the time. I am no longer at the parish where I was working so I am a little out of the loop as to what have transpired recently.

Boniface said...

It would make sense if Latin was an exception, but if that was so, I think my pastor would have said something - we spent months learning the Latin Gloria, so I can't imagine that our pastor would suddenly chuck it and go back to English unless he had to. Plus, the pastor's announcement at Mass last week was simply, "The Bishop says we all have to use this Mass setting,' so if we can still use option, this isn't what I was told.

Anonymous said...

I think sending a letter to the Bishop and copying your Pastor would be a good step. It seems like something wasn't communicated well. I know the Bishop of whom you speak, and while I don't know him well, he doesn't seem to me like the type to suppress Novus Ordo Latin.

You also might want to send this to Fr.Z for his input.

Paul S. said...

"In an attempt to make the Mass more standard from parish to parish ... our Bishop ... has, as of last week, mandated that every parish use a specific arrangement for the Gloria in English, the 'Mass for a Servant Church' by Michael Guimont."

Boniface - do you have a citation for this part of your claim?
(I acknowledge that the other things you said are true, but the vast majority of American bishops are doing likewise, and thus it is unremarkable that our bishop would do those things)

I am interested in this Mass setting.

As a member of the reconstituted Worship Commission at STtA, I have attended many of the same sessions on the new translation related to you by Anonymous 2:47 PM.

In those sessions with Rita Thiron, I have certainly not heard anything strongly suggesting that the bishop wants to impose any greater uniformity on the celebration of the Mass than any other American bishop, so far as the introduction of the new translation goes.

As Anonymous said, the goal of requiring the use of Guimont's Mass is so that the faithful in the Diocese of Lansing will have a common setting to use when they come together for the Chrism Mass or similar liturgies - and this logic applies as much to the faithful at [your parish] as it does to the faithful at St. Francis, etc.

As for editorial commentary on the Guimont Mass itself ... a little bit of background may be helpful. The bishop didn't precisely choose the Guimont Mass himself. Rather, he had Rita Thiron's department listen to 10 of the major publishers' Masses last year. From those, they select four that were played ("performed"? "prayed"?) to the priests of the diocese at Convocation 2010. Guimont's Mass is said to have received a strong majority of the votes cast by our presbyterate...

While I don't know what the alternatives were, I think it was a terrible choice. You've pointed out some of the musical problems with the Gloria. Another failure of the Mass settings is that it has a refrain Gloria - How are we to expect the faithful to learn the new Gloria if they're only to sing some of the words...

Nonetheless, I think there is merit in the precedent of our bishop requiring all parishes to learn a setting. I think we should all write to him and request that - for the six months commencing upon the fifth anniversary of his installation as bishop (4/29/13) - he require that all parishes use the chant setting that actually appears in the new translation of the Missal, if they want to have a sung Mass in English.

What say you?

Anonymous said...


As a John rutter tragic, and a lover of the best of english liturgical musical tradition, I adore this! however, I agree with one of the first commenters on Youtube; it is perhaps best suited to Cathedral use, rather than the far more intimate space of a local parish church. However, if the local parish church has a decent choir who will not make a dog's breakfast of the gorgeously intricate harmony employed, it may still be a perfectly suitable option.

Now for some Rutter 'Gloria' Cathedral confection...
this second example by no less than the magnificent Cambridge Singers (though I think they rush it a bit).
I think one needs a few drops of English blood to truly appreciate the lavishness and even 'eccentricity' of 20th century English liturgical music. but if the likes of Britten, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Taverner (the later) and Rutter are a bit much, perhaps another slightly more antique Taverner might be deemed suitable.
Here's one of Britten's contributions to the stable of Sacred music.

There is a ponderous (even slightly dark) reverence within British sacred music from the late 19thc-mid 20thc. Though it is somewhat more atonal in nature, there is still an unmistakeable dignity about it. perform it in one hundred years from now, and its unique qualities will still remain (unlike the hippy pap of the 60's, 70's and beyond. guitars just don't cut it!!

Might the good bishop provide a concise selection of between three and half a dozen choices that can be employed across the parishes throughout the year? Just a few thoughts from a very new half English conver to Marounite Catholicism (only 48 hours old), from the wild backblocks of Australia.

Joseph said...

On the face of it, I would not take the bishop's decision to imply that the Gloria has to be sing in English rather than Latin, anymore than it would imply a Spanish or German (if you had any) speaking parish would suddenly have to start singing the Gloria in English.

If the intention of the bishop is that all learn this Gloria for common diocesan masses, this intention would not be fulfilled if one simply continued to sing the Gloria in Latin, but it would be adequately fulfilled by, for instance, singing that setting of the Gloria in English before each Mass, or often enough that the people learn it. In the absence of the exact text of the bishop's communication, and assuming it isn't realistically possible to get clarification from the bishop, I am inclined to take such a solution (the Gloria can continue to be sung in Latin, but if the bishop desires all to learn a common English setting for common Masses, this setting be learned outside the Mass) to be a fairly straightforward application of epikeia.

Boniface said...

Are these all based on the new Missal translation? Whatever we end up using in English has to be based on the new translation.

I personally don't care too much as long as we can still use the Latin, which is the first preference.

Boniface said...


I don't have a problem with the bishop mandating that we all learn a Mass setting; my problem is that (a) there seems to be no exception for Latin, which means that we all have to use Guimonts, and (b) as it was explained, it's not just that we have to learn "a Mass setting"; it's that "the bishop wants us all to use this Gloria." In other words, it's not just, "Hey, all of you be familiar with this setting," it is, "I want all parishes singing this Gloria only."

Citation? No. I heard this from the mouth of my pastor. And, as I said in the article, I may be reading it completely the wrong way - if I am, I'll apologize and take this post down. But what our pastor announced from the ambo was that (a) the Bishop wants us all to use this Gloria, and (b) for the purpose of greater standardization/conformity. He did not say that this was only to "familiarize" us with it, and he did not say we still had the option to use Latin. So, as far as I know, the directive is that we all MUST use this Gloria.

Anonymous said...

Does your parish priest (the one making the announcement) take the view that you are only to learn and use the Guimont setting? If not - I would not lose much sleep over this. Have your choir learn the Guimont - sing at dinner parties, as a warm up for the congregation before Mass, whatever - and continue to use and expand your repertoire of Gregorian chant masses for actual use at Mass on Sundays.

The Guimont is, like so much modern vernacular composition, completely underwhelming. I sing in a TLM choir this past 18 years - and before that, 15 years, our choir sang at the Novus Ordo Mass. But...when we were an N.O. Mass choir, there was only about one vernacular mass ordinary we would/could sing - the other pickings being of a quasi 'folk' genre which we would not touch with a bargepole! Even then we sang latin ordinary settings, both monophonic and polyphonic, and that was back in the '80s in Australia.

Reading between the line, my guess is that you may well be trapped in the usual clericalist power play we were also subject to re the selction of music - until we decamped, enmasse to the TLM where the musical tram tracks were already in place, yet the choices myriad! Oh happy day that was!

Tony from Oz

Boniface said...

Well, he did not say we are to "learn" it, he said we are to "use" it; i.e., this is what we will be singing at Mass.

I am not worried about priest worked very hard to get the Latin (see this series: and I know he wouldn't be doing this unless he absolutely had to.

Boniface said...

Okay, I got the facts on this from our music director today. Here is the directive-

1) Every parish, universally, has to actually use the Guimont setting for at least 6 months. This is not just the Gloria, but all the Mass parts.

2) It was explained that this needs to not just be learned by USED. After we have used it for 6 months, we are apparently free to go back to Latin.

3) As far as the music director can recall, this directive was communicated verbally by the Diocese's chief liturgist and was not issued in writing.