Monday, 25 April 2011

Gregorian Chant versus Modern Ditties

While I am posting here, I will put a link to this article in Canada's National Post "In the search for the Voice of God, some believe Gregorian chants are preferable to folk music" (to which Fr Z drew my attention here with his comments).

I had some experience of this during the Triduum just completed. On Thursday night, I attended the Pontifical Solemn Mass of the Lord's Supper on Thursday night at St Aloysius. The music was simply sublime. There was plenty of congregational involvement, for instance, in the singing of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and other responses. And of course, in the "Pange Lingua" at the end. But it was simply a delight to hear these ancient chants where they belong, not on a CD, but in Church. As my feet were being washed by Bishop Meeking, the choir was singing the beautiful chant "Ubi Caritas", which I know well, but which I have never heard used before in the setting for which it was written.

Then my little Lutheran heart was a little disappointed when I attended my local parish for the Good Friday service. Instead of the great chorals such as "O Sacred Head", we had "Were you there when they crucified my Lord" and "We remember". No "Reproaches" at the vernation of the Cross. No "Pange Ligua" either. Don't get me wrong - the music was well presented by the musician and cantors. It just was so... 1970's, rather than the rich heritage of the Church for this day. As the article in the Canadian National Post describes it, I had to listen to the radio to hear anything of this heritage.

And then I was really annoyed at the Easter Vigil. Once again, the actual text of the rite offers so much in terms of psalmody and antiphons that could have been sung in any number of ways, if not in chant. The Asperges ceremony was done in complete silence! (I have in fact, written a hymn using the verses from the Missal that could have been sung at this point.) But again, we had various folk style songs instead of the psalms in response to the readings, often not bearing any connection with the appointed psalms. Don't even get me started on the song they used to replace the Litany of the Saints. Suffice it to say, it (a) wasn't a litany, and (b) included a lot of people who are not saints. We did sing the French easter carol "Now the green blade rises", but other wise there was no traditional Easter hymnody at all. Again, don't get me wrong. The choir and musicians did an excellent job. It was just the selection of music that left me feeling hungry for more.

I finally got my "more" at the dawn service at St Paul's Lutheran Church at Box Hill on Sunday morning, at least "more" in terms of hymnody, and got to sing "He is risen, he is risen, tell it with a joyful voice" at full throttle (well as full as I could manage at 6:30am, anyway!).

All this grumbling is simply to say: we have the riches of 2000 years to use in our liturgies. During Holy Week, very many of the texts have been actually set down in the rite for use. It's time, folks, to revive this heritage for the sake of the Faith!

Hymn for Holy Saturday

I haven't posted on this blog for a long while, but today I saw that Deacon John had posted the (anonymous) patristic reading from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday, and it reminded me that I had written a hymn based on this text. I note that I haven't posted it here before. So here it is for your benefit. My suggested tune is Wie soll ich dich empfangen by Melchior Teschner, which you can listen to here.

Today a heavy silence
reigns over all the earth;
a silence and a stillness,
and not a word is heard.
The King himself is sleeping,
the trembling earth is still,
our God-made-flesh, though resting,
now consummates his will.

He’s gone in search of Adam,
our father, his lost sheep;
he visits those in darkness
and in death’s shadow deep.
He’s gone to free from sorrow
lost Adam in his bonds,
and Eve, with him held captive,
who for her freedom longs.

Thus says their true Creator
and truest Son of Eve,
“I order you, O sleeper,
awake from death and live!
For I did not create you
to lie in Hades’ cell.
I am your Resurrection;
you dead, arise from hell!”