In the Mass before the liturgical reform — currently called the “EF” (Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) — we had the Gradual, a very complex composition for very skilled singers. Some masterworks of Gregorian chant are indeed in this musical genre. The Gradual was a lyrical meditation on the psalmodic text and (on a deeper level) the topic of the entire liturgy of the day. So we had there the exaltation of the text, the flourishing of the words.
Now, after the liturgical reform, we have the responsorial psalm, whose rationale was to assure that the people could participate by joining in the refrain. No problem about that. But still we need to remember that this moment is a lyrical, poetical, musical meditation of the psalm.
THESE DAYS, IN THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES, we focus on the refrain only, giving to the psalmodic text some recitative tones, referred by someone as the “Gelineau disease.” I’m sure someone will say: “You, too, are doing this. We’ve seen your settings of the responsorial psalm!”
It is partially true. When I compose responsorial psalms, sometimes I also find refuge in this easy escape (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!). So I want to say to myself first, and to others as well: let us rethink the role and importance of this liturgical moment in the shining light of a wonderful musical tradition.
If ever there will be a hospital for liturgical musicians, those with the disease mentioned above (the Responsorial Psalm moment) will surely be one of the most crowded…
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