HOPE THE TIDE IS TURNING. I believe it is. But still how many times have we heard: “We shouldn’t use that because nobody can sing it”? This reasoning is often applied to various chants, (if not all chants), especially in Latin. Startlingly, I’ve heard this in reference to the simplest of chants, including Ubi Caritas and Missa XVIII or the ICEL Chants based on such. The logic of avoiding chant is justified by its very neglect, so therefore we must avoid it even further.
This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, is it not? Don’t sing something because it won’t yield instant external results. Of course, the people won’t sing something that’s been neglected for decades. Shall we pound the nail into the coffin ever deeper by continuing the status quo? Or shall we do the hard work required to preserve and foster our treasure of sacred music with great care as Vatican II demands? (Sacrosanctum Concilium §114) Additionally, Sacrosanctum Concilium §115 states: “Great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutions and schools. To impart this instruction, teachers are to be carefully trained and put in charge of the teaching of sacred music.”
Furthermore, the 2007 US Bishop’s document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (SttL) states:
75. Each worshiping community in the United States, including all age groups and all ethnic groups, should, at a minimum, learn Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII, all of which are typically included in congregational worship aids. More difficult chants, such as Gloria VIII and settings of the Credo and Pater Noster, might be learned after the easier chants have been mastered.
The document also encourages:
132. “…one should never underestimate the ability of persons of all ages, cultures, languages, and levels of education to learn something new and to understand things that are properly and thoroughly introduced.
ITH REGARD TO THE CREED, not singing it is a bit more curious. Why do we not sing what we profess to believe? This is arguably one of the most important liturgical actions of the mass and therefore demands “greater solemnity.” (“…sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action…” S.C., §112. )
However, it is lengthy and perhaps intimidating to some. But my feeling is that the impediment at this time is more cultural than musical: For example, Anglo-Catholics would rarely consider not singing the Creed. They sing it every week, usually the same setting and in English, so to them it’s musically easy. It is part of their culture.
And it used to be part of ours. It still is in some pockets. But forget the complaining and let’s take stock of where we are now. How can singing the Creed become a regular part of the liturgy once again?
1 • Heed the direction of SttL §75 & §132 (above), with special attention that music and concepts in liturgy be “properly and thoroughly introduced.”
2 • Pick only one setting of the Creed and sing it every week. Would one expect a Gloria, no less a Credo, to be learned by a congregation in just one or two weeks or with sporadic use? This will take time and patience. It will not yield instant results.
3 • We must catechize: Why sing the Creed at all? Because it is an extraordinarily important liturgical action of the priest and congregation together. Its purpose is “…that the whole gathered people may respond to the Word of God proclaimed in the readings taken from Sacred Scripture…and that they may also honor and confess the great mysteries of the faith…” (GIRM §67) Singing brings about a fully active response to the Liturgy of the Word. Confessing the great mysteries of our faith is greatly enhanced by the marriage of melody and word. Music often expresses the mysteries that words alone cannot.
RECENTLY HAD A REVEALING CONVERSATION with my mother. She grew up in the 1930s and 40s in a parish in New York City where they sang the Credo every week. Remarkably, she said, “It’s easy,” as she sang the Credo III from memory. She hasn’t sung it in over fifty years. (Not a professional musician, she was a school teacher in NYC.) Who today would say singing “Credo III” is easy? Anyone who grew up singing it every week. It was normative. Not controversial. Easy.
Can we ever get there again? Perhaps not anytime soon for most parishes, but yes for those with vision and courage. Consider that with the new ICEL Chants, the leap is no longer so great. The ICEL version of Credo I is not at all intimidating when one experiences its repeated phrases. Also, singing it in English may reduce anxiety for some pastors who may consider taking the leap:
* * There’s also the ICEL version of Credo III, here although I suspect this one is still easier in Latin.
Need an accompaniment? Here they are for free from ICEL:
* * ICEL Chant, Credo I | Organ Accompaniment | • Roman Missal, Third Edition
* * ICEL Chant, Credo III | Organ Accompaniment | • Roman Missal, Third Edition
* * Or try Jeff Ostrowski’s gorgeous St. Felix Creed with free scores.
* * Or an SATB Creed from the Mass of the Angels | Gary Penkala’s description here:
“The Credo can be handled responsorially, with the congregation singing the opening phrase of Credo III, “Credo in unum Deum,” accompanied by organ, as a refrain. The cantor (unison) or choir (SATB) would then sing eight verses, in pairs, to a recurring pattern, with a refrain after each pair of verses. The congregation also may sing the full text to the recurring pattern. The movement ends with the Amen music from Credo III.”
It takes fortitude to try to sing a Credo every week. But in time, it should bear much fruit. My prayers are with you!