XPLORING LOS ANGELES, I notice beautiful roads and neighborhoods. Someone must have said, “Let’s get busy building this town.” Speaking of productivity, whenever I present on Sacred music, someone invariably asks, “What can I do this very instant to improve my parish’s liturgy?”
As a presenter, I used to dread this question. They don’t want solutions requiring decades of work. Nor are they interested in articles like the one Anthony Esolen recently published called “Rescuing Hymnody from Stupidity.” His article is not bad; indeed, it resembles articles 1 published on our blog. But such things ultimately amount to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, while desperate Catholics want to know how to improve their liturgies immediately.
No longer do I dread such questions. They want an extremely short answer; I’ve got one. They crave an authentic answer; I’ve got one. They want an answer not requiring excessive amounts of money; I’ve got one. They want an instant fix, because their children will soon be adults. I’ve got the solution, and it couldn’t be simpler: obtain the St. Isaac Jogues Pew Lectionary for your congregation. Consider the following rationale.
For years, I prepared xerox copies with the Order of Mass (including Propers) for the people in the pews…and it was a horrendous experience. I used to ask:
HY ISN’T THERE A PEW BOOK containing the lectionary readings in a large, pristine typeface? Why isn’t there a pew book that has the complete Propers for each Sunday but avoids page turns? Why isn’t there a pew book reproducing ancient manuscripts from the 7th and 8th centuries, showing the continuity of the Novus Ordo with Catholic tradition? Why isn’t there a pew book using luscious full-color fonts & artwork to illustrate the Ordo Missae—including pictures of the priest? Why isn’t there a reasonably-priced book for congregations with Latin alongside English, helping parishes become more faithful to Vatican II, which never said to eliminate Latin? Why isn’t there a pew book containing complete Responsorial Psalm refrains (with fully-notated accompaniments for liturgical years ABC freely available online) so the congregation can finally sing dignified, modal, simple, fresh melodies between the first & second reading? Why isn’t there a pew book with exquisite line art, allowing illiterate Catholics to learn about the Faith? Why isn’t there a pew book fully approved by the USA bishops, yet designed for parish life, including Funerals, Benediction, Confirmation, and Weddings?
Surprise! The Jogues Lectionary fulfills each question in a fantastic way. Moreover, its professionalism and subtlety will appreciated by all. I was involved with this book’s production, so some will think I’m biased; that’s fine. Just get yourself a copy and verify what I say (BELOW).
BUT HOW WOULD THIS WORK on a practical level? Let’s explore. For one thing, no matter how your parish attempts the Propers—in English, Latin, or Psalm tone—you must avoid having the congregation just sit there as you sing. Give them a way to follow along! The translation doesn’t have to match perfectly, but it needs to be close. For instance, slightly different translations—some created “in house”—were chosen by Fr. Samuel Weber, 2 Fr. Guy Nicholls, 3 and others; whereas the Jogues uses a translation identical to the Simple English Propers, the Lalemant Propers, and the Gregorian Missal.
Amazingly, the Jogues can be used by ANY parish. Some parishes may require years to fully adopt the Mass Propers, but at least your congregation can see them in the meantime. Other parishes might sing some Propers—such as the Communion—but replace others with hymns. Other parishes might choose a Processional Hymn, using a psalm tone for the Entrance Chant while the priest incenses the Altar (which is entirely lawful, by the way). Others might sing the full Latin Propers during their main Mass, but use psalm tones for the 7:00am Mass. Others might alternate between a Gradual and Responsorial Psalm, week by week. NO MATTER WHAT COMBINATION IS CHOSEN, the Jogues will prove itself convenient and perfect for your needs.
The book’s exterior is elegant, and it’s a good size—not too heavy. The quality is extremely high, so having it in your pews will raise expectations. Have you noticed the change in atmosphere when people dress fancy, as opposed to tank tops with jeans? The books will remind everyone that Mass is a serious activity.
Finally, don’t try to explain what an Entrance Chant is to your congregation; show them! They’ll see the Entrance Chant each Sunday, and with time they’ll understand what it is; but watch out! Once they know, they’ll ask why it’s not being sung each week!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Esolen would doubtless be horrified to learn the reprehensible way the Sequences were bowdlerized.
2 Ignatius Press will soon release Fr. Weber’s massive Gradual with three (3) English versions for each chant.