HE FOCUS of my meditation this past Holy Thursday was tiredness. This focus arose not so much because I, myself, feel tired, but because it was a theme of Pope Francis’ homily during the Chrism Mass he celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica. I also picked up on a similar theme in the Prayer over the Offerings during the Chrism Mass here in Philadelphia.
Here’s an excerpt of what Pope Francis said to the priests of Rome:
The Lord . . . knows that the task of anointing His faithful people is demanding; it can tire us. We experience this in so many ways: from the ordinary fatigue brought on by our daily apostolate to the weariness of sickness, death, and even martyrdom.
The tiredness of priests! Do you know how often I think about this weariness which all of you experience? I think about it and I pray about it often, especially when I am tired myself. I pray for you as you labor amid the people of God entrusted to your care, many of you in lonely and dangerous places. Our weariness, dear priests, is like incense that silently rises up to heaven (cf. Ps 141:2; Rev 8:3-4). Our weariness goes straight to the heart of the Father.
And here is the Prayer over the Offerings that caught my attention, with the notable words highlighted:
May the power of this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray,
mercifully wipe away what is old in us
and increase in us grace of salvation and newness of life.
Through Christ our Lord.
What the Lord was sharing with me was a call for new fervor—an invitation to cast out the old leaven and to be transformed again by the Gospel and by my call to ministry. All priests need this renewal, no matter how young or old, especially on the day when we renew our priestly promises each year.
SIMILAR TRANSFORMATION is also needed in most parish music programs. How many parishes are stuck in the rut of crunching out four hymns each week (from a total repertoire of 20, maybe 30)? How many music directors are afraid of upsetting the apple cart by jettisoning the music they know in favor of the music the Church prescribes? How many parish music programs are stale, lacking in freshness & vitality? The answer is far too many.
Why is this the case? Mostly because “it’s always been this way.” In high school physics, I learned Newton’s first law of motion, also known as the law of inertia: “an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.” Overcoming inertia is a difficult thing, and the inertia of “the way we’ve always done things” is the worst kind.
The last several years have seen the rise of several “outside forces” that threaten to overcome the widespread inertia of Catholic sacred music. We have witnessed the rise of the Simple English Propers, the growth of the CCW Chabanel Psalm Project, the publication of the Jogues & Campion Missals, the introduction of Andy Motyka’s Communion Antiphon project, etc. Now, the next big thing is here.
Fr. Samuel Weber, O.S.B. has given us a great gift in The Proper of the Mass, a volume that could only have been created by a master of vernacular chant and a lover of the sacred liturgy. I have used Fr. Weber’s The Office of Compline for years, and this new title is of the same high quality but on a much larger scale.
With the publication of The Proper of the Mass, parish priests & musicians are running out of excuses for not singing the music of the Mass, including the appointed propers. Immediately after the Second Vatican Council, there was a legitimate lack of resources, so parishes could reasonably be excused for falling into a bit of a tailspin. But now the resources are available in the Anglophone world, and there is no longer any legitimate excuse for avoiding them, apart from an entrenched desire to “stay at rest” or to hold on to “what is old in us” or to resist “newness of life.”
Money cannot be the issue, because most of the best resources for truly sacred music are available freely on the Internet or at very low cost. Nor can the difficulty of the chants be the issue, because Fr. Weber has crafted chants for every level of singing ability.
I suspect that Fr. Weber would not be interested in taking credit for the enormous contribution he has made in this new volume. He nevertheless deserves much credit and our sincere gratitude. Ignatius Press also deserves credit for having the vision to publish such a necessary companion to the Roman Missal.
The corollary to Newton’s law of universal motion is that “an object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force.” There is no question that Catholic sacred music in the English-speaking world is moving, and the direction is clear. I hope that many music directors will use Fr. Weber’s latest work to move in that direction, to help them “wipe away what is old” & tired, and to welcome the bright future of liturgical music.
This article is part of a series on Fr. Weber’s Book of Propers: