ACK IN 2013, I released a “simple plan” to improve music at Mass. In that article, I mentioned my belief that an a priori decision made after Vatican II—which eliminated the ancient praxis of simultaneous song & prayer—will someday be corrected. However, waiting for that day would be foolish; we must do our best with the current situation. As I’ve said before, the most “painless” way to introduce worthy music to the Ordinary Form (without irritating your pastor) is choral extensions, which embellish the music while still allowing congregational participation.
For the first few years, this will require polyphony that isn’t too long. Did you know Palestrina set entire litanies to polyphony? 1 The “Kyrie Eleison” from such works can be excerpted, and a simple plainsong melody can be sung by the congregation as shown here:
Palestrina’s CANTUS FIRMUS is the litany melody, which you probably know by heart:
The chart below shows the clever way Palestrina mixes three polyphonic lines together—using beautiful invertible counterpoint—while still respecting the conventions of vertical harmony. (Yes, such horizontal rules did exist, in spite of assertions by some today.)
Much ink has been spilled regarding problematic music introduced after the Second Vatican Council, and let’s not kid ourselves: the situation is dire. Too many musicians today rigidly refuse to be inclusive, eliminating from Mass practically everything composed before 1965.
My problem with many of today’s Catholic composers is their almost complete ignorance of counterpoint. I cannot understand why they excuse themselves from studying something considered essential by Marenzio, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, and every other great composer. The worst is when I read forums or magazines where contemporary composers bloviate about the rules of counterpoint. Then I peek at their compositions only to discover they haven’t the foggiest notion of authentic counterpoint—which cannot be faked.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 We recently posted about the complete works of Palestrina, which can be downloaded in their entirety online!