HAVE BEEN recently inspired by the principle of using choral extensions allowing both congregational participation and “a touch of polyphony,” as discussed in a previous post on Corpus Christi Watershed. I think it is a sound principle for those who are trying to find a balanced approach within the Ordinary Form, bring in beautiful elements of the Church’s polyphonic tradition, and increase the moments that we should have a little more reflection within the action of the Liturgy.
Practically speaking, a full polyphonic setting in the context of a regular Ordinary Form liturgy might seem a trifle long, when the action must stop to wait for it. In the heyday of sacred polyphony, and in the context of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass today, the liturgical action may continue during the choral singing of the Ordinary, with the celebrant reciting the texts at the altar sotto voce. This means that, sadly—and not intentionally—great works may be perceived to lose some of their functionality. This is where the principle of choral extensions may come in, where you still want this priceless treasure practically used in the Ordinary Form Mass.
So, I have devised this Mass setting, which I’ve given the name Missa Misericordiae Dei (Mass of the Mercy of God), which incorporates the most common ICEL Roman Chants of the Kyrie, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, and Agnus Dei, with excerpts from the Missa Octavi Toni by Orlando de Lassus (for SATB). This allows for the congregation to join in with the “Chant” section of each of the parts and the choir to provide some polyphony either between or at the end of the section. I have provided the ICEL chants with a possible SATB choral harmonisation, to allow for them to be sung without organ accompaniment, as would seem to be more fitting in the penitential seasons of the year, particularly Advent and Lent. It would be, however, perfectly reasonable to ignore these harmonisations and sing the melodies in unison and break into the polyphony where it begins. The ICEL Chants are given in their English form. They could equally be sung in Latin, or any other language should that be desired or required.
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Maestro McBain.
Nigel Lucas Silvester McBain currently serves as Director of Music and Adult Faith Formation at Holy Family Catholic Church, Mitchell, South Dakota.