N 1973, I was four years old and blissfully unaware that a new English translation of the Roman Missal had just been released. I was ignorant of a “New Mass” — the Novus Ordo that had been promulgated the very year I was born in 1969. (Feel free to do the math.)
Twenty-seven years later in 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II revised the Roman Missal with the Third Typical Edition. But the greater impact to our daily worship were the new rules of translation in Liturgiam authenticam (2001) punctuated by Saint John Paul’s rejection of the 1998 translation—a revision that was long overdue even then. (Some are under the mistaken impression Liturgiam authenticam was the work of Pope Benedict XVI. Not so.) Regardless of one’s opinion of the 1998 translation or Liturgiam authenticam, change was well on its way.
While many knew this shift was coming, some like me in 1973, were blissfully unaware. Then 2011 came and a new translation evoked change in the English speaking world—to no small amount of upheaval for some.
The 1973 translation was all I knew throughout my childhood and adult life. It appeared permanent.
Hardly. Furthermore, there has been discussion of additional alteration to the Roman Missal, although likely put on hold due to problems within and without the Church.
This is just one small example of liturgical mutability. There are others including the upcoming change in the text for psalmody that will effect the Divine Office and the Lectionary. The text originated with the Grail Psalter (1963) translation. Then came the Revised Grail (2010). Finally, we have a revision of the Revised Grail by the Monks of Conception Abbey known as the Abbey Psalms and Canticles. (See Gary Penkala’s excellent article Sing a New Psalm — and Canticle.) The USCCB obtained the rites of the Revised Grail, which was for a time owned by G. I. A.
Add to this that the 2010 USCCB translation of the scriptures posted on their website of daily readings is slightly different from the 1998 lectionary translation, but close enough to cause confusion.
Are we dizzy yet? One needs to draw a map to keep track.
There is an illusion of permanence in the Church. We are changing often and changing right now. The prospect of transformations beyond our control is a deeply humbling prospect. It incurs ramifications we prefer not to engage. But do not fear it!
Some alterations are for the better, some perhaps not. Still, rejoice. Time will bear out the wisdom of fluid developments. Changes, both prudent and imprudent, offer opportunity for renewal.
Consider the musical life of the Church immediately following the post-Vatican II years. The 1970s were a strange and difficult time. The Church didn’t quite know how to navigate its own cultural sea-change. (It seems only Theodore Marier truly knew in the 1970s how to move forward with continuity between the new and old rites!) In fact the two most palpable changes, Mass verses populum and Mass in the vernacular, were never intended nearly to the extent they were implemented. Change has a life of its own!
Furthermore, loosing our way is sometimes the best way to find and reclaim our identity and direction.
There were healthy and unhealthy approaches in sacred music. Time bears all with guidance by the Holy Spirit. Trends are changing—if slowly—towards greater reverence and greater understanding of singing the Mass, of reclaiming our traditions—not for the sake of permanence—but for the sake of conscious understanding of how such tradition informs us of who we are today.
AN EXERCISE IN HUMILITY
I have found televised and live-streamed Masses to be an exercise in humility. Thinking that most everything we do is now captured and sent out for exponentially more people to experience, has raised the level of urgency and intensity of preparation and performance. That’s not a bad thing.
Until we think we are very important. Nothing can be more laughable.
With technology, many things go wrong that are beyond our control, thwarting our well-prepared presentation.
This is good, as it is a harsh reminder—in fact a reprimand—of what is important: prayer. Not internet clicks. Prayer. Prayer is deeply powerful. Believe it.
With humility and compassion—especially having empathy for those who we do not like—we experience more joy. (I write this to remind myself more than for any reason.)
THE SERVANT MUSICIAN
We are servants of the Church. Many composers strive for “immortality” that their works will live on “forever.” Perhaps they will a few hundred years if one is especially brilliant. But it only matters if such music serves God and the people, and preferably were not insufferable human beings while doing so as some were!
It is mere hubris and ego to think our few decades of life will carve in stone one’s “legacy” or to imagine ourselves irreplaceable.
Such solipsistic thinking will be vanquished, especially when working for the Church. This is true for myriad reasons. There’s an old baseball adage: “There are two types of ball players: those who are humble—and those who are about to be.” Such is the beauty of the game. Such is the challenge of living a life as a church musician.
There is great beauty in frail, imperfect, flawed humanity that strives to be wedded with the divine. There is beauty in doing so merely out of service—to be forgotten, perhaps like an eremite. To be remembered or not by the world is of no consequence.
This brings us to another old saying: “There’s nothing deader than a dead pope.” This is not disrespect, but a wise acknowledgment that we are merely dust, and even the greatest among us are merely servants.
A GREAT JEWEL
My mother has often described the Catholic Faith as a “jewel.” She experiences great joy from the wisdom of the Church, its prayer, and especially, its greatest prayer, the Mass. She is old enough to remember the Traditional Latin Mass quite well. (She can sing the Credo III from memory right now purely because of weekly repetition in her youth.) Sadly she buried my oldest brother in 1963. She recalls well his Traditional Latin Requiem Mass. Despite this sorrow, she remained a woman of great faith, and passed along the exuberant joy of the Catholic faith.
On many occasions, she reminds us, our faith is a jewel, said with love an affection. Having lived through some of the greatest change and sorrow in the Church, her perception of our “jewel” never altered because the power of the Mass and the sacraments are immutable.
This jewel—God’s immutable love for us—is permanent.
Believe. This is no illusion.