We were sent the following guest article by Mark Haas, who can be reached via his website.
bout a year ago, a deacon friend of mine served at an ordination Mass within our Diocese. A few days beforehand, he texted me: “I’m going to try chanting the Gospel at Mass.” I enthusiastically encouraged him, and sure enough, when the time came to proclaim the Gospel, he did so with a simple chant tone. And sure enough, as the reading concluded, the assembly responded with a thunderous noise: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!”
Now, this deacon is not formally musically trained. Most of the folks in the pews had never heard the Gospel chanted before. And yet, out of all the singing within that specific liturgy, the glorious response of “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ” was the loudest the people sang for the entire occasion. By the end of the Gospel passage, they were practically begging to respond! It certainly stood apart from the typical mumbled response as people shuffled to sit down in their pews. The former example is exactly how the Church has always envisioned singing at Mass.
Role of the Cantor • I have attended many workshops, conferences, symposiums, days-of-reflections, and the like within the area of liturgical music. I have witnessed many sessions scrutinizing the role of the cantor – “the leader of song.” Where does he/she stand? When does he/she make eye contact? Should he/she raise one hand or two? When should he/she step closer to the microphone or further away? At what precise moment should he/she “go up” to receive Communion? What pace and cadence should he/she use when announcing the hymn number? “4-3-8” or “Four-hundred and thirty-eight”? How can he/she use a warmer and more inviting tone to welcome the people before Mass? I’m not suggesting the cantor is insignificant, but let’s take a step back for a moment.
Many people might be surprised to learn that the cantor is not the principal leader of singing within the Mass. In fact, the word “cantor” isn’t even mentioned in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The foremost leader of singing within the context of Mass is the priest, followed by the deacon.
“In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 40)
Three Degrees of Music • The document, Musicam Sacram, stipulates Three Degrees of Music: (1) The Order of the Mass; (2) The Ordinary of the Mass; (3) The Propers of the Mass. The most prominent, and first degree, is led by the priest:
“(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; (b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel. (c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.” (Musicam Sacram, 29)
The first degree is the highest degree of music. Other forms of singing should not proceed without the sung Order of the Mass by the priest:
“The first degree may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.” (Musicam Sacram, 28)
Ever greater participation. The ICEL introduction to the presider chants of the new Roman Missal provides a specific reason for the priest to sing: “To continue the realization of a goal given by the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of ‘full and active participation’ of all the people.”
What Is Participation? • Much has been argued over the last sixty years about participation. Many liturgical workshops sum it up like this: “Everyone should be seeing, understanding, praying, and singing everything at all times.” Can’t hear? Get a louder sound system. Can’t see? Get bigger projector screens. Incense makes you cough? Stop using it. Can’t understand Latin? Stop singing it. Clueless on the “theme” of the season? Get banners to punctuate.
The barometer of participation is not what we merely see or hear from the people. Sometimes parishes take absurd steps toward this goal. I once had a pastor suggest we “mic” the people in the pews to create a more robust effect from their responses. If you want a greater participation of singing from the assembly, the recipe is simple: Have the priest sing the Order of the Mass. Encourage the clergy to sing their appropriate parts. Train seminarians to sing within their formation. The Second Vatican Council called for an increase in the musical education of clergy:
“Great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutes and schools.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 115)
While the Church does provide exceptions for those priests that legitimately cannot sing, it’s hard to believe that 90+% of the clergy can’t sing. With a little encouragement and training, I believe that virtually every priest could sing the parts of the Mass that belong to them. We’re not talking about the virtuosity of Andrea Bocelli. Often the presider sings one or two notes, within a comfortable range. Here are a few examples of simple chant from the priest:
The Greeting (2 notes):
The Gospel (2 notes):
The Preface (3 notes):
Music is Highest Form of Art • The Mass is intended to be sung. The texts of the Mass are in their natural habitat when they are sung. This is one of the reasons the Church designates music as the highest form of art: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112)
In this charism, we should all take time to encourage the clergy to sing the Order of the Mass. The Holy Mass is like one continuous song from the Son to the Father. Those in the pews are like sheep listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd. May the shepherds of our parishes find the courage to lead the sheep through song. In this way, the lost lambs might hear His voice, and return to (and strengthen) His fold.
Mark Haas is a Catholic composer and speaker. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia, with his wife and their seven original compositions. www.markhaasmusic.com
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Mark Haas.