Any discussion of the Church's music in recent years must have its roots in the strong movement, especially active in the late fifties, favouring congregational participation in the Sung Mass.
These were the Latin days, with a leaning towards plainsong, and Rome recommended Mass XVI. But in these islands Missa de Angelis had always been cherished and it was this Mass which achieved some congregational success. The movement gained momentum, composers were adjusting their ideas on Mass composition when Vatican II swept through the Church.
The old structures suffered blow after blow, musical concepts of centuries disappeared almost overnight and there was much heart searching of what to do for the best. The liturgical recommendations were clearly defined — ministers, people. and choir should have opportunity to unite in singing. "The structure of the Mass Liturgy is based on the assumption that certain parts of it will be sung."
Gradually it became clear that the process of change and adjustment would be a protracted one. The vernacular posed difficulties and life became a succession of meetings, study groups and working parties with mounting musical hazards and frustrations, not the least being the reluctance of composers to concern themselves with texts which were liable to revision and musically restrictive. The new situation did, however, have the unique and immediate effect or throwing the vernacular hymn into prominence. A spate of new hymn books appeared, most of them incorporating the best of Anglican repertoire. The spare hymn vocabulary (largely sacramental) of former days has now been considerably enlarged and hymn-wise, the future is full of promise.
What. of the Mass?
Tbere was a rash of simple melodic settings of the Ordinary. Congregational participation involves severely limiting factors, both technical and aesthetic, and many versions proved bland in the extreme. The omnipresent folk idiom concerning itself with religious sentiments seemed to infiltrate into the general pattern and a guitar was usually near at hand.
We asked ourselves — What else should be sung? — the Acclamation. the Alleluia before the Gospel, the Amen, and of course, the responses. Credo Ill is still sung fervently in Latin in many places in spite of its length and complexity. This may diminish as a generation less versed in the Latin Mass fills our churches.
To guide and encourage these developments 1965 saw the establishment by the Hierarchy of the National Commission for Catholic Church Music which for several years worked alongside other similarly founded bodies. It used the Church Music Association as its machinery. Further fostering of the Musical Apostolate was, and still is, achieved by the Society of St. Gregory and the Pueri Cantores.
In 1972 a great rationalisation took place which involved a shrinkage of the Commissions. A single National Liturgy commission was constituted, having amongst its integral parts a small department with responsibilities for music. This newly formed Commission met for the first time in September of this year. Chronologically this brings us to the present day.
What lies ahead?
No one would pretend that the format for the Sung Mass is corn
piete. I he ministers' chants, and that vast library of material ac Counted For by our heritage of plainsong and classical polyphony, as well as responsible psalm settings all call for urgent attention. Many
sporadic essays have already appeared in the above fields and one hears that at least one allembraemg volume may appear in the near future.
In short, schemes for the Sung Mass. incorporating the participa
tion so earnestly yearned for by the
Council are extremely desirable. The possibilities are set forth in varying degrees by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in "Instruction on Music in the Sacred Liturgy" (published CTS. D0.3R7).
Acquaintance with these possibilities should rank high on the list of every church musician, es pecially as the slots concerning when to sing and when not to sing
are less stringently defined than in
pre-vernacular days. Out of all the conjecture the one thing that
emerges with clarity is that the biggest help towards a full realisation of our aims would be the production of the responses and ministers' chants.
The recognition of this fact by the original Musical Commission saw the establishment of a study group which did much preliminary work in spite of the fact that much of their initial effort was bedevilled by a lack of textual agreement amongst the English speaking nations. Obviously a uniformity had to be reached with our lingual relatives and to this end the International Commission for F.nglish in the Liturgy began lengthy deliberations.
Much of this work, eventually to be so intimately connected with music is done by transference and exchange of manuscripts and documents and is ultimately a case of "quot homines, tot sententiae." Decisions taken have to be referred back to national bodies which only meet infrequently, and exasperation has led to some inartistic and unofficial "jumping the gun" hut the present situation is that the music section of this international body on which England has a voice) is meeting regularly concerning the ministers' chants in particular. To those who cherish the liturgy and its music these are trying times. The near disappearance of Latin and the gems of plainsong and polyphony which warmed every musician's heart has caused a great void which aesthetically is not compensated for in. say, a Mass with four hymns. Musical universality has suffered a set-back. and recent press suggestions that there was a possible acceptance of the return of paris of the Ordinary in Latin caused further conjecture of what the future might have in store.
In conelusion might l put a plea for patience. The church's music didn't achieve the glories of Palestrina overnight. Music of any sort falls notoriously short of the other arts such as architecture, painting and sculpture where speed of development is concerned because it is a time-art.
A piece of music, no matter how short. cannot be appreciated at a glance. The fact that its performance is time consuming retards the speed of evolution of the musical art.
The church music with which we are concerning ourselves at this moment may emerge as both unsuitable and artistically inferior ten years hence, but the good music will find a lasting place. What might take longer is the transference of the more modern tendencies in composition to church music.
We are quickly approaching the time when the onus will fall on the shoulders of the composers. An era of new music for the Church could he at hand.
In ihe words of the Council addressing church musicians — "let them examine the works of the past, their types and characteristics, but let them also pay careful attention to the new laws and requirements of the Liturgy so that new forms shall, as it were, grow organically from those already existing and the new work wilt form a new part in the musical heritage of the Church, not unworthy of its past."