A Turning Point in Music for Mass

By Tucker, Jeffrey | Sacred Music, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

A Turning Point in Music for Mass


Tucker, Jeffrey, Sacred Music


Inclina Domine: A Treasury of Gregorian Chant, Volume II. Cantores in Ecclesia, directed by Dean Applegate. Portland: Oregon Catholic Press, 2009.

I had eagerly waited the release of the chant CD Inclina Domine from the Oregon Catholic Press for nearly a year. It is sung by some of the finest singers in the country. And it is not what you might expect from OCP. It is the entire Mass sung in Latin, not the old Mass but the 1970 Missal. As much as I've come to love the group that sings on this recording, Cantores in Ecclesia, even I was startled at how magnificent it is.

It took about a week for the significance to fully dawn on me. When really serious revolutions are in process, sometimes one doesn't entirely notice them. This CD might in fact be a sign that we've turned the corner. It could portend some wonderful changes in our future.

I don't need to rehearse for anyone the background of the OCP. Founded nearly a century ago, once called the Catholic Truth Society, in the post-conciliar period it has been a leader in the commercialization of music for Catholic liturgy, and I mean that in two senses.

OCP forged the model that marketed music for parishes in the same way other products are marketed to us everyday: not by appeal to ecclesiastical authority or doctrine but by the pure art of selling stuff that the proprietor thinks we might like and want to buy. They figured out how to appeal to and teach the regular guitarist, pianist, and cantor who were selecting music for the Mass each week. They learned the language and the approach, speaking not from on high but directly to people's regular experiences.

The advent of this approach came with the massive confusion over what music was supposed to match the new Mass; OCP beat everyone in capturing that market. And the products they have sold have also generally (and famously) fit within the category of what might be called commercial too. There is much to say about this--and I'm hardly alone in believing this to be a problem--but this is not the time or place.

Right now I would like to draw attention to the utility, meaning, and significance of this new CD, which would be a major event no matter who the publisher is.

For most people who listen, it will be the first time they have ever heard the modern Roman Rite sung in its normative form. The new missal has been around nearly forty years and yet because of vernacular permissions, culture upheavals, too many "choices" within the structure of the Mass, and other factors, it is hardly ever heard in the way that accords with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. For this reason alone, this recording serves an extremely important purpose. It shows us what might have been and what might yet be.

You can try this at home. Put it on with Catholics around. Someone will say, oh yes, that's the Mass from the old days. You can just respond, no, this is the reformed Mass from 1970 sung in its universal form. You might see a look of shock. Listening to this will help focus arguments and hone intellectual clarity on precisely what it is that you are for and against, and what precisely it is we are speaking of when we talk of the Novus Ordo Missae.

This is the Novus Ordo Missae. No matter what else you hear in your parish, no matter what else OCP is selling, no matter what else your director of music says, this is the music of the Novus Ordo Missae. When I was listening to this, I asked another parishioner what section of the Mass we were hearing. She didn't have a clue, but she found it very beautiful. Well, it was the prayer of the faithful--which is probably the most dreaded part of the Mass aside from the sign of peace. Well, in the normative form in which Cantores sings it, it is wonderful. Another sign that this is the new Mass is the tutti singing on the Pater Noster.

In all, this is one of the most inspired performances of chant I've heard: convincing, confident, and full of conviction. …

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