The Chant Guerrilla
Today, for the first time in a year, I helped plan the music for a Mass as well as execute it. It was a retreat day, with a visiting priest whom we know and who is fond of chant. We knew we'd never be able to get away with a chant-only Mass, but we did the best we could. We sang an actual Graduale Romanum chant, the Kyrie was chanted, the Psalm used an actual chant psalm-tone for the verses, and the Introit was a Proper text in camouflage. We waited until the last possible moment to tell anybody what the music for the Mass was going to be. We were like Gregorian guerrillas, firing off a few surprise rounds and then disappearing back into the forest. And you know what? We made a couple of hits.
Being First Saturday, we had a Votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin.
For the introit, we sang the hymnodized version from "Introit Hymns" by Christopher Tzietze. When we bought that book, I didn't think we'd ever actually use it. But here we are. I don't like a lot of the hymn tunes chosen for that book, but this particular one was set to the tune of "The Angel Gabriel Came Down," which is cute and seasonally-appropriate
Psalm was the Magnificat, in a setting from the Chabanel site (of course). The Ordinaries were from the Mass of St. Frances Cabrini, which was chosen as the setting for all diocesan liturgies, and we've been using it in our parish since September. It's one of the few things that all the parish musicians, guitar-lovers and chanty-types alike agree on: we all dislike it. Oh well. It could have been worse.
Offertory hymn was "The God Whom Earth and Sea and Sky." A nod to using the parish hymnals, but as solid a hymn as you could choose: a translation of a 7th century text, with a 17th-century melody harmonized by Bach. And although it's not a proper text, it does at least say all the same things as the Offertory options from the Common of the Blessed Virgin. Finally, for Communion, I sang the actual Graduale chant, Ecce virgo concipiet. It felt SO GOOD to sing that.
I have to share what one of the congregants said to me about the Communion chant. "It was beautiful and peaceful and so meditative to be able to receive without being expected to sing, without all the clutter of trying to prepare and also find the page in the hymnal. And if I hadn't experienced hearing the chant, I never would have realized that the other way was clutter."
You should have seen her face when I told her that the parish Liturgist didn't want me to sing that chant. Not that he voiced his displeasure to me; he took it out on the lovely lady who organized the retreat day, who didn't have anything to do with the music other than asking us to plan it. She told us about it later. I don't think the Liturgist would ever confront me. I suspect he is secretly a little afraid of me. If he weren't, he probably would have asked me long ago not to wear a veil when I am a cantor and not to kneel at Communion, or told me off when I refused to announce the hymns at a funeral because the words and music were all in the worship aids anyway. But he didn't do those things. When I said I wasn't going to announce the hymns, he just said "Ok" and scurried away. Ha!
The Liturgist is a menace. I'm not sure if he's worse than the Business Manager, but they both need to go. We're losing one of the best staff members because of their behavior, and the parish will lose three more as soon as other jobs can be found. People are refusing to pony up their pledged money for the new building project because everything has been so mismanaged. The place is falling apart, and it could be fixed so easily. The pastor could fire the Business Manager, Liturgist, and Music Director. He could hire an accountant, a part-time sacristan, and a secretary for the other two music staff and save the parish tens of thousands of dollars and a lot of grief. But he won't. He'll just watch the rest of the staff leave, and be sorry to see them go but not in a hurry to rectify the problems that are causing them to leave. He's a good priest, but an awful manager, and it's sad. He could take some lessons from his parochial vicar, a take-no-prisoners type who might run over some toes but would ultimately have a tightly-run ship that better fulfilled the spiritual needs of the parishioners. I guess they all need prayers.
I hope some of the people who heard our music today will go to the pastor, write to the music department and to the Liturgist and tell them how much they liked it, and exactly WHY it was so great.