“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy.” Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112
“I am convinced that music really is the universal language of beauty which can bring together all people of good will on earth.” Pope Benedict XVI, 16 April 2007
When I started attending the parish church we now go to, I did not like the music used for the Mass very much. There were parts that I loved, like the Lamb of God and the call and response chant of the Psalm reading. But the Gloria (Glory to God) was not great. And yet I grew to like it. Then we changed. What we use now is the Mass of Christ the Savior by Dan Schutte, and the tune for the Gloria is awful. Overall this Mass by Schutte is musically poor, but specifically the Gloria is far to sing-songy for what the Gloria actually is. Schutte’s version is also too long, and has this strange word/phrase-repeat thing it does that disrupts the flow of this amazing poem prayer of reverence. As far as my tastes go, Schutte’s Gloria destroys what could and should be beautiful. It would be better for us to merely recite the Gloria than sing Schutte’s version.
Read the Gloria, consider its words carefully, and then consider this: How we sing the Gloria sets the tone for the rest of the Mass. It is the true beginning of worship in the Mass, that moment when we direct our minds to God, and recognize our place before Him. It draws us into a mode of reverence and prepares us for what is to come. It separates us from the humdrum of the quotidian and puts us in the presence of God. It’s not there merely because of tradition, though it has a long tradition. It is a critical piece of why a Catholic Mass is what it is; it is when we come together as Catholics.
Recently I came across a musical comparison that I think may explain what I mean by Schutte’s Gloria being too sing-songy:
It’s not an exact copy, and maybe a bit unfair, but if we can get that close with such a comparison, it says a lot. However, only listen to Schutte’s version and that should easily be enough to show how inappropriate it is for the Gloria. Sadly, we live in an age where it is becoming more and more common for people to not really know the difference between beautiful and ugly, reverential and pedestrian, God facing and man facing. Perhaps that is the issue here. I can’t say. I don’t yet know what anyone else in my parish thinks.
What we used to sing was the Heritage Mass version. This is also not great, but the music is better and more reverential than Schutte’s.
I am convinced the Novus Ordo Mass can be very beautiful and reverential. I do not think a church has to “go back” to a traditional Latin Mass to find beauty. But I also realize it is hard work, and many parishioners, who are immersed in our rather ugly culture all week long, might struggle at first if their Mass was changed to be truly beautiful – strange as that may sound. It might take some adjustment. But we are made for Beauty. Seek the beautiful in the Mass and the parish will be rewarded. I believe this firmly.