Friday, November 16, 2007

Canticum Novum: This is the day!

In a previous column we examined the issues of how parish music directors and musicians go about their duties, particularly the highly important tasks of choosing appropriate music for liturgies and how to discern what musical selections, whether new or old, meet the various criteria for “worthiness.” Directly related to that is the reality that most of our local parishes use Oregon Catholic Press worship materials. So, in an effort to “cut to the chase” I would offer for your consideration the following Paschal season titles that meet, in my opinion, those aspects of liturgical, pastoral and aesthetic (artistic) worthiness found in OCP hymnals.
PANGE LINGUA by Fr. Ricky Manalo- this Latin ostinato (Taize-like “mantra”) accomplishes so much in such a simple and solemn setting. Manalo couches the Latin text within an extremely elegant melody, almost Gregorian or Palestrinan by its scale-wise movement and contours. Cantors can then superimpose the verses while the congregation/choir maintains the ostinato during the Eucharistic procession on Holy Thursday. BEHOLD THE CROSS receives a new poetic lyric by the prolific Bob Hurd that achieves great poignancy both in verse and refrain. He uses “waltz-time” meter, which is uncharacteristic until you examine the text that ties the humility of the nativity, the Virgin Mary’s steadfast witness at the crucifixion and Hurd’s inclination to bring attention to justice as a main “theme” in many of his texts. Hurd’s setting of the famous Bernard of Clairvaux’s hymn “O SACRED HEAD” shares this thematic emphasis in his originally composed third and fourth verses.
A recent addition to the OCP repertoire is Anne Quigley’s setting of the Good Friday Lamentations THE SEVEN LAST WORDS. Like Manalo, M.D Ridge and a host of contemporary composers, Quigley has written a very accessible, somber melody to the great “O vos omnes (All you who pass by…)” with alternating verses sung chorally or by soloists that would be most appropriate for the venerations on Good Friday.
I am now going to take a brief, sideways look at a very serious issue. For a number of years now, composers such as Roc O’Connor, Marty Haugen, Chris Walker and Bernadette Farrell have had metrical (poetic) text settings of the Easter Proclamation (the Exultet) printed in OCP’s hymnals. I believe that before deciding to use these more “accessible” settings at the pinnacle liturgy of our year, musicians, pastors and deacons should consult with each other and the major documents such as the GIRM and CSL (General Instruction on the Roman Missal/Constitution for Sacred Liturgy.) There are necessary protocols to observe regarding this liturgical singularity event of which the entire parish should reach consensus understanding of before making the final choice of which setting is best rendered at the vigil.
If your parish has never sung the hymn tune THAXTED by the great English composer Gustav Holst, run don’t walk to introduce them to M.D. Ridge’s THREE DAYS. As I mentioned in the last column, this powerful text is perfectly wed to the most profound hymn melodies ever composed. And then after Eastertide, the parish can continue using the tune with the text O GOD, BEYOND ALL PRAISING that OCP finally included in its books in 2005.
Lastly, please consider using the chants provided in the missals and Breaking Bread, which include: HOSANNA FILIO DAVID, PANGE LINGUA GLORIOSI, LITANY OF THE SAINTS (maybe as a change from the worthy Becker setting!), VIDI AQUAM and VICTIMAE PASCHALI LAUDES. And, if nothing else, enable your congregations to stand firm and with the very stones join fully in the singing of “Alleluia.” Amen.