The English settings I learnt at school seem to have disappeared entirely

So that is that, then. Out with the old, in with the new. Last Sunday was the last Sunday of the current translation of the Roman Missal, and next Sunday will be the first Sunday with the new translation – at least in part. Last Sunday I made sure I sang the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. It took me the best part of two decades to learn how to sing the “Through him, with him, in him…”, and that knowledge is now redundant. The new translation has new words and a new word order, and it will probably be about 2027 before I can sing the doxology again.

The new translation is of course arriving incrementally, and what we have is an interim Missal for the use of the priest and the cards for the use of the congregation. I am fairly familiar with the texts and I have to say that I like them. Having the interim missal in my hands, I was struck by the way it contains quite a lot of music; but this should not be suprising, as the Roman Missal, 1973 edition, also contained a lot of music. This reminds me forcibly that the Mass is meant to be sung, and that this was very much the intention of the framers of the liturgical reform. And yet, by and large, it is not sung.

If you think about it, the Gloria is a hymn, and therefore to be sung; the Kyrie, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei are chants, and thus to be sung too; and there seems to be unanimity in all the best sources that the Our Father should be sung as well – certainly the interim Missal gives music for the Our Father. Until now, I have noticed that while a paraphrase of the Gloria is usually sung, and the Sanctus too, the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei have often dropped out of the repertoire and are merely said; and the same goes for the Our Father. I am not sure that this is universal, but it is certainly the case in many places where I have been.

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A long time ago, as schoolboys at Ratcliffe College, we were all taught the parts of the Mass, by the late Father Eugene Monaghan, may he rest in peace. This included various Latin chants – the very simplest ones, namely the Kyrie, Sanctus and Gloria from the Missa de Angelis and the Agnus Dei from Mass XVIII along with the Our Father, and the magnificent Credo III. And then we were also taught various English settings, all of which, without exception, I have not heard for years. My impression is that back in the late 1970s there was a conscious effort to promote sung English Masses, but these efforts never really took root, and what eventually filled the vacuum were more folk-like tunes. But now, looking at the interim Missal I see (even if my knowledge of music is virtually nil) that some of those English Mass settings, closely based on the Latin, are back, such as the Our Father setting that closely follows the traditional Latin one. I think that what this means is that once more we are being encouraged to sing the parts of the Mass that ought to be sung, and to sing them in the way they should be sung.

I wonder if this will work. I hope it does, but one has to ask why the singing in the Mass has developed the way it has. The answer must be that people (such as myself) find chant, or the sort of English chant we were given to sing, too difficult. I can sing the Pater Noster (in Latin) but the English equivalent is another matter. Perhaps we should go back to the Latin (or in the case of the Kyrie, the Greek)? It is easier to sing in Latin, after all, and these chants do not constitute a large part of the Mass.

There may well be a huge fight about this (I hope not, I hate conflict); or else nothing much may happen, and things may continue much as before. We shall see. Time shall tell. Next Sunday, and all the Sundays ahead of that, may be very interesting.

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