thirty-four more sleeps

Oct 21, 2010

In just four weeks, on Sunday 28 November 2010, the New Zealand Church will receive the people’s parts of the Revised Order of the Mass. On this first Sunday of Advent the texts of the prayers we pray together at Mass will change.

Many of these new texts will be familiar, since in many of the changes we will return to the exact wording of the scriptures from which these prayers were taken.

In the years following the Second Vatican Council, local translations of Latin texts were prepared for every language. Forty years on, it is clear that the English texts of the Mass are not as theologically precise or as aurally attractive as those of other languages.

text revision

In the years since the Council, many people who love the Liturgy of the Church have called for more accurate translations that reflect more fully the depth and beauty of Catholic tradition. Now we are able to receive the fruit of these years of prayer and study as we welcome the Revised Order of the Mass.

On the First Sunday of Advent we receive the revised people’s prayers. At this time there are new translations of

Next year the revised priest’s prayers (Eucharistic Prayer etc) will be introduced.

a significant opportunity

This is a significant moment for the Church in New Zealand. We are the first country in the world to use these new English texts. Australia will follow at Pentecost 2011 and USA in Advent 2011.

The new texts are quite different from those we use now. It is evident that these revised translations are not the casual conversational language of the street. Some words and phrases will sound strange at first. This is because we have become used to casual vernacular prose rather than the more dignified language of liturgy.

in the Mass we learn to mean what we pray

In the language of the Mass we do not simply pray what we mean as in private prayer. Instead in the Mass we allow ourselves to be formed by these ancient prayers that carry and communicate the heart of our faith. Our need in the Mass is to mean what we pray. In this way we are formed and re-formed by the ancient and time-tested prayers of the Mass.

not simply speaking, not simply singing… the beauty of chant

At the heart of the Catholic tradition of Liturgical prayer is chant. In the last forty years we have grown accustomed to singing popular hymns at Mass. There are times when this is appropriate and even perhaps necessary. However, rather than singing ‘at’ Mass, the Catholic tradition is to sing ‘the’ Mass.

This does not mean that complex melodies and harmonies need to be learned. Instead, good chant is simple and beautiful. Alongside complex choral singing and enthusiastic lively melody, chant can seem like a lesser option. However the reality is that in most parishes, spoken prayers not choral singing have become the norm for Mass.

Therefore, think of chant not as ‘dumbed down’ melody, but as elevated speech. When we chant the otherwise spoken parts of the Mass we are giving greater dignity to the prayers we pray. Rather than racing apace through prayers, the gentle motion and flexible rhythm of chant slows us, giving us time to ponder what we pray. We get a chance to savour what we sing.

Chant does not require instrumental accompaniment: therefore even the smallest congregations can pray together in this most dignified form.

no problem if you can’t sing – chant instead!

Many people in an average congregation feel unable to hold a tune or to sing a melody, especially when notes climb or descend out of range, or when the tune is unfamiliar. But every worshipper has the ability to join in simple chant. In this communal action we seek not to sound like a choir. Our goal is to express our unity and faith, and to pray together “with one voice.”

It is significant to note that the liturgy document of the Vatican Council never anticipated that ancient chant would vanish from Sunday parish Masses. There is something in the human heart that yearns for an option of communication that is ‘in-between’ the simple casual spoken word, and the complex beauty of choral music. This is perhaps why as chant was used less in Churches, music stores filled up with albums of monks and nuns chanting ancient prayers. If we couldn’t have chant in church, we had to have it in our homes.

Have a listen to some examples of the revised texts in chant. These could be used at any Geraldine or Grey Valley Mass:

You might have a chance to spend some time over the next couple of weeks becoming familiar with these tones online.


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