Thursday, May 22, 2014
WHEN HIGH MASS WAS A WORK OF ART, TOO
Returning from a particularly badly done Mass (musically-wise), where taste, restraint and musical beauty are unknown, I find more and more that I take refuge in recordings. Some will call this the ravings of an aesthete but I call it the cry of a poor Mass goer who wants aural loveliness to match the visual loveliness. This was rarely a problem in "the old days" where even amateur choirs tried to emulate the masters of the art of Church music and often produced near-polished performances. It was thought important then to engulf one's eyes and ears in a torrent of sacredness.
Is music at High Mass really that important? Yes, it is.
I refuse to sully my mind with the thoughts of the degrading rubbish that is now common in Catholic churches around the world. To even think about it fills me with revulsion. Instead I will use this space to call upon Church musicians and choirs to do what their elders did, namely: emulate the great masters of the art. High Mass must be given the extra veneer of great music and by great music I do not mean compositions by Sister Mary Nice from 1959 but rather the artistic giants who composed great works for High Mass.
And we are not here specifically thinking of the massive works by Mozart, et al. We are speaking of more modest yet powerful examples of what should be heard at High Mass - and I speak here of High Mass, not Low Mass. Despite what some might say the only sounds we should hear at Low Mass are the sotto voce prayers of priest and servers, the tinkling of the bells, the turning of paper-thin Missal pages and the shuffling of feet approaching the Communion rail. But High Mass? There we must have music. Great music.
A number of posts ago we referred our readers to one of the sad and yet glorious Kyries of the Flemish composer Flor Peeters (1903-1986), from his exquisite Mass in Honor of St Joseph. Another recording has been located of that piece, with the added masterful Gloria following. This is what High Mass is supposed to be accompanied by, not massive Mozartian extravaganzas (lovely as those can be under the right circumstances) but the type of gorgeous adoration of Our Lord that even choirs and churches with modest means can manage. And if you are lucky enough to have a master choir director who can mold untrained voices and build upon trained ones then all the better.
We owe it to Jesus Christ Our Lord to worship Him in a manner befitting not only the great suffering He endured but the Majesty that is the Son of God.
Here is one way this could be done, and should be done, with the music of Flor Peeters: