Thursday, January 24, 2008

When Can We Expect The new Missal Translation?

I had the opportunity recently to talk at length with one of the members of the committee that has been given the task of drawing up the Catechetical Program that will proceed the implementation of the new Missal translation. Although I had heard several times before from different sources that such a program was being prepared, this was the first time that I have spoken someone who is actually working on this project. In the course of our discussions , I learned several things about this whole project that were news to me.

To begin with, the Catechetical Program is being planned as an "active" rather than passive program, meaning that it will be in the form of seminars or training sessions, both for Bishops and for Priests, much like the "Protecting God's Children" sessions, or the "Safe Environment" training that was mandated several years back. This program would proceed the implementation date of the new translation by as much as a year.

The committee has asked that the draft and outline for this program be completed by October of 2009 for review. The program is tentatively scheduled to be completed and ready-to-go by October of 2010 to begin Advent of 2010.
If this is correct, and it seems to be a reasonable timeline for the scale of program they're considering, then it would seem that the new Missal translation is foreseen as being implemented Advent of 2011. While that seems like a long time from now, the other news concerning this project (at this point, it is more like rumor... well informed but still rumor) would make it seem as though we might need more time!

There is talk that this Catechetical Program could address liturgical issues in addition to the new translation, such as music at Mass (remember that the new music document stresses the role of the Priest and the central importance of the Priests texts being sung), the homily (recall the scathing criticism in Sacramentum Caritatis and the call for improving the quality of homilies), and the incorporation of Latin in the liturgy (yet another issue from Sacramentum Caritatis). Addressing these issues in such a program would require input from a number of different sources, particularly if music is going to be addressed. Such issues could also be affected considerably by developments between now and 2011.

Also in the course of this discussion, I learned that there is growing anxiety about the status of the "Directory for Music and the Liturgy".... that almost forgotten document that was mandated by Liturgiam Authenticam and sent to Rome for recognitio in November of 2006. That document is something of a cornerstone for Sing To The Lord: Music In Divine Worship, the guidelines for liturgical music approved by the Bishops in November of 2007 that replaced Music In Catholic Worship. There has been a lot of talk coming from Rome about liturgical music, and none of it bodes well for the proposals in the Directory for Music and the Liturgy. If that document should be eventually rejected by Rome, it would be back to square one for the guidelines in SttL, which now appears to have been a last-ditch effort to head off more restrictive regulation of music from Rome.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Can Catholics Sing... depends on who you ask!

This from the latest NPM "survey" about singing in US parishes...

Depends on Where You’re Sitting
NPM Newsletter, January 2008

Can Catholics sing? In a recent online survey by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), both musicians and non-musicians thought that congregational singing was better in their own community than it is in most U.S. parishes. (this alone should signal that something is amiss... how would the average musician or non-musician know this?)

Directors, organists, cantors, choir members, instrumentalists, and other music ministers, however, rated assembly singing much more positively than did the people in the pews. (leaving open the question... who is right?) Almost three-quarters of the survey respondents were involved in some form of music ministry. (This gives the survey something of a bias, don't you think? But after all, why would a non-musician be reading the NPM Journal...)

A large majority of music ministers – 72 percent – characterized the singing of their congregations as "very strong" or "somewhat strong." Non-musicians had a rather different perception, however. Only 39 percent of this group thought that the singing of the assembly was strong in their parish.

Both groups had negative opinions of the general state of congregational singing in the United States, which received a positive rating from just 39 percent of musicians and 27 percent of non-musicians.

Why do music ministers perceive congregational singing as stronger than do the people in the pews? (Hmm... I wonder??? See comment below...) One explanation could be that in most churches music ministers are a bit removed from the assembly and can more easily hear the corporate sound of the singing assembly while non-musicians are often painfully aware of those immediately around them who are not singing. (this assumes an extremely self-conscious assembly, and a rather un-christian approach to worship)

Another factor could be the poor acoustics in many churches that results from the overuse of sound-absorbing materials. Instead of blending the assembly’s voices, many church buildings actually deaden sound and prevent people in the congregation from sensing the strength of singing.

(But the most likely factor is that Directors and musicians have a vested interest in the continuation of the myth of strong assembly participation at Mass, and so if the people are not singing well, they would have to view themselves as failures in their jobs )

Whatever the reason for the striking difference of opinion or perception, the NPM survey provides food for thought for pastors, musicians, and other pastoral leaders.

These "surveys" get more ridiculous every year, and each year they come to the same conclusion, that Music Directors will generally represent the singing in their parish much more positively than it actually is.
Here's an idea: If the NPM is truly interested in getting an accurate picture of the current state of liturgical music, which I don't think they are, then do an actual STUDY. Enlist a group of COMPETENT persons who know about liturgical music (Hmm... that shouldn't be too hard to find in the hallways of the NPM main offices, should it?) to be Evaluators and select perhaps 500 parishes of various sizes and locations throughout the country as a "sample". Have the Evaluators attend Sunday Masses at these parishes and rate the singing on a scale of 0-10 based on how many people out of 10 in the assembly are actually attempting to sing. This would be simple enough to do just by counting a random sample of people during the time the singing is going on.
In addition to the location of the parish, data should include the part of the liturgy being sung (Entrance, Gloria, Psalm, Offertory Song, Eucharistic Prayer Responses, Communion Song, Recessional Song) as well as title of song and whether the assembly was using a hardbound hymnal, Missalette or printed "worship aid". Since each one of the 50 Evaluators would be responsible for 10 parishes, It would take about 10 weeks for each to complete a fairly thorough evaluation of the music at their assigned parishes... 20 weeks if each parish was attended on two different Sundays, which would give a more accurate picture still. If the Evaluators were trained properly for this study, they might actually be able to put together some usable information concerning how people sing, and what they will sing better and what they won't sing at all.
The result of this study, if carried out properly, might give us some insight on how contemporary liturgical music holds up versus traditional hymns or how various types of instrumental ensembles fare versus Organ or unaccompanied singing... which is precisely why this study will never be done!