Gregorian Chant in a Protestant Context
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I thought I would share with you all what happened this morning at my church. I work at a medium/large Episcopal church in a southeast MI suburb, with a semi-professional (but yet still very amateurish) choir. For communion, we usually do a Taize chant, repeated sufficiently to cover the procession, followed by a hymn. This Sunday, I had the choir sing the chant hymn "Ubi Caritas" at communion. It was sung in English, straight from the Hymnal (#606), with all on the antiphon, women on v. 1, men on v. 2, and everyone on v. 3. It was a resounding success! I was mobbed with compliment after compliment from people who loved the chant. I should mention this is not a "smells and bells" church; this is a traditional low protestant church. Draw your own conclusions about theology or beauty or whatever, but I just wanted to share that chant can be made to work well even in a seemingly unlikely setting like this!
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    Gavin - Thanks for sharing your experience. And even more, thanks for sharing the chant. It does travel well, doesn't it?
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 756
    The Anglican (AKA Episcopal) Communion has its own variant of plainsong, written by John Merbecke in the 16th century at the request of Archbishop Cramner. It is a simple setting of texts from the Book of Common Prayer, designed to meet Cramner's preference "for every syllable a note." The temporary restoration of Catholicism under Bloody Queen Mary brought an end to its short life, or rather put it into hibernation until it was re-discovered by the Anglo-Catholics in the 19th century. It is still sung in places, though generally in a freer rhythm than the original. It is of relevance to our contemporary attempts to provide vernacular chant-settings, and can be beautiful in practice.

    Here is a link to a web page that provides facsimiles of Merbeck's publication.

    I wonder if any Anglican-Rite parishes use adaptations of Merbecke?
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    i remember very well singing merebecks agnus every sunday in the presbyterian church i grew up in. it was in the anglican church that i first experienced gregorian chant many years after my conversion to catholicism. (I was a paid choir member)

  • I'm not sure about Our Lady of Walsingham these days, but the Merbecke Communion Setting was in the rotation of Ordinaries when I was there. We used the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, but with the Old Scottish Chant Gloria. We used The Hymnal 1940 version, with freer, chant-like rhythms, and the "Amen" and the end of the Gloria. We did not care for The Hymnal 1982 versions at all.
  • Yes, Steve, the Merbecke is still sungen at Walsingham during non-festive seasons. It getteth old, and thus our need is to learn more settings of the ordinarie besides Willan, Marialis, and Merbecke.
  • I would certainly agree. I might suggest looking in RC archives from the 1960s. The first English translation Ordinaries that were made available to us at the very beginning are only a few syllables off of the Rite I mark. And I seriously doubt that, even with the upcoming "new" translations, that they will ever be used by the "mainstream".

    And then all the rest of us can hope and pray that these be allowed as "sung only repertoire" in the mainstream. ICEL seems to be barely OK when it comes to spoken translations of anything. Putting their texts to music is just plain difficult, and not very rewarding musically.
  • BTW, there is a beautiful version of "Ubi caritas" by Dom Gregory Murray - "God is Love". It is in The Hymnal 1982, and some other Catholic hymnals. It's a faithful translation with a wonderful "new" melody. I recommend it to all!
  • Actually, I've always thought the Oldroyd in the back of 1940 was nice; but it was never done as often as it deserved. (What do you think of Finzi??[!]?)

    (My apologies to Gavin's topic: Oldroyd, though really nice, is obviously not chant. Gavin might find it useful to locate a copy of St Dunstan's Kyriale, which has a large number of the chant ordinaries put into Anglican English (with square notes). Many Anglo-Catholic parishes used to know them all - can you imagine a congregation of 3 to 6 hundred people singing these with spirit? It is saddening how the 'people in the pews' have been systematically dumbed down by the iconoclastic avant garde who fondly screech that 'the people' cannot learn what, in fact, they DID learn.)
  • I'm not familiar with the Finzi, but his name does remind me of another. Harold Friedel (sp?) composed a "Modal Mass", intended to be a counter part to the Willan. Some one at Christ Church Cathedral gave me a copy once, but we never got around to learning while I was at OLW. I'm not sure if it has a "Benedictus" section.

    Again, any of these would be wonder Masses for Catholics everywhere to use. But that will never happen if the text of the sung Mass absolutely must be exactly the current ICEL, and no other possibilities. This is the biggest thorn in my side about the USCCB/ICEL regime: they are pleased to ignore what was once "authorized" in order to create a "jobs program" for the contemporary composers hired by the publishing companies. IOW, if it was once authorized, how/why is it now NOT authorized? Isn't this the exact same thing that happened with the EF Mass? It took the first 21st century pope to un-abrogate this Missal! Now what about some one un-abrogating thousands of pieces of sacred music by hundreds of good 20th century Catholic composers?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    What "once authorized" material are you thinking of? After all, the only authorized English Mass texts were those from 1964-1969 and then the current ICEL texts. Or are you referring to something else?

    As for the question of allowing alternative settings, I'm not sure the prospective benefits (whatever they are) are worth the downside: many priests and musicians would take such a freedom as an opportunity to disregard the new translation and keep the old ICEL texts.
  • I am speaking specifically of those musical Ordinaries from 1964-1969. Many composers knocked themselves out to refit the right-hand page of the Missal (of whichever edition was chosen as authorized) to their existing compositions, compositions that had been in use for decades, and also new compositions, only to see their works of those years thrown out. Whether that was the "official" intention of Holy Mother Church or not, that is what happened. A new round of composers got in their "new" works, and only theirs were seemingly allowed - practically speaking. I don't blame any of the former composers for not venturing into the new turbulent waters, having had their recent work now forbidden! Those texts and the accompanying music was good enough then, and it is certainly good enough now!

    And, by a similar token, if musical works of both Rites I and II within the Anglican Use are "OK" to be sung at a Catholic Mass, then why not universally so?
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Thanks to all for giving me a "walk down memory lane", guys. Merbecke, Willan, Oldroyd. I remember them so fondly. That's what the congregations were singing when I first encountered the beauty of an Anglican liturgy.
    We sing some Friedell, now, particularly his setting of 'Draw us in the Spirit's tether' for SATB. Also his setting of the Mag and Nunc

  • Many Anglicans, including ME, do not like to hear the churches of the Anglican Communion called "protestant."

    See John Macquarrie's essay at:
  • There is a major difference between the mere question of validity of Holy Orders and being Protestant, that's for sure.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 756

    With respect, "many" may be stretching it. Anglo Catholics were relatively thin on the ground when Professor Macquarrie wrote his essay, and they have become even more scarce in the intervening 40 years. Also, the issue of the catholicity or otherwise of the Anglican Communion has been at the heart of the differences between Anglo and Roman Catholics from the Oxford Movement onwards. We are reminded of this by the forthcoming beatification of that great convert and figurehead of the Movement, Cardinal Newman. You can therefore hardly expect commenters on a Roman Catholic discussion board to refrain from terming Anglicans "protestant".

    None of which is to say that Roman Catholics do not owe a debt of gratitude to the Anglicans who have protected and fostered the Church's treasury of music through a time when the majority of their own clergy have paid it scant attention. Nor is it meant to suggest that all protestants are the same. As an ex-Anglican who still frequently sings Anglican, I know it's not so.
  • I've noticed that a number of commentors on this site routinely type "protestant" using the lower case "p." Is this some some sort of childish theological subterfuge or just a case of needing an English 101 refresher?
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 756

    Mea culpa, but no offence intended. I guess it's because I think of 'Protestant' as an historical umbrella term, rather than a proper noun (you'll note I capitalised Anglican and Anglo-Catholic, just as I would have Methodist or Presbyterian).
  • Maureen
    Posts: 675
    Many newspapers and academic journals have disapproved stylistically, for at least the last ten years, of using capitalization on most proper nouns except names of people. (To the point that you see things like "italian dressing" and "french fries"). After so long, it's become surprisingly difficult to fight the lower-case thing.

    However, "cauldron" and "archaeology" I continue to spell in the olden ways.
  • I am the choirmaster of an exceedingly Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish, and there we regularly use the settings by Willan, Oldroyd, Merbecke, and Sowerby, and the Missa Marialis from The Hymnal 1940, plus Leighton and Harris. All of these, with the exception of the solo parts of Oldroyd, the congregation participates in "lustily and with good courage". This past Lent I introduced Missa De Angelis in English (Greek Kyrie) because the pastor was looking for an additional "chant" ordinary. The congregation picked up the 'eleison' the first week, and most of everything else except the Agnus Dei over the course of use. (The choir processes to Communion during the Agnus Dei, which makes it difficult to get the timing exactly right, especially in teaching a new setting.) They will be doing Merbecke for Advent this year (haven't done Merbecke in two and a half years).

    In the country parish in which I grew up, Oldroyd was the standard festival setting, Merbecke and Marialis the ferial settings for Advent and Lent, and Willan/Merbecke/Marialis for the rest of the year, although we did also learn De Angelis and Orbis factor and use them from time to time. When the liturgical 'renewal' of the 70s arrived, our choirs tried several of the contemporary settings but disliked them exceedingly, so back to Willan et al we went (actually, those of us in junior and senior high HATED the new liturgy, period, as did most of the adults.) We used Rite II (sister to the NO, of course) but sang the traditional Ordinaries.

    I dislike exceedingly the new rhythms in The Hymnal 1982 and my choristers won't do them (and I don't ask them to do so.) I understand the work of mensuralists; I just don't happen to agree with it.

    For Christmas Eve this year that choir will be singing Willan's Missa Brevis No. 4 in E major (on Corde natus; a lovely and most singable work) with the Gloria from the 1940. I have been eyeballing it for converting to the Latin Ordinary for my schola and my home parish...but probably not on the platter for this year :-)