Talent and Participation

A Solemn Mass is a sung Mass. Every Catholic is entitled to attend Solemn Mass. Yet very few Masses qualify as “sung Masses”. For a Solemn Tridentine Mass, both the priest and a schola must sing. In the “Ordinary Form”, the principle of “Progressive Solemnity” allows a schola alone to provide the sought musical solemnity (definitions? click here).

Why are there so few scholas in our parishes, then? I have heard the following:

  • “I can’t sing” or “believe me, you don’t want to hear me” from parishioners otherwise enthusiastic about liturgy,
  • “I am not qualified” or “I was not trained in Chant” from music staffers or experienced singers (Note: For them, we now have a solution).

“our parish does not have any money” or is another category of answers.

All are bad excuses, easy to dismiss. I will try to show how.

Let us categorize our parishioners in three levels of musicians, and three levels of music ministers.

For musicians,

  • I call “Level 1” someone who can hear a tone, a pitch, and reproduce it.
  • I call “Level 2” someone who has some choral experience, somewhat familiar with music notation.
  • And I call “Level 3” an experienced singer or instrumentalist.

In any parish, you will have a lot more Level 1 than Level 2 musicians, and you may have zero Level 3. Training a level 3 musician takes years. We cannot change that.

For music ministers,

  • I call “Level 1” someone who shows up to Church with the willingness to sing.
  • My “Level 2” minister adds to that willingness at least 45 minutes of individual or collective practice in a week preceding Mass.
  • A “Level 3” minister adds to the practice time some research, reading or organizing to better the music ministry.

Everyone in the parish can become “Level 3 music minister” if they will it.

To be able to Sing the Mass, a parish needs only one “Level 3 Music minister” and one “level 2 musician”. Of course, the more, the better, but my points are those:

  • You do not need a “level 3 musician” to have a solemn sung Mass,
  • Do not let the small number of initial volunteers discourage you.
  • Sight-reading Chant notation is accessible to a motivated “Level 2 to 3” Music Minister. In three years, a motivated student can read most chants of the Mass. Modern Notation will require longer studies to reach sight-reading proficiency. See “reading music“.

Every parish can do it.

How? First consider these important helping factors:

  • The liturgical year is predictable. You can plan long in advance. If it currently takes you 4 weeks to prepare to sing the Proper of a given Sunday, then just start with that. You will become more “efficient” soon enough.
  • No need for a permanent “Level 3 Musician” in your parish does not mean you cannot call one for help to get you started. You will also find many free resources on the web, or neighboring parishes, but there again it comes down to how much will and time you put into it.

Your singing resumé has nothing to do with your ability to Sing the Mass. 

Humility is helpful. To start, pick the easiest chant you can find, and focus on the words. Chant starts with the words, and with phrasing these words musically (Note: I felt plenty humble when I screwed up, often, the simplest English Introits I could find. Thankfully, I was only allowed by the Pastor to sing them as prelude to the 7:00AM Mass… Not many people heard my screw-ups. That was only five years ago). 

Where to find the “easiest chant” ?

You still do not think that singing the Mass a-cappella (without instrument accompanying) is possible? In Southern California, please visit the John-Paul II Center 7:00AM Mass . The cantor at that Mass has no degree in music and started chanting consistently only 5 years ago.

More questions? click here

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