Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Heritage Missal

Melancholicus satisfied his first Sunday obligation of the new liturgical year at the parish of St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma, Washington. The church itself is nothing to write home about (it is an unbeautiful modern edifice dating from the late 1950s), but the resident clergy are orthodox, the liturgy is generally tasteful, and the preaching is good. One particular difference Melancholicus has noticed between churches over here and in Ireland is that there are generally no hymnals or liturgy-books in the pews of Irish churches, whereas in the United States these things abound. Whether such is a good thing is quite another matter; studying the printed materials provided in each pew (the “Gather” hymnal and suchlike), Melancholicus is less than impressed, and has often wished that American Catholics cared more for the modern equivalent of Low Mass (Irish style). This because the fare to be found in these books seldom rises above the level of tawdry mediocrity, and the pathetic little ditties often employed in American churches in lieu of sacred music serve only to make one cringe.

Since last week the pews have been filled with brand-spanking-new copies of a paperback volume called “Heritage Missal”. This is published afresh for each liturgical year, and contains the Mass ordinary and the propers, including readings, for each day. This in itself is a useful function, as it obviates the need for those wretched missalettes which litter the floors and porches of churches in Ireland. But because the propers are set out day by day according to the civil calendar, the missal is good for one year only, is out of date the following year, and must be replaced by the next current edition. Accordingly, there is an annual turnover of these cheap paperback missals, which no doubt generates tremendous revenue for the publisher. Hence the reason it is re-issued every year. One can only conclude that the American Church has too much money if it can afford to fritter it away on such disposable resources.

The “Heritage Missal”—which Melancholicus can only declare is a misnomer, since there’s precious little heritage in it—is published by an organisation named OCP, or Oregon Catholic Press. This organisation makes a tidy profit churning out these throwaway missals year after year; every church Melancholicus has visited in Tacoma has sported them. A visit to the OCP website reveals that this organisation is a vehicle of the liturgical revolution. OCP publishes the musical compositions of people such as Michael Joncas, Dan Schutte, David Haas, Paul Inwood, Marty Haugen et al—a veritable Who’s Who of songsters that Traditional Catholics love to hate (not without reason). Wikipedia gives us the sobering information that the products of OCP are used in two-thirds of all Catholic churches in the U.S. The result of this near monopoly is a tyranny of the mediocre, since the “Heritage Missal” contains not only the Mass propers, but all the music composed for those propers by third-rate artistes. Thus we get jolly little ditties pitched at grade school level; weak paraphrases of the psalms; jarring modern ‘hymns’ with a pop beat; anthropocentric ‘feel-good’ clap-trap, and other obscenities. There is the occasional kernel of wheat among the chaff; last Sunday’s Mass featured the traditional Advent hymn Creator Alme Siderum in a decent English translation, and to the same melody familiar to users of the Liber Usualis, but overall, the musical contents of the “Heritage Missal” must be judged inadequate for the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

This is tremendously frustrating for those faithful who abhor the triumph of bad taste, not only because of the poor quality of these compositions in themselves, but because of their perpetuity; by printing an annual missal in which such musical settings are included, OCP maintains a stranglehold on Catholic liturgy in the U.S. At present, there is small hope that the depressed state of the liturgy will be relieved; the domination of musical arrangements by the mafia of the mediocre is too firmly entrenched. The forthcoming revised translation of the Roman Missal may have some impact, but owing to the looseness of contemporary liturgical law, in which musical compositions need not follow the authorized text of the Mass verbatim, there is no reason why the same old ’seventies folk-songs (together with ’seventies ICEL) will not continue to irritate Mass-goers yearning for a little solemnity for a generation or more to come.

We might ask: who owns OCP? Is it a private concern? Is it answerable to the bishops? In either case, there must be some way of compelling it to forget about the spirit of Vatican II and conform instead to the principles of the Benedictine reform. If OCP is a private concern, perhaps the dioceses of the United States could cease purchasing its products, and turn instead to a more orthodox, Catholic-minded publisher who would be only too delighted to assist in the reform of the reform, and make a good living in the process. But if it is an organ of the conciliar church, it will doubtless continue to exercise its baleful influence long after Joncas, Haugen, Haas, Inwood et al are all dead.

Small wonder hardly anybody joins in the singing at Mass; most are probably as embarrassed by it as Melancholicus.

The spirit of Vatican II rages against the dying of the light. We might have landed the troops in Normandy (liturgically speaking), but there is a long and bitter fight ahead of us before we stand finally at the gates of Berlin. In the meantime, OCP will continue to churn out volume after volume of the so-called “Heritage Missal” until either legitimate authority or market forces compel them to stop. At present there is no indication that either source of relief will be forthcoming.

The prospects are gloomy.


Anonymous said...


John 4:19-26
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Melancholicus said...

Using our own Scripture against us, you devil? Get thee gone.

Who gave you permission to leave a comment on my blog anyway?

Extra cyber-slaps if I catch you doing it again.