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Musical Musings: CNP Feedback

CNP Feedback - Gloria

by Gary D. Penkala

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proved quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

I'm the musical director and organist at a Catholic church in Michigan. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to offer me some suggestions and liturgical guidance as to when it's proper or most fitting to sing (and when to recite) the Gloria, particularly during Ordinary Time?

Our parish has been singing it EVERY Sunday outside of Advent and Lent, and I would like to consider limiting the singing of it to just special special feasts, solemnities, celebrations, and perhaps even the whole Easter season, up to and including Pentecost. I think TOO frequent usage of the Gloria could tend to rob it of its festive character.

I'd greatly appreciate your professional opinion and any suggestions you could provide concerning this liturgical music matter.

A. Dear Music Director:

The official General Instruction on the Roman Missal reads:

The Gloria is an ancient hymn in which the Church, assembled in the Holy Spirit, praises and entreats the Father and the Lamb. It is sung by the congregation, or by the congregation alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by all together or in alternation. The Gloria is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent and Lent, on solemnities and feasts, and in special, more solemn celebrations. #31
This seems very clear. My interpretation (or perhaps "practical application") would be as follows. It's obvious that the text is a hymn. Because of this, and from the order of options given in the document above, it is less than desirable to recite it. I do understand (and fully agree) with your point that a constant singing can lead to a "leveling" of the high and low points in the liturgical year (something I am extremely opposed to). There are ways, however, to sing this hymn each Sunday and still maintain a sense of progressive solemnity throughout the year.

During the Christmas and Easter seasons, the Gloria setting which is sung should be quite festive [that's really only about 10 Sundays per year]. During Ordinary Time, a simpler, less festive setting should be sung. A chant Gloria (sung alternately by the choir and people) is a perfect option here -- and recalls a very common practice in European cathedrals and churches. Theodore Marier has a very ingenious setting of the Gloria wherein the congregation (led by a cantor) chants the text on a single note G. The creative chords in the organ accompaniment add interest, beginning with unison G and gradually building through rich harmonies toward the final Amen which rests on a G Major chord. Note also that the choir is completely within its "rights" to sing a Gloria ALONE [yes, even WITHOUT the congregation at all]. This is very clear in the document (which can be found at the front of every Sacramentary), but also very much unknown among US Catholic church musicians and priests in general.

So, by varying the style of the sung Gloria, from simple during Ordinary Time to festive (with choral elaboration & instruments, perhaps) during Christmastide and Eastertide, one can highlight the importance of these last two seasons without relegating a poetic "hymn" to perfunctory recitation during the rest of the year.

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