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CNP Feedback - Gift... or Not?

Q. Dear CNP:

I enjoy your website. How would you evaluate "Gift of God" by Marty Haugen? Would you consider it a liturgical song for Advent, which could be used for the Entrance or Communion? Some of us are questioning its use and we would appreciate your input.

Re Gift-ing

A. Dear Re:

Thank you for your kind words about the CNP website.

I must admit (perhaps thankfully) that I don't know the song, "Gift of God," by Marty Haugen, who works at a United Church of Christ seminary and congregation in Minnesota. An online music store's website offers a sound clip and a sample page of the song. Here are my thoughts on its use, judging from what I can see on that site.

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal [GIRM] says this about the music which begins the Mass:

48. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant:

  1. the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting;
  2. the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual;
  3. a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
  4. a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop

A. If a parish has a capable schola and the parish can be effectively brought to a pastoral understanding of the practice, the Introit should be sung in Latin Gregorian chant as the Entrance Chant of the Mass. On the First Sunday of Advent, this would be Ad te levavi from the Graduale Romanum, page 15.

B. As an alternative to the chant, another musical setting of the Latin words, Ad te levavi animam meam... may be sung (perhaps by Palestrina or Victoria or Byrd).

C. These words may also be sung in their English translation, "To you I lift up my soul..." either by a choir,
D. by a cantor and congregation,
E. or by the congregation alone.

Music can be found in Mass Propers for Advent and other sources.

F. If none of these is possible, a simpler chant, Ad te Domine levavi, can be sung from the Graduale Simplex, page 53.

G. This same chant may be sung in English ("To you, O Lord, I lift my soul...") from the book, By Flowing Waters by Dr. Paul Ford, which translates into English the entire Graduale Simplex.

H. Either F. or G. may be sung by choir or by cantor/choir and congregation.

I. A psalm can be sung as the Entrance Chant. In this case, a version of Psalm 25 would be perfect, since that is where the text of the proper Introit is taken.

J. Another suitable song can be sung.

It's only this very last option (J. in a long list) that allows "other" music to be sung. And even in this remote option, the Church has preferences.

J1. Music that is "chant-like" comes first.
J2. Then music with some continuity with the tradtions of the past.
J3. Then freely-composed music and text

Notice how far down this list a song like "Gift of God" comes. It would be a musically impoverished parish indeed that could do nothing higher on the list during Advent. And just because 95% of a parish's liturgical repertoire comes only at a "J3" level, doesn't mean it shouldn't be striving to learn music more in keeping with what the Church really prefers us to do.

All this discussion so far has been made completely apart from the theological or musical merits of "Gift of God."

Within the "J3" category there is obviously a wide range of quality. Judging from the music page and audio sample I reviewed, it appears that "Gift of God" is in a popularist style, the music of which (devoid of text) would feel quite at home played on a piano in a cocktail lounge. In my opinion, that alone makes it unsuitable for use at Mass.

My mantra lately has been, "Observe the Vatican to see what the Roman Rite should look like." Certainly you wouldn't expect to hear lounge music played on a piano in Saint Peter's Basilica with Pope Benedict celebrating Mass. Stylistically, it's no more appropriate, then, in Chicago, or Minneapolis, or Palm Beach or San Francisco, or Whoopin Holler.

Get on board with where the Church is currently leading! Sing the propers in one form or another (Latin, English, choir, schola, soloist, cantor/congregation, congregation). Don't be stuck in an out-dated, obsolete, 1970s format that still uses hymns (and, heaven forbid, four at every Mass) to replace proper texts given to us by the Church.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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