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Musical Musings: Liturgy

A Sung Gospel!

by Gary D. Penkala

Book of Sung Gospels Will the idea of a sung Gospel spread from Rome to New York to the rest of the country? The music at the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, April 20, 2008, was generally glorious and quite fitting to the "cathedral" atmosphere that abounded. Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music for Saint Patrick Cathedral in New York, was responsible for the liturgical music at the papal ceremonies. Her outstanding choices for the Closing Mass at Yankee Stadium showed not only a wonderful sample of the best music one might find in churches and cathedrals across America, but also showed a profound respect for the humble German pontiff who was celebrating the Mass as America's guest. The music for the Mass, from Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" to Mozart's "Dixit Dominus" to Brahms' "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place" to Schubert's "Mass in G," was drawn largely from German/Austrian sources, including the two hymn tunes: Lasst uns erfreuen and Ode to Joy. There was also a selection of Gregorian chant, which the pope loves:

as well as Italian polyphony:

  • Tu es Petrus (Dom Lorenzo Perosi)
  • Gloria and Agnus Dei from Missa O magnum mysterium (T.L. da Victoria)
  • Sicut cervus (G.P. da Palestrina)

Perhaps most intriguing was the chanting of the Gospel, both at this Mass and the Mass the day before in Saint Patrick's Cathedral. This is universally done at large Masses at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, where the Gospel is chanted by the deacon in Latin, and occasionally by another deacon in Greek. One rarely hears a televised Mass in the U.S. with the Gospel chanted in English. Kudos to New York and Dr. Pascual for including this highly solemn component in each New York Mass.

What resource was used by the deacon for chanting the Gospel? CNP's own, Book of Sung Gospels, our flagship publication first published in 1996. In the Foreword , The Rev. Michael A. Caridi, STL, pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Coraopolis PA, writes:

In recent years, those attuned to the movement of Catholic liturgy have observed a renewed interest among various individuals, groups and societies in rediscovering the transcendental dimension of Catholic worship. There has been a discernible shift in emphasis in many liturgical circles from the carefree styles born out of the late sixties and seventies to a reawakening of the need for proper reverence and solemnity in the Mass and other liturgical celebrations. CanticaNOVA Publications, in this their premier publication, is a sure sign that this movement continues to gain momentum.

As we know, sacred chant is an inestimable treasure of our Catholic liturgical heritage and remains, even today, a relevant and desirable way of adding the appropriate solemnity and grace to the liturgy. Utilizing a tone common in the Church for centuries, Gary Penkala and Christopher Bord have assembled and arranged in the Book of Sung Gospels forty-two uncomplicated Gospel chants of noble quality for use during the various major solemnities and feasts of the liturgical year. The material in this volume has already been employed in various cathedrals and seminaries and has received enthusiastic response. This publication, I believe, will prove very useful for those parishes, seminaries and religious communities striving to achieve an ever higher level of grace and dignity in their worship.

Shawn Tribe had several comments on his blog, The New Liturgical Movement, the same day the Mass:

Three of the four liturgies [in Washington and New York] were characterized by traditional forms of sacred music. Beyond that, we also saw the sung Gospel, the use of the Graduale and more polyphony and chant than has likely been heard at most any papal Mass outside of Rome in recent memory. This is significant.

About the Mass at Saint Patrick Cathedral:

The alleluia sequence was quite dramatic and the gospel chanted in traditional tones as would be done in Latin as well.

About the Yankee Stadium:

The Gospel was sung at this Mass again today using the traditional tones, and it is wonderful to hear this. This is an aspect that needs to be reclaimed as part of the reform of the reform. It is perhaps one of the surprising and positive developments within the New York Masses the past two days.

You can revive this ancient tradition of chanting the Gospel in your own parish (with some help from the deacon or priest) with CanticaNOVA Publication's Book of Sung Gospels [the introductory material is also available online]. This would make an exquisite gift for your deacon or priest!

Per Evangelica dicta deleantur nostra delicta.
May the words of the Gospel wipe away our sins.

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