Throughout the next year, and until the implementation of the New Translation of the Roman Missal, The Authentic Update will focus on issues surrounding the New Translation and developments in Sacred Music arising from it. I hope you will visit here frequently and join in the conversation as the Church enters into this remarkable period of liturgical transformation.

Monday, January 31, 2011

LITURGICAL MYTHBUSTERS: Singing the Mass Takes Too Much Time

With the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal, there has been a call for a renewed emphasis on the singing of the Mass, particularly the dialogues between the Priest and the assembly. The USCCB guidelines for music in the liturgy, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship says the following about the importance of singing the dialogues at Mass:

Among the parts to be sung, preference should be given “especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together.”90 This includes dialogues such as "God, come to my assistance - Lord make haste to help me" in the Office, or "The Lord be with you - And also with you" in the Mass. The dialogues of the Liturgy are fundamental because they “are not simply outward signs of communal celebration but foster and bring about communion between priest and people.”91 By their nature, they are short and uncomplicated and easily invite active participation by the entire assembly. Every effort should therefore be made to introduce or strengthen as a normative practice the singing of the dialogues between the priest, deacon, or lector and the people. Even the priest with very limited singing ability is capable of chanting The Lord be with you on a single pitch. (SttL #115a)

Accompanying the new translation of the Roman Missal are new chanted settings of all of these dialogues (as well as all other parts of the Mass). It is clearly the intention that with the implementation of the New Translation, there is to be also an implementation of the practice of singing these dialogues. This simple addition to the liturgy is perhaps the easiest and most effective step towards "full, active and conscious participation" that can be taken at any parish. It should be a liturgical "no brainer"...

I say "should be" because there are always those persistent myths surrounding things liturgical, and the practice of singing the dialogues at Mass is certainly no exception. Very often the objection is raised that Fr. So-and-So "can't carry a tune in a bucket", or some other variation of this complaint. But the dialogues aren't "tunes"... they are, for the most part, single pitches on which the text is spoken. And SttL even addressed this point in saying "even the priest with very limited singing ability is capable of chanting The Lord be with you on a single pitch." I have to agree with them here... this is really an excuse rather than a reason.

Which brings me to the topic of this post and the other frequently heard objection:

"Singing the dialogues takes way too much time."

Well, we do have to consider how long Mass takes... especially in parishes with a full Mass schedule on Sunday morning, when issues of parking lot politics come into play. We certainly don't want to routinely institute practices at Mass that will extend the Mass time by 10 or 15 minutes. That would be unwise and would likely elicit complaints from the parishioners, and justifiably so.

But consider also that many parishes regularly introduce features into the Mass that might extend the time. At more than a few parishes, it's customary to read announcements from the podium after communion. Of course, that would probably only add perhaps a minute, maybe two minutes, so it's not really a big deal. And it's an ubiquitous feature in many parishes across the country for the celebrant to "take a few moments" before the closing prayer to thank the servers, the Extraordinary Ministers, maybe call for a round of applause for the Choir and Cantors... but again, that takes maybe a minute or two depending on the number of "Thank You's" and the extent of the applause. And then there are various times set aside for blessing children or recognizing visitors to the parish...but none of these really takes more than maybe a couple of minutes. Nothing like the extra time it takes to sing the Mass rather than just speaking the texts.

But are we being maybe a little bit hasty in this assessment? It does take time to sing those dialogues...but it also takes time to speak them. And you do have to either speak them or sing them... it's not as though they are omitted if they aren't sung. So how much extra time does it take to sing the dialogues as we are encouraged to do rather than speak them?

There's an easy way to find out.

I recorded the dialogues (from the new translation) that would ordinarily be sung at Mass -

Introduction to Mass
Orate Fratres
Preface Dialogue
Our Father with Introduction
Deliver Us Lord…
For The Kingdom…

I recorded them spoken, and then the same texts sung using the notation indicated in the new missal translation.



And so how much longer would Mass take if you sung ALL of these dialogues? I asked a few people this past weekend, including two Priests, and got quite a range of responses. One person guessed that it would probably add about 10 minutes to Mass. One of the Priests guessed that it would only add about 7 or 8 minutes to Mass. Another said that it would only add about 5 minutes or so to Mass...

But when you actually compare the time that it takes to speak and sing the same texts, we get a very different answer. (click below for larger image)

In reality, it would only add about 1:18 - a minute and eighteen seconds - onto the Mass time! And that would be if we sang ALL of the dialogues... and the Lord's Prayer! That's less time than it takes to make a few announcements, or thank a couple of servers at the end of Mass. And in realistic terms, we're talking about the difference between ending Mass at 11:58 or ending Mass at 11:59. That doesn't exactly seem like an unreasonable extension of the Mass time given the importance that has been attached to the practice of singing the dialogues.

So when the issue of singing the dialogues comes up as you begin preparations for the new translation, and the inevitable voice is raised in objection - "that takes way too much time during Mass", you can point out that it takes probably 3 times longer to sing the closing hymn... and so perhaps we should discuss cutting that out first.

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