onsdag 17 juni 2015

It could have been so much better

Last Sunday, Sverigesradio broadcast the main 11 o'clock Mass from St Lars, Uppsala. This is a flourishing, lively and diverse parish which attracts many new converts to the faith. As the priest said in his sermon, there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners.

The sad thing is that the liturgy there could be so much better than it is. As a world-class university city, the parish should be a shop window offering the very best from the 2000-year-old tradition of Catholic music, a tradition which pre-dates Christianity by at least a millennium. The occasion of a broadcast should have been taken as an opportunity to put these treasures on display.

Unfortunately, the liturgy was barely even recognisable as Catholic. The service began with a well-known Anglican hymn "Holy, holy, holy" to the setting by the Victorian composer Dykes, and there was a popular Swedish hymn at the offertory. The Ordinary was one of the adaptations to the Swedish text to a Gregorian setting of the Latin; worse things have been written to be sung at Mass, especially in English, but they are clumsy when compared with the Latin settings such as Missa de Angelis or Orbis Factor. In the absence of a setting for the Swedish text of the Creed, it was recited.

It could have been so much better. The introit antiphon, which forms part of the readings, could have been sung, either in Latin, or the Swedish text could have been chanted. Why not use the Latin settings of the Ordinary?  Why not sing Credo 3? Everyone knows these. And why not sing simple polyphonic motets at the Offertory and Communion? There is no shortage of talent in the parish.

There seems to be an idea around that Protestant hymns should be used at Catholic Masses as an expression of some kind of ecumenical ideal, or to make former members of the Swedish Lutheran Church feel comfortable in their new Catholic environment - as though nothing has really changed.

The effect is to suffuse the liturgy with a Protestant spirit, since such hymns express the spirit of Protestantism at a subtle level. Their intrusion also has the effect of destroying the artistic integrity of the liturgy - it is rather like inserting a piece by Wagner into the middle of an opera by Handel. It also makes those who do not have a background in the Swedish Lutheran Church - and there are seventy different languages spoken amongst the parishioners - feel excluded. St Lars is precisely the sort of diverse parish where the church's official language should be used in the liturgy, to establish a common ground where no one group of people are privileged.

Given the importance of Uppsala as a flagship Catholic parish, those in charge of the liturgy need to re-think what they are doing.

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