söndag 5 juni 2016

Why the Introit should be sung

Dominus illuminatio mea.
Today's introit, for the tenth Sunday of the year, was the first verse of Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" It is also the motto of the University of Oxford and appears on the coat of arms. The Latin tune would take a couple of rehearsals to learn, but it is in mode 2, which is one of the easier psalm tones, which is an option if the choir does not have the time or skill to learn the music. It could even have been sung in the vernacular; this version of the psalm in Anglican chant would make a perfectly satisfactory start to the Mass.

Unfortunately, it got replaced by a hymn on a different theme altogether.

Does this matter?
In the bigger scheme of things, possibly not, especially when there are parts of the world where it is not even safe to go to church. However, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal lays down guidelines on the subject. Replacing the Introit with a hymn is a last-choice option, and it is meant to be a related text. The Introit, together with the Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory and Communion verses, form part of the readings for the day, no less then the First and Second Readings and the Gospel; they should not be regarded as optional extras. The Introit sets the theme for the Mass and from the priest's point of view, is a useful hook to hang the sermon on.

Related to this is the music itself. For half of the church year - from Advent to Trinity Sunday, and the main feast days, the Introits have special settings which are generally not difficult to learn and get remembered by congregations after a few hearings. Thus they act as "signature tunes" and convey a sense of the flow of the church calendar and the events in scripture that that it recounts. In this, they play an important role in the ongoing catechesis of the people. So they should not be squeezed out by hymns, and certainly not by Protestant hymns, which are grounded in an aggressively non-Catholic spirituality and get the Mass off to a very bad start by putting congregations in the wrong frame of mind. Preferably, the original tunes should be sung, either in Latin, or in the vernacular if the translated text can be made to fit the music without sounding awkward or the text and music being at odds with each other. The translated text can usefully go in the newsletter, where it provides people with something to meditate upon when they take it home and read it.

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