Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bede: "doctus in nostris carminibus"

Co-written with Tyler Mitchell.

On August 23, we went to Mass at St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg, VA. Naturally, when Lyn had a look at the church's website, the first thing that caught her attention was the organ: a Buzard, Op. 31, which is a 3-manual, 54-rank organ. It's the most striking thing in this "church in the round." The processional organ is particularly interesting because of the en chamade pipes jutting out horizontally from the bottom of the case. We wish we could have heard them – perhaps during the processional or recessional!

But first things first. The music list. The numbers refer to GIA's Gather Comprehensive 1994 (green cover).

Saturday 5.30 pm Vigil Mass: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Kyrie: Not sure what setting. It's not in Gather.
Gloria: 176 (Andrews)
Gospel Acclamation: 263, Joyful Alleluia (Hughes); verse was not
chanted to that indicated (should have been LBW Tone 1, but it didn't sound like it).
Sanctus, Mem. Accl., Amen, Agnus Dei: Mass of Creation (d/b/a Massive Cremation)

We missed the prelude (if any was played) because we arrived in the middle of the Opening Hymn. (Oops!)

Pro: 488, To Jesus Christ, our sovereign king (ICH GLAUB AN GOTT)
Psalm: 133, Psalm 138 (Stewart)
Off: 702, The love of the Lord (M. Joncas)
Comm: 598, Center of my life (P. Inwood); 654, With a shepherd's care (J. Chepponis)
Re: 524, Holy God, we praise Thy Name (GROSSER GOTT)

We're not sure what the postlude was, but it was well executed. Too bad not many people could shut their big yappers were listening to it.

Now for our impressions. It turned into an interesting discussion on the differences between the Canadian Catholic Church & the American Catholic Church. Whilst having this discussion, Lyn remembered her experiences going to Mass at St. Michael's Cathedral and Our Lady of Lourdes in Toronto, and St. Martin de Porres and St. Joseph's in Scarborough. She remembered some notable differences ... admittedly, far more noticeable at St. Michael's than at the latter three parishes she had visited.

So from the beginning:

Even though we gave ourselves what we thought was ample time to get to St. Bede's we didn't anticipate on our directions from Mapquest having a minor typo that caused us to miss a turn. We pulled into the carpark a couple minutes before 5.30 pm (along with a slew of others). We were struck with how huge the carpark was. It was a clue that the parish is a rather large one.

We found a space and walked toward the church. Lyn was rather dismayed at the Church in the Round, and expressed reservations about it. Tyler's reaction to it: "Zoinks!" Lyn's only other experience with this type of architecture was when she went to St. Andrew the Apostle in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines. We also knew about the organ, thanks to Lyn's search of the church website, and were wondering if we would hear it at this Vigil Mass. We weren't disappointed – as we walked into that cavernous Narthex, we heard the organ, and the people were singing the opening hymn very well. We walked on until we found an empty pew toward the back of the round, and we ended up to the right of the altar. We both groaned when we saw Gather Comprehensive in the pews. We also glanced at the music selections that was printed in a green leaflet inserted in the hymnals. Tyler certainly wasn't impressed. All Lyn could do was sigh.

The Gloria was the Carroll Andrews setting. It's a relatively well-known setting amongst American Catholics. However, Tyler opines that the priest alone should have given the intonation "Glory to God in the Highest." Lyn admits to not having paid attention to this detail ... but then again, from her experience of singing and playing for the Episcopalians, she remembered that the settings of the Gloria has the choir or priest intoning that line before the congregation joins in the singing. Perhaps it's a small detail ... or not, depending upon perspective.

The readings were well executed, and the pronunciation was good.

The Psalm setting left something to be desired. Tyler thought this setting of Psalm 138 was fitting only for a lounge, and that he should have had a cocktail firmly in hand. Even then, he would not tip the lounge pianist all that well. Lyn was originally scheduled to play the 7.45 am Mass at Immaculate Conception and was quite happy she got out of doing that as she would have had to play this Psalm setting. Needless to say, she agreed with Tyler's assessment. So, what about chant? This would have worked quite well with, say, Tone 8. That would have allowed for the use of the actual psalm text, as opposed to the text paraphrases so prevalent in Gather and other GIA hymnal products.

As for the Gospel Acclamation: Lyn noticed that the verse was intoned to something that sounded nothing like LBW Tone 1, which was the suggested Psalm tone that went along with the Hughes Joyful Alleluia. As she was making faces at Tyler, Tyler made the observation that the verse tone did not match that of the refrain; it was jarring at best.

For the Psalm and Gospel Acclamation, the cantor's duty is to proclaim, but the cantor's voice seemed a little weak for this role. It received an essential assist from the microphone's amplification.

A very strange thing happened right after the Gospel. The organist played some sort of brief improvisation, and the people remained standing after the people answered, "Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ." Generally, Catholic congregations sit immediately after this statement. This congregation remained standing until the organist stopped playing. Lyn's guess is that they remained standing whilst the Gospel Procession ... well, processed back to wherever. Neither of us saw this as people standing around us blocked our view. It felt even more strange to Lyn because in such a situation, she was expecting some sort of sentence from the priest (e.g., "In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.") before the people would sit, similar to what the Episcopalians would have done.

As for the homily: the priest killed it before he even started by stating it will be shortened due to a guest speaker, who would be speaking about Diocesan work in Southwestern Virginia. Unfortunately, it was very easy to tune him out as a result. Lyn ended up taking notes on the priest's ca. 2–3 minute homily on Peter being the Rock and the Petrine Authority and papal succession. Once the nun speaking about SW Virginia took over, Lyn stopped paying attention and turned her attention to the building itself.

The altar was in the centre of the building, with all the pews curved around it. The organ console and choir chairs were placed behind the altar. At least there was a lot of natural light - this seems to be a detail that some modern Catholic churches lack. The priest and the man sitting next to him (certainly wasn't a deacon as he was missing his deacon's stole/sash) were sitting on the most hideously pink-upholstered chairs.

As for the building materials: the floor looked like unsealed concrete, and the ceiling, which appeared to have a crack, looked like some sort of absorbent foam stuff. The walls were composed of paver brick. No wonder the space seemed very dry, acoustically. A friend once told Lyn: if it absorbs water, it will absorb sound. Once you fill the church with people (and it looks like this church would seat ca. 1200 people, comfortably, and more could be crammed in if they were standing in the back and aisles), even more sound would be absorbed. So much for good resonant spaces. At least this church had icons representing the Stations of the Cross on the walls.

There were four candles placed at four corners around the periphery of the altar, which is something Lyn has noticed in all the new churches she's come across, but which Tyler thought to be really strange, even wrong. He thinks two candles are missing. Lyn and Tyler guessed this must be a difference between the Canadian and American churches as she recalls that the Toronto parishes she visited used six candles on the altar or behind it.

After the most underwhelming homily and subsequent talk, the offertory ... song (not hymn) was a rather schlocky piece penned by Joncas. We noticed the singing was lukewarm to tepid at best. It certainly was not as loud or as hearty as the singing of the Opening Hymn.

The Eucharistic prayer was a bit of a surprise: the priest was ad-libbing it, thus diluting it and shifting the focus away from the prayer itself. As for the Mass ordinary (Mass of Creation Massive Cremation), Lyn whinged on and on about this setting in a previous post, so we won't repeat our complaints here.

We were rather startled by the army of Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers (EEMs). There were at least twenty of them and is the most we've ever seen at any one time. If there are that many for a Saturday vigil Mass, it makes us wonder how many would be needed for a Sunday morning Mass.

Communion was administered under both species (consecrated bread and wine). This is commonly done in the American Catholic church, but not so much in the Canadian Catholic church. To those not familiar with reception under both species, it comes as a shock.

After Communion, the Army of EEMs trooped back to the tabernacle whilst the priest stood "at attention" behind the altar, looking as if he was bidding them a fond and extended farewell.

Another thing that struck Tyler as strange: non-vested people touching items at the altar. There was one fellow who approached the altar only to remove lids from the chalices. Tyler wonders why couldn't the priest or some other vested person have done this? It struck him as being inappropriate.

Speaking of the vesting issue: shouldn't everyone fulfilling a liturgical function at Mass be vested? Lyn recalled that at St. Michael's, the EEMs and the lector were vested. The only person not vested was the cantor (she had gone to Mass there during the summer, when the associated Choir School was on summer holidays). It is a question she is debating now with her choir at St. Joseph's. But that's an issue for another post.

As for the music during Communion: neither were sung well by the congregation. The Inwood piece was sung lukewarm to tepid at best (even less singing than the Offertory song) whilst for the Chepponis piece, singing was essentially non-existent. We also noticed that the organist improvised on these non-hymns as opposed to choosing some voluntary or chant or hymntune, etc. It made Lyn rather nostalgic for Jane Lynch, Van Quinn, or David Arcus' improvisations.

After the priest fondly looked upon his retreating army of EEMs, he went to his hideously pink chair and sat down. What struck Tyler as strange was that after the priest sat, the people, most of whom were kneeling in prayer, got off their knees and sat down. To him, it was "like the Borg." Lyn thought they were good Lemmings for doing so. Actually, she wasn't so surprised at this as she has observed this behaviour pretty consistently no matter which parish she's visited in the U.S. She pointed out that in some parishes, the people will remain standing after the Agnus Dei, and won't sit until the last person has received Communion and the priest himself sits down.

We both agreed that the priest received many bonus points for holding off on any announcements until after the Post-Communion Prayer. Way too many of them will do announcements and the like before the prayer, which isn't right.

For the Closing prayer: the priest also ad-libbed that, inserting some meaningless words shortly before making the Sign of the Cross. Tyler's hand was hanging rather awkwardly as he anticipated the priest making his final blessing and benediction. Inappropriate ad-libs lead to confusion. As a result, we looked like a pair of fish out of water.

Closing thoughts:

Supposedly, Liturgy in the Catholic Church should be universal, whether you go to Mass in Canada or the U.S. or even Southeast Asia – the Liturgy should be consistent with the official church guidelines. Any deviation causes diminishing unity with the rest of the Universal Church.

The Unity theme seems to be one that liturgists have debated for years. Our thought on this: if we were doing exactly the same thing at Mass, wouldn't we be in union with one another? The highest form of art is in the Mass. To change that on a whim is akin to throwing paint on the Mona Lisa.

Mind you, these observations come from a pair of "armchair" liturgists who have spent too much time familiarising themselves with Sacrosanctum Concilium, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), and other similar documents.

We welcome and encourage your comments and criticisms – provided you are willing to give them!

1 comment:

Brian Michael Page said...

This one actually looks a little bit classier than the Thecladome I posted on. :)