Music’s Measure

Icon of the Pentecost
Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m writing this on the feast of Pentecost, hours after being a part of two wonderful Masses at St Julian’s. First, a glorious afternoon where our Lady Chapel and New Build was dedicated anew to her patronage and prayer, and today the glorious end of Easter itself. In both cases, the message was about exciting new beginnings – first to ensure our new building is used well in the service of God’s church, and second to ensure our own lives show the Holy Spirit alive in mission and outreach.

I hope the music in our liturgy over these two days has helped to express that sense of ‘work to be done in and through us’.

In the Mass of Blessing itself we started with the hymn ‘Let us build a house where love can dwell’, words and music by Marty Haugen, a North American based composer who has written extensively for the Roman Catholic church. We make good use of his material (for example, the new sprinkling song at Easter this year, ‘Up from the waters’, was one of his pieces). ‘Let us build a house’ is an obvious metaphorical choice for dedication/building focussed events but it is written in a way that emphasises the contents  of the building – the people, the reaching hands, the service to the outcast, the sentiment that  ‘all are welcome in this place’. It speaks of the parish church we strive to be – the welcome at St Julian’s is something we rightly cherish.

At the end of the Mass of Blessing we sang ‘Jesus Christ you are my light’, something we have sung once before at an All Age Mass but which will have been relatively new to most. The piece is deceptively simple and works almost mantra-like through the repeated refrain. It is the work of Marco Frisina, an Italian Roman Catholic priest and composer, with English verses augmented by Brother Rufino Zaragoza who himself had first encountered the song at a World Youth Day in Spring 2002. The piece is designed to be sung in several languages and is a staple of World Youth Days, famously before Pope John Paul II who enjoyed it immensely. It is a deeply personal, confessional song – marking out the Christian’s simple belief in a risen Lord and Saviour – a Saviour who is ‘my’ life.

We now have the period known as ‘Ordinary Time’ stretching out before us. Musically, this is not a time to relax, but rather we will be taking the blazing Spirit we sang about at the end of Pentecost, and using it to creative purpose in introducing a new Mass setting. I know this is not always the most popular news to hear but I think it’s fairly well established by now that St Julian’s is not the place to go if you want to hear the same setting week in week out for a year!

The new setting is Liam Lawton’s ‘Glendalough Mass’, a celtic-flavoured offering which is the product of the flurry of new and revised settings arising, by necessity, from the recent revisions of the Roman Rite. Previously, musicians were able to paraphrase the words of the Mass which enabled settings such as the Peruvian or the Salazar Gloria to be used. Rome has now forbidden paraphrasing which is both good and bad news. The good news is that composers have gone back to their pianos and started writing again. The bad news is that the new English translation of the Mass takes a bit of getting used to, and is not exactly poetry in motion! You’ll notice this particularly in the Gloria (‘people of goodwill’) but although we are free ourselves to ‘tweak’ the words, the music has been written to take account of the stresses and nuances of the original text and as result, I prefer it sung as written. I hope you enjoy learning it – do let me know what you think of it!

Alistair McCormick Pentecost 2013