FR. MERZ — Fostering unity and diversity through music at Mass


This is the second of two articles by the chairman of the diocesan Liturgical Commission about a recent document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on evaluating hymn lyrics. The first article was published in the May 14 issue of The Catholic Missourian and can be found by CLICKING HERE.

In the summer of 2019, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight asked me to form a committee to explore the creation of a diocesan hymnal for use in parishes throughout the diocese.

The purpose was to assist him in his ministry of oversight to ensure that what is sung at Holy Mass is both fitting musically and correct doctrinally.

We were also charged with fostering some common musical repertoire across all parishes. With this in mind, a committee was formed and principles were articulated to guide our work. Those principles included the following:

1) Our parishes are strong in singing hymns/songs, but unfamiliar with singing antiphons. Without replacing hymns/songs, we want to increase literacy and competency of singing antiphons within Mass (think here of responsorial Psalm-type music sung at Entrance, Offertory or Communion).

2) We want a balance of musical styles.

3) Material such as the following could be included:

  • Lectionary readings for the 3 year Sunday cycle
  • Roman Missal antiphons for Entrance and Communion (perhaps also an English translation of the Offertory antiphons from the Graduale Romanum).
  • The Order of Mass
  • Responsorial Psalms with musical setting for Sundays
  • Hymns/Songs
  • Music and prayers for Exposition and Benediction
  • Ritual Music (litany of the saints; antiphons with music for Baptisms; ritual music for Confirmation; ritual music for Penance; and ritual music for weddings)
  • A number of Mass settings
  • Some devotional prayers.

Unfortunately, copyright and other concerns with music publishers has made it impossible to publish a complete hymnal. Therefore, the scope of the committee has narrowed to three objectives:

1.) establish three Mass settings that all parishioners should know for the sake of attendance at diocesan Masses (this does not intend to exclude parishes from using other Mass settings);

2.) establish one classical and one contemporary set of antiphons to be commended to all parishes for the purpose of raising parishioners’ musical literacy with antiphonal singing; and

3.) establish a list of approximately 100 hymns that all parishioners should know for the sake of a common repertoire, but also to address the concerns of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine that hymns relevant to a particular doctrine should not express only one dimension of that doctrine, but strive for its fullness as much as possible.

To date, the committee has completed the first two objectives and is working diligently on the third.

The Mass settings for all parishes to be familiar with are the Chant Mass, the revised Mass of Creation by Haugen, and the Mass of St. Frances Cabrini by Keil.

The two collections of antiphons are English Proper Chants by Ainslie, and Let Us All Rejoice by Angrisano, Stephan and Hart.

Two copies of the accompaniment editions of each of these collections was recently purchased by the diocese and given for free to every parish.

The committee’s work is not meant to prevent parishes from using other Mass settings, other collections of antiphons, or other hymns not on the list of 100 (which is still in progress), but rather to be a service in fostering communion throughout our diocesan Church.

If our work succeeds in being a fruit of the Holy Spirit, then it will foster unity in diversity. Whereas the devil fosters division, the Holy Spirit effects communion without losing our differences.

And that is a work of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

Fr. Merz is pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish in Columbia.