As a composer, Bob Hurd has always grounded his creative work on liturgical need for the worshipping community. He never writes for just for the sake of having a “hit song,” although many of his songs have indeed become the most popular songs in the Catholic repertoire. So when I proposed the idea of us collaborating again, Bob immediately asked, “What are the current needs in liturgical music today?”
I pondered that for a couple of days. This was shortly after the Christmas season for 2018 had concluded, and my parish was already planning for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. My music director and I sometimes joke that Holy Week is easy to plan for because we always do the same songs year after year. But that got me thinking. Why are we doing the same songs all the time for the great liturgical seasons? Yes, certainly there are classics in the Catholic repertoire that are essential to Holy Week and Easter: “Hosanna Filio David” on Palm Sunday; “Pange Lingua” on Holy Thursday; “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday. I would never dream of replacing those beloved songs at my parish. But when you consider all the ritual texts that occur during these holiest of days, there is wealth of source material that could use some fresh musical settings.
OCP has not published a collection of new music for Holy Week and Easter since the year 2000. Music composed at that time was beautiful and have since become classics that are still in use today. But a lot has happened liturgically since the dawn of the new century. The official Mass text was revised in 2010, as mandated by the new Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition. And there is now an emphasis and preference for singing the actual Propers of the Mass: the Entrance and Communion Antiphons, and the official texts of the Responsorial Psalm. As some liturgists say, “We must sing the Mass, not sing at Mass.”
The Mass Propers are meaningful and underutilized in American Catholic parishes. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal has always given four options for singing at the Entrance rite:
In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum as set to music there or in another setting;
(2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time;
(3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
(4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.
-General Instruction on the Roman Missal, #48
For various reasons, in America we latched onto that third or fourth option – the singing of an appropriate approved hymn, much to the detriment of singing the Antiphons. Pastorally, I can understand that. Singing a hymn or song is easier for the people, who are accustomed to hymn form, or the Refrain-Verse (responsorial) structure of modern song, which allows them to sing easily. The challenge of the Antiphons is that the official text varies in length and form every Sunday. To effectively sing them, the assembly must learn a new song each week, or fall back on a system of non-metered chant that has been the usual vehicle for the singing of the official liturgical text for centuries. Either option may be difficult for the average parish community.
A number of composers are addressing this challenge either by setting the Antiphons to chant, or by creating a new system that allows for the text to be sung in a contemporary song form. I eagerly look forward to singing the fruits of their labor! For the new Hurd-Canedo collection, as Bob and I studied and prayed the various antiphons, psalms and ritual texts, we realized what a rich song writing opportunity we had. For example, here is the official Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday, now known in the Roman Missal as Thursday of the Lord’s Supper.
We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation,
life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.
Such an amazing and meaningful text! On Holy Thursday, many communities sing a Eucharistic hymn for their Entrance Song, but the official antiphon sets the table, so to speak, and reminds the community of the fact that the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper is the beginning of the sacred Paschal Triduum. Notice how this Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday doesn’t even mention the Eucharist but is focused on the Cross (Good Friday) and the Resurrection (Easter). In other words, there is no compartmentalization of the three days of the Triduum. We don’t just sing of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. We don’t just sing of the Cross and Jesus’ death on Good Friday. We don’t just sing of the Resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Right from the start, we are reminded by this Entrance Antiphon that the Triduum is one continuous celebration of our salvation through the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I prayed that Entrance Antiphon, I considered how an assembly might be empowered to sing that text in an accessible way. I also thought about the style of music that Bob and I are known for. Would it be possible to sing “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” as a gospel-style hymn? I typed up the text and placed it in front of me at my piano, along with pencil and blank manuscript paper.
I gave myself a strict mandate: Use the official text only! No paraphrasing, and try not to repeat words, if at all possible. I recited the text aloud, over and over. Discovering a rhythm to those words, I began to put together some chords on the piano. From there, a melody emerged. After a couple of hours of playing through my rough draft, I had a song! I recorded it on my iPhone, scored it out on Finale notation software, emailed it to Bob, and gave him a call. It was a good beginning and we were on our way.
“We Should Glory in the Cross” is the title song of the new Hurd-Canedo collection. At this writing, Bob and I are still in the studio, recording and mixing, so I am not yet able to share a sample track, but we are anticipating a release later in 2020. We also looked at the official texts for the Responsorial Psalms and antiphons for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. In future blogs, I will write about these new songs.