New album uses music to teach, lead prayers
If the new missal translation causes you to mess up at Mass on Sunday, you are not alone.
Even Roman Catholic musician John Michael Talbot, who recorded an album to help people learn the missal, admits to some problems on his record.
In 2010, Talbot recorded “Worship and Bow Down,” a collection released this year that includes songs written to introduce listeners to the new language of the Mass — but a few of the lyrics miss the new translation.
“You get so familiar with the liturgy that you listen to it and go, ‘Oh well, yeah, it’s OK.’ It wasn’t,” Talbot said. “And nobody at OCP (Oregon Catholic Press) caught it, and we didn’t catch it.”
Talbot said “Worship and Bow Down” still can help people make the transition because “It’s easier to sing and pray than to recite and pray. PERIOD.
“The documents of the church, from ancient times, are very clear that out of all the art forms, music is the art form that is most suited to prayer,” he said. “So it is appropriate that we use as much music as we can in liturgical prayer, because music has a way of breaking through the logic of the mind and going directly to the heart.”
Because the new missal is a more theologically precise and literal translation of the Latin, Talbot found a challenge in working with it.
“The English is sometimes a little clumsy and archaic, at least to modern sensibilities, so it is difficult to put into modern music that relies on notions of prose and couplets,” he said. “So in the areas where it gets a little clumsy, I decided to use a chant because you can chant almost anything and make it sound good. And I come from a monastic community where we chant everyday.”
However, Talbot doesn’t think chant will be the only answer to dealing with the language.
“I think as people become more familiar with the translation, including myself, and more familiar with speaking and singing these words, it will roll off the tongue more easily and become more a part of our ethos. So at that point, more modern music that works might start coming out. I’ve heard some of the attempts, and some of them frankly seem unnatural.”
When the longtime musician brought his idea for a new recording to the people at Oregon Catholic Press, the largest publisher of liturgical music, they had requests and a problem.
Company officials had forgotten to ask Talbot to submit songs for the missal songbook when seeking entries from others, so Talbot’s songs will not be in the missal song book for two years. The company did offer to make them available online.
Oregon Catholic Press also wanted an update of his classic “Worship the Lord,” based on Psalm 95, and a musical version of “Hail Mary.”
The Psalm request became the title track “Worship and Bow Down.
“Hail Mary” took another path.
“In years past, when I was affiliated with Sparrow, which was a more overtly ecumenical recording company, I had done a ‘Hail Mary,’ and they decided to not include it on the album because they felt it would be alienating to non-Catholics,” Talbot said.
“My first thought was ‘I’ll just use that one.’ I started to record it, and as I was sitting there recording, the one that is on ‘Worship and Bow Down’ kind of just wrote itself.
“I tried to make it something that non-Catholics can relate to. Ironically, Christianity Today (an evangelical magazine), when they reviewed the album, they listed the ‘Hail Mary’ as one of their favorite songs. So that’s cool.”
Talbot listed the errors on the recording: “There are three different Mysteries of Faith we can use, and in one of them we forgot to ‘profess.’” Instead the word “proclaim” was used.
In “Glory to God,” “We made it ‘On Earth, peace to his people of goodwill,’” Talbot said. The word “his” shouldn’t be used.
“The other is we used too many repetitions of the ‘Glory to God.’ It wasn’t until late this summer that the bishops dictated that we can only use three repetitions of ‘Glory to God’ in the ‘Glory,’ and we recorded this in 2010. I had just done what worked best musically and what I felt worked best thematically. But it didn’t line up with what the bishops had mandated,” Talbot said.
“We fixed all that in the printed version.”
More Mass music
Talbot said the move to add music into the Mass is good, as long as the music is good.
“If it is bad, it is just a drudgery. It’s an awkward thing where people sit there and shuffle their feet and mumble, which is what the Catholic experience has been a lot of the time.”
One of the reasons given for the translation update was that “the Catholic Church in America has become a low church because we don’t sing that much of the Mass,” he said. “And we don’t sing it well, so we want to try to go back to singing our liturgy a bit more.”
Talbot warned of a danger though. “If we are going to revert back to what we did in the Latin Mass days — that is, we’ll let the choir sing the Mass, Father and the choir will sing the Mass and we’ll sit there and say our rosary — it would be a terrible outcome of this new change that we are making.
“The hope is that it will actively engage people to pray the liturgy and to not go drifting off into their own personal devotions — that they stay refocused on the Mass as we are celebrating the Mass together.”
OCP also asked Talbot for a Communion hymn. “They said, ‘Well, we really are concerned that some of the new kind of ultra conservative Catholics (ironically these are mainly young people) have become so focused on ritual that they are missing the heart of why we do ritual.’”
Talbot said OCP had been told that many college students are spending time on Adoration of the Eucharist but weren’t participating in Mass. “It’s not because they are sinners. It’s because they figure they performed their obligation by going and spending an hour before Jesus in the Eucahrist,” Talbot said.
“(OCP) said Eucharistic Adoration is a wonderful thing, but it’s secondary to why Jesus instituted the Eucharist, and that is to receive him in the Eucharist.
“So I took a crack at doing a song that had a verse about reception of the Eucharist first. And the second verse is about adoration and reception of the Eucharist,” he said.
The song, “In Remembrance of Me,” draws from Scripture and church fathers.
Talbot said the first verse draws from John 6 where Jesus feeds the 5,000 and later tells his disciples that he is the bread of life. It also alludes to Thomas Aquinas calling Jesus the bread of angels.
The chorus is from the Synoptic Gospels telling of the Last Supper, where Jesus uses the phrase, “In remembrance of me.”
“And the second verse, I went to Bonaventure and the mysticism of the incarnation that is the flesh is not enclosed, he is incarnate and transcendent at the same time. He is consumed but not destroyed.
“I’m really, really pleased with the song. I think as I sing these songs now in ministry after ministry that people really like the ‘In Remembrance of Me’ a lot.
“And I do, too. I really enjoy singing it.”
Contact Leila Pitchford-English at email@example.com or P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.