Much has been written about "Why Catholics Don't (Can't) Sing." Reasons given: lack of music education in the schools, lack of teaching good taste in music (TV takes care of that!), and lack of understanding why church music is different from entertainment. According to some, music should make you feel at home, as some "liturgists" have done after Vatican II by placing bird cages and aquariums on the altar. Should we drag God down to our level, or should we try to lift up humanity to God's level--the God of Beauty, Power, and Order?
When disaster strikes, we realize that God is all powerful. When churches become "gathering places" for horses and soldiers in time of war, (see my article, "A Memorable Christmas", in TAO), we realize that this is not a normal way of living. Then, only faith, prayer, and hope will give us the mental sacredness necessary to overcome and survive the sad circumstances in which we suddenly find ourselves.
I believe another reason for not singing is that the hymn is at the wrong place in the liturgy! First of all, "Gathering Song" sounds awfully cheap. Gathering people? Just like "collecting food and raw materials from the wild" (Webster's Dictionary). Second, should the people not be "gathered" before they sing? (Note: I've brought that up more than once! -BMP) How can we expect a great sounding opening hymn when people are still "trickling" in. Perhaps some organ music would be better, just as some organ music also might be better to cover the noisy talking when people exit. I do not agree with the many organists who protest against this idea. Here again, we are facing a lack of education in good manners and taste or savoir vivre!
Staying in an air-conditioned church to listen to the organist perform some great organ work is different from "cooling off" and "gossiping" over the "too loud" organ of the postlude. Oh, and let's not forget that the celebrant has to leave at the first stanza of the closing hymn so as not to be "trampled down" by those in a hurry to get to the parking lot!
Any solutions then?
1. Give the "gathering song" a more dignified name and place in the liturgy, such as the Entrance Hymn or Opening Hymn, to be sung with the celebrant at the altar "leading" instead of the overpowering "solo" at the microphone.
(Reply: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (with U.S. adaptations) names it the "Entrance Chant", a name which is still ignored amongst many musicians and so-called liturgists, and even publishers. This term is the translation of the Latin phrase "Cantus Introitus", where we get the "Introit" from. It should start while in procession. The celebrant should be leading this hymn/chant while in procession, and finishing it from the altar, or at least his chair. And I agree with Mr. Goemanne that the overpowering "solo" at the microphone should be eliminated. GIA Publications has a cool little button they sell in packs that says Back off! Let the people sing! -BMP)
2. Sing the "closing" hymn before the "Go, the Mass is ended."
(Reply: Believe me, if the Roman Missal or General Instruction thereof provided for it, I would. However, neither even makes mention of a "closing" or "recessional" hymn. It was an innovation that came with the idea of having hymns for Low Mass right around the time of Vatican II, and appears to be customary to this day. The ideal spot would be where the General Instruction does give an option for, and that is the "Hymn of Praise" or "Meditation Hymn" after Communion, once the celebrant and all are seated. And sing ALL the verses whenever possible. I wouldn't expect to sing all seven verses of, let's say, "All Creatures of Our God and King"; pick three or four good verses for that, not just one or two verses. -BMP)
3. Replace the Communion hymn with softer music (i.e., a Bach chorale perhaps). Who can sing properly while receiving Communion? Give the people a time for silence and meditation with their Lord! If needed, sing a Meditation Hymn after Communion.
(Reply: By right, the first option in the GIRM should be given priority for the Communion hymn, and that is the antiphon in the Roman Missal. Same goes with the "Introit" at the beginning of Mass. It could be followed by a hymn, or used as a response to several verses of a Psalm. The Communion antiphon could be sung as the celebrant receives Communion, then, by Mr. Goemanne's suggestion, follow with softer (instrumental) music. 90% of the time, I try to pick something with an antiphon that the people can sing while in line waiting to receive, and let the choir or cantor handle the verses as in a typical responsory. -BMP)
Simplicity can sometimes be more powerful than a showy "operatic" or country-western solo! Why not have the congregation sing a chant "Kyrie" in unison. "The Liturgy is not a show, a spectacle." (Pope Benedict XVI). The Liturgy can be very powerful, prayerful, and in total accord with what the bishops of Vatican II wanted. Let us restore a more sincere, sacred, sung-prayer liturgy.
Mr. Goemanne was a composer who made many contributions in liturgical music (in English) in the 1960's and 1970's. Much of his work was published by GIA and by World Library Publications. I'm glad to see he was still around to post this letter in The American Organist.