In “Sing to the Lord, All the Earth”, a surprising instruction sent to priests, deacons, and parish leaders this past Tuesday, Bishop John F. Doerfler laid out a series of mandates intended to implement wide-ranging sacred music reform in the Diocese of Marquette in Michigan.
“It is our joy” the instruction states, “to give God the best, most beautiful musical expression that we can offer him as we sing the Mass.”
The instruction, which applies to all parishes and schools in the diocese, lists various changes that include requiring all to learn the English chants from a Mass setting found in the Roman Missal, as well as Latin chants from the Missa Jubilate Deo, which is a collection of chants from various Gregorian Masses that Pope Paul VI listed as the “minimum repertoire” for parishes around the world.
In addition, the instruction mandates that all parishes and schools learn to chant the Communion antiphon “to a very simple tone that everyone can sing” and have it sung at every Sunday Mass.
The instruction also mentions the development of a new diocesan hymnal “to ensure the musical quality and doctrinal integrity of the Sacred Music.” The hymnal will include a variety of hymns, both traditional and contemporary, and will be used in all parishes and schools across the diocese. The instruction also stated that, effective immediately, parishes are not to order any other hymnals.
While the idea of a diocesan hymnal is not a new one—the former diocese of Leavenworth, Kansas, for instance, had published their own diocesan hymnal in 1942—this would certainly be the first in the United States since the changes of the Mass in 1970.
Bishop Doerfler’s efforts to reform sacred music in his diocese were preceded by his predecessor Alexander King Sample, now the Archbishop of Portland. In his 2013 pastoral letter Rejoice in the Lord Always, Bishop Sample laid out the “nature, purpose and quality of sacred music.”
“The beauty, dignity and prayerfulness of the Mass” he wrote “depend to a large extent on the music that accompanies the liturgical action. The Holy Mass must be truly beautiful, the very best we can offer to God, reflecting his own perfect beauty and goodness.”
The diocese aims to have the directive fully implemented by the end of 2020. In conjunction with this implementation, the diocesan Director of Sacred Music, Samuel Holmberg, will offer his assistance as parishes need, which include offering regional workshops annually to help parishes and schools in the process.
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