When the new Roman Missal hits U.S. parishes the first weekend of Advent 2011, Catholics from the pews to the choir loft will have an opportunity to put the words of one familiar hymn into practice by singing a new song — or more accurately, several new songs. 

In addition to the wording of several spoken responses in the new translation of the missal, a number of familiar Mass songs will change when the revised text is implemented. 

The changes range from minor wording adjustments in the “Sanctus,” or “Holy, Holy,” to major revisions in the “Gloria.” All versions of the memorial acclamation — now known as the mystery of faith — have also been changed, with the most familiar version of “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” being replaced entirely by new text. 

Adapting to change 

For those in music ministry, the new missal will require not just learning the changes themselves but educating and preparing parishioners to sing the new music. Many music ministers are already beginning their own preparations, as publishers such as OCP have begun releasing new settings, and workshops are being conducted around the country to acclimate musicians and singers to the changes. 

Tom Tomaszek, director of artists and repertoire for OCP, said there is bound to be a needed period of adjustment considering how long the current musical settings have been in place. 

“Whenever you introduce a new piece of music to a congregation, it takes time for them to really grab it and sing it fully,” he said. “So there is definitely work that is going to need to be done by music ministers.” 

Father Richard Hilgartner, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship, told Our Sunday Visitor that of all the changes in the new missal, the people’s sung parts of the Mass are fairly minor and may actually be easier to adapt to than the spoken prayers. 

“I think singing them will actually make it much easier to learn the new words, because they’ll be able to be taught tied to a melody,” he said. “It is not to say people won’t notice [the change], but I think people will embrace the changes because they will appear more subtly when set to music.” 

New or revised? 

One of the primary questions facing parishes will be whether to choose a revised version of a familiar Mass setting, which would incorporate the new wording but use melodies that are similar to those currently used, or a completely new setting that includes original melodies written specifically for the new text. Publishers are preparing both new and revised settings, leaving a difficult choice in the hands of parish leaders. 

For some, such as musician and composer Craig Colson, the easier path seems to be in choosing a setting that is closer to what parishioners are already accustomed to singing. 

“Anytime you can give people a familiar melody to sing, it eases their comfort level,” said Colson, music director of St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Using a setting that people already know can be a challenge at first, to unlearn some of what has been learned, but I believe that through time the changes will become familiar and seem very natural.” 

Others believe, however, that learning a new melody will prevent people from stumbling over the changed words that have been changed. And according to Tomaszek, parishes thus far seem to be leaning in that direction by choosing new settings, such as OCP’s “Mass of Christ the Savior,” by composer Dan Schutte. 

In playing and singing the new settings at workshops with parish musicians, Schutte told OSV, he’s found that many people are able to quickly adapt to the new melodies. 

“Over and over again, when people sing through those parts — the new words and the new music — their reaction is, ‘This sounds so natural and so easy for us to sing, it sounds like we could have been singing it for years already,’” Schutte said. But while musicians are generally happy to try new music, he added, the true test will come with people in the pews. 

“It is yet to be seen what is going to be most successful with the folks in the parish,” he said. “We’ll see whether the people want to continue singing familiar settings or whether they’ll find it too awkward because of the changes that were made and they’ll want to sing one of the new Mass settings. But those folks should be the focus of our attention and our ministry, because all the music we do is at their service to help them pray best.” 

Catechetical opportunity 

Whether choosing new or revised Mass settings, the implementation of the new missal provides parishes an opportunity to take stock of their musical repertoire and ensure that they are utilizing the best available music to meet the needs of their worship community. 

Judy Bullock, a longtime liturgical musician and current director of worship for the Archdiocese of Louisville, told OSV that although music ministers face challenges in selecting the most appropriate settings, many are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. 

“There’s an enthusiasm for this and an opportunity for real liturgical catechesis on what we do, why we do it and how music itself enhances that,” said Bullock, who has been assisting in workshops for musicians around the country. 

It is only natural that the changes will raise questions among parishioners, she added, and in addressing those questions parish leaders can draw people deeper into the Mass. 

“One of the best things about this is that it is going to call attention to the meaning and the theology of what we are singing,” Bullock said. “If we prepare people carefully and make sure they not only know what the changes are ... we can give a lot of the reasons why things are changed and how it broadens the scope of our beliefs. Then it can only be a positive experience for us.”

Scott Alessi writes from New Jersey.

'Gloria' Timing (sidebar)

The decision to implement the new Roman Missal on the First Sunday of Advent is seemingly a fitting time, as it marks the start of a new liturgical year. But it also presents a challenge in that the ‘Gloria’ — one of the most significantly changed parts of the Mass — is omitted during Advent, meaning Catholics will have to sing the new version for the first time at Christmas. 

“No matter when we do this, there will always be a challenge,” said Father Richard Hilgartner, of the U.S. bishops office. “And our obstacle in choosing Advent … is what happens with the ‘Gloria.’ We haven’t really answered that question yet, and we’re looking at ways to address this concern.” 

The challenge of not using the ‘Gloria’ at the start of the implementation, however, may actually be a blessing, according to Tom Tomaszek of OCP, a Catholic music publisher. 

“Our experience in testing the Mass setting with music ministers has been that when you introduce a new setting, not using the ‘Gloria,’ but instead starting with the ‘Sanctus’ or the mysteries of faith, makes it much easier to learn,” Tomaszek said. “And then you tackle the piece that might be more complicated later.”