Missa Magdalena: A gift for the Lord and for you

01-29-2021Weekly ReflectionClaire Halbur

As Catholics, we possess a heritage of prayers that pass our lips thousands—even tens of thousands—of times in our lives. The Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be probably come to mind. So should the basic prayers of our Liturgy…

  • Each Holy Mass starts by calling to mind our shortcomings and failures in order to humbly ask for forgiveness: “Lord, Have Mercy”.
  • On holy days and most Sundays of the Church year, this moment is then followed by the “Glory to God” with a focus on adoring and praising God for his greatness and proclaiming who He is.
  • A little while later is a prayer called the Preface Acclamation, beginning with the words “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts…”
  • After the Consecration, we proclaim the Mystery of Faith in one of three acclamations (for example, “We proclaim your death, O Lord”).
  • Just before Communion is the Fraction Rite, during which priest breaks the newly-consecrated host while the people pray, “Lamb of God…”

Let’s be real: because we pray the words of these prayers so often, it is easy to do so on auto-pilot. Focusing mind, heart, and body on being fully present in the Mass tends to be an ongoing challenge for each of us (no matter how young or old). One way to experience afresh the words of these prayers is by learning a new melody (aka “tune”) by which to sing them. Last year, I was praying privately with the words of the Gloria and found myself singing a simple chant melody which I was moved to jot down. The inspiration didn’t stop, and a few hours later, I had written the melody for a complete Mass Ordinary (the basic prayers listed above).

Thus the Missa Magdalena was conceived and born, for the glory of God and as a gift to you, the faithful of Saint Mary Magdalene parish. Our intention is not to discard the English Heritage Mass or the English/Latin Roman Missal Chants that we have prayed with the last several years. Rather, expanding our repertoire to a few different melodies for these prayers will eventually give us flexibility to rotate Mass settings with different seasons of the Liturgical year.

While there are probably thousands of different musical settings for the Ordinary of the Mass — in many languages and styles — few English versions exist that are chant-based and simple yet noble. My hope is that you will find this vernacular version to be both, and that praying with and learning it over the coming months will be an invitation to renewed intentionality and engagement with these rich and powerful prayers.

Let’s talk for a moment about learning new things. Long before psychologists were identifying “growth mindset” versus “fixed mindset”, Scripture brims with exhortations for us to never stop growing in wisdom and knowledge (ex: Proverbs 9:9). But expansion of mind and heart is also challenging. It takes far less effort to be in comfy auto-pilot mode, after all! Practically speaking, I realize that new melodies can initially feel overwhelming if you don’t consider yourself a musician or never had the opportunity to learn how to sing. We want to set you up for success in learning these new melodies. The past few weeks before and after Mass, recordings of the Missa Magdalena have been playing when you enter and exit. This weekend (Jan 31) and next (Feb 7) we will have a brief opportunity before the sung Masses to practice together. Starting in February, we will begin using just two of the melodies during Mass (Holy, Holy and Lamb of God —see top of next page). Reference recordings of the full Mass setting are available at www.smarymag.org/liturgy-music, in the event you find it helpful to see the music and listen at home.

Recently, a parishioner approached me asking if she could “join the choir, not to sing for Mass, but just to learn how to sing because I’ve never had the chance”. Is this you, too? Shoot me an email (claire@smarymag.org) to let me know if you’d be interested in periodic small group vocal workshops to help you feel more confident in understanding your singing voice (if you can talk you have one) and how to pray from the pew the basic chants and hymns of the Mass!

As part of our effort to rediscover the foundational prayers of our Catholic worship, in next week’s bulletin, we’ll dive into the texts of the Holy, Holy and Lamb of God.