Most Americans seem to think that "Mass" is a term only used by Roman Catholics.
No. Historically, Anglicans and Episcopalians and Lutherans have used the term, though it is more common among Lutherans outside of the United States.
It is time to recover the word for Lutheran use. I have composer Kile Smith to thank for the encouragement because of his Mass for Philadelphia, now expanded for Lutheran use.
Mass for Philadelphia was commissioned for the 2012 National Conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians. That conference was held in Philadelphia, but since its first hearing at the conference’s Closing Eucharist, a number of Episcopal churches have been using it. Tomorrow, the first Sunday after Easter, the first Lutheran church will also begin to sing it.I've written and rewritten this review in my head and on paper and recently decided I could distill my thoughts to three basic ideas, much like a skilled composer needs to do on occasion.
I had been thinking of looking at—and attending to—the differences between Episcopal and Lutheran Mass usages. But with the impending premiere, and the two busiest weeks of the church year on their way out, the music director/organist suggested to me that an Offertory and Nunc Dimittis might be added.
Since the church is my church, and the music director is my wife, I thought it was time, perhaps, to stop thinking and to start attending to. So, this week, on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter, a new Offertory and Nunc Dimittis were composed for the Mass. The deadline, of course, was not Sunday, but Wednesday, when the church secretary needed to insert the congregation’s music into the bulletin. Advice to composers: Sometimes you may disappoint the music director, but never mess with the church secretary.
Here’s a MIDI realization of the Nunc Dimittis. The beginning of the score you can click on above. The organ sound in my notation program is ugly and seemingly (to me) unalterable, so a piano accompanies in this audio file.
A traditional Offertory text for Lutherans is from Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” This would be sung after the choir’s Offertory Anthem, when gifts and communion elements are presented.
Sung at the breaking of the bread by Episcopalians is Christ Our Passover. Lutherans don’t normally sing there, but they will sing, for the post-Communion canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, or Simeon’s “Now Lord, let your servant depart in peace.” Episcopalians are very familiar with the Nunc at Evensong, of course, but not so much at the Eucharist.
Lutherans will sing the Kyrie a bit more than Episcopalians, but the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are standard for both denominations.
Thus for liturgical diversity! So now, the Mass for Philadelphia has these sections:
Christ Our Passover
What does the text say? For Mass/Eucharist/Communion/Divine Service, the text is predetermined. In this case, the traditional texts of Mass were called for in the English language. The composer himself described the what and why above. As a Lutheran pastor, my pastoral concern at worship is that the texts are faithful and that they faithfully present Christ. Besides, the translations will be familiar to my congregation.
Is the music playable and singable? Yes. The musical setting is of moderate difficulty and would be something for the young musicians of my congregation to grow into. The cantor/pastor part is very doable. Enough repetition is provided to help the congregation sing their part. I love that the composer made the liturgical "back and forth" of one whole, rather than the generations-long misunderstanding in our LCMS circles of a spoken clergy part and a sung congregational part.
Will the Mass setting wear well? That remains to be seen. From my experience living with the music for a time, (and longer than I expected before this review was published) there is a bit of a learning curve. That provides an additional challenge to a choir or congregation learning Mass for Philadelphia, yet that also means that a congregation wouldn't tire of the setting because it was too easy to learn. "Wearing well" includes enough repetition to make it learnable by a "congregation as choir" showing up on Sunday mornings, yet enough difficulty and depth to maintain interest over years and decades of potential use.
The Wisconsin Evangelical Synod is preparing a new hymnal by 2024. The LCMS is likely to have a supplement out by then. We could easily see NALC or ACNA worship resources in print in the next decade. Perhaps Mass for Philadelphia would be a candidate for wider congregational use through inclusion in new hymnals. In the meantime, purchase a copy and copyright permission directly from the composer's website.
I am keenly interested in more liturgical music from Kile Smith. He understands the purpose and role of both text and music at worship. Smith demonstrates a theological appreciation for the gravity of the textual content (the Word of God) that his melodies and settings support. His "Nunc Dimittis" got me thinking. Kile Smith has already given us a transcendent Vespers. Why not Compline? Or Mass for Wyoming?
Kile’s music is hailed for its “sparkling beauty” by Gramophone, which called his one-hour Vespers, for Piffaro and The Crossing “spectacular.” Critics and audiences praise his works for their emotional power, direct appeal, and strong voice.Our review of Smith's Vespers is found here.
Recent commissions include Red-tail and Hummingbird for Orchestra 2001 and Piffaro, The Red Book of Montserrat for the Philadelphia Sinfonia, The Waking Sun and Where Flames a Word for The Crossing, the song cycle Plain Truths (baritone and string quartet) for the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, The Nobility of Women for Mélomanie, and the Mass for Philadelphia for the 2012 Conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians. He’s composed for Concertmaster David Kim and Principal Horn Jennifer Montone of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Current commissions include, for baritone, chorus, and string quartet, a sequel to Plain Truths for Newburyport. Kile is Composer in Residence for the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston.
For 18 years Kile was Curator of the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance materials, at the Free Library of Philadelphia. He now composes full-time (when he isn’t hosting Now is the Time, Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, and subbing on-air at WRTI-FM, writing for the Broad Street Review and WRTI, and teaching.)