November 11, 2016

A reflection on the Mass of St. Luke


In 2011, the Catholic Church instituted the new Roman Missal for use throughout the English-speaking world. A flurry of activity came as composers and publishers worked fearlessly to revise and/or compose new Mass settings that would help the faithful to continue to worship in a meaningful way with little interruption.

I am blessed to have two Mass settings published by OCP, both created for communities I once served. The second, Mass of St. Luke, is the focus of this post.

I wrote this setting to fill a need within the community I was serving at the time, which was situated in an area of many retirement communities. The vast majority of the people in the community were senior citizens. While welcoming contemporary music, this community also had a love of traditional worship music, and so the typical Sunday repertoire was a mix of the old and the new.

While there are many fine settings out there, I felt the urge to compose a setting tailored to the needs of that community in that place at that time (see “Music in Catholic Worship”). The melodies must be thematically correlated, must be instantly singable, and must be retainable. The “Glory to God” must be through-composed (we are really past the age of responsorial settings) as a hymn, and the spirit of the texts must be respected. The textually dynamic movements (the penitential invocations, the Alleluia, and Lenten Gospel verses) must be immediately adaptable to any given text, in a way that is attainable both for the singing assembly and for the volunteer music ministry.

And so Mass of St. Luke was born. I find that the best melodies are the ones that write themselves, and Mass of St. Luke did just that, so that the music seemed “inevitable” (as the late American composer Roger Sessions would say). But the greatest challenge, beyond the actual composing, is the implementation of the setting within the worshipping community. So here is the manner in which I introduced this setting, which is the same manner I use for any new Mass setting:

I do not introduce the entire setting at once. Yes, it is ideal that in any one liturgy all the movements are thematically connected. Looking at the longer term, however, that principle can be suspended for a few weeks as the new setting is implemented, which will be part of the parish repertoire (hopefully) for years to come. Thus, the best time to introduce a new setting is during Ordinary Time, be it in the winter (if there are enough weeks) or after Eastertide, or in September. (Remember, this will be something for the long term.) For two or three weeks I will sing a particular movement before Mass several times, inviting the assembly to follow their worship aids (yes, they must have the actual music) and join as they are comfortable. Usually I will start with the “Glory to God” or the “Holy.” Then, after those few weeks I will slowly bring the new movements into the liturgy, while going on to introducing the next selected movement before Mass, and so on until the entire setting has been implemented. Using this method the entire setting can be implemented in the space of four to six weeks, and will be set in your parish repertoire for many years to come.

No matter what settings your community uses, may they help bring your community to a greater love of God and of one another, and may their celebration of the Eucharist bring them to holiness as God’s people.

Gerard Chiusano

Gerard Chiusano

Gerard Chiusano is a composer and clinician with OCP, and is Director of Music and Liturgical Formation at the Catholic Community of St. Joseph in North Plainfield, N.J. He holds a BA in music from Thomas Edison State University and is pursuing a Master’s of Arts in Theology at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J.

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