In Fall 2016, my church in Cleveland (Our Lady of Victories) began using a new mass setting in addition to the previous two in regular “rotation”. The reason was pretty simple – the two we have include one that is great for stark services and simpler seasons (Missa Simplex) and one that is great for big formal celebrations (the much maligned at times, Mass of Creation). While both are nice settings, we were missing an element of liveliness and energy that the Mass so richly deserves. So along with the music director, the cantors began ‘trying out’ new settings privately, and we eventually settled on Mass of Joy and Peace.
Joy and Peace is a very upbeat setting, which (in my opinion) is much more fun to sing than either of the two others. Apparently others agree as well, giving rise to some very interesting arrangements online. My favorite being a contemporary arrangement by Daniel Houze. Moved into a rock beat, this version certainly hits the criteria for the concept of a “joyful noise”. The comments on YouTube, however, are less than positive. Several commenters lament the fact that it’s “too Protestant” or “liturgical abuse”. I find this quite ironic since the word “joy” is right in the title – apparently anything that sounds too joyful isn’t “Catholic” enough. Overall this makes me a bit frustrated as a young Catholic active in music ministry as a cantor. Apparently there is a very fine line somewhere that we are expected to hit – not too dirge-y and not too happy, or else our faith and reverence are called into question. Coupled with a widespread problem of participation in mass (In the past 20 years, I’ve only seen a handful of congregations that I would classify as “conscious, active, and full participation” as advised by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal), and you start to see the problem.
So what is the solution? Finding the middle line but broadening it with wide acceptance. If you don’t like the ‘energy’ of your mass setting, you can still participate, just not as loudly. If you feel sad during the mass rather than happy, speak up (and sing up). And if you find a church that has the right mix of traditional hymns with present-day worship, support it. In my case at OLV, I feel that many are supportive of the idea of energetic praise, we just need some of the ‘old guard’ to join in seeing the mass not as a simple ‘ticket punch’ (e.g., if I die this week, God knows I was here this Sunday, so I’m good) but as an expression of…. well… joy and peace!