Review- Matt Maher’s Mass of Communion

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In the fall of 2011 the Catholic Church implemented a new English translation of the prayers that are spoken and sung during the mass to more accurately match the traditional Latin.  That has forced composers to write or rearrange the service music we refer to as mass parts.  Matt Maher has been a long time Lifeteen worship leader from Mesa, AZ.  He and Ike Ndolo released their new Mass of Communion with the new translation and the band I participate in here in KC recently started using this setting and have been teaching it to our congregation.

This is my review from the perspective of both a musician who has played it as well as a composer who has taken on the challenge of setting this revised text.

I’m going to go through sort of our order and I haven’t played the Kyrie because we typically don’t do that musically with the exception of Advent and Lent.  It’s the same tune as the Lamb of God, so I’ll get to that in a bit.   First off, I have to say that the production of the recordings are fantastic.  You can tell that this was done very professionally.

The Glory to God is really the big anthem that is sung every week right after the opening song and a few prayers.  I love the driving beat of this setting.  I’m also going to give Maher some props for the way he attempted to set this challenging text.  From my experience writing for this new translation the Glory is the most difficult.  The text is repettitve and about as unlyrical as it gets.  Maher took this lengthy text and through composed it.  He just wrote it straight through from the start of the text to the end without any refrain repitition.  He was really creative though with the instrumentation so that it sounds like we’re hearing a verse and then the refrain come back in by bringing the electric guitar and drums in and out.  From a congregational standpoint this is a benefit because it’s shorter, but it’s also a challenge because you don’t get back to a familiar chorus.  I have a friend who said that the first couple of weeks he heard us play it, he felt that the melody wasn’t very intuitive.  It’s a bit of a challenge to catch on.  That’s definitely a fair criticism.  Overall, the driving beat and efficiency of time is what makes this a great selection.  If you have a full Praise Band, you can do a lot with this setting.

Alleluia is sung as a gospel acclamation as the priest processes with the bible to the lectern.  Maher introduces a new melody here, but again has a great driving beat.  I like what the drums are doing because they aren’t a traditional rock back beat.  There’s a driving snare hit on each beat.  The verses vary according to the season and week.  We tend to use the same one and then change with a new season.  The only downside to this setting is that it can go a little long, so you might consider not repeating the refrain after the verse to shorten it up a bit.  You never like seeing the priest stand there and give you that “are you done yet?” look.

When we enter into the eucharistic prayers of the mass the first prayer that we sing is Holy Holy Holy.  Maher references a traditional hymn at the beginning of this tune which is pretty cool, but it’s another introduction of a new melody.  There’s not really a return to a familiar theme here.  Most of these parts could be switched in and out with other versions.  Most of the long standing mass settings that congregations get familiar with have a theme that keeps coming back.  It may sound repetitive when you listen to them back to back, but during a mass you have other songs that come in between many of these so it’s like in a movie where a running theme keeps returning.  It’s comfortable.  That’s actually my biggest criticism of this mass setting is just that there isn’t a lot of continuity between the melody lines of the different prayers.  Outside of that, I like the reference at the beginning and the overall tempo that takes us from that fast driving beat at the beginning of the mass into a more reverent feeling as we enter into the consecration of the Eucharist.

When We Eat This Bread is one of the memorial acclamations.  Personally, I’ve had a hard time with this on my mass.    I really like this tune even though it’s still another new melody.  I love the change in tempo here and the pacing of the text is great.  I love the way he repeats a few of the phrases here as well.  He takes a short line of text and made something very beautiful and prayerful out of it.

Amen is sung as an affirmation that the congregation believes that bread and wine was just tranformed into the body and blood of Christ.  I like the way Maher gives this word resolve in the melody and instrumentation of the recording.  It brings us out of that delicate prayer from the memorial acclamation and gives us some resolution.  The harmony feels familiar here to When We Eat This Bread so there is a little bit of comfort in this piece.

Finally, after the congregation prays the Our Father, we offer one another a sign of peace.  This is one of my favorite moments in the mass where you see people greeting strangers or hugging their family and friends.  It’s warm.  Maher captures that mood with his Lamb of God which is sung after the sign of peace is offered.  It calls everybody back into prayer.  One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Maher’s masses is that he uses Latin here which is pretty cool.  My only complaint with this setting and it’s true for the Kyrie as well which uses the same melody is that the running eight notes at the very beginning go by very quickly.  When you try to sing “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world…” quickly like that it’s easy to trip over the text.  Other than that, this is a well paced and well arranged part that could be used independently with other mass settings.

If you have a full praise band these mass setting will sound great.  Lyrically and melodically they can be a challenge for the congregation to catch on, but after enough repitition they’ll get there.  Considering there aren’t a lot of options for this new translation out, I would start introducing at least some of these mass parts to your group and implement them into your church’s worship.  Kudos to Matt for getting a jump on this new translation and providing an option for all of the contemporary Catholic music ministers.  It’s greatly appreciated!