Who Exactly is Saying That A Mass Has to Have Words?

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Stained Glass, St. Mary's Church, Wreay, Cumbria.

If you type the word 'Mass' into Wikipedia, it'll tell you that a mass is "a form of sacred musical composition; a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy (principally that of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheranism) to music."

Well, Wikipedia, you've served us well in the past, but today is the day that you come up a little short in terms of accuracy. More and more composers are retaining the old, beautiful, ritualistic form of the liturgical Mass, but are jettisoning certain aspects to keep the drama of the form fresh and intriguing. And what's the first to go? THE WORDS.

Today we investigate bona fide Masses by two composers who felt that a chorus and the religious text were NOT the most important part of the Mass -- and in so doing, opened a new world of religious music. 

Wendy Mae Chambers' Mass is for seventy-seven --- count 'em --- seventy-seven trombones, a powerful and often terrifying sound. Brilliant clarinetist and composer Jorg Widmann sets his Mass for full orchestra, including an extended Kyrie that makes monody a defining aspect of his writing.

Does a Mass have to have words? Listen today to find out why the answer is NO.