Blending the sacred and the profane: Paul Chihara's Missa Carminum (1975)

Stephanie Joan Rocke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Inspired by the idea of Leonard Bernstein s (1918-1990) controversial theatre piece, Mass (1972), Paul Chihara (b. 1938) was prompted to compose a non-liturgical mass also, but to question religious practice more passively. Whereas secular culture and religious ritual clash in Bernstein s Mass, Chihara strives for an empathetic blend of the two in Missa Carminum: Folk Song Mass (1975). Animated by his love for popularised folk music and informed by his Roman Catholic education, Chihara s admixture is also the first mass to explicitly parallel physical human love with love of the divine. For Chihara, Missa Carminum is prima[ri]ily a love song: it is more Eros than Agape In proposing a broad application of religion to encompass all of everyday life, yet remaining Christian in its caste, Missa Carminum is situated in the later stages of the metamorphosis of the mass. Once an exclusively liturgical musical form, it was appropriated by composers who created religious music explicitly for secular venues from as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Drawing on music analysis and communications with the composer, this article explores Paul Chihara s reconciliation of the opposing realms of the profane and the sacred in Missa Carminum. It also demonstrates Missa Carminum s Christian foundations and its erotic aspects. Finally, it identifies a transformation in the composer s theology, revealing a shift in emphasis from everyday life in the Kyrie, Benedictus and Agnus Dei movements of the earlier Missa Brevis version, to a strong focus on Christ in the two new movements - the Gloria and the Sanctus - of the full version.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59 - 81
Number of pages23
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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