While the Dominicans now use of the Roman Rite for the ordinary celebration of the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours after the Second Vatican Council, the order still maintains the right to celebrate its own rite and incorporate elements of its own tradition – such as some of its unique chants and propers – into its celebrations.
"The Church, I think, was happy to say, 'Yes, Dominicans, you have these traditions and they are beautiful. Yes, let's keep them alive,'" Fr. Bagan said.
The brothers' projects, like its album, are opportunities for the Dominicans to share both the richness of the tradition as well as the message of the Gospel with others, said Fr. Bagan.
"In the end, we're really happy to be able to do this because it's very important to get all of these treasures from the Church's musical tradition into people's hands."
Moving Music Forward
While eight hundred years old, the Dominican musical tradition is still an evolving one. This fact is an element which the student brothers recording tried to bring forward through new compositions on the album, Fr. Bagan said.
Among the older works are new pieces written by brothers, which range in style. Among the new works are more traditional hymn-like settings as well as pieces that include "wilder" harmonies and musical tension and other elements from 20th century music.
In his view, Fr. Bagan says that modern liturgical pieces, such as the ones the brothers sing, "take what's best in the music in our own time and what can be made fitting for the Temple of God and Divine Worship."
"Generally of course, music for Church needs to be a bit more stylistically timeless than music for the secular sphere," he stipulated, "not to say that good things can't be brought in."
In addition, he clarified, music intended for the liturgy should remain focused on its purpose and role. "They can be challenging of course, but should never be jarring or distract from the meaning of the divine text or from the purpose of worship for which music is made."
Chris Mueller, a contemporary Catholic composer, also seeks to incorporate modern musical elements into appropriate liturgical settings. Mueller, who has a background in jazz music, has written numerous liturgical pieces, including his "Missa pro editione tertia," a setting of the 2011 English translation of the Mass, which has been used by parishes around the world.
In writing his Mass for the 2011 translation, his goal was to create a piece that was singable and was clearly liturgical, and yet was in conversation with he current state of the musical world.
"I was trying to write in a way that was modern and contemporary, but also liturgically appropriate," Mueller reflected.
While he's "not trying to write music that sounds like Mozart or Bach, I'm trying to write music that sounds modern," he also doesn't want his music to sound just like secular jazz or modern music played in concert halls or jazz clubs.
Finding the "balance" between modern elements and liturgical music, Mueller said, is "an interesting challenge."
The key in writing the "Missa pro editione tertia" and other liturgical pieces has been using modern elements and tones as "part of my palette of approaches," he commented. For Mueller, drawing on jazz music for inspiration means using "surprising" turns and harmonies that don't "really sound like anything else"
It's important, Mueller said, for Mass music to sound different from other kinds of music we may hear.
"What happens at the Mass when God becomes present at the altar is not something that happens in any part of the rest of your life. The truth of what's happening at Mass is so different than everything else that the music needs to be reflect that somehow."
For Mueller, creating these works is ultimately about giving his gifts back to God.
"In Vatican II it says that sacred music is the most valuable treasure of all the artistic treasures the Church has, then if I can be a small part of that, then what better use of my skills could there be?"
But as Church music moves forward in the third millennium, how does all of this translate for the average parish?
For Thomas Stehle, how to choose good liturgical music is not only a theoretical issue but a practical one.
As director of music for St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington D.C, Stehle is in charge of planning liturgies for six English and Latin-language Masses for a diverse community within the Archdiocese.
For him, Stehle told CNA, the challenge – as it would be at any parish – is balancing music that is both of quality and liturgically appropriate as well as easily accessible for prayer.
He said there's a "legitimate question" not only about a given piece's quality but also its style. Not every pleasant piece is appropriate for Mass, he cautioned, and this guideline cuts across genres of music.
On the other hand, he noted, many pieces that are not considered "high art" are worthy of being sung at Mass.
"Does it get beyond, 'oh I love this' to 'I can pray with this?'" Steel said. The approach he's settled on when searching for music is to look for "really legitimate things that come from people's culture, but do it very carefully and as high-quality as possible, within the style," he said.
Stehle also added that music directors should consider both the liturgical season and the Church's daily readings, propers and prayers in order to create the "highest degree" of unity between liturgy, prayer and music.
"It's important when we're asking people to embody that prayer in song that it's coming from very informed choices."
"(T)hat is the goal; that what you put in people's mouths is worthy, is appropriate, is liturgically appropriate, is pastorally appropriate and is musically appropriate."
This article was originally published March 4, 2016.