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Vienna teen writes original Mass music

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A local teenager has written music that has been officially approved for use in the Catholic Mass.

Matthew Brown, 15, a parishioner at St. Mark Church in Vienna, has played piano for Masses at the church since he was in sixth grade.

Brown recently composed the “Mass of the Resurrection,” a four-part Mass setting, and St. Mark’s has started using his music for Masses.

The “Mass of the Resurrection” features a “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Memorial Acclamation,” “Amen,” and “Lamb of God.”

The talented teen, who attends Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, said he enjoyed the challenge of composing the music.

“I had to really get myself to slow down and take a little more time to work, to have a product I’m happy with in the end,” Brown said. “These are powerful words. This is a prayer the entire church is going to be saying." 

After Brown finished the work, he sent it to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which oversees liturgical music.

To his surprise, the organization quickly got back to him with minor edits — capitalizations here and there, and various punctuation marks  — and gave its approval.

Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Divine Worship, said he credits Brown for taking steps to ensure his work is liturgically sound.

“All we really look at is to verify that the text is accurate,” Father Menke said. “We don’t want someone to start singing a Holy Holy at Mass where the words have been rearranged or paraphrased or changed in any way that would undermine the text of the Mass, which people have a right to have in (its) integrity.”

The words of the Mass parts come directly from the Roman Missal.

In the United States, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy holds the civil copyright on English translations of the Roman Missal, Father Menke said. When a composer wants to create a new Mass setting, he or she must approach the Commission to ask permission to use the text.

Writing new Mass parts can be a challenge for composers, Father Menke said. “These texts don’t necessarily rhyme or have the same meter in every phrase.”

“Part of the challenge and part of the art is to use these texts and find ways to express them beautifully in music,” he said. “It’s a challenge and an art, and we appreciate artists who are good at that.”

The “Mass of the Resurrection” itself alternates between major and minor keys. Brown said he hopes the ebb and flow of his Mass parts will inspire people to be in tune with the meaning of the words.

It’s meant to evoke the joy of the Easter season — hence the “Mass of the Resurrection,” he said.

“Easter’s always such a special time for all the musicians in the church,” he said. “After we’ve been doing the Lent music for 40 days, which is kind of sad, then we get to come in with the Alleluias and the big, happy chords. It’s a time of year that’s especially fun to play music in the church.

“If I was going to write something I was going to be playing, I thought why not try to emulate that style and try to send the message of the joyfulness of the Resurrection?”



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019