Every time Rev. Geoffrey Angeles leads his congregation at mass, they reply with melodies that were once floating around in his head.
That's because the priest of Virden's Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church composed a setting of the new English translation of the Catholic mass, unveiled in Canada last November.
"Right now when I hear my congregation singing my music, and they're actually singing it, I feel a sense of relief and accomplishment," says the bubbly Angeles, who composed the music for the new Roman Missal during his final year of seminary four years ago.
The 34-year-old Winnipeg native is the only Manitoban and lone priest among the three Canadians commissioned by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to set the new liturgy to music. The new compositions help parishioners associate the changes in the liturgy with new melodies.
The other two settings were composed by John Dawson of Toronto, and Michel Guimont, the organist at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Ottawa. The trio each composed the acclamation parts of the mass, which the entire congregation sings as a response during the mass.
Angeles' setting will be used by the Archdiocese of Winnipeg for the next year, as well as dioceses across Canada and in the United States.
"I would hazard a guess that his is the most used of the three," says Rev. Bill Burke, director of the national liturgy office for the CCCB.
"People just respond to it and they like it."
Last fall, Angeles travelled across Western Canada introducing the new mass settings to Roman Catholics, taking time away from his duties in his western Manitoba parish, which includes a mission church 45 minutes away from Virden in the tiny hamlet of Grand Clairiere.
"What I've been doing is not promoting my own mass settings, but all the settings," says Angeles, director of sacred music for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and a member of the National Council for Liturgical Music.
"For at least one year, the diocese should learn just one setting so everyone can learn the new words."
His initial fears that the new music might be too difficult for smaller churches to sing have been put to rest, as the choirs from large and small parishes have adapted the music to their contexts.
"The melodies are very singable. The complexities come in the harmonies and the obligato," says Angeles, a graduate of Kelvin High School, who sings tenor in a community choir in nearby Oak Lake.
Angeles set out to reflect the words in the new liturgy and bring out aspects of the text. His composition, set in the key of C, employs an ascending scale to move the people toward God.
"C is the home key for everyone. It's the sense of being and home and we're being lifted out and we can see God in our liturgy," says Angeles, now halfway through a master's degree in liturgy at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind.
Although Angeles is humble about his accomplishments as a first-time published composer, others aren't shy about singing his praises.
"It's a magnificent piece of music because it musically expresses theology in the various use of sounds," says Rev. Darren Gurr of St. Gianna's Roman Catholic Church, and director for liturgy of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg.
"It's truly wonderful for Winnipeg to have this person doing this for the church." Although this might be his first published composition, it likely won't be his last, says Burke, who was mesmerized by Angeles' talent at the piano when he happened to hear the Winnipegger while visiting the seminary years ago.
"I just sat there and listened and thought his soul was in his fingers," says Burke, who recommended to the CCCB that Angeles compose a mass setting.
"I think you're going to hear Geoffrey called upon by a good number of Catholic liturgical publishers."
After only a few months, the choral responses in Angeles' settings have become familiar to the choir and people of St. Gianna's, says music director Richard Konrad.
"It's very singable and it's an excellent (vocal) range. It's very approachable," says Konrad, who for a brief stint was Angeles' piano teacher when the priest was an undergraduate student at Concord College in Winnipeg, now part of Canadian Mennonite University.
That's exactly the response Angeles was hoping for. Although he loves singing and playing piano, he takes seriously his call to the ministry and wants his music to reflect his understanding of liturgy.
"I'd like to say I bring the pastoral side to it," he says.
"From the pastoral side, I know the needs of the people. Music is a good experience, so they're caught up in God's transcendence."
Listen to the mass
Hear Rev. Geoffrey Angeles and the choir of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic church in Edmonton sings the Angeles' mass at www.archwinnipeg.ca
New Roman Missal
The English translation of the Roman Missal (or Catholic mass) was adopted by Roman Catholic churches in 11 English speaking countries in November, 2011. A French translation is due out in about three years.
This is the third English translation of the Latin mass since the Second Vatican Council called for the use of the language of the people in worship.
This translation from Latin to English is more literal than previous translations, and results in changes to some familiar responses, such as replying "And with your Spirit" when the priest says "The Lord be with you." Previously, the congregation replied: "And also with you."
Three Canadian composers were commissioned to write new musical settings for the new translation to help parishioners learn the new mass.