Why Use Motets?

How to direct contemplation in the liturgy? Use motets or anthems, which the congregation doesn’t sing. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, ‘their function is partly decorative – e.g., to dispel tedium and enhance contemplation during the collection of the offering – and partly provocative, useful at points of rest or suspension in the liturgy to engage the congregation’s religious imagination at the highest musical level.’ Motets and anthems can often be drawn from the words of Holy Scripture itself without recourse to funky songs. Here’s one motet by Gombert, from the Psalms (119.143; 116.3b–4a; 25.17; 40.3; Protestant numbering):

Tribulatio et angustia invenerunt me:
Tribulation and worry have come over me:
quia mandata tua meditatio mea est.
for my thoughts are of your commandments.
Tribulationem et dolorem inveni:
I have come upon tribulation and sorrow:
et nomen Domini invocavi.
and I have called upon the name of the Lord.

Tribulationes cordis mei multiplicatae sunt:
The tribulations of my heart have multiplied:
de necessitatibus meis erue me,
drag me from my desperation,
ut educas me de lacu inferni et de luto faecis.
so that you may lead me from the hellish lake and the fetid mud.


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