Missa Marialis, Merbecke, and Willan in The Hymnal 1982


The Reverend Provost Robert A. Terrill (ret)
Grace Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas

Sacred Music America encourages the revitalization of Anglican traditional music in the 21st century, recognizing that we now live in a T. S. Eliot type of musical “wasteland” that reduces church music to the lowest common denominator. In our market driven religion, truth is not as important as what will sell. This keeps pushing the “common denominator” lower.

Those who want to preserve the musical tradition in this time of cultural disintegration and infuse new life into Sunday morning liturgies in the future ought to consider a specific 20th century model of liturgical music for the Holy Eucharist. Looking back on it, we could call it a “classical” triad: Missa Marialis from the medieval period, Merbecke from the Reformation, and Willan from the best of 20th century. Missa Marialis is a compilation of plainsong settings of the Mass, ranging from the 9th to the 15th century. The musical genius of Charles W. Douglas led him to publish it in 1915. John Merbecke, who drew the First Book of Common Prayer from traditional sources in 1549, published the musical setting named after him the following year. He adapted it from ancient plainsong melodies. Dr. Healy Willan composed his setting in 1928, naming it “Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena” after the Toronto church where he was the parish musician for many years. While nobody would claim that any of these or a combination of them is best, the three make up a “20th century classic” synthesis that is of high quality, and congregations can learn to sing all of them.

The 1982 hymnal contains most of Merbecke, Willian, and Missa Marialis, except for the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, which it curiously omits. Nevertheless the following shows how to reconstruct much of the traditional triad using the 1982 hymnal:





Agnus Dei…S-157





Agnus Dei…S-158

Missa Marialis




Agnus Dei…S-159

The musical settings of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer are at the back of the 1940 hymnal of The Episcopal Church. Merbecke is numbered 703 and 705 and 720 and 722 in the Missa Marialis. This hymnal did not include the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer of the Willan setting. Many churches still have copies of the 1940 hymnal in their libraries, and it may be purchased from the Church Publishing, Inc., 445 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016, 1-800-242-1918, or email at churchpublishing@cpg.org.

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