Missa Adsum! Celebrating Women

Notes by composer Richard Moriarty on his Mass celebrating women

As the title suggests, the work celebrates the talents and gifts that women bring to ministry and leadership roles – in any religion. The title comes from the Roman rite of ordination during which the male candidates for ordination are called by name by the bishop and answer in Latin ‘Adsum!’ (‘I am here’ or ‘I am present’). The nine-movement work is in the format of the Mass. It is scored for soprano (or mezzo-soprano), baritone, chorus and orchestra.

I. Kyrie [Track 7 on the CD]: As in the Mass, the Kyrie is a prayer, but with an added prayer for a renewed effort for expanded access to vocations for both men and women. The movement opens with the soprano soloist and women’s voices softly recognising the call from the Lord to serve. The men join with a swelling, insistent prayer for renewal in the Church. A subito piano and prayerful recitation of the Kyrie concludes the movement.

II. Gloria [Track 8]: Traditionally an expression of praise. A driving, asymmetric rhythm of praise to God by the chorus and orchestra changes into a lyrical and more delicately orchestrated ‘Laudamus Te’ sung by the soprano. Following a return of the opening rhythmic intensity, the baritone, unaccompanied, enters with a majestic remembrance that the resurrected Jesus’ first spoken word was ‘Miriam.’ The women’s voices quietly recognise Jesus as ‘Rabboni’ (teacher) and all voices reunite and grow to a fortissimo restatement of ‘Gloria’.

III. Credo [9]: Typically a statement of unified beliefs, this Credo is composed as a love-song, observing that any religious vocation for women and men is an act of love. Opening with a lyrical soprano solo melody expressing belief, the chorus then softly states the belief in one God. The baritone, announced by a harp arpeggio and accompanied by pianostrings, declaims, as God: “See! I am doing something new!” An unaccompanied duet between soprano and baritone is followed by a return of the soprano’s opening melody in which she sings: “Female and male, You call us by name.“

IV. Adsum [10]: The word ‘Adsum’ is usually spoken by a man when called for ordination. In this movement a determined, insistent, and martial-like opening rhythm is accompanied by the soprano soloist singing “Adsum.” Women and then men join the soprano with increasing vigour and crescendo to a restatement of “Adsum.” The baritone lovingly sings praise of Miriam, and the soprano proudly sings: “Thy will be done.”

V. Magnificat [11]: These are the words traditionally spoken by Mary when she realises she has been favoured and chosen by God. This profound text is a necessary one for a musical composition proclaiming the role of women in the church. The ethereal setting is created by pianissimostrings with vibraphone, harp and chimes.

VI. Sanctus[12]: One of the standard parts of a Mass, this movement opens with a return of a forte, intense, driving, asymmetric rhythm. The Hosanna and Benedictus portions are, contrastingly, piano, slow-paced and gentle. The soprano boldly proclaims: “Here is Your Priesthood!” and an energetic return of the opening section concludes the movement.

VII. Consecration [13]: This lyrical duet between soprano and baritone symbolises equal status before God. The triple metre evokes a rocking, cradling feeling of tenderness, devotion and love. The chorus softly enters only at the end.

VIII. Agnus Dei [14]: The text here includes the famous ‘All Will Be Well’ by the anchoress Julian of Norwich. A flowing opening states the Agnus Dei, followed by successive announcements from the soprano, baritone and then chorus that “Our God is doing something new!” Another statement of the Agnus Deiby the chorus is followed by a proud, joyful and confident assurance that “All Will Be Well.”

IX. Ite, Missa Est [15]: A rejoicing recessional proclaiming that we should bring forth the talents and vocations from all who are within our religious communities. The movement opens with a thunderous chord to announce the forceful and majestic “Ite, missa est.” A staggered entrance of voices reaches a crescendoto implore listeners to “Go forth in joy” and “bring forth [men and women] what is within” to serve our God and each other. A reprise of the soprano melody from the Creed becomes a duet with the baritone and is then followed by a return of the ‘Adsum’ theme. A joyous and exuberant Alleluia and Gloria close the work.