Thursday, October 05, 2006

Singing the Mass

There's an interesting blog post and discussion going on over at Amy Welborn's blog concerning liturgical music. Lol, I had to laugh at this part, as it brought to mind my own recent experience (which I blogged about here.)
People feel so strongly about liturgical music, and most of the people who seem to be reading and posting on Catholic blogs feel strongly negative about most of the music they hear in Catholic Masses.

(And I am careful not to generalize to the broader Catholic population here. There are plenty of folks out there who love the music that many of the commentors and bloggers despise. I am always reminded of this when I'm unfortunate enough to be present when Let There Be Peace on Earth is used - usually as a final hymn, correct? And the congregation usually blasts it - unlike any other piece in the repertoire. That part that makes me want to pour lye in my ears taaaaake each moment and liiiiiiive each moment in peeeeeace eternaleeeee-eeeeee! ...usually raises the roof. So go figure, and don't generalize, is the lesson of the day.)

But the real point of the post is not to pit one form of music against another or argue about which is better or prettier or more calls into question the very purpose of music in mass. And I think Fr. Vidrine summed up the idea nicely with a comment he made on the post, "Simply stated, the Church calls us to SING THE HOLY MASS, not sing AT Mass." This is a pretty new idea to me, and one I'd like to read more about. As much as I love the old traditional hymns, perhaps even those are not technically the best way to make the mass into a "seamless whole."

On a related note (bad pun alert), one point that was made in the comments that I very much agreed with was that, the way hymns and praise 'n worship type songs are used in many modern masses (say that five times fast!), it often ends up seeming more Protestant than Catholic, more of a collection of disjointed songs and spoken prayers than a unified whole, and that's really quite unfortunate. I'm certainly not even close to being an expert on this issue, but it would be something if our liturgical leaders could help us find the intended use of sacred music in the liturgy so that we could all experience the mass at its best, and perhaps that means learning to sing the mass instead of just singing at mass.


Chris Stewart said...

I love Gregorian Chant and similar ancient music, particularly in Latin. Watching the Masses on EWTN can be pure bliss for the simple reason that much of their music is ancient and moving – and can and should be sung. That said, I conduct a choir for a Spanish-language Mass at a parish in Houston, and pretty much all of the music we use is contemporary (for me, contemporary means anything less than 100 years old or so). Much of the music is very contemporary. I love that music as well.

That said, I believe it would a great kindness if the Latin Mass (whether Novus Ordo or Tridentine is immaterial to me) were celebrated more often and even if the Mass is in the vernacular, it would still be a great kindness if the ancient hymns were chosen more often (you might think that as a conductor I’d have some say in music selection. Not so, alas!) I perceive the complaints to be quite simple: ancient music in many parishes is almost never sung, and for some of us, the ancient hymns speak to us most clearly (and we can and do sing them quite well on those rare occasions when they pop up). I hate seeing this debate posited as either-or because as I said, I believe that there is great value in many of the modern hymns as well.

But do we have to almost completely silence the older music?

Stephanie said...

Thanks for your comments, I very much agree! =)

Cheryl S. said...

There is something absolutely beautiful about Latin used in mass (I've heard some), and especially when sung. Perhaps it's the feel of tradition - a reminder of the history of the Church, and that one is doing what so many others have done centuries before. It's a kind of link through time to all who have participated. A glimpse of heaven, I think.

That said, different people are at different places spiritually. Some are at the happy-warm-fuzzy Christianity, and honestly, there's nothing wrong with that (as long as they've been properly taught, and understand doctrine that is less warm-and-fuzzy, such as judgement) - they're celebrating God's love for us all, and we need people like that in the Church. In contrast, we also need people who feel more deeply the suffering of Christ, and those who feel the majesty and holiness of God, etc. They all make up the Church, and quite frankly, they all appreciate different aspects of God's character and will help the Church keep her focus on all aspects.

It wasn't that long ago that Christians in general started focusing on God as love, in reaction to years of fire and brimstone. We need all of it, in a balance, and the hymns that are written and sung likely reflect that (that said, for those for whom only one person chooses the songs, if he's a happy-love type, there are gonna be some folks who are not gonna be touched by the singing, KWIM?).

I suppose the best we can do is remind ourselves that we really don't sing for OUR appreciation (thank God, because I can't sing to save my life), but for His. If the hymns are sung out of love and appreciation and desire to worship (and they're doctrinally sound), I have to believe that He will accept our worship.

(I'm not a happy-warm-fuzzy type, myself, and prefer the older hymns as well. I would so be attending Latin Mass if at all possible if I were Catholic.)

Stephanie said...

Thanks Cheryl =)

Tiber Jumper said...

As a former worship musician and "worship leader" in charismatic evangelical churches, I came to believe that our singing time in church was the high point of getting close to the Lord. we viewed this "worship" time as when the Holy Spirit would descend upon the congregation. The congregations fervent response or lack thereof was our litmus test to determine whether or not we "touched God." The worship leader was often left feeling very guilty if he couldn't whip the congregation up on a particular Sunday morning.
Now as a Catholic, I see that the liturgy whether sung ,chanted or spoken is the ultimate worship and no greater worship can be had than offering up the body, blood, soul and divinity to the Father and joining our hearts to His on the altar. Therefore, I feel like it doesn't matter what the music is like because the eucharist becomes the focus. That being said, it seems like we should sing to the rafters knowing that the God of the universe is coming to us on the altar!

Stephanie said...

You're absolutely right, TJ, the Eucharist is the height and focus of mass. I think, though, that some people feel that the music should also direct us and point us toward the Eucharist, and that a lot of the modern tunes and even traditional four part hymns kind of break up the mass into pieces, separate it into "," etc, instead of creating a seamless whole that effortlessly leads and points to the Eucharist.

I don't know myself, as I haven't experienced the kind of "ideal mass" talked about on Amy Welborn's blog. Not having grown up with the mass, I only know what I've been exposed to, so hearing these very knowledgeable people talk about what the Church expects of sacred music, I just wonder if maybe we're missing out and don't even know it?

Anyway...I'm not planning on starting a revolt or anything, lol, just speculating about what the mass is supposed to be like, ideally.