Monday, May 12, 2008

Changing Catholic Music Reqires A Correct Understanding of the Mass

While enduring this Sunday's "Pageant Mass" (Pentecost/ Mother's Day) and the various activities that took place within the Mass, my thoughts turned briefly to how it would be possible to incorporate actual Sacred Music into such a fiasco. This began me thinking seriously about the relationship between various aspects of the liturgy and how they come together to form a complete entity. My attention was caught by one particular snippet of this week's scripture -

"As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ."

How true this is for the Mass... all of the parts; Presider, Lectors, Music, Assembly, Vestments, Decoration... all of these have to come together to form a coherent whole. I've always felt that there is a serious problem when one or more of these parts conflict in style.

Consider a Mass in which the Priest wears beautiful and appropriate vestments, perhaps goes the extra mile and makes use of incense and chants his dialogues with the assembly. Does it really "work" to use Though the Mountains May Fall complete with strummers and drummers as the Processional? How jarring is it to have the chanted "Through Him, with Him and in Him..." followed by the "Amen" from the Mass of Glory? There is a strong sense that something is wrong, particularly when the music conflicts with he attitude and "style" of the Priest.

A good example of this is the "Teen Mass", complete with Evangelical praise songs, song leaders walking throughout the assembly with hand-held microphones and perhaps even the ubiquitous "song projector" screen behind the altar. Although I cringe at the thought, if the Priest processes in clapping his hands to the music, stopping to greet the teens in the pews during the procession, and completes the entrance with a resounding shout of "How's everybody doing tonight... are we ready to meet Jesus?"
then the Presider and the music are on the same page, stylistically speaking. The breakdown occurs when an elderly retired priest has to cover for the "hip" priest at this Mass. I'm sure you can imagine the stylistic train wreck. I don't have to imagine...I've actually seen this happen on more than one occasion, and it isn't pretty.

To make my point here, think of it this way. As long as the Priest presents the Mass as a social event in which we come together to seek and recieve mutual support for a comon cause, whether that cause is social justice, community action, world peace or whatever, the music at Mass will be more like the music at a 1960's Peace Rally than anything else, because that style of music is appropriate to that setting. A Mass in which the attention is focused on what WE are doing has no place for music or prayers directed to God. Music in this setting has to be about us and our cause.

Truly beautiful Sacred Music will only return when the Mass is understood to be about God, not about us. When the Priest leads us in the worship and praise of God through the sacrifice of the Mass, Sacred Music becomes necessary because the music in this setting must be about God and our worship and praise of Him. There is no place for music about US when the Mass is understood to be about God.


Dad29 said...

Which, of course, raises the indelicate question: Does the priest really BELIEVE what he's been taught about Liturgy and the Real Presence?

recall that it is not what one says--it is what one DOES...

Chironomo said...

Yet another indication that the crisis we face is not really one about music...