A View from the Choir Loft
“How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face — tears that did me good.” (St. Augustine, Confessions 9:6, 14)
No doubt, music has a unique ability to stir our emotions. But we need to be careful that liturgical music does not become entertainment – or mood-music. Its purpose and function is obviously much deeper, and, if implemented properly, helps to reveal truths we desire to know.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1157 states that “Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are “more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action,” Through the beauty of expressive prayer, participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the mass, “actively participate” is realized through the meaning of the liturgical words and actions which give all glory to God and sanctifies the faithful.
In order to help achieve this, careful attention must be given to the style of music used in the liturgy. It must be set apart from the associations of popular culture – the confines of our daily lives, and transport us into the solemnity of the mass, outside of our daily space and time, and to the Eternal. In essence, we assume a countercultural mentality to fully participate in the sacred liturgy.
John Paul II issued a pastoral letter in 1998, directed especially toward the United States, in which he said: “Active participation” does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness, and listening: Indeed, it demands it. Worshipers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be countercultural.”
So, you may ask, “Why are we hearing psalms and antiphons during communion at mass from time to time?” It’s a small first step, and but one example, to propel our worship to that more fully active participation, to turn our hearts upward to the Eternal, and leave the distractions of the day outside for a mere hour on a Sunday.
In my service to the church, I take seriously the responsibility to ensure we always seek a deeper, profound understanding of our faith through the music we experience at mass. To help achieve this, we must ensure that sacred music is better integrated into the ritual (just as the readings and prayers are directly integrated into the mass), and set-apart from the distractions of our everyday lives. The various church documents, specifically the General Instructions of the Roman Missal (GIRM), exist to aid in this endeavor, and direct our worship to unity with the universal church throughout the world. We have an obligation to commune with the whole universal church, and to realize, in humility, that we are worshipping with our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
I promise you, there is much more beauty to be discovered in our worship, and I am excited to journey with you in this discovery. Together as a parish family, with open hearts and minds, we can enrich our worship through our participation, and come to better understand our relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the sacred mysteries.
Sing to the Glory of God!
“Properly liturgical music, sacred and beautiful, is intrinsic to the liturgy; without it, the liturgy looses its force.”
“One of the best means to ensure the sacredness of the liturgy is singing. Singing takes the whole proceeding out of the frame of the everyday, of the secular.”
“Singing elevates the proceeding and evokes the notion that we address a transcendent God; the beauty of the singing is appropriate to addressing God, who is the source of all beauty.”
– William Mahrt
Sing to the Glory of God!
Instructions on how to assemble a piece of furniture are most useful to me if they are in English. I need to be able to fully understand and comprehend them in order to assemble said piece of furniture. Liturgy, on the other hand, is not an instruction manual to help us “assemble” the sacred mysteries into something we can comprehend. The paschal mystery is an unsolvable puzzle! It is, by design, mysterious. In this regard, the mass is the most important tool we have to help us ponder the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and nurture our relationship with Christ and each other.
Music has a unique ability to shed light on the very things that elude us and can help us consider the Paschal Mystery, and the scriptures. When we sing something in Latin or Greek, we may not fully understand the text – but consider the fact that we might not fully understand the text even if it were in English. Instead of struggling with understanding, let the music heighten your prayer and consider the connection to our ancestors in the faith – who also pondered the Paschal Mystery, and had the same questions and lack of answers – just in a different language. If you listen to the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requeim, I can assure you that you will be moved to tears and hear God speak – and you won’t understand a word of it.
Sing to the Glory of God!
Do you know what we are singing in Latin when the priest breaks the bread during mass (which, by the way, is called the Fraction Rite)? We are singing “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” And the last time we end with “grant us peace.”
The English is derived from the Latin that we sing in mass.
If you are interested, here is a handy pronunciation guide.
Agnus Dei qui tollis
Ah-nyoos Deh-ee kwee tawl-lees
dona nobis pacem
daw-nah naw-bees pah-chehm
Sing to the Glory of God, (in Latin, too!)
“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 112)
This quote is from the document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which is one of the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. Contained within, are the fundamental principles and guidelines of the role of music in the liturgy.
Following last weeks post, “Pentecost and Antiphons,” the reasoning behind using an antiphon was realized through this document. Indeed, sacred song would not be sacred were it not for the connection to the sacred scriptures. This is the deciding factor in the musical selections for mass, which may seem an obvious point, but in order to fully realize this connection in our liturgies, we find it necessary to get out of the hymnal sometimes by using different psalm settings, antiphons, etc., (many of which are newly composed works!) in order to hear the scriptural texts prescribed by the church.
I hope you find the “extra-hymnal” music selection enlightening and prayerful during mass and that you have an understanding of why we are singing them. Singing, listening, observing, posture and prayer, on your part, are integral components of a truly solemn liturgy!
Sing to the Glory of God,
Did you recognize something different with the music for communion on Pentecost?
What you heard was the communion antiphon for Pentecost, and the text was an English translation taken from the Graduale Romanum (this is essentially the musician’s version of the lectionary). You might recall singing or reading the “O Antiphons” during Advent – the texts from which are found in many of the hymns, songs and chants of that season.
The antiphon is sung by the congregation, and the psalm verses are sung by the cantor or choir. If this format sounds familiar, that’s because the responsorial psalm is treated in the exact same manner (The word antiphon, simply refers to the call and response (antiphonal) style of singing). In contrast to standard hymnody, this format of music moves your ‘active’ participation more inward; praying and meditating on the beautiful psalm text, which complements your movement in the eucharistic procession. Keep in mind that “active participation” is not solely our spoken and sung responses during mass – just as important, it includes observation, meditation and prayer. The antiphons are a practical tool (and Mother Church’s preferred option) and a musical means to that end.
This is the first in a new series of articles in which I will explain the various functions of music in the mass. The end goal is that we all “sing the mass,” not simply sing at mass. Stay tuned.
Sing to the Glory of God,