“Peter therefore was kept in prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God for him.” (Acts 12:5)
As many of you are acutely aware, one of the difficulties often faced by the reform of the reform is the common understanding of active participation. The cries of “active participation” are often made to musicians and pastors who advocate and work for…
In many quarters, particularly in my own special area of hymnody, mighty efforts have often been expended to horizontalize the Mass. Full, conscious, active participation is undeniably a goal of the Vatican II reform of the Mass, as articulated in its …
Ordinarily the chants of the Mass ought to be sung, whether in the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form.On those occasions when hymns are sung at Mass–and let’s be honest, we all do it–how do we choose among the hundreds of thousands of hymns available…
Delighted to run across a wonderful blog by an old friend and classmate, Dr. Eric Johnston, a seminary professor living with his large family in Newark.
The Catholic Spiritual Life is a peaceful and informative blog, something like either liturgical spirituality, or spiritual theology–drawing theological truth from all those wonderful sources that we have available to us as Catholics. All of these sources of truth bear upon one another, and we can be caught up in their dynamism, and filled with the living Word of God.
At last we return to our orderly reading of Matthew – and see how beautiful are the ordinary words of the Gospel.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Such words are like balm. They are really worth reading and hearing just to bathe in them. Such a beautiful reminder that none of our pious meditations can equal the healing power of God’s word.
But let us come to him, and learn! These words teach us even more when we read them in context. The Lectionary is good enough to give us the verses that immediately proceed.
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. . . . No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
The two halves of this paragraph illumine one another. Not by strength does man prevail. It’s not human wisdom that discovers the love of the Father. It’s a gift, through Jesus Christ.
And this is the deeper meaning of “take my yoke upon you.” The “rest” he gives us is precisely knowledge of the Father. This is the cure to our labors and burdens.
We have to take his “yoke” upon us. But this doesn’t mean hard work. To the contrary, it means being so assimilated to him that we let him be our all – let Jesus be the source of our strength, and learn from him to receive everything from the Father. That’s the true meaning of meekness.
And meekness is a “yoke” – a challenge to our self-sufficient ways, requiring a real change of behavior – but also “easy,” because what we learn is precisely that we don’t have to be self-sufficient.
The Entrance Chant is like a door opening onto the Mystery. It begins as the priest and other ministers enter the church. The Entrance Chant sets the celebration of Mass in motion; it fosters unity; it expresses something of the feast or season being celebrated. The Entrance Chant accompanies the procession of the priest and ministers into the sanctuary and generally will not end until after the priest arrives at the chair.
Apart from a very few exceptions, the Entrance Chants of the Mass are drawn from the Bible, usually from the Book of Psalms. The great majority of these Introits or Entrance chants are from the Old Testament, because most of them were set in place in the Liturgy before the New Testament even existed. This means we are praying prayers and singing melodies that the early Christian Martyrs would have sung and some of these chants were sung in the temple during and before the time of Jesus. It is significant that Mass opens with God’s word addressed to us. Already in the Entrance Chant it is God who comes out to meet us. The text of the Introit is harmonized with all the other variable prayers of the day so that the idea of the feast or the thought of the day pervades the whole Mass.
At the 10:00am Mass the Introit is sung in Latin to the ancient melody. The text and translation are provided for your prayerful reflection but you are not expected to sing. There is much that is more important that can be happening at this moment. For whom are you offering the Mass? What sacrifice are you offering to join with the sacrifice of Jesus? Often people will bow when the Book passes by. The Word of God enters to greet you and you pay your respects. Often people will bow when the priest goes by. This is not because they like the priest, but they recognize he stands in the person of Christ at this Mass. At the other English Masses a modification of the ancient melody is sung with an English translation. This is to enable you to sing along if you wish, but you could easily be involved in the activities previously mentioned.
|The ancient melody that the chant above is based on|
At Mass we are in the company of our Lord by faith. We want to live in Him so that we may live like Him and die with Him and rise with Him.
Truly actively participating in Mass, means actively seeking to identify ourselves with Christ, who is hidden in the Sacred Host. We, hidden in the world, pay attention to the words of the liturgy which are a mirror of the soul of our Lord, as he offers himself to the Father. It means adopting his state of mind as far as we are able, in order to be able to leave Mass with a will that is more apt to imitate Christ in reality.
The liturgy comes with an invitation and a challenge. Today in the Entrance chant we hear that God is in his Holy place, that he unites those who dwell in his holy place. He gives might and strength to his people. Then in the Gospel we hear that the farmer finds a great treasure in the field. He sells all he has to buy that field. Will you?
This is how you pray the Introit or Entrance chant. Based on the strength that he gives you, will you be able to do his will? Will you be able to do what he asks?
If you are still paying attention to the superficial stuff, the flowers, the music, the priest, and even the homily, chances are you are not paying attention to what the Mass calls forth from you. When you entered the church this morning, if you are doing anything besides what was mentioned above, you came to a social gathering of friends, but you did not come to encounter the Lord in the Sacred Mysteries.
My best friend and his wife (my wife’s best friend) grew up in and worship in the Church of Christ tradition, a Christian denomination popular in the Southern U.S., with roots in the Second Great Awakening. For theological and historical reasons (which are not the focus of this article), the Churches of Christ developed a culture of unaccompanied congregational singing. This singing style, heavily influenced by the Shape Note (Sacred Harp) tradition, is one of the core identifying characteristics of this religious tradition.
If you have followed much of my writing over the years, you know that I am quite enamored with the musical tradition of the Churches of Christ (and other “Primitive American” musics), and it has influenced my own thinking about congregational singing, the primacy of Gregorian Chant within the Roman Rite, and the transmission of culture across generations.
I am deeply concerned about the long-term viability of the musical heritage of the Church of Christ tradition, and I also think there are lessons to learn about the preservation of musical culture.
The Churches of Christ are not immune to the trends of popular religious music, and never have been throughout their two-century history. Old traditional strophic hymns, Sacred Harp music, popular “Gospel” songs, and (now) the latest pop Christian praise music have all found a place within their worship gatherings. Songs which were considered new-fangled a generation ago are now defended as “traditional,” while the latest generation of devotional music slowly but inevitably finds its way into the Sunday service, despite the occasional grumblings from the curmudgeons and defenders of the faith.
The ability of the CoC to bend and reshape each new wave of popular music to fit the denominational requirement that no instruments be used in worship has created a situation where these diverse styles and genres become unified, and can coexist without any sense of aesthetic discontinuity. This continuity is particularly interesting because almost no Church of Christ musician would consider aesthetic continuity, in a Catholic liturgical sense, to be a requirement of tasteful and dignified worship. All the same, I am of the opinion that aesthetics have a strong psycho-spiritual impact, even when your explicit theology says otherwise.
This strength of the CoC musical tradition suggests (to me, at least) that one of the keys to maintaining (or reclaiming) a truly Catholic and Roman musical culture in the Roman Rite might be a stronger sense of aesthetic continuity, even when (or especially when) local requirements dictate use of music other than Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony. It goes (more or less) without saying here on the Chant Cafe that “contemporary” (that is, pop-styled) music creates some artistic dissonance within the Mass. But I have also experienced “traditional” liturgy that seemed as much a hodge-podge as any Folk Mass I’ve attended. Just because several things are in Latin, or just because several things are old, does not mean that they belong together in the liturgy. At the same time, careful adaptation of style can bring more contemporary music into aesthetic alignment with more traditional selections.
Though the Churches of Christ have seemingly been able to absorb and unify each new wave of popular devotional music over the last two centuries, there is one trend within contemporary “Praise and Worship” culture which threatens severe disruption within this tradition, and which has already begun to wreak havoc on Catholic liturgy: performer-oriented music.
This “performer orientation” seems to be an artifact of the mega-church phenomenon, imported (as far as I am aware) somewhat unthinkingly along with other detritus such as projection screens and microphones.
In an average Church of Christ congregation, it is common for a “worship minister” or “song leader” to sing the melody of a song into a microphone, from the front of the assembly area. This leader is supposedly helping the congregation to sing, but is, in fact, doing no such thing. Rather, this practice is a serious threat to the integrity of congregational singing, for a number of reasons which should be obvious but apparently are not. Three in particular stand out:
First, the presence of a song leader implies to the congregation that singing is something done by a particular person with a particular set of skills. The congregation’s job, then, is not to sing, but only to “sing along.” Inasmuch as singing is no longer the domain of the congregation, it becomes optional for them. You might sing if you want to, or if you think you are good at it, but you no longer sing out of necessity. Since it is no longer essential that every person sings, it will of course become the case that not everyone sings.
Additionally, the artificial amplification of the melody over the other vocal parts destroys the aural texture of congregational part-singing, making it impossible for newcomers and children to learn to sing in harmony. People who grow up within the Church of Christ tradition learn to sing in four-part harmony without any formal training. The major enabling factor for this ability is constant exposure to it, in a context in which each individual part can be clearly heard by anyone within the assembly. When a song leader sings the melody into a microphone, the other parts are covered in such way as to make them nearly impossible to hear individually. Anyone who does not already know a harmony line has very little help in learning one. This problem is made infinitely worse by the use of words-only projection slides, which provide no musical information or formation.
Finally, the nature of individual singing performance is intrinsically different than congregational singing performance. Musical phenomena such as rhythmic content and melodic ornamentation simply work differently with a soloist than they do with a congregation. The placement of a single singer at the head of the congregation inevitably draws that singer toward a solistic style of singing which is musically incompatible with robust congregational singing.
Part of the reason that these developments have been allowed to take place is that, much like with many customs and rules in Roman liturgical practice, the heart of the Church of Christ’s congregational orientation – a theology of community derived from the Acts of the Apostles – has been reduced in common practice to a mere legalism: “No musical instruments.” Once a theological proposition has been reduced to a legalism, there are two inevitable consequences: circumnavigation and abandonment. Circumnavigation happens when the question becomes, “How can we do whatever we wanted to do anyway, without ‘technically’ breaking the rules?” Abandonment happens when the pretense of technicality is dropped and the rule is simply ignored or removed.
The history of the Roman Rite, particularly through the late modern period, involves many cycles of legalization, circumnavigation, and eventual (de facto and then de jure) abandonment. One example of this is the replacement of Propers with hymns. Another is the change in liturgical orientation from the East toward the people.
In the Churches of Christ, this process has meant that mega-church Praise Band culture was simply imported into unaccompanied, heavily microphoned soloists (circumnavigation) and now, in a small but growing number of cases, congregations have simply added “Instrumental Worship” services (abandonment). I get the sense, from my friends in other Christian traditions, that this process is universal and inevitable.
There are two typical ways of reacting to this seemingly inevitable evolution from law to legalism to disregard. Most people go along with whatever trend is currently in vogue, whether actively supporting the change or simply allowing it to happen without comment or resistance. A small minority oppose the change, but usually for spurious reasons having to do with legalism and habit.
Philistines and Pharisees. Progressives and Prudes.
In both cases personal comfort seems paramount, and neither “side” is really right. In fact we all find ourselves identifying with one group or the other, and this is a matter of temperament, not maturity.
As an outsider to the CoC tradition, it’s easy for me to back up, ignore the messy details, and offer some thoughts on a solution. I’m not hopeful that many Church of Christ congregations will take up my suggestions. I am, though, hopeful that the benefit of distance will provide some clarity into finding similar solutions to similar problems within the Catholic tradition of liturgical music. For this reason, I will only offer a few thoughts and a lot of questions. It seems to me that these questions are relevant to music ministry in all Christian traditions.
It seems to me that the best way forward for preserving the Church of Christ musical tradition is not to embark on a destructive reactionary campaign of strict rule following, but to embrace the spirit of the original rules and to evaluate new developments against their purpose, rather than against their technicalities. That is – to ask whether something is helpful, not just whether it is allowed.
On a practical level this means first re-evaluating both the need for and the nature of “Song Leaders.” Are they really helping the congregation to find their own voice? Or are they allowing the congregation to become more passive during worship? Do they need to hold microphones? What is the optimal volume for microphones? Should there be multiple singers on microphones (one for each vocal part), or just one, or none at all? Whether there is one Song Leader, or a choir full of them – what is their placement relative to the assembly, and what does this placement imply?
For those congregations which have decided to add instrumental worship – Is there a way to use instruments as an enhancement to congregational part-singing, rather than a replacement for it? Can decisions like placement of musicians, repertoire, and performance style be made in such a way that the congregation retains an active role in music-making, rather than abdicating that role to a small group of performers?
Another thing to consider is church architecture and acoustics – building worship spaces which either enhance congregational singing or which require extreme amplification. Additionally, the use of projection screens could be evaluated with an eye toward those practices which enhance congregational participation and long-term viability.
Critically – and this goes for all of us, in every tradition – we all must develop the habit of thinking theologically about our actions.
What belief is being expressed when a congregation sits back in padded chairs and sings-along with a performative soloist? What belief is being expressed when a people stand together and sing together? What belief is being expressed by choosing to worship in an acoustically dead, unattractive space? What belief is being expressed when one person’s voice is amplified over the voices of everyone else?
Historically, the people in the Churches of Christ pray a certain way because they believe a certain way, and that prayer life in turn forms them into that way of believing, and into a way of living. It is the same, of course, for us – for all of us.
We cannot import and capitulate to every new trend that comes along, but neither can we become reactionaries against all natural change and progress. Even our approach to change signals something about our beliefs: showing on the one hand that the forms of our worship are completely changeable and thus completely meaningless, or on the other that worship is a history museum with little relevance to human life.
This is the essence of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. If we wish to form people into a way of believing, into a way of living (a Lex Vivendi), we must take care with the way we pray and worship.
Saint Mary of Magdala, in debated multiplicity of biblical character, is honored in both East and West as first among the disciples of Jesus. Even the Saints share a variety of ideas on her life as ”the woman who was a sinner”, sister of Mar…