Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Liturgical Warfare

I am a musical minimalist when it comes to the Mass. Most of that stems from the outright nonsense that we put up with for most of my youth in terms of the "music" that was put forth in worship at Mass in our parish. I suspect I am not close to being the only individual in my age group (out of those who still actually regularly attend Mass, that is) who was scarred in some fashion by horrendous liturgical music. 

Today in First Things, Richard Mouw reminds us that battles over the aesthetics and presentation of worship is hardly new, and each subsequent generation fights it all over again. It's sort of an incarnation of the quote often attributed to Twain about history rhyming rather than repeating itself. 

All of that said, the role of music within the boundaries of the Mass is to foster worship. Unfortunately, one of the lines that gets thrown around often to justify unlimited and often bad music is St. Augustine's "he who sings, prays twice." However, that is a misquote. The real quote is:

"He who sings well, prays twice"

Big difference. 

Let's face it, sometimes the songs are so bad that even a well-sung rendition is just putting lipstick on the pig, to borrow the phrase. "Gather Us In," "Anthem," "We Are Called," "City of God" and the rest are just awful songs that even brilliant four part harmonies won't remove the triteness and abject heresy dreck from our ears. 

Getting back to the original point of this entire post: being a musical minimalist means that the only singing that is technically required are the actual parts of the Mass: Gloria, Alleluia, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, the Great Amen, Agnus Dei, and the Communion antiphon. Opening and closing "hymns" (how "All Are Welcome" qualifies as a "hymn" is a mystery even God cannot comprehend) are pragmatic elements at best; they are meant to get the procession and recession on and off the altar. Offertory and Communion hymns are done likewise; however, they are within the boundaries of the Mass itself, and as such are not really an issue. Nothing is more annoying in Mass that an opening or closing that has all four verses sung, especially when the priest has arrived or departed after two of the verses.

Singing those extra verses is the very essence of the "vain repetition" Jesus warned against in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:7). Is it for the glory of God, or is it just to give the choir extra exposure? The fact the question even has to be asked sort of answers itself. 

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