HE CHASM between the documents of the liturgical renewal and their implementation has always been fascinating to watch, though rather saddening when viewed from the pew. There is a disconnect between the theory and the practice and this has been the case to varying degrees for a long time.
It makes sense that there may be an ideal of which we are permitted to fall short, but it is the ideal which should guide our efforts and help keep us united, working together for the common good.
So here is the quote from the General Instruction on the Roman Missal section 48:
The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from The Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop
Which clearly gives four options:
• The antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual;|
• The seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual;|
• A song from another collection of psalms and antiphons approved the the Conference of Bishops;|
• A suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops
And it is this last dot point which has become the default. Except now we find that the approval has been assumed rather than specifically given. So instead of reaching the ideal at the top of the list, we’re not even hitting the point at the bottom of the list.
This reminds me of a similar situation in the world of breastfeeding advocacy. The World Health Organisation and UNICEF have provided a document with clear guidelines for addressing the chief sources of malnutrition and infant mortality. This is a global recommendation—all countries want healthy children—but the most crying need is seen in the developing world.
The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, point 18 states:
The vast majority of mothers can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of infants can and should be breastfed. Only under exceptional circumstances can a mother’s milk be considered unsuitable for her infant. For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative—expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and teat—depends on individual circumstances.
So that boils down to five options:
• Milk from own mother by breastfeeding;|
• Milk from own mother, expressed;|
• Milk from a wet-nurse; or|
• Milk from a milk bank; or|
• Breastmilk substitute fed by cup.
But the default has widely become a breastmilk substitute (aka infant formula) fed by bottle. So again, we’re failing the ideal and not even hitting the bottom bullet point.
There are similarities in the path to this situation too. In both cases there was a assumed air of superiority of the “new way” of doing things. The old way was considered irrelevant to the modern generation.
In both cases a whole culture was lost. Both require ongoing research and education to recover the skills needed to aim for the ideal. We are so far gone that just telling people what they should be doing is inadequate. They lack the skills to reach the ideal or even understand what is required to attain those skills.
In both cases there are economic interests hampering the attainment of the ideal.
In both cases we risk alienating the very people we are trying to help by insisting on the ideal without giving the groundwork necessary for grasping the situation.
WE HAVE A LONG ROAD AHEAD. We can dream about those in authority suddenly exercising government and setting the institutions on the right track. We hear about isolated cases of this going into practice to good effect. But for the majority of people on the ground, the first step is to educate ourselves, our families and the circles we do have influence with.
If people can experience the beauty of the Mass celebrated with the full complement of texts, then the extra hymns will recede into the background. The congregation can still enjoy a rousing recessional hymn. There may be time for a Eucharistic hymn after the Communion antiphon and psalm.
Maybe the “Folk Hymns of the Now Generation” can become the new form of the old “sing-a-long around the piano” – a nostalgia trip enjoyed in the home or parish hall.
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