ORE RECENTLY I’ve taken the opportunity to bring my children to Mass with me while I am working. Doing so affects my experience in prayer subtly and not so subtly. One such experience was having my daughter unexpectedly reach up to hold my hand just as I was intoning the Alleluia. Pleasantly startled, it was a sensation I have never felt in such a context–it left quite an impression on my soul.
She held my hand until I was done singing. She didn’t say anything. That was that–a child doing what comes naturally to them: being a beacon of light and truth.
HIS PROVIDES PERSPECTIVE on the many debates about liturgy and especially music. Every music director is quite used to fielding critiques, comments, opinions, etc., about what music would be better than what one is currently providing. Everyone would like more of this and less of that. And less of this and more of that.
Forget style. Here are things we’ve lost sight of and need to get back:
1. THE MASS IS A SUNG PRAYER.
Regardless of the style of music, are we singing the Mass? Are we singing the dialogues, the acclamations, both considered even by Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (SttL) to be the most important things that we sing? (And hymns and songs the least important as indicated by SttL §115d and the GIRM §48.)
Are we helping our priests—especially those who are not inclined to sing—to chant the presidential texts, Preface, or dialogues?
If not, why not?
Singing the Mass is integral; music is not an “addition” to the Mass. Sacred song grew up side by side with the Roman Rite in the singing of the texts of the Mass and hence scripture. This is our core understanding. This is the core understanding of Vatican II. (SC§ 112)
2. OUR PREFERENCES DON’T MATTER
What happens at Mass is entirely the work of God and a gift from God. Our personal tastes don’t matter very much in light of this. Corporate prayer necessitates the subjection of our will to God’s will. This is difficult. It’s supposed to be difficult, yet joyous!
Like a family, we naturally put the greater good ahead of our own desires. God’s will is all. This understanding comes naturally when we align ourselves to trust God. It may also come as a blessed relief as God carries our burdens.
3. CHRIST IS THE CENTER OF OUR MUSIC—NOT US.
Losing sight of this is perhaps the most dangerous. We should see Christ in our neighbor. That is what we are called to do.
But liturgical music is often manipulated and abused as a god of personal gratification. Music of all styles can become an idol when used for this purpose.
Is Christ the center of our music both in the text and intent? If we are the center, we’ve missed the opportunity to be intimate with God and nurture our relationship with Him. Furthermore, God at the core creates the opportunity to strengthen our relationships with each other.
4. WE LIVE TO SERVE.
We live to serve God and His people. It’s that simple. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Incidentally, this is where we find true fulfillment and happiness.
5. CHRIST IS ETERNAL. OUR MUSIC MIGHT NOT BE.
Consider that the fifty years since Vatican II are but a blink of an eye in the history of music, no less the world. Hundreds of years or even a millennium are nothing in the sight of God. But God also knows every hair on your head and knows all good things that you need.
Consider that the often-used terms “traditional” and “contemporary” are not styles. They describe aspects of time. Every note I’ve composed this year is “contemporary.” I’ll be fortunate if in a couple hundred years any of it becomes “traditional.” I won’t care by then I hope, because Christ is eternal.
6. GOD WANTS YOU CLOSE.
Pray unceasingly. God wants you close. He will find you, hunt you down and draw you near in an eternal loving embrace.
Y DAUGHTER REACHING FOR MY HAND while I was singing will probably teach me more than any books will. She communicated far more than my music ever will. It was love beyond words.
If God’s love is anything like my daughter’s for her parents, we have reason to rejoice. We have great reason to look forward to the Heavenly Banquet. We have the greatest reason to glorify God in divine worship.
Soli Deo gloria