OU walk into a beautiful cathedral with a friend. Your friend looks around and asks: “why all the gold? Why the bright stained glass? Why the ornate architecture? Why the statuary? Isn’t it all distracting? Shouldn’t I be focused solely on God, not on all of these distractions?” How would you reply? If you’re anything like me, you’ll explain to your friend that rather than distracting you from God, all of those beautiful sensory inputs in fact help lift your heart and mind up out of the banality of the world and toward the worship of Almighty God.
So how do we answer when faced with a parishioner (or perhaps even a pastor) who finds the organ postlude distracting, and “too loud”? I say we answer the same! Silence is, of course, absolutely necessary in our prayer and at the appropriate times in the liturgy. But silence is not the only way to dispose oneself to prayer.
As human beings we are creatures of body and soul, and Holy Mother Church employs our bodily senses to help create the necessary dispositions for prayer and worship of God in the liturgy. In fact, all our senses are fed in the liturgy: our sense of sight as we observe the art, architecture, vestments, and movements of the liturgy; our sense of smell as the incense burns, or catching the wafting fragrance of the Easter lilies; our sense of touch in our postures as we stand, sit, kneel; our sense of taste as we actually receive Our Blessed Lord under the form of bread; and, of course, our sense of hearing in spoken and sung word and instrumental music.
As creatures with a limited mode of understanding we attribute to God various qualities or characteristics, despite our understanding that God is perfectly One. We might, for example, speak of God’s might, or His omnipotence, or His mercy, or any other of the myriad attributes we apply to Him to help our limited intellect in its feeble attempt to comprehend Him. Music has a great ability to lead the mind to the various dispositions that inspire contemplation of those different characteristics that we attribute to God. For example, a gently flowing melody on an 8’ flute with a celeste and string accompaniment during Communion might call to mind the tender love and mercy of God, leading the soul to adore Him. A brilliant bit of Baroque counterpoint as a prelude might inspire admiration for the order of God’s creation and His own perfections. A grand French Romantic composition at the postlude can evoke awe as we contemplate the majesty, might, or even justice of God.
With this in mind, we can present the postlude—even the loud, bombastic, minor-keyed works like the great Allegro from Widor’s Sixth Symphony pictured above—as yet another opportunity to cultivate certain dispositions, in this case the great rejoicing, thanksgiving, and awe of God’s greatness that should pour forth from our hearts after the unfathomable privilege of assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving Our Blessed Lord. As Dr. Kwasniewski put it so well in his (much more eloquent than mine) defense of the organ postlude: “That is what an organ postlude does better than anything else can do: it makes creation resound with the divine praises as we get ready to step forth into the world again.”
This blog post is a brief summary of a more detailed exposition on this topic that I presented in our parish’s “Ask the Music Director” YouTube series. That full video can be viewed here: