Saturday, July 13, 2013

The politics of music in the Mass

The title of this post is just weird.

There shouldn't BE politics when it comes to what is sung at Mass.

You look at the Roman Missal, choose option one and call it a day.



At least not these days. (And probably not before now either, despite what romantics would have you believe.)

At our parish, we are in the process of restoring one Mass to the musical standard of option one.

A small minority is complaining about it.

This group is very small...but they are very angry and VERY loud.

I must confess I don't understand why.

If people don't like what's going on at the one Mass...there are two others for them to choose from, that have a cantor, minimal Latin and your basic four hymn sandwich. 

At the ONE Mass that is being restored musically, the Ordinary is sung in Latin.  The occasional choral piece or hymn is sung in Latin. (The Latin hymns are devotional hymns that all Catholics should know and most used to.)

However, the Propers although being sung, are sung in English. Most people don't understand Latin, and the Propers are lessons, similar to the readings.  Singing them in Latin would defeat their purpose, which is instruction of the congregation. 

The Responsorial Psalm is still being sung instead of the Gradual.  The Alleluia is one that the congregation knows and it doesn't change every week.

We tried to introduce the Asperges Me, but after some people asked why we skipped the penitential rite, Father very wisely opted to hold off on that until he could offer the congregation some Catechisis on the Mass.

We haven't replaced the Opening Hymn with the Introit (it wasn't even suggested as this choir director thinks it would upset too many people) so we are in fact singing both.  (Slightly stuffing the Mass...but that's not a big deal except to those people who time it and get mad if the Mass doesn't come in at 50 minutes exactly.)

In fact all of the musical decisions have been made taking the sensibilities of the congregation into consideration, from start to finish.  Even so, I have been accused of making choices based solely on my personal preferences. 

HA!  That is hilarious, because it is so wildly untrue.

A Mass based solely on MY personal preferences, wouldn't have any hymns in it at all. (It is my opinion that hymns are for devotions not for the Mass).

There would be incense, candles and a battalion of altar BOYS.  Father's vestments would be as rich and expensive as the parish could afford, and he would have proper vestments in all the needed liturgical colors.

The Ordinary and all the dialogues would be Latin.  Including the Creed, the Our Father, the dismissal etc...They would NOT be accompanied by the organ.

The Propers would be sung.  In Latin. 

The Responsorial Psalm would be replaced by the Gradual. Sung in Latin.

The Alleluia or the Tract would be sung every week.  In Latin.

We'd sing the Asperges Me every week.

The sign of peace would not include all the glad handing that goes on right now, we'd go straight from Father saying "Let us offer each other the sign of peace" into the Agnus Dei.

While I'm venting...the handholding and the "touchdown Jesus" position would just stop happening.

We wouldn't have several extraordinary ministers at EVERY Mass. 

People would be able to receive the Eucharist on their knees if they wish, without worrying about "holding up the line" or "distracting people"  or having people think they are "showing off".

People would remember they were in the presence of the Son of God and dress accordingly, rather than dressing as if they were at the beach. or the bar.

But's the thing...

My personal preferences have very little to do with anything.

The Propers have been restored to the Mass, because every little bit of legislation on the subject calls for the Propers to be sung.  By a choir if possible, but at least by a cantor. 

Since most of the people in our Parish are not fluent in Latin, they are sung in English. PERSONAL preference would be for the Latin...but English better serves the congregation, so that is what we sing, and what we will continue to least as long as I'm responsible for picking the music at that Mass.

The last three Popes have said that every Catholic should at least know the Missa de Angelis and the Jubilate Deo Mass Ordinaries.  Latin remains the official language of the church and all Catholics should know these two at a minimum so we can worship together at international Masses.

So while I like it...we sing it because the Pope has asked us to.

I've been told by more than one person not to obsess over what a few cranks are complaining about. 

Intellectually I understand that.  I know that some people just like to complain, and if they weren't complaining about this, they'd find something else to complain about.

I know that I can't make everyone happy.  I know that if the music really bothers someone, they have the option to go to another Mass. 

I know that most of the people coming to the High Mass, love the music and are very appreciative of the efforts that the choir is making.  (I know because people have come and told me so.)

I know that for years, those of us that wanted the High Mass didn't have any option, and that we aren't asking for too much by wanting the opportunity to attend such a Mass.  After all it's our parish too.

Finally I know that it doesn't matter which of the three Masses became the High Mass, the complainers would still complain.  And really having the last Mass of the weekend as the High Mass makes the most sense for a wide variety of reasons, the most practical of which being that it gives the incense a chance to dissipate before the next Mass...which is vitally important to those who have allergies. 

Emotionally however, it bothers me.  I don't like conflict, and I don't like the idea that anything I'm doing is making life harder for someone.

But you know what?  I don't necessarily think that it's a bad thing that it bothers me.  It helps ensure that I keep the needs of the congregation and the parish at the top of the list when making decisions. 

Which is as it should be.  Anyone in service to the church should put the needs of the congregation ahead of their own personal preferences. 

Well...I feel better now.

Thanks for reading...


  1. I once gave a talk to my fellow Catholic school teachers about the benefits of singing the Benediction hymns in Latin. They had given me such grief when I introduced it to the students. Some disliked it, of course, but many thought it was really different and special. They knew the English so well, I could practically hear them translating the Latin in their heads. It was the only Latin we were ever allowed to do as a school.
    I will never forget the kindergarten teacher in the lunchroom, who was so angry with me for getting out of line. She, and several other teachers, came down hard on me for dragging everyone back to the 1950s. She said to the nice habited 70 year old nun eating Ramen noodles, "Sister, if aliens came down to Earth and walked into our church, they wouldn't be able to understand anything if we sang it in Latin! Am I right?" Well, technically the kindergarten teacher was right. Aliens might not understand Tantum Ergo. And apparently neither do kindergarten teachers.
    It's not fair to deny centuries of musical beauty to the Faithful just because they have bad memories of Sister Iwannahurtya.
    That same teacher used to put her twelve beautiful potted geraniums in my classroom each winter, because I got more sun and could keep them alive. I taped all the verses of "Tantum Ergo" to the pots to teach it to the kids. I would mix up the pots before they came in and they would show they knew the Latin by putting the pots back in order. ; )

  2. Ok I have to say...there is something fundamentally screwed up with a Catholic school which puts limits on the amount of Latin the students can sing.

    The one thing that well and truly puzzles me is the anger. Disagreement I get. Anger...I don't.