Friday, May 25, 2007

Sacred Music

An excerpt from the original essay by Fr. Jay Scott Newman

Worship the LORD in the Beauty of Holiness

For the sacred music

1. Stop balkanizing the Mass schedule with different types of music. This trick comes from Protestant church growth strategies, and it teaches our people that divine worship is just a matter of personal taste. Yes, progressive solemnity can distinguish one Mass from another in a large parish (low Mass, sung Mass, solemn Mass, etc.), but the basic approach to matters musical should remain essentially the same.

2. If the choir is visible to the congregation, move them to a place where they will not be. This is absolutely essential to celebrating liturgy as worship rather than liturgy as entertainment. Yes, Anglicans more or less successfully replaced priests with lay choirs in the chancel, but for several different reasons, that simply does not work in the contemporary Roman Rite. The ideal place, of course, is a loft for organ and choir at the rear of the church. Failing that, at least move them to the back of the church.

3. Sing only sacred music. Much of what is now marketed as “liturgical music” is not sacred at all, and congregations addicted to that pablum are not capable of entering the liturgy as a participation in the worship of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Sacred music is a happy marriage of text and music, and both halves are necessary to re-enchant the liturgy.

4. If you sing hymns, sing the whole hymn. Stopping after the second verse because Father is at his chair makes as little sense as reciting half the Creed. And no “closing hymn” is needed. “The Mass is ended, go in peace” means what it says. Where possible, the priest and ministers should depart the sanctuary to an organ postlude or something comparable.

5. The Anglican, Methodist, and Lutheran traditions have given us an extraordinary treasury of hymnody, most of which can be used in the Catholic liturgy with little or no adaption. This music has proven itself to be durable, effective, and sacred. Do not be afraid of using hymns from this patrimony because they are “Protestant”. In truth, these texts are far more orthodox and “Catholic” than most of the tripe published by Catholics in the past two generations.

6. Plainchant was, is, and ever shall be the music best suited to the Roman Rite. Teach your musicians and your people some simple chants, and sing them well. Even those who struggle with Latin grammar will not need to be taught that this is sacred music.

For the congregation

1. Silence is indispensable. No talking before Mass. Teach the people to be comfortable with prolonged sacred silences during the liturgy by explaining that we’re not just waiting for the next thing to happen; we’re waiting together for the LORD.

2. Teach the people all the gestures proper to them, e.g. profound bow in the Creed, striking the breast at the Confiteor, kneeling at all appropriate times, etc. If the liturgy is just talking, talking, talking, then half the human person is left out of worship.

3. Emphasize coming early and stigmatize leaving early. Being casual about being on time renders the entire activity casual. Ditto for clothing. Same for the eucharistic fast.

4. Give constant, clear, and firm instruction about who should and who should not receive Holy Communion. Nothing desacralizes the sacred liturgy more than sacrilegious Communions, and the people need to be told this regularly. If you are not in full communion with the Church, if you are married outside of the Church, if you are in serious sin (including missing Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day) and have not yet been to Confession: DO NOT EAT AND DRINK YOUR OWN CONDEMNATION. Reasserting that the Most Holy Eucharist is the most sacred reality on earth and not to be profaned by unclean lips will go a long way towards sorting out the McChurch atmosphere that poisons our souls.

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