Monday, September 26, 2011

On music at Mass and other...

Peter's Barque:

When I enter my parish church and prepare myself for Mass, I don't want the world to follow me in. I want to leave all my cares of the world "out there" and rest my soul in His presence. I want my senses flooded with what is good and holy. I want my ears to hear the Word, my eyes to see His body on the cross: the flicker of votive candles. I want my fingers to feel the missal I hold. I want to smell the incense last burned a few days ago and I want my lips to sing along with angelic choirs while my soul is lifted and is given a taste of heaven, but what I see and hear instead, is the world that has followed me inside the sanctuary.

I see people wearing their everyday clothes, whispering to each other, with a muffled laugh here and a chuckle there...and I hear guitars tuning up. I can close my eyes and not see the clothes and I know when Mass starts the voices will hush, but the guitars...I have a big problem with that, along with the songs that will be sung.

I am a guitar player and have played for decades. Playing guitar is a love of mine and I have had my own blues bands off and on over the years. So what's the problem you ask? It is this: when I hear a guitar in church, the first thing I think of however briefly, is entertainment. I have always thought of a guitar as the instrument of choice when it comes to being entertained, and so it is this feeling of being entertained that comes to me when I hear it in Mass.

Over the years I've been asked to join in the parish folk group and I have always refused except for one time over 25 years ago. I played at an outdoor Mass and from the get go, I was back on a 'stage' again, entertaining, and it was then and there that I decided never again. Along with the guitar is the modern liturgical music that is played in Mass. I want my soul and spirit to soar in worship to God when I sing and hear beautiful religious hymns and chants, but the modern liturgical music I hear grounds my soul to the world.

To be sure, the music now played at Mass has come a long way from the Peter, Paul and Mary wannabe that was presented to us in the early sixties as sacred music, but it still leaves much to be desired. I don't want to sing to the mountains...or to the sea. I want my soul to sing to God. I want to sing to His Holy Face and I want the words I sing to reflect this. I don't want to try to find the rhythm and cadence that is lost when one singer in the folk group unexpectedly decides to ad lib in his or her exuberance, leaving me without a melodic rudder.

Instead, I want to join my voice to the many, in unison, in rhythm and with order in praising God, so that one does not have to think about what is sung next, leaving our hearts and minds to pray: much like praying the prayers of the rosary while meditating on the mysteries. I want to be connected to the ancient Church by the hymns and chants we sing, along with the celebration of the Eucharist.

Yes, I've heard some beautiful songs in the last few years, but I don't think they should be intended for Mass. Though beautiful, they do not reflect the sacredness of the Mass or the mystery that is before us on the alter. I would prefer to hear these songs in gatherings, prayer groups and such, rather than at Mass. We have two thousand years of liturgical music to choose from so we are not wanting for something to sing. We need to reopen this treasure chest of sacred music that has been thrust aside since Vatican II and reintroduce this treasure to a whole generation that has only heard chant in movies, usually as a backdrop in a darkened scene when the evil bishop is conspiring to overtake the Vatican. The hymns and chants long lost truly praise, edify and place our focus on God in our worship of Him, and the world should not be intruding.

There is very little silence in our world today, especially when it comes to music in our everyday lives. Hardly a minute passes when we do not hear a radio or TV playing a song. Much of what passes as liturgical music today reflects the rhythms and beats present in secular music that we hear every single day, instead of immersing us in the sacredness and reverence of the Mass. Maybe the lyrics have been changed, but the overall flavor of pop music remains.

Mass is not about us or the world outside the church doors. It is about God and the worship of God. Mass should reflect heaven and not the world we have lived in for the six days prior to Sunday Mass. Mass is public worship and we all need to be on the same page, where there are no distractions so the focus remains on God in the Eucharist. Everything in Mass should remind us that while we may be in the world, we are not of this world, yet that is very difficult to do when the world invades the sanctuary.

I realize many people like the music which was introduced forty years ago, but liturgical songwriter Micheal Talbot is not Palestrina, nor is Palestrina, Michael Talbot. Each has his own place and purpose and they both serve that purpose very well indeed. I may walk around during the week humming a Michael Talbot melody, but let me hear chants and Palestrina in Mass while I lose myself in our Lord in the Eucharist...without worldly distractions.

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