Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More on Music in the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal

The release of the new Missal in November is a phenomenal opportunity for a renewal of good liturgical practice during the Mass. One of the more noticeable areas of the Mass for this renewal is in sacred music (I have written about it before, HERE). In fact, the USCCB has realized this, too, and has even authorized the use of the improved translation a few months in advance of the rest of the Missal.

This renewal, I think, has been the cause of quite a lot of commentary as of late in the blogosphere on music in the new edition of the Missal. I believe that the good folks over at The Chant Cafe' started it out, and then Fr. Z posted it, with comments, and then it went viral.

Anyway, I am in the midst of re-reading the phenomenal book, The Heresy of Formlessness, by German author Martin Mosebach. I couldn't help but fall out of my chair when I read his treatise on hymn singing replacing the Mass. It would be truly a crime to try and paraphrase, or even give you a soundbite, lest the essence of what he is saying gets lost, so here it is in full (emphasis added):

"I am firmly convinced... that vernacular hymns have played perhaps a significant part in the collapse of the liturgy. Just consider what resulted in the flowering of hymns: Luther's Reformation was a singing movement,and the hymn expressed the beliefs of the Reformers. Vernacular hymns replaced the liturgy, as they were designed to do; they were filled with the combative spirit of those dismal times and were meant to fortify the partisans. People singing a catchy melody together at the top of their voices created a sense of community, as all soldiers, clubs, and politicians know. The Catholic Counter-Reformation felt the demagogic power of these hymns. People so enjoyed singing; it was so easy to influence their emotions using pleasing tunes with verse repetition. In the liturgy of the Mass, however, there was no place for hymns. The liturgy has no gaps; it is one single great canticle; where it prescribes silence or the whisper, that is, where the mystery is covered with an acoustic veil,as it were, any hymn would be out of the question. The hymn has a beginning and an end; it is embedded in speech. But the leiturgos of Holy Mass does not actually speak at all; his speaking is a singing, because he has put on the "new man", because, in the sacred space of the liturgy, he is a companion of angels. In the liturgy, singing is an elevation and transfiguration of speech, and, as such, it is a sign of the transfiguration of the body that awaits those who are risen. The hymn's numerical aesthetics-- hymn 1, hymn 2, hymn 3-- is totally alien and irreconcilable in the world if the liturgy. In services that are governed by vernacular hymns, the believer is constantly being transported into new aesthetic worlds. He changes from one style to another and has to deal with highly subjective poetry of the most varied levels. He is moved and stirred-- but not by the thing itself, liturgy: he is moved and stirred by the expressed sentiments of the commentary upon it. By contrast, the bond that Gregorian chant weaves between the liturgical action and song is so close that it is impossible to separate form and content. The processional chants that accompany liturgical processions (the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion), the responsories of the Ordinary of the Mass that interweave the prayers of the priest and The laity, and the reciting tone of the readings and orations-- all these create a ladder of liturgical expression on which the movements, actions, and the content of the prayers are brought into a perfect harmony. This language is unique to the Catholic liturgy and expresses it's inner nature, for this liturgy is not primarily worship, meditation, contemplation, instruction, but positive action. It's formulae effect a deed. The liturgy's complete, closed form has the purpose of making present the personal and bodily action of Jesus Christ. The prayers it contains are a preparation for sacrifice, not explanations for the benefit of the congregation; nor are they a kind of "warming up" of the latter. In Protestantism, vernacular hymns came in as a result of the abolition of the Sacrifice of the Mass; they were ideally suited to be a continuation of the sermon. Through singing, the assembled community found its way back from the doubting loneliness of the workday to the collective security of Sunday-- a security, be it noted, that arose from the mutual exhortation to remain firm in faith, not from witnessing the objective, divine act of sacrifice."

[Mosebach, Martin. The Heresy of Formlessness. Trans. by G. Harrison. Ignatius, 2006. (p.40-42)]

This historical treatise is a profound insight into the modern innovations that came about during the hijacked years of the Liturgical Movement, those of replacing the words of the Mass with songs in the form of a 4-hymn sandwich. In light of the music forced upon us in the past decades (combined with several other factors), I think we have seen the practical result of these innovations: we have an uninspired laity, having only a watered-down faith, if any, which can only be expressed in the form of (arguably) catchy tunes.

There's a simple solution here, a start at least, and removing the headache of trying to pick out thematically appropriate music, or how to figure out audience "participation" via songs that are written in first-person:

Sing the Propers.

(Here's a great resource... buy it for your parish priest and your music director. Now.)

I don't think that Mr. Mosebach in the quote above is saying that hymns have no place at all during Mass. In fact, it is more likely that it is quite appropriate for one or two hymns during the Mass, or perhaps a really nice instrumental piece to aid in contemplation after receiving the Eucharist. I think he is speaking to the replacement of the words of the Mass itself with hymns.

Anyway, I simply wanted to share that with you-- if you don't have a copy of the book, you should really read it in full, as it is an epic tome-- one that belongs in every personal library, owing to the personal reflection it is sure to provoke.

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