Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On the Great Amen: Some Theology and A Moment

The priest concludes the Eucharistic Prayer with the Final Doxology, or the per ipso:

Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.
To which the congregation responds: Amen.

This prayer is the final summation of the orations that consecrate the Eucharist. It's as if he's been threading the shoelace all along, and this prayer is the big bow on top that ties it all together. So it's kind of a big deal.

I've been noticing recently that most of the hymn settings of the Great Amen shift the focus away from the Holy Eucharist being offered to the Triune God in glory and to the congregation's assent that this is as it should be. How many times have you heard four bars of instrumental introduction, plus "Amen" repeated between three and twenty times, and maybe a few other words thrown in there for good measure? This is especially dramatic when the per ipso is spoken and the Amen is sung. The focus is unquestionably on the congregation's assent.

Recently, I was attending Mass with a few of my priest classmates (other laypeople were invited, but didn't come). When it came time for the Eucharistic Prayer, eight priests stood around the altar, and I knelt alone in the congregation (wearing pink, to boot). At the per ipso, eight strong male voices sang out:

Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.
And my lone voice responded:

Truly this was a demonstration of the respective importance of those words. The Sacred Liturgy is so beautiful when it's done simply but as written.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Liturgical Music

When I first arrived here two weeks ago, I walked out of Sunday Mass, meandered a bit to let it sink in, and began to cry. The Mass itself was beautiful in so many ways, but I had not at all been able to insert myself into it in such a way as to actually pray.

I knew that part of my trouble was caused by the fact that I've been attending the Traditional Latin Mass all but exclusively for the past year, and sporadically for the year and a half before that. The extraordinary form of the Roman Liturgy is so much quieter and more contemplative than its brother the ordinary form.

Too, I've been spoiled by the Liturgical Institute. From my first days here, we've chanted Lauds together daily, and Vespers most days. This is beautiful in its unity and simplicity, but is unfortunately musically distinct from most Masses on campus with the seminary.

As the days rolled by, I began to realize the primary reason I had trouble praying at Mass here: the piano accompaniment was SO LOUD, it drowned out the voices of all 185 seminarians singing, as well as any shot I had at thinking prayerful thoughts. It was just so loud. Occasionally the organ was played instead, which was less jarringly percussive, though no less loud. (The chapel is a large space easily filled, and easily filled to overwhelming.)

Last Sunday, a few hours after campus Mass, I drove out to the nearest TLM available, at a parish apostolate of the Canons Regular of St John Cantius. As soon as the priest and servers processed in and began the prayers at the foot of the altar, I felt the comfort of familiarity, and immersed my spirit in the sacred action with relief.

That is, until the Kyrie. (Background: At my parish back home, we always sing the Ordinary in a seasonally appropriate chant setting.) This choir director had selected a lovely polyphonic setting of the Ordinary, which had great potential to be a wonderful aid to prayer, even despite that one soprano who was consistently just sharp enough to make you cringe. Unfortunately, the choir was mic'd. This church was a small space, with a maximum seating capacity of maybe two hundred people. No carpeting, nothing but bodies to absorb the sound. There was no need to artificially amplify the choir's voices. And though the music they sang was objectively much more beautiful than the 1970's hymns that were sung at the seminary that morning, I could no more pray THROUGH THE NOISE OF THEIR BEAUTIFUL SINGING than I could with the too-loud piano.

As the days have gone by here at the seminary, I've learned to pray via the sound itself of the piano or organ, and they've gotten choirs organized which fill out the sound in a much lovelier (and more balanced) way. Too, the the LI has begun to have our own Masses once or twice a week, which is a retreat into simple chant, at least.

But Friday night tied together for me what's been missing. I went to a local Spirit and Truth, which was much smaller than the one I'm used to. Back home, a night that's light on music ministry had only Isaac and me, guitar with two full, blended voices (other options over the years have also included up to two additional harmonic voices and instruments such as violin, bass, and keyboard). I had anticipated missing this musical delight very much, and much as I expected, music ministry here was just one woman and her guitar.

But in its simplicity, there was such fertile beauty. Fewer than twenty of us were scattered throughout the small church. Her voice and guitar were both clearly heard, but neither impressed the listener with any necessity to join in. The sound floated above us from the choir loft, and we could add to it or pray without our voices, as we so chose. The music itself gave us the choice.

That's what I'd been missing all along: liturgical music should invite the listener to pray, not force them to sing.

How far I've come since the days when I thought participating in the Mass simply meant singing along! I daresay that even more important than the musical style or the lyrical content (excepting heresy, of course) is the prayerful quality of the music. That is what liturgical musicians today must learn, and then teach to their congregations.

Dear Jesus, draw more hearts to Thee through true musical beauty, that Thy whole Church might come to know Thee in beauty and purity of soul. Amen!

Monday, September 7, 2009

On Transitions

Note: Though I rarely break the fourth wall (save in the combox), I apologize for the interruption in my posts.  Moving halfway across the country will do that to a gal.  I hope to be more faithful to writing here during my graduate studies.)

I have always been a very adaptable person; I acclimate to new situations without much difficulty.  But I have noticed that in recent years, my transitions have become more difficult.

Perhaps it's because more of my heart remains with the community I've left behind.  Certainly I've made more and deeper friends over the years, whom I dearly miss.  But I was pretty darn connected to my high school friends when I started college, and that didn't stop me from meeting a zillion exciting people and diving headfirst into college life.

No, no more perhaps.  I know exactly what is going on.  As I have grown closer to Our Lord, and He has shown me more both of Himself and of myself, it has become more difficult to give myself to others precisely because there's so much more of me to give.  How can I communicate to another the incredible depth of my being?

Consider this stark contrast: Here I am awkwardly making smalltalk with priests and seminarians I hardly know, largely in order to pleasantly pass the time.  But just a few days ago, I roamed this beautiful campus in near-silence with a friend so dear to my heart that words were unnecessary to express the depth of God's glory that we were experiencing in tandem.

Transitions are hard because they're lonely.  I am lonely because I know myself, and long to give of myself on a deep level.  I know myself because Our Lord has revealed myself to me.  I know Our Lord only through His gracious mercy, and as that knowledge increases, so does each transition become more of a challenge.

So the solution to a tough transition would seem to be: Remain centered upon Our Lord.  Everything else may change and pass away, but He alone will remain.

I love You, O Lord, my strength.

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