Jeffery Tucker at the New Liturgical Movement has a thought-provoking post about the sung Mass, and how it can impact the celebration of the liturgy.
[There's lots of interesting and readable stuff at NLM. I find myself avoiding it, however. My context right now is so alien to any of this discussion, that I wonder if it's even worth the energy reading about it. That's all I'll say on that subject here.]
I cannot recall a time I've been to a sung Mass in the Latin Rite. It's one of the things that I absolutely love about the Eastern liturgy -- the entire liturgy is sung, and that automatically adds a hugely worshipful dimension. I personally don't know what I think about actually eliminating the "4-hymn-sandwich-Mass" that has become the norm, or even how realistic this is. There is also the question of cross-cultural portability, if you will, that is, I feel, one of the strengths of the reformed Roman Rite. But, I have no formal training in Western music, chant, or anything liturgical, so these are just opinions, and therefore, reflections of taste, rather than well reasoned thoughts based on a proper comprehension of the nature of the liturgy.
What I found interesting in Mr. Tucker's post was his description of most Catholic parishes.
Their parishes have no established music programs of any quality. There is a piano player who tends to lead what music program they do have, and he or she is wedded to contemporary Christian music. Those who sing can't read music. There is an organ but it is either unused or played poorly. There is no music library beyond the standard GIA/OCP material. There is no children's choir apart from the annual Christmas screamfest.Does that not describe so many Catholic parishes.
There are two or three people who can sing, no one has sung a note of chant. Most people are interested in chant but have no idea where to begin. Meanwhile, there is a hardcore that is fanatically attached to music of the 1970s and fears even the slightest hint of solemnity, warning darkly that the new priest is going to take the parish into a new Dark Age.
There are no liturgical materials available in the parish. The vessels are glass or pottery, everything else having been tossed out. So there is no monstrance, no patens, and the tabernacle is buried somewhere where it can't be seen. The available vestments are unworthy.
Then there is the belief infrastructure of the parish. People are out of the habit of confession, daily Mass, and spiritual reading. For the most part, people cannot defend the faith and are largely clueless about what the liturgy is intended beyond the need to gather Christians together for fellowship.
It is easy for priests to despair under these conditions. It is hard to know where to begin. You can just replace people because there is no one to take their place. You can't just say that from now on, we will sing chant because no one knows what to sing or how. There is also the very important reality that it is unwise to enact a liturgical reconstruction insofar as people have no idea what is taking place or why.
There is where singing the Mass comes in. This is an improvement that celebrant can make on his own. He doesn't have to ask the liturgy committee. He doesn't need accompaniment. It requires no line in the budget. In fact, it will not upset anyone; in fact, it is a way that Father demonstrate that he truly cares about the liturgy, which has a way of flattering everyone.
It is a simple matter: what he once spoke, he now sings.
Even the campus ministry I worked at -- it's not quite as bad as that, but how much better is it?
Do read the comments on this post as well. [Via Amy.]