Sunday, March 18, 2012
In the presence of the angels
Early last month, a friend of mine sent me an invitation via Facebook to assist at Mass at one of our local parishes. As a member of the Assumption Seminary Schola Cantorum, my friend and his companions would be chanting at all of the parish's weekend Masses and he wanted me to go. I really wanted to go; however, it was also the same weekend as the Mass for the Erection of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston. As it turned out, the weather did not cooperate and so, I believe it was providential that I remain in town.
It certainly was a huge blessing for me to have gone to Mass. The schola gave the liturgy a much-needed (and refreshing) air of sanctity. These young seminarians are learning what it truly means to sing the Mass. The beautifully sung chants helped to set the proper tone for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The schola also used the ICEL chants, which were of great help. The faithful of the parish, who, as I understand it, had not been exposed to the ICEL settings, were able to pick them up fairly easily. I happily belted them out myself, although there were a couple of pew-mates who looked at me rather strangely.
The only caveat was that the schola had to contend with the parish's repertoire of OCP material. Yet, despite the shortfall, they managed to cull some good pieces for the Communion and Recessional hymns. People were singing and that was certainly wonderful.
After Mass, the feedback was quite positive. Even my pew-mates were pleased. One woman commented that she had never before heard anything like it and it was though angels were singing. Somebody else wanted the schola back for the following weekend. These folks seemed to look past the well-trained voices to catch a glimpse of something deeper. These young seminarians gave all of us a chance to experience something of the divine, the transcendent.
I have always said that within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the veil between heaven and earth is lifted. It is the moment where God and man intersect. That being the case, we need to realize that something completely out of the ordinary is happening here. We are enveloped in the Glory Cloud, the same Cloud that overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
However, as we stand within the presence of God, we should bear in mind that this sacred act that we are called to engage in calls for something totally different. Just as we do not address God the Father in every day speak in the texts of the prayers of the Mass, so too, should we use a more formal, sacred nature in what we sing. That is why the Church has always held Chant as the music par excellence for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Just as Ancient Israel chanted the psalms in her worship, so, too, do we, the New Israel, chant the Mass. The Chant is the music of the angels. It is the music of the Church. The Church gives us the texts and the music for the Mass in the Roman Graduale. This same Roman Graduale was what the Schola used for the Masses.
Reading this, some might try to make the case that chanting the Mass could very well move us away from the "actuosa participatio" (active participation) called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy). However, I submit to those who would make that contention that theirs is, with all due respect, a weak argument. "Actuosa participatio" should not be reduced to merely the externals. One does not just pray with the lips, but, with the heart as well. In our case, we were praying through the chants, uniting our hearts to the musical prayers that we listened to during the Mass. Does not the celebrant, in the Preface dialogue, invite us to "lift up your hearts" (sorsum corda)? Hence, "actuosa participatio" means that every fiber of our being should be participating. This includes the heart, the soul, the mind and the will, not just the lips.
The young seminarians gave me a lot of hope that night. Even though the weather down here in the South Texas hinterland was cold, dark and damp, the immense joy that the Schola radiated and the deep sense of reverence that they brought to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass radiated throughout the parish that weekend.
Please keep these seminarians and their director in your prayers. These young men represent the future of the Church in South Texas. God willing, I believe that our area will be receiving some holy and properly formed young priests who will be a blessing to their dioceses.