Lent is my favorite time of the year. The haunting beauty of the chants, the smell of incense and the solemnity of the season bring a deep sense of joy into this penitential season.
A few weeks ago, I met with a couple of friends to talk about liturgy. The conversation eventually turned to music. One friend of mine said that the music needed to be meaningful. He talked about a couple who sings their own compositions at Mass and he thought that these made the liturgy more meaningful because they had a "message."
It took a lot for me not to choke on my Dr. Pepper as my friend was saying this. The comments left me perplexed and rather saddened. The Mass already has a "message", it is the re-presentation of Our Lord's Sacrifice on Calvary. Even the Propers work to convey that fact, while stressing different aspects according to the readings and liturgical seasons.
My friend's sentiments seem to echo, almost verbatim, those expressed by OCP whenever we enter a new liturgical season. "Make your parish's liturgies more meaningful", the emails from the publishing house stress. And yet, the music that OCP offers fails to respect the penitential nature of the season, focusing mostly on the horizontal aspects, rather than on the vertical, spiritual dimension. "Beyond the Days" by Fr. Ricky Manolo, CSP, is one such example. The song really doesn't really address the Lord at all. It talks about what "we" are doing, as opposed to what "He" is doing.
Contrast that with "Attende Domine" or "Parce Domine", which helps us to call to mind the heart of the Lenten season, our recognition of our sins and our desire for mercy. Both of these sacred chants encourage us to beseech God, asking him for mercy.
Then, there are the Propers for the Lenten season. Here is the Introit for Ash Wednesday, for example:
Your mercy extends to all things, O Lord, and you despise none of the things you have made. You overlook the sins of men for the sake of repentance. You grant them your pardon, because you are the Lord our God.
Contrast that with one of OCP's suggested songs, "Ashes":
We rise again from the ashes, from the good we've failed to do. We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew. If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true, an offering of ashes, an offering to you.
This is vague. It really doesn't really carry much of a message. The song could be about anything, really. The piece pales in comparison to the actual texts that the Church gives us for the sacred liturgy. But, this is a chronic problem that afflicts OCP.
I told my friend that there is a way to make the Mass "meaningful". "How", he asked. I told him that we could start by actually looking at what the Church asks us to sing, as opposed to what the publishing houses dictate that we should sing. "But, what about that couple whose music has a message", he persisted. I explained to him that if we examine the Propers, then we will find the "message" of the liturgy. Benedict once said that the liturgy is not something that "we cobble up for ourselves." It is something that we receive from the Church.
By the end of our conversation, my friend wasn't quite convinced; however, he was somewhat intrigued by the notion that the Church has already given us a set of texts to use for every Mass. He seemed open to at least looking at the Propers. I hope that if he does peruse the Propers, he will find that they do "make" the Mass "more meaningful."