Low Mass Mentality Father Jim


Low Mass Mentality

Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things makes the following observation regarding some sort of creature called a low Mass (can you tell I'm not a cradle Catholic?):

This same mentality is alive and well in the practice of the New Rite. For all the insistence of the documents on the importance of liturgical music and richness of ceremonial, there's a strong force of inertia (often originating with the celebrant himself) that plays down music and ceremonial as needless fluff. A couple times a year we might break out the thuribles for days of extraordinary solemnity. If it's Easter, Father might consider singing the prayers. If we must have hymns, let's use the same four that we've been singing since 1972. Isn't it best just to recite the Gloria during Ordinary Time? Tone it down, dumb it down, minimalize.

The point has a good deal of merit, but I'd like to bring up another, vaguely related point. When I don't respond in Mass, it usually has to do with the music program. I try very hard to sing all of the sung parts, but sometimes the "Music Ministry" functions as an entertainment committee and produces music that while often evocative, is more suggestive of Andrew Lloyd Weber than of Mass. Most of us who do not sing for a living have a limited range and do not usually site-read music (unless we've played an instrument). Some pieces of music seem to require a range from alto to coloratura. Some have such complex scoring they are nearly impossible to follow. I often feel stranded on the beach of baritone/bass by a largely female choir singing something ranging in the rafters. There are a number of things working against participation. One of the reason for the "same four hymns," tiresome though they may be is that everyone knows what they sound like and nearly everyone can sing them without coaching from a voice trainer.

Perhaps if music ministries were brought more closely into line and the musical vocabulary of a given congregation gradually expanded to include a wider range, we would see more participation. On the other hand, I do come from a protestant tradition in which it was expected that you would sing and respond appropriately, and Father Tucker's implied supposition that this is a Catholic cultural thing may be right on target. I would not presume to say. Anyway, I have given suggestions that would help those of us who are inclined to participate.

One last note, while I do like processional music and all sorts of other things that may disturb others, one of the music directors in my area has a disturbing propensity for selecting works that while quite beautiful are incredibly distracting because they are obviously not liturgical. As an example, during the offertory the organist played "The Swan" from Saint-Saens's "Carnival of the Animals." Another time he played Claude Debussy as a prelude and The Rondeau that serves as the Masterpiece Theatre theme as a recessional. Music choices like this leave me just stunned and wondering. If you need to play such things and you want to be up to date, what is wrong with music from the Franck and Durufle masses, or music by John Rutter or John Tavener?

Oh, so much griping, but these are the kinds of things I find enormously distracting at mass.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 14, 2002 8:16 AM.

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