“Christmas Variety Shows”

The post and comments on NLM’s thread on Christmas prelude music is alternately ridiculous and illuminating. A variety show would include dancing, comedy, and other forms of entertainment. The worst of the Midnight Mass preliminaries might be called a “revue,” but not really a variety show.

Questions asked and answered:

What is the point of all this?

Performing preludes is hopefully more than just entertaining the early birds. It has more roots among organists, classical music choirs, and others of conservatory training than contemporary church musicians. It’s also not unheardof for the liturgical celebration of the Office of Readings with appropriate hymnody and psalmody.

Why do we feel it is necessary?

Usually local tradition. I know some parishes that put good effort into providing a high quality musical experience before Mass. Is good music somehow unworthy when it can’t be crammed into the liturgy?

Is the Mass itself incapable of supporting good music?

The Mass is also capable of supporting (some would say overcoming) poor music. It’s hard to fathom Michael Lawrence’s objection. Does he have a problem with poor music or poor performance, or heaven forbid, both at the same time? If so, take a number. 

And would not a beautifully celebrated Mass be sufficient unto itself?

Some Catholics feel that a nominally celebrated Mass covers their butt until Easter. Are we talking sufficiency or are we striving for excellence? 

Wouldn’t a Christmas concert be more appropriate in a concert situation away from the Mass?

I know choirs that do this, but there aren’t that many around. The earliest opportune times for such a concert in church would be Christmas night, or the next day. There’s a question to poll one’s choir members on: Would you come back Thursday night for a concert and bring your families?

Sad to say, Midnight Mass is receding from the Catholic cultural consciousness in most places. The true holy day is now Christmas Eve. Midnight, Dawn, and Day Masses are a sort of reverse anticipation for that feast. Other would say a refuge from the crush of the Christmas crowds on the 24th.

It’s too bad really, but the ideal of building liturgy toward Epiphany has many things working against it, not the least is the mobility of society. I find that people appreciate Christmas music well into December. But try convincing clergy and musicians; most of us prefer the dropoff so we can spend some holiday time with family and friends.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to “Christmas Variety Shows”

  1. Liam says:

    One can cite the mobility factor for the building towards Epiphany: in fact, more often than not in my experience, many parish choirs are more depleted on Christmas due to the travelling of choir members, and Epiphany utterly lacks that problem (school is back in session). Hence, another practical reason in favor of the buildup to Epiphany. Watch for Christmas Eve to cannibalize itself that way, too, leaving Christmas Day the easier day to mobilize forces – I’ve already started to notice hints of that.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    In my parish, Christmas Eve mass (starts at 10 PM) is for the regulars. The masses on Christmas day are for the twice-annual attendees. At the 10 AM the place is reputed to be jammed to the hilt. At Christmas Eve it is full but not stifling.

    I’m on the Finance Council and the offering at the Christmas Eve celebration is about 2X what it is for the 2 masses on Christmas Day. Says something.

  3. Liam says:

    Well, Christmas Day also tends to be where travellers lodge, and travellers don’t chip much into collection baskets. That may explain the strange faces. Look thee not down upon travellers – the Holy Family may be among them….

  4. John Heavrin says:

    Again, I must ask Todd: are you banned from NLM? If not, why on earth don’t you go over there and comment on their posts instead of doing so on this blog? If it’s an attempt to draw a few of the NLM posters/commenters over here, it doesn’t seem to be working. Your approach (or should I say retreat?) seems rather…bizarre.

  5. John Heavrin says:

    Mr. Mac: are all the “regulars” at your parish such snobs towards those who attend Mass on Christmas Day, or just you?

    But about your Christmas Eve Mass…will the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence be making another appearance?

  6. Todd says:

    ” … why on earth don’t you go over there and comment on their posts instead of doing so on this blog?”

    I commented for years on the net on other people’s blogs. Liam and many others suggested I get my own. Michael Lawrence visits here often enough and comments, too. I wouldn’t post something this lengthy in a combox anywhere anyway.

  7. Todd,

    “Some Catholics feel that a nominally celebrated Mass covers their butt until Easter. Are we talking sufficiency or are we striving for excellence?”

    If you’ve read what I’ve had to say about Catholic Mediocrity, you would know that the point I was making here was not one of meeting
    some bare-bones minimum standard or something. My point is actually this: We are spending our musical resources on the wrong things. We should be focused on the liturgical music. A really beautifully celebrated Mass is “sufficient” not in a minimalist sense but in that it would seem to take away the need to decorate the occasion with pre-Mass concerts.

  8. Todd says:

    Thanks for coming by to comment, Michael. Speaking for myself, I usually program very well-known Mass ordinaries and Christmas songs, mostly for the benefit of nominal believers who come on Christmas. They get a relatively brief look at rehearsal.

    I don’t mind doing special music that will enhance the overall spirit of the occasion. I always program a few congregational songs or carols and invite them to join in. Considering the brevity of the season combined with the quantity of good Christmas sacred music, I don’t mind giving the choir, small groups, or the occasional soloist something special.

    Our parish’s pattern is to offer a prelude, instrumental or choral before, so the principle of progressive solemnity is in effect at Christmas: we offer a bit more. It also tends to keep down the chatter level.

    That said, it would be nice if more Catholic churches had traditions like Advent or Christmas lessons and carols.

  9. Liam says:

    My parish has Advent lessons & carols (done by the adult mixed voice choir; always anchored by a modern composition that employs the Gregorian chant of the O Antiphons) on the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas lessons & carols (done by the combined boy’s choir, men’s schola and adult mixed voice choir) on the last Sunday of the Christmas season (this coming year, Baptism of the Lord; the past 2 years, Epiphany). The boy’s choir does Advent/Christmas concerts (which are major fundraisers for the school) on Advent 2 & 3, but I don’t attend those.

    St Paul’s continuum of liturgical music reform goes back to the immediate wake of Mediator Dei in 1947 (60 years ago), when Ted Marier was promoted after 13 years as organist to become music director and with the vigorous support of the then pastor (Msgr Hickey), intiated a decade-plus-long program of systematic musical cultivation. It included dialogue Masses, teaching the congregation to sing the Latin Ordinary, eventually culminating in a hymnal (Cantus Populi, drawing from the Pius X Hymnal that Ted Marier also was very involved with; later came Hymns Psalms & Spiritual Canticles) and then the Boston Archiocesan Choir School (which arrived with Vatican II itself). Ted Marier spent 50 years in active music ministry at the parish before retiring to a professorship at Catholic University.

    Which is but to illustrate and champion what it took in those days, and these days are not necessarily any easier.

  10. Liam says:

    Oh, and for bonus history points, I should note that I recently read that Fr Feeney’s supporter picketed at least one of the Midnight Masses at St Paul’s because of the congregational participation.

    (Fr Feeney had a troubled relationship with our church, shall we say in passing…but that is another discussion entirely!)

    Ted Marier was also linked to the person who helped make Spencer Abbey a noted place for the cultivation of chant back in the day.

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