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.