Liam sent me this link to a “defense of non-singing congregations.” I have to say it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a piece like this that veers into unintentional parody. If this is what’s being pondered in reform2 circles, the movement has really run off the rails. There’s so much wrong with not only the premise, but the details, I can’t decide whether to start from the rubrics, or from music history, or from basic human psychology and sociology. So I think I’ll just start and let the rest of you take the commentary from there.
Why aren’t people obeying? It’s like listening to people denounce children for failing to behave properly. They demand and demand.
It’s not a matter of obedience and demand. Singing at liturgy is an expression of the spiritual life. It happens when people are motivated by good acoustics, good repertoire, competent accompaniment, and a spirituality that goes deeper than “What’s the minimum I can invest in the Mass and still be Catholic?”
It’s like that statement in RCIA 441: real Christians aren’t focused on a minimum performance standard, like the one we need to get a GED, or a driver license, or a grade of C. (Or is it D-minus?) But I suppose it’s part of our ethic. Why else would there be Church regulations about celebrating Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, but also ones about once a year on Easter?
I don’t make demands on the congregation to sing. But I make darn sure that I and my music leaders attend to the invitation and make it easy to join in the music. Funny, but I’ve had no problem getting people to go deeper into the music in every parish I’ve served. I don’t know that they sing as lustily as Mr Tucker’s Baptists. I suspect they sing better than his Catholics–at least that’s how I would take his concession.
This kind of singing is not organic to the Catholic liturgy, which music is not an end unto itself. It is meant to accompanying some primary action taking place: processing, mediating on the Psalm between readings, engaging in dialogues with the celebrant, or some other activity.
This is more provocation than Catholic liturgical theology. There are numerous instances when music is the liturgy. I thought the reform2 movement was cribbing from Marty Haugen when they started echoing: we sing the liturgy; we don’t sing at the liturgy.
Singing the Kyrie isn’t accompanying an expression of contrition. It is a penitential act.
The Gloria is a final expression of the praise of God as the people have gathered to worship; it’s not an interstitial to get us from general confession to the readings.
The Psalm is not a meditation; it is the proclamation of the Word of God.
Do I need to go on? I’ve barely gotten ten minutes into the average Sunday Mass.
The job of singing belongs primarily to the schola and the cantor, not the people. The people know this. It has been this way from the earliest records.
I’m going to leave off the specifics here, because I respect Jeffrey Tucker as a fellow believer and a musician. This is just too ugly to go on like this–and I speak of my own writing here. Like this other commentary, this essay betrays an unprofessional and non-theological approach to liturgy. A Church musician must (must!) read the documents, starting with the GIRM and the Order of Mass, and attend to the details.
Certainly we musicians can attend to our disciplines in performance and leadership. We can read what our heroes do to blend choirs, expand repertoire, and craft musical artistry. But if our only standard is performance that doesn’t raise its volume or sonority above the thin substrate of silent (or bored) human prayer, we are spiritually impoverished. We’d be better off concertizing instead. Without our captive audiences.
Worship, as Sacrosanctum Concilium teaches us, is not only about the participation in Christ’s perfect worship of the Father, but also an expression of the sanctification of believers. When we go to church, Christ does not demand a response from us. He invites us. It is the nature of God to call, not to force. Of course, there are temporal and spiritual consequences to our choices. But these are our responsibility, not God’s.
It may be easy enough for me to advocate singing. After all, I am a musician as well as a pastoral minister. I have no question that singing the liturgy is an expression of a maturing faith community. I also know that we are human beings, and as such, we have a need for the incarnational aspects of faith. Singing gives voice (literally and more profoundly) to the effort we make to cooperate with God’s grace. Christians shouldn’t be content to let God work through others. Certainly there are times when we need priests. The classic definition of the priest is the person who goes before God on behalf of the people.
The biggest fault in what Mr Tucker is suggesting in this essay is to elevate the cantor or schola to the role of priest. The skilled musicians properly sing on behalf of the congregation. The pewfolk might be invited to assist, or be given permission to join in once or twice. But ultimately, this is about the group that can make the more perfect noise.
I e-mailed Liam last night about this. I had such a superior day of grace yesterday in the experiences of worship (receptions into Full Communion in the morning and the Confirmation of eighty-one young people in the afternoon) and an authentic concert experience (playing in the back-up band for Sarah Hart) I didn’t want to tackle this link. But I have to laugh at the charge that it’s the progressives who are all about blurring the boundaries between clergy and laity. This essay makes a classic case for clericalizing a subset of lay people. I’m sure they would sing excellently in some places. But the people don’t need it.