The Gathered Liturgical Assembly: SttL 24-27

Section II (The Church at Prayer) treats the various components of God’s people and their liturgical and music ministers. Numbered sections 24-27 address “the Gathered Liturgical Assembly.”

Commentators have noted that in the Vatican II Constitution on the Church, the council bishops addressed the people of God before they wrote of the hierarchy. That order isn’t present in Sing to the Lord (SttL). SttL 15 through 23 treat, in order, bishops, priests, and deacons. We might get to them later. In #24, Sacrosanctum Concilium 14 is cited:

“In the celebration of Mass the faithful form a holy people, a people whom God has made his own, a royal priesthood, so that they may give thanks to God and offer the spotless Victim not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, and so that they may learn to offer themselves.”

How does one define this offering? Is it merely a donation of time, that one hour a week, and what monetary resources we can spare to drop in a passing basket at mid-worship? Is it an offering of the self, whatever that might mean, as the bread and wine are offered? Like the way Christ is offered, or himself offers a sacrifice?

Participation is part of the recent rollback against conciliar reforms, but it forms the basis for much of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and is mentioned several times in the text. The much-touted organic growth? Once only.

This is an important citation from SttL 22:

This is the basis for the “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful demanded by the very nature of the Liturgy.

Section 25 cautions against individualism or division. We are one family at worship, united for a bigger purpose than any single person among us. So what does this have to do with music? Are we speaking only in terms of unison singing with no solos or descants? Or as some have interpreted it, no priests singing dialogues or readings or prayers either?
I think not.

The bishops lean on the GIRM, and praise the effort of singing as vital:

Singing is one of the primary ways that the assembly of the faithful participates actively in the Liturgy. The people are encouraged “to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons [and] hymns. . . .” (SC 30) The musical formation of the assembly must be a continuing concern in order to foster full, conscious, and active participation.

Some writers I’ve sen have complained about participation. What does it mean? What did it once mean? Sacrosanctum Concilium 30 is very explicit in defining what the council bishops viewed as assembly liturgical participation. None of us can control an inner participation. My presmise is that it would be understood without saying. The external expression of that internal reality is achieved well through music. And Vatican II was clear about it: acclamations, reponses, psalms, antiphons, and hymns.

Section 27 elucidates a few examples of particular pastoral judgments that music leaders and pastors can consider. Their suggestions are not exhaustive, but are good examples, and good starting points for any parish’s discussion:

  • (M)usic must be within its members’ capability.
  • Some congregations are able to learn more quickly and will desire more variety.
  • Others will be more comfortable with a stable number of songs so that they can be at ease when they sing.

Since my formative years, this has been my guiding principle for parish music ministry:

Familiarity with a stable repertoire of liturgical songs rich in theological content can deepen the faith of the community through repetition and memorization.

We discount memorization in our culture, but it remains a good aspiration. Why? It permits the song of faith to enter into the life of a believer. Even when a person is not at church, and not accompanied by music leaders. It allows the praise of God in moments of private prayer, while walking or working or at play. Texts and tunes come to mind when planning weddings or funerals or other liturgical occasions. When people bring music already on their lips and in their hearts, I rejoice.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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