Last week, in my thoughts about the Sunday Mass, I wrote about “the assembly”. This week I want to reflect on music at Mass. I know from experience the subject is very emotive. I often hear; “Why don’t Catholics sing?” or “Why do we have hymns that that we don’t know?” or “Why do all the hymns seem to from the Victorian era?” or “I prefer a quiet Mass with no music” or “What happened to Gregorian chant?” We will never please everyone all the time!
It is important to be clear about certain principles as to why we have music in the Mass. Pope John Paul, in his Letter “Dies Domini”, wrote: “Given the nature of Sunday Mass and its importance in the lives of the faithful, it must be prepared with special care. In ways dictated by pastoral experience and local custom, in keeping with liturgical norms, efforts must be made to ensure that the celebration has the festive character appropriate to the day commemorating the Lord’s Resurrection. To this end, it is important to devote attention to the songs used by the assembly, since singing is a particularly apt way to express a joyful heart, accentuating the solemnity of the celebration and fostering the sense of a common faith and a shared love.”
Our model for music in the liturgy is Jesus himself, who sang psalms with the apostles at the Last Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). Music is an integral part of our participation in liturgy – an integral part of our participation in the work of God. For “when song and music are signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action, they encourage, in a certain way, communion with the Trinity” (John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, 3; Chirograph on Sacred Music, 3).
If we sing anything at Mass then we must sing the Gospel acclamation and the Sanctus (or the Holy, Holy), then we can add some more pieces to this basic core. We can have an opening song or hymn which is intended to unite us and open our hearts to hear God’s voice. The Gloria should be sung as it allows us to express our praise as a community. The Psalm and response puts on our lips words that sum up the day’s scripture. The Communion song expresses our unity in the Christ we receive. To be a little more adventurous, the Penitential Rite is particularly appropriate to sing in Lent and Advent when there is no Gloria. At the Preparation of the Gifts (no longer called ‘Offertory’) there may be a song, instrumental music or silence. The Final Song can send us out inspired but it isn’t essential – it’s not in the Missal! So we should see the music in the Mass as four hymns.
In this parish we are blessed with having music at all the Sunday Masses except 8am. Even there we try to sing the Acclamation before the Gospel and the Holy Holy. It is important that we learn new music that helps us “express a joyful heart accentuating the solemnity of the celebration and fostering the sense of a common faith and a shared love.” I welcome any comments you may have on the music we could share at our Sunday Masses.