Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why Catholics don't sing

The real right-wingers violently dislike the modern Catholic liturgy. I never thought of "full, active participation in the liturgy",a value of Vatican II, as a political issue before , but it is. This carries over to musical expression and whether congregants should sing or just have the choir sing. The following comes from the Mundabor blog, reliably restorationist.

1. As Father Longenecker points out, most modern hymns are just plain stupid, childish, and ugly. Whenever I am stuck at a mass with such hymns, I am tempted to despair for the human race. It gets a bit better only when I notice that it is always the usual suspects who sing, the others hopefully offering their suffering to the Lord.

2. Hymns singing at Mass is not, as far as I understand it, a very Catholic thing. If it has been fine for Catholics not to sing hymns at Mass for 2000 years there is really no reason why they should do it now. The fact that Protestant love to sing hymns at their own Mass says absolutely nothing in favour of the practice. Rather, I would say that…

3. It is the fundamentally different Catholic understanding of the Mass that doesn’t match really well with the idea of hymn singing. Catholics just don’t go to Mass to sing. It’s not that they – as Father Longenecker puts it rather doubtingly himself – “don’t sing hymns because they still don’t know how to participate at Mass”; it is rather that their understanding of their participation at Mass is completely different, because their Mass is completely different, from the Protestant one. Not communal meal, but sacrifice. Not celebration of the community, but stunned silence in front of the enormity of the miracle taking place in front of them. Not loud singing, but reverent silence. Not excitement, but humble kneeling. All this, of course, unless the Catholic Mass is more or less gravely protestantised; but this is another matter altogether, and certainly no improvement.

Of course, at times there is some singing, or at least chanting. At a Latin Sung Mass, the faithful participate in some of the… chanting. The Credo, for example, is chanted by the congregation together with the choir, and many answers are also chanted. But even on these occasions, at the sung parts (the Gloria, say) the choir sings, and the faithful in the pews allow themselves to be uplifted by the music and the atmosphere. Which, if you ask me, is a far more profound participation than the merry shouting of Protestant masses, because in the singing we are protagonists, but in the listening we disappear in our prayers, we are made very humble and very littler by the thundering majesty of the choir; and yet, we feel taken up to hope, and to a world of beauty that is like the down payment of a much bigger beauty to come.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good hymn like the next man, and I find that some of the Protestant hymns are really beautiful. But I am never requested to sing hymns at the Masses I like most (the low and sung high Tridentine Mass; considering the Oratory Sung Mass a Tridentine for the sake of the argument) and I would never think that there is a problem in this.

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