Thursday, November 22, 2007

Solemnity and Reverence (or, a Thanksgiving afternoon post while waiting for dinner...)

It is possible to have reverence at Mass without solemnity.

And the issue of my life, for the past year in particular, has been to find that balance.
Perhaps the initial statement is a little extreme. Perhaps I mean that it is possible to have true worship of God without solemnity. Not everything needs to be a solemn procession.

A great deal of my thoughts in this area over the past year have been in comparing my own duties at my church, with the music and worship of another church in the same city. (Let's call it St. C.)

I came to a surprising (but probably obvious to most) conclusion recently, after a musical selection which didn't work out quite the way I had expected.

St. C uses a lot of EXCELLENT music, and rather than reinventing the wheel, I often like to borrow some of their songs, either those they have written, or songs they have simply found among the vast archives of current and past church music history. However, the realization that I came to recently is that St. C. and St. P. are two different churches. Not everything that works for them will work for us, and probably also the other way around. Songs that work great for them don't always work for us. I admit, they can come off awkward in the church/worship environment of St. C.

Let me give a little background and explanation of both of these church's worship environments, and then perhaps you will understand how it relates to my dilemma of solemnity and reverence.

St. C. is a very excellent church, which understands true worship of God and teaches solid theology. However, many would dismiss it as being "overly emotional" (in ways that are complicated to explain on here for those who are not familiar with the situation.) There is an active "praise and worship" life, (a catch-phrase that could easily be dismissed by many, BUT in this particular church's worship, this style is, significantly, VERY vertically oriented.) It is completely reverent. (you betcha the 3 year olds there know how to genuflect when getting up from their pews. but sometimes they do it backwards, like facing the wrong direction. tee hee... sooo cute!)
But solemn? Sometimes, but not always.

Contrast this to St. P. I need to keep in mind that people have come to St. P precisely in order to find not just reverence, but also solemnity. (and this is where my mind starts to get jumbled. I expect this post to not make much sense from here on out...)
My job is to choose music that promotes reverence and solemnity.
But what about worship beyond (or before???) that? What about those who want songs which more actively engage them? (Don't get me started on chant...I love it but, Ubi Caritas does NOT actively engage people in any way which could even be compared to a song like "Days of Elijah!")

So...when I get started thinking about some other great songs that maybe St. C uses, but I question how well they would be received at St. P, I need to keep in mind that people come to St. P and not St. C or St. T in order to find reverent solemnity.
I think. ?

BUT WHERE IS THE BALANCE!!??? ARGH!!

(and don't get me started on young people who love these other kinds of songs, or maybe those who are at a spiritual level in their personal lives where they NEED songs which more actively engage them. That would certainly be an entire new post. Some other time maybe.)

7 comments:

Cantor said...

Mara wrote:
Don't get me started on chant...I love it but, Ubi Caritas does NOT actively engage people in any way which could even be compared to a song like "Days of Elijah!"

I think this is a very broad generalization that would do well to be broken down further.

In particular, what is your definition of “actively engage people”? Active how? Engage in what way? All people or just some?

I will agree that a majority of people will evince more physical activity in response to DoE than in response to UC. But how can we say that this is a sign of true involvement in the liturgy? For example, how many people would start responding in the same way that the people respond here Mightn’t this be a case of confusing the Mass with concert performance - or, worse, of turning the attention to people and music?

Cantor said...

The case of the very pious Catholic who gravitates toward DoE etc. is, in my opinion, an example of failure to teach the liturgy as “the people’s work”. This is probably because there is SO much diversity, especially in musical practice, that it all seems to reduce to a matter of personal preference. I can’t teach that a certain kind of music is bad for liturgy because right down the street there are probably two other parishes that do use it, and my teaching that it is bad is basically a public finger-pointing at the music ministry of that parish.

Anonymous said...

I must say I have a thin grasp of what you're saying here, probably because of the letters (I know St. P and St. T, but not St. C). But I think I follow you somewhat. To put it loosely, solemnity = chant, organ, choir; reverence = love of God, piety, orthodoxy. Is that about right?

If I can nag you about chant also, I don't know that I'd say chant doesn't engage someone in the liturgy. Ubi Caritas is quite beautiful, I'd say one of the most beautiful chants. If someone came up to me and said "That chant at the footwashing was boring!" I'd probably accuse them of having a heart two sizes too small. Now you or I might get a thrill out of something like a Gregorian Alleluia which many may find boring, but that's an aquired taste and how is someone to gain a taste for that if they never hear it? And anyway, I think the arguments of taste or what "works" for one parish or another are really irrelevant in Catholic/Orthodox worship because of the concept of "Rite". Gregorian chant MUST have pride of place. We can argue about what that means, but I'd say that you ought to have at least one chant in every Sunday Mass. I don't think that should be argued any more than it should be argued whether or not a properly ordained priest should be present.

But, as I mentioned to Arlene at NLM, taste, or what "works" for someone, should figure into the liturgy somewhat. It's a pastoral judgment - the people at St. C love P&W music and it spurs them to great reverence, so maybe that's a pastoral good? And yet, for a Roman Rite parish would it be too much to have the occasional chant? Maybe a psalm tone Gloria or psalm or a contemporary-styled chant (such as Tom Conry wrote or something in a major key with soft piano). Kind of like how at your parish you may use chant but you should also work in American hymnody and some German (just a guess?) hymnody. The overall point, as regards ballance, is it's a Roman Rite parish and worship can both look Roman and fill spiritual needs of the people that exist outside of chant.

-Gavin

Anonymous said...

And you mentioned youth so I'll say this just for you to think about if you do write something:

In case you're going to say "well we need to do things that will appeal to youth", I agree with you to a point. At the same time, worship for youth isn't just about appealing to them, it's about teaching them to be Catholic. My parish's youthgroup had a mini-holy hour for example. Yeah, most of the kids might have been bored during adoration, but at least they experienced it! They learned it's a part of their faith. My parish's school has a theme this year "it's cool to be Catholic", and I had to think (about other parishes of course) "is it really if you're not using a fraction of Catholic tradition?" Yeah, make the faith relevant to the age group, but still make it the same faith they'll (hopefully) practice for the rest of their lives!

-Gavin

Mara Joy said...

sigh. I feel like I should explain myself more, but goodness, this topic exhausts me!

totustuusmaria said...

St. C. also started off from a very low place liturgically. There are more types of worship than liturgical worship, but liturgical worship has a definite form, and St. C. doesn't always follow that form well. People, such as the pastor, are aware that the liturgical life of St. C. is one of the places that could use improvement. He has said that he thinks continually recommending "The Spirit of the Liturgy" by Ratzinger would go a long way to fixing the problems he sees. Other of us see other problems.

Why do I bring this up? Simply because not everything that's appropriate at a prayer meeting is appropriate at Mass precisely because the normanitive Mass is the Solemn Mass. Solemnity doesn't mean things are slow -- it doesn't mean that the people don't externally participate at the places assigned to them, but it does have a traditional and established form which the Church, as a loving mother, has recommended to us. Even when it's not a matter of liturgical abuse, I think one ought always to err, if such is possible, on what you term the more "solemn" side of things, and suppliment the worship of the community with extra-liturgical worship. I think Inter Sollicitudine says the same thing; I think this is a tried and true principal of sound liturgy; I think this is the direction certain people in St. C. want to see the parish go (without loosing it's unique constitution); I think this is part of what makes the Roman Rite to universal.

Mara Joy said...

I'm so glad you understand this...dichotomy! But I am surprised that the people at St. C. want to go the direction of more sound liturgical music...it seems like they WILL lose some of their special charism? (I just don't know how they work together...)