Wednesday, December 26, 2007

this post is not about Christmas

On Sunday, the day before Christmas Eve, I unintentionally went to my first candle-light Mass. As a matter of fact, it wasn't just by candle light, it was free of all amplification and instruments relying on electricity. (Including my pipe organ and keyboard!)
Oh, and it wasn't just one Mass, it was BOTH!
But actually, they were simply lovely!
It was rather wintery stormy that morning, and I was sitting in the church praying half an hour before Mass, and the power went out at 7:30. And it was DARK. It is dark in Michigan in December that early when it's cloudy! Even by the time Mass started, it was so dark I knew people wouldn't be able to sing anything from the hymnal. So, for the first Mass, the processional was in silence, and it really was dark enough that the candles lining the windows were necessary and lovely! However, by the Agnus Dei, the sun had come out and was shining on the altar! Just beautiful. And amazingly (or not,) several of the boys from our boys choir were scheduled to sing a couple songs at both the Masses! So they sang "O Come Holy Saviour" (or something like that) and I'm not sure who had this great idea, but their accompanist used two hand bells (the tonic and dominant) and rang them appropriately instead of playing the keyboard! (I'm not quite sure why we don't have a real piano-there is certainly nowhere in the church that a grand would fit, and it would be quite difficult to get an upright up into the loft.) Anyhow, that was lovely! The boys sang that for offertory, and then I sang the Communion chant, and then they had been working on a two part arrangement of "Lo How a Rose" for communion, which was lovely a cappella! The lector read the Psalm (I don't quite think my congregation is ready to sing an unfamiliar Psalm response a cappella...) and we spoke the congregational responses (which my priest pointed out to the congregation we could sing IF we had ever learned chant settings!) I sang the alleluia, and then there was light enough for the congregation to sing a closing song. It was quite nice! And then for the next Mass, my choir was there, and there was more light so we sang the opening and closing songs, and the choir was already prepared to sing the real "Ave Maria" at offertory (and I didn't end up having to decide if I should accompany it!) The boy choir had arranged to have a harpist at that Mass (she was rather young and inexperienced,) but she played for "Lo How a Rose," and it was really beautiful. And then cuz this Mass is a lot bigger, we also did "O Come O Come Emmanuel" at Communion, a cappella of course which was absolutely perfect!
But it does strike me, how the more we are able to go in the direction of what we should be doing at Mass, the less it will matter if we have electricity or not! (like how we should have been able to sing the ordinaries, and how the choir was already prepared with the Ave Maria, which was perfect both as the Offertory proper as well as being perfect in not requiring accompaniment.)


pdt said...

Joy - I've long since learned that there is no such thing as coincidence. Somebody - somebodies - in your church were in receipt of a grand catechesis. What a magnificent gift from the First/Fourth King of Christmas.

BONIFACE said...


I wholeheartedly agree with your estimation that electricity only becomes a necessity to the extent that you are deviating from liturgical norms. When I read your post, I thought,"Gee, what would they do if their worship depended on electric guitars and an expensive PA system?" The people would have had nothing. Thanks for your excellent insights.

Gavin said...

I'm a huge opponent of unnecessary electricity. Amplification IS important - but only in gigantic churches. In mine, I can hear a pin drop in the loft from the sacristy. In contrast, I recall being at a particularly "reform2" church in Kalamazoo where they used no amplification - the pastor was inaudible! Furthermore, lighting is usually not necessary - stained glass windows are usually big enough and light enough to let light in. At my church, however, they aren't, so it's quite understandable to use electric lighting.

Electric lighting, amplification, electric organs, all were meant to be aids when needed, not the norm! That's why I enjoy cantoring a capella, you can really make the church do the amplification work for you! In fact, I'm usually louder without a microphone than with one.

Anonymous said...

Agreed in principle. I'd love to have a church in which no electronic support was needed.

I am curious about the decision to have no music in the dark. Most Catholic congregations I know can easily recall the first verses of beloved Christmas carols. If there's one day of the year in church when people would sing without music, Christmas would be it.


Mara Joy said...

It wasn't Christmas, it was the day before Christmas Eve.