Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Is there such a thing as "silent" active participation?

Much has been passed along to us from liturgical "experts" who feel that the people need to sing every song during Mass. I call it "choir killing" and witnessed 25-30 years ago in my own childhood parish which once had a thriving choir, which performed sacred polyphony. Some pastors were merciful enough to allow people just one mass per weekend where they would be free of the folk music and could take centuries old hymns and polyphony. I enjoyed it as a kid and my parents and friends use to think I was nuts going to the 10:00 Mass. I loved it when I could close my eyes and just listen. I was lifted away - just listening, even as young as 10, to the to what I would call contemplative worship. I would melt in many ways - my stoney heart first lifted up to God, then turned soft by the sweetness of the music aimed directly at Him. Then it was gone almost overnight. Many parishes went almost exlcusively to the music played by folk bands, even when there was only an organist or pianist.

I was secretly pleased many years ago when a more orthodox priest came to my childhood parish, and immediately hired a "music minister" who brought back hymnals that had at least a combination of old and new hymns. He used the old hymns right out of the shoot, but also included some of the newer ones. I recall being somewhat disappointed that I couldn't enjoy one full Mass that was themed more traditional. I threw in the towel and when I couldn't beat 'em, I joined 'em, having taken my guitar and a mandolin-like instrument and becoming part of the folk band, but it didn't last long.

The big debate these days is over the issue of "active participation". Some will even tout John Paul II as having pushed for the "everyone must sing every song" liturgy. Many months ago, doing some research online, I found something very interesting - words from our late, beloved Pontiff.

Bookmark this link, study his words many times, and hang on to it - you may need it in discussions out there. I want to highlight specifically this issue of "active participation".

Oh, how I love this pope. We'll digest other areas of this 1998 address on other days. My comments are in brackets, and in green. All empahasis is mine.

From the Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of the Church in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska on the Liturgy.

Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy [Chant? How many Catholics get ot hear it in 2006? Secondly he specifically mentions listening to music of the liturgy so he can't be teaching that everyone should sing every song]. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural. [And, it is through interior silence that we discover God and develop reverence and awe for Him. From this mystical union we develop true unity with other people and authentic love for them because it is love which comes from Him.]

Conscious participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed in the mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism. But it does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the implicit explicit, since this often leads to a verbosity and informality which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of worship. [Perhaps this is why I eventually felt comfortable coming to Sunday Mass in jeans and shorts, not bothering to genuflect before the tabernacle, then sitting in the pew like it was a park bench with my arms stretched out. Perhaps it is why I was treating God like my buddy: "I'm ok, your ok". It's also probably why I didn' t see a need to go to confession.] Nor does it mean the suppression of all subconscious experience, which is vital in a liturgy which thrives on symbols that speak to the subconscious just as they speak to the conscious. [And liturgists give us all sorts of "stimuli" to attract us and to keep us from being "bored"]. The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned. If subconscious experience is ignored in worship, an affective and devotional vacuum is created and the liturgy can become not only too verbal but also too cerebral [Did our beloved Pope John Paul II call this one out, or what?]. Yet the Roman Rite is again distinctive in the balance it strikes between a spareness and a richness of emotion: it feeds the heart and the mind, the body and the soul.
[When the true intent of Vatican II is followed].

I'm pondering again wonder how liturgical classes are referencing this document when referring to what Pope John Paul II taught about the Mass.

Well, time to get back to work, so chew on that document a few times. Mass in some parishes has become so "busy" that there is no time to get close to God - something which takes place deeply within our being, not externally.

Contrary to popular opinion, even when our choir sings, people also get to sing through various parts of the Mass. The congregation sings the Confiteor, the Pater Noster, most responses are sung, the psalm is sung (Gregorian Chant on papers handed out each week), and the recessional song is sung - by all.

Don't get me wrong people. I know many faithful Catholics who love folk music, and some who were attracted to our faith, and back to our faith through it. But, I am also aware of converts and reverts who returned to the Church upon finding parishes like Grotto, where folk music is reserved for outside of Mass. In fact, I see nothing wrong with Christian folk and pop music outside of the Mass, provided the lyrics are not watered down, namby-pamby versions of the real thing. Many psalms are put to song for guitar and can be catchy in tune. But, I'd rather save it for listening in my car, than in the Mass. As for Catholic folk music with watered down or questionable lyrics, I'd rather not listen at all.


Rick Lugari said...

Great find, Diane. I know that I have found that I can more fully and reverantly participate in the Tridentine Low Mass than any other. Perhaps to some, it may appear like people snoozing on their knees, but my heart and mind is never so wrapped up with God then at those times.

Further, I find having to audibly respond, especially in sync with everyone else, that my genuine participation is hindered. Then there's the dreaded Sign of Peace, which disrupts anything one might have had going. I try really hard to recover and give a heart-felt Agnus Dei, but it's quite difficult. So much for active participation.

Diane said...

I understand what you mean about the Tridentine low Mass.

While I've never attended one, I've enjoyed a similar experience at the weekday Masses at Grotto which open with Gregorian Chant.

We chant pretty much all of the responses, but one man ordinarily chants at the opening, the offeratory, and the communion rite. It ends silently as the priest exits through the sacristy. I find the weekday Masses very conducive meditation.

Once again, it's the lack of stimuli which causes this.

Diane said...

I meant to comment on the sign of peace too.

When I first got to Grotto, it took me a few minutes to realize there was no sign of peace. I hadn't grabbed a latin booklet to know where we were at and all of the sights, smells, and sounds, left me wondering if I had died and didn't know it.

When I realized there was no sign of peace, it seemed to me to go right along with the fact that I noticed no eye contact or physical contact between people in the Church. It seemed cold at first. But it would take few days for the light bulb to go on. That is, that people weren't paying attention to each other or me because they were working at focusing on God. They were here to visit him, not other people.

People try to spin this as not being charitable. All I can say is come to Mass at Grotto, then come on over to the school gym and have a hot dog, hamburger or grilled Italian sausage and donut. It happens with rare exception, each weekend following 9:30 and noon Masses. It is not uncommon to see people still hanging around this very social parish until 2, 3 or even 4 in the afternoon. We enjoy each other's company, and the joy we have in being with our neighbor well beyond the Mass stems from our ability to focus on Him during His hour!!!

What I later discovered about myself and the sign of peace upon revisiting a parish that does this, was that it broke me out of the interior silence that had built during the Eucharistic prayer. The entire Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to God, but then we break from that while Jesus lay on the altar, to extend peace to our neighbor. It is certainly a noble gesture, but include me among those who would prefer to either move it to the beginning around the Confiteor, or remove it altogether.

I fully grasp that it is allowed and there for valid to have in the Mass today. However, it is also allowed and valid for a priest to go right into the Lamb of God after we say, "Et cum spiritu tuo" or shall we say, "And with your spirit!" It is not mandatory to have it.

Rick Lugari said...

Indeed - very well said.