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.