Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Anonymous to Sensibility
A change in pastors always stirs things up in a parish. I wanted to share with you a letter I received today at the parish. But first, I'm going to provide the pertinent section of my bulletin column that inspired it:

Considering the breathing space we’re giving to choirs this summer, I’d like to explore a bit the role of music at Mass. For 7:30 Mass (and the early Sunday Mass in most parishes) that’s sometimes a contentious point.

This is old territory for some. I know I’ve raised this issue in print before. The Church teaches that singing the Mass is normative for us. (Note the distinction between “singing the Mass” and “singing at Mass.”) Meditation songs, instrumental music, extra music: that’s all secondary to the liturgy. What counts the most are the parts of the Mass which are intended to be sung by the people.

Before Vatican II, we had High Masses with all the artistry a parish could muster. And we had Low Masses. That distinction was done away with by 1970. With the new Roman Rite, pastors and musicians were urged to strive for the older sense of “High Mass” all the time, with all the beauty and quality that can be brought to bear for the worship of God.

The expectation that any Sunday or holy day Mass won’t have music is foreign to the Church’s understanding. That said, music on holy days and early Sunday mornings in America is often equally foreign to people who might prefer not to have music at all.

So I will explain my dilemma frankly. The Church teaches that singing the Mass, even singing the 7:30 Mass, is essential. The Church doesn’t force me or us to do it, no more than we’re forced to have choirs, decorations, or do most of the fine details in any particular way (outside of the rubrics, themselves). Yet the teaching remains that music is intended to put the language of the liturgy on a higher plane of expression. The challenge is being faithful to that while not gravely offending the sensibilities of those who disagree.

Which I thought was reasonable enough. The previous pastor wanted some movement toward year-round music at 7:30 Mass. At present, we sing Christ the King through Baptism of the Lord and First Sunday of Lent through Body and Blood. (This year, we did add the ordinary time Sundays before Lent (a cantor wished to continue to provide music leadership) and lopped off the post-Pentecost "white" feasts.) So I received this anonymous communique today:
Do we really look that stupid??????? "The Church teaches that singing the Mass, even singing the 7:30 Mass, is essential." Where the hell did you get that?????????????? I do know that the Church wants them to be called "Communion Ministers" but you refuse to do that. Be with the Church or against it, but don't try to be both. An informed and disgusted parishioner cc. Rev. Donald Farnan, Bp. Robert Finn, all members of the parish Pastoral Council.
My readers and friends know I'm not a fan of anonymity when it comes to complaints. Twelve-Step groups, the Sacrament of Reconciliation: these are perfect for not plastering one's name where one doesn't want it. Comboxes are okay, too, if you insist. You also know I don't shy away from a brisk discussion, and I've adopted a wide open policy of receiving parishioner input, regardless of their ideology. So let me pass on some advice if my anonymous friend is reading: Don't be afraid of signing your name. I won't trigger a trap door if your family member wants to get married or approach the altar for Communion. I'm hardly going to bite your head off if you want to discuss. And your sharing is absolutely confidential both in source and content. I'll gently refer you to section 40 of the GIRM, which reads:
Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together.
I also invited all interested parishioners to join me after Mass on Sunday to explore music at the parish "quiet Mass" a bit further. Nobody showed up, despite the youth group providing delicious cinnamon rolls and coffee. I'm not sure what an anonymous complaint will net at the chancery or with a pastor who has yet to take charge. Maybe my commentariat would like to predict what would happen or how such a complaint should be regarded. My position is to adopt absolute openness. (Except where I corrected a typo/misspelling.) The writer may choose to remain anonymous, but I believe letters like this should get some airplay, as it were. Especially since it has been distributed to at least eight individuals. A signed letter is a trusted confidence, unless the writer gives permission to reprint. Any thoughts on your end?

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