Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's not about me

We had an interesting discussion at lunch today. One of my nurses, who is a Catholic, happened to mention that she and her family had been attending services at a local evangelical Protestant church (in addition to their weekly obligation to attend Mass, of course). I asked what she thought about it, and she said, "It's too Hollywood for me, but my kids like it."

So the discussion of course went around the table as to what drew people to worship at their respective churches, and invariably the answer was the same, that people wanted, actually expected to be satisfied and "fed" while they were at church. They want to be moved by the music and uplifted by the preacher. All of this is fine I suppose, but at its core, it would appear that those talking at lunch today have expectations which are fairly self-centered when they go to Church to worship the Ancient of Days, i.e. what is God going to do for me today?

Of course, the subject came up of how boring Mass is, and how it is almost unbearable for people to sit through Mass, especially if the priest is boring. "How many times can one person look at their watch," one person wondered? Another complained that she was offended that the Catholic Church had guidelines for the worthy reception of Holy Communion which were printed right there in the front of the misalette for everyone to see. "How dare they exclude people?" she exclaimed. Part of me was irritated by this, but another part of me found it pitiable.

I realized that I don't need flashy music or light shows or fiery preaching or any other entertainment when I go to church. Church does not have to be therapeutic for me. I don't go to Church with the expectation that I will be raised to the heights by the choir or the sermon. I don't feel that the Church owes me anything, and I don't think that receiving the Eucharist is my right as a Catholic, and if I am not worthy, I exclude myself from receiving the sacrament. Who am I to make demands of God?

I can honestly say that I never get bored at Church, and it is because I go to Church for the simple reason that the living God is present in the tabernacle, and he is worthy of adoration simply because he is. No expectation on my part whatsoever. That is enough for me, and if I am moved by the sermon or music, that's good. But if not, I walk away fulfilled with the knowledge that I have had an intimate encounter with the Lord Jesus. What can top that?

Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created. - Revelation 4:11

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cantate Domino

So this weekend I finally got to do some Gregorian Chant at Mass. It was
Laetare Sunday which is the midway point of Lent, and it is so called because of the Introit which begins "Laetare Ierusalem, et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam." (Rejoice Jerusalem, and come together all you who love her.) What I have realized about chanting is that it is difficult not because the notes are tough, but because it flows without a real rhythm almost as a feather dropped from a high point drifts to the ground. It was very gratifying, though, I have to admit.

I found myself becoming nervous that the congregation would be frustrated with sitting while we chanted Psalm verses in Latin, all the while not being able to sing, because after all, singing is one of the joys of being a Christian. But in reality, there are parts of the Mass that are not meant for congregational singing, like the gradual, the offertory, and the communion chant. Unfortunately, we have lost the sense of who has what role in the Mass. What used to be clearly defined roles of priest, server, choir, and congregation often is now simply priest and congregation, while the choir really serves only to lead the congregation in singing. I even see the old ladies sitting in the front pew saying the Eucharistic prayer along with Father, so it would appear that even in some cases the role of priest and congregation is being blurred.

So, what I plan on doing the next time we chant (which will be this coming Sunday) is making sure the congregation is familiar with the chants of the ordinary (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Pater Noster), the gospel acclamation, and the memorial acclamation in the Eucharistic prayer. Given time and practice, it should become second nature for the people, and I know they can chant because they do wonderfully with the two chants they are most familiar with (the Our Father and the Agnus Dei).

Pope Benedict has called on us to once again put Gregorian Chant back into its rightful place of honor in Mass. The way I look at it, what we are doing is mandated from the top, so what do I have to worry about?

Cantate Domino canticum novum;
Cantate Domino omnis terra.
Cantate Domino benedicite nomini eius;
Adnuntiate diem de die salutare eius. - Psalm 95 (96):1-2