Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What We Think We Know That Is Wrong

A director of music at a Catholic parish, obviously of long experience, sent me a list he has been keeping of things that people believe that are not so.

1. It is possible to fully understand the Mass.
1a. Having Mass entirely in the vernacular facilitates this complete comprehension.
1b. The more Latin we use, the less we can comprehend the Mass, unless we know Latin.

2. Mass is really about the words.

3. We must determine the popular musical taste of young people and incorporate these styles into the Mass, or young people will eventually leave the church.
3a. Young people overwhelmingly prefer contemporary popular music in church.
3b. Likewise, young children are only capable of grasping music written specifically for them.
3c. Family Masses, primarily addressed to children, facilitate catechesis. Such Masses do not, however, demonstrate to adults that religion is primarily for children.

4. Hymns and songs are integral to the Mass. Mass with music, but with no hymns or songs, is unthinkable.

5. The main way to determine a hymn or song's suitability for Mass is to examine the text.
5a. Therefore, since all versions of the Mass Ordinary have the same approved text in English, any setting is inherently suitable for Mass.

6. Changing texts to prayers, readings and hymns can be helpful, or is at least harmless; people won't even notice, and would say something if they did.

7. Laypeople live essentially stable lives, and look to the church to be surprising and innovative, especially in the liturgy.

8. Most women prefer gender-neutral language when referring to God. The younger the woman, the more this is true. References to God as "he" or "Father" are scandalous or unintelligible to the non-religious.

9. A small group of vocal parishioners likely represents the views of the majority.

10. People can sing tunes and especially rhythms rooted in popular music easily and naturally. Popular music is much easier to sing than classical music.

11. Members of ethnic minorities are grateful to us when we incorporate into Mass musical styles we associate with them.
11a. In cultures other than our own, especially in Latin America, the distinction between sacred and secular music is non-existent.

12. Having a single Mass in multiple vernacular languages is a way to please everyone, even those who speak only one of the languages. This leads to unity.
12a. Any use of liturgical Latin, on the other hand, is extremely divisive.

13. Church music shares many important characteristics with Broadway music from the 1980s and early 90s.

14. All chant sounds the same to untrained ears.
14a. All chant is in Latin.
14b. All chant is equally difficult and esoteric.
14c. Exception: The funeral Sanctus and Agnus Dei are the only pieces of chant that untrained laypeople are capable of singing.
14d. Chant is most appropriate for penitential times (like Lent) and least suitable for joyful times (like Easter).

15. The assembled parishioners, along with the priest, perform the primary actions of the Mass, and are also the Mass's primary audience. This principle drives every liturgical or musical decision.

16. God is indifferent to the particulars of our worship.

17. People in the pews will never, never, never sing in Latin and they resent you teaching them how.

18. The most natural and appropriate opening is a rousing hymn or song for the procession.

19. The best metric to gauge participation in the Mass is the assembly's singing. The louder the singing, the greater the participation.
19a. People who don't sing at Mass lack enthusiasm or devotion.
19b. No responsibility can be laid on the accompanist or music director if a congregation is not singing.

20. The church provides us the Mass in the form of a rubrical skeleton, onto which we map our choices of songs, service music, and locally-designed elements. This is how we do liturgy.
20a. The two main sources for doing liturgy are personal preferences -- what most of us like -- and the lectionary readings for the day.

21. Unaccompanied, unamplified polyphonic music sung by unseen singers in a choir loft is more a performance than worship.
21a. Conversely, a band with an electric keyboard, two guitars, bass guitar, flute, and three singers on microphones near the altar is more worship than a performance.

22. People will sing more at weddings and funerals if you use Mass of Creation.

23. All authoritarianism in Catholic liturgy originates in Rome.

24. The Second Vatican Council fundamentally changed the church, and especially the liturgy.

25. The liturgical changes following the Second Vatican Council have led to an increase in understanding of the Mass, and therefore a general rise in Catholic practice.
25a. To question these changes is to question the Council.