Thursday, July 14, 2011

Martin Mosebach on Hymns and the Mass

Benedictus Dominus offers a wonderful post with words from Martin Mosebach, author of The Heresy of Formlessness. I hadn't read this before. It is really outstanding.
"I am firmly convinced... that vernacular hymns have played perhaps a significant part in the collapse of the liturgy. Just consider what resulted in the flowering of hymns: Luther's Reformation was a singing movement,and the hymn expressed the beliefs of the Reformers. Vernacular hymns replaced the liturgy, as they were designed to do; they were filled with the combative spirit of those dismal times and were meant to fortify the partisans. People singing a catchy melody together at the top of their voices created a sense of community, as all soldiers, clubs, and politicians know. The Catholic Counter-Reformation felt the demagogic power of these hymns. People so enjoyed singing; it was so easy to influence their emotions using pleasing tunes with verse repetition. In the liturgy of the Mass, however, there was no place for hymns. The liturgy has no gaps; it is one single great canticle; where it prescribes silence or the whisper, that is, where the mystery is covered with an acoustic veil,as it were, any hymn would be out of the question. The hymn has a beginning and an end; it is embedded in speech. But the leiturgos of Holy Mass does not actually speak at all; his speaking is a singing, because he has put on the "new man", because, in the sacred space of the liturgy, he is a companion of angels. In the liturgy, singing is an elevation and transfiguration of speech, and, as such, it is a sign of the transfiguration of the body that awaits those who are risen. The hymn's numerical aesthetics-- hymn 1, hymn 2, hymn 3-- is totally alien and irreconcilable in the world if the liturgy. In services that are governed by vernacular hymns, the believer is constantly being transported into new aesthetic worlds. He changes from one style to another and has to deal with highly subjective poetry of the most varied levels. He is moved and stirred-- but not by the thing itself, liturgy: he is moved and stirred by the expressed sentiments of the commentary upon it. By contrast, the bond that Gregorian chant weaves between the liturgical action and song is so close that it is impossible to separate form and content. The processional chants that accompany liturgical processions (the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion), the responsories of the Ordinary of the Mass that interweave the prayers of the priest and The laity, and the reciting tone of the readings and orations-- all these create a ladder of liturgical expression on which the movements, actions, and the content of the prayers are brought into a perfect harmony. This language is unique to the Catholic liturgy and expresses it's inner nature, for this liturgy is not primarily worship, meditation, contemplation, instruction, but positive action. It's formulae effect a deed. The liturgy's complete, closed form has the purpose of making present the personal and bodily action of Jesus Christ. The prayers it contains are a preparation for sacrifice, not explanations for the benefit of the congregation; nor are they a kind of "warming up" of the latter. In Protestantism, vernacular hymns came in as a result of the abolition of the Sacrifice of the Mass; they were ideally suited to be a continuation of the sermon. Through singing, the assembled community found its way back from the doubting loneliness of the workday to the collective security of Sunday-- a security, be it noted, that arose from the mutual exhortation to remain firm in faith, not from witnessing the objective, divine act of sacrifice."