To not sing “Magnificat?” Unimaginable! We must “Collect” ourselves.

Realizing that our friends’ voices over Fr. Ruff’s blog still continue to re-voice the sentiments and protestations that continue to bubble up among primariy the non-American English conferences regarding the reception and adoption of the third edition of the Roman Missal translation, I thought a few choice quotations and reflections from our equally loyal opposition might be beneficial to the vitality of the dialogue.
In the October edition of the periodical “MAGNIFICAT” (Oct.2011, Vol.13, N.8), Professor Christopher Carstens (visiting faculty, Liturgical Institute, Mundelein, IL:., director of the Office of Sacred Worship, La Crosse, WI.) added an essay to an ongoing series about preparing for the implementation in the states, “The Roman Rite’s Collection of Collects.” As the current gauche phrase goes “You had me at….,” Carstens’ first line, the famed quote of Augustine “Singing is a lover’s thing,” certainly piqued my interest. He then reminds us that in worship we, the Bride of Christ, “sings from her heart to her loving bridegroom, Christ the Lord.” He continues, “From the Introductory Rites (of the MR3) of the beginning of Mass, the Church prepares the faithful to join in this great song of love.”
Now I’ve personally been reminded and scolded that being a career pastoral musicians does not me a liturgist make; I’ve got that. But in musicans’ defense, is there another, more apt way to engage in a deliberation of the affect of this expression of sacral love and language in the din of the recent debates? Carstens invites us to listen for three particular aspects of the Collects, the first of which is “The Structure of the Collect.”  As just a teaser I’ll report that he outlines: 1. the address; 2. a short relative clause describing God; 3. the petition itself; and 4. the conclusion addressed to the Trinity. He then claims this structure “connects each thought, sentiment, and petition back to God….” whereas in previous editions most Collects use two sentences rather than this series of phrases within one, which he concludes “leads us and our intentions more directly back to God.”
The next aspect he comments upon is the “Language of the Collect.” Carstens restates much of the obvious intentions behind MR3, again much deconstructed and debated here and elsewhere, and presumably familiar to liturgy blogophiles. But it is important to note that many, if not most, subscribers to the “Magnificat” periodical likely fall outside that demographic. So he emphasizes “value and importance” to the traits  of “linguistic register.” Carsten points out that every person “employs different registers on a daily basis.” As much as I would love to associate the word “register” to its most musical interpretation, Carsten simply means how “we speak to our pets, our friends, our bosses, our loved ones, our slow computer, and our God…” How simple, how elegant a depiction of the importance of the “tone” (pun very much intended) with which we unfold the language of love to our Creator. And paradoxically, how often all of us seem to impugn a negative “tone” in our internet discourse without first thinking that we really cannot “register” our expressed thoughts audibly in this medium.
The author then illustrates this aspect by citing the Collect from the Vigil of Pentecost. Towards the singer and poet in us all I will skip his exegesis that clearly portrays the relationship between translation and register and get to a specific example he cites. The Latin “contineri” he says “could be translated “surrounded” or “contained.” But he offers that “encompassed, though, is a more extraordinary term…evoking for the reader (I wish he’d said ‘listener’ instead) the image of a compass, pointing to all directions…” I would ask the singer in each of us, before deciding upon the richest depiction of how far the Paschal Mystery extends out from Calvary’s cross, to audition: “surrounded….contained……encompassed.” Which is the symbol crying to be sung?
Finally Carstens lists the third aspect, “The Sources of the Collect” as they are presented to us from scripture and tradition. He alludes the Collect for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which the apostle reminds us “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” The Collect now is rendered “O God, who have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see, fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love.” He infers that this Collect intones the Pauline excerpt literally almost verbatim. He declares “The ‘vernacular’ of the Church….is Scripture: especially at prayer, it is Bible that is spoken.” (Again, I wish he’d used “sung” rather than “spoken.”)
In this brief article I believe the professor argues for the nuance and registral context of language “off the page” to be fulfilled best within the union of poetry and song, the singularly unique sacral language, not music, that is the heart of chant. If, as he asserts, we are attentive as a start to the structure, and then to the richness within the language used, and its sources, then we can better enjoin our voices in “the eternal song of love between Bride and Bridegroom, the Church and her Lord.”
A couple of post-scripts: I believe this is also a concept that is shared by Dr. Paul F. Ford in his presentations to clergy and laity regarding the Missal implementation. If celebrants accept the clearly stated intent (just check out the default settings of all orations in the new editions of subscription missals!) that they, at least, acknowledge that by chanting this orations and Collects, they are most effectively abetting full, conscious and active participation of all the gathered Faithful at Mass.
Secondly, it’s somewhat ironic that this muse struck me this evening as I have been seriously contemplating taking a “sabbatical” from blogdom and forums on the WorldWideInterLinkCyberWebs! There seems to be a great confluence of increased rancor, whose tone is unmistakeably contentious, as well as a movement of a great number of major blog authors to new domains. I’m still undecided, but I think I need to take a breather for a while, my friends. Thank you for putting up with the barrage of verbiage for so long.