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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Adventures In Progressive Solemnity, Long Form

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a Mass in the Extraordinary Form recently.
Generally, although one is offered in my diocese every weekend, the distance and timing, and my own Sunday obligations are such that I instead seek a musicless Mass.

My husband, a late in life convert to Catholicism, was raised by a Mother who, Methodist or not, understood the concept of the "Sunday Obligation;" and at the time he and I arrived at an understanding, we usually attended two services every Sunday morning, (a Mass and whatever protestant church in the area gave promise of the best music,) so he was a very experienced church-goer by the time he was received into the Church.

The first time we attended a Mass with no singing or instrumental music whatsoever, he was taken aback, he had never before encountered any kind of Christian worship which did not include singing.
He hated it!
How could you praise God without bursting into song?
We continued in our nomadic life to seek musical excellence where we could find it, but gradually his hunger for the Eucharist eclipsed his musical preferences, and as he grew to understand the level to which liturgical music has sunk in many places, (Protestant as well as Catholic, I might add,) he embraced the quiet Mass.
We settled for a time in a parish that had a not too bad music program.
When I became involved in a "liturgy committee", (mea culpa,) they were in the process of trying to introduce music into the single quiet Mass in the entire town of five Catholic churches, and the congregants were fighting them tooth and nail.
The PIPs, for the most part, refused to pick up hymnals, and kept their jaws clenched.
Someone on the committee bemoaned the fact, and I repeated the complaint I had heard regarding the choice of hymns, which were puerile, to put it mildly; TPTB had supposed that what was needed as an ice-breaker were "easy" songs, so with no change from week to week, they were asking people to sing the stuff programmed at school Masses.
Over and over.
They knew whom I was quoting, so obviously the PIPs were trying to, forgive the paradox, make their voices heard.
I suggested instead of inserting fairly arbitrary songs, they start with the dialogues and the Our Father, maybe the alleluia before the Gospel.
Blank looks.
You know, (I had probably just learned this phrase,) “progressive solemnity.”
More blank looks.
Like it suggests in Musicam Sacram? A document of Vatican Council?
Oh, well, maybe, they all agreed, even the priests, that that might be the way to go - until they realized that "dialogue" meant singing initiated by the celebrant or other minister.
Nope, they just wanted the people to sing more.
Mind you, all of our priests had fine voices and could either read music very well, (including square-note, I later learned,) or were very good natural musicians who could pick up anything by ear.
But having drunk deeply of the spirits of Vatican, Too, they, (with the agreement or even insistence of their lay colleagues,) were intent upon getting the people to "do" more, not altering their own approach to celebrating Mass.
Eventually I was offered a music/choir director position.
(I had had one years before, while I was still in school, but this was so long ago that it was in the period when the job was picking out 4 hymns that used some of the same words as the readings and posting the numbers. The less said about it, the better.)
In this new position I tried to steer things toward a less preference-centric choice of music, but the deeply-ingrained, three generation long, choir culture; competing ethnic and language needs; and the power structure of rectory/school/religious ed office required constant negotiations.
Returned for a visit after we moved, discovered that some practices I had pressed for for years unsuccessfully had finally been adopted, ( singing the verbum Domini dialogues,) others which I had instituted had been discarded, (the Exultet as written, sung Sequences when called for,) and others which only began under my short tenure, not without push-back, were acknowledged as "the way we've always done it,"(singing the Lectionary psalm.)
The parish where I now find myself has a well-meaning but slap-dash approach to liturgical music and liturgy in general.
I have found other ways to contribute, and enjoy the lowest and earliest of Sunday
Since I am no longer responsible, or even much effected by any musical planning, for over three years I have thought of myself as taking R & R from the front lines of the Liturgy Police Action, (it's not a war!)
When I've worked in a parish setting, TPTB were always slightly Latin-phobic, so obviously only Ordinary Form for Mass or LotH. Convincing them that what they wanted to sing, or were accustomed to sing weren't necessarily the most important things to sing, and that the Church actually gave us guidance on this, (apart from what our diocesan OoW put out,) was like pulling teeth.
Instead of Progressive Solemnity, we were fortunate to even be able to achieve a sort of Regressive Triviality.
I have taken part in Extraordinary Form Masses with great joy, at Colloquia and when I have found myself in the environs of St John Cantius, or had the opportunity to attend one for which Jenny Donelson's schola sang; and I have even been happy to have the chance to hear the traditional Mass when neither the priest nor the musicians, nor we faithful in the pews seemed very sure of who should do what when.
I even accidentally attended Mass at a schismatic chapel, before I knew there were such people and places, and I give thanks for, and "enjoyed" that.

I have never had any musical responsibilities at these, (other than singing as told at CMAA functions,) so never thought much about what is supposed to be done.
I generally position myself near someone who seem confident of his postures and gestures, whose hand missal looks well-loved, and copy him.
But I have realized that there is very little consistency from place to place.
(The first clue that I had was the PBC notation about "IF the confiteor is said again, turn to pg 25," or some such.)
Some places one priest reads the Lesson and Gospel in English while another reads them quietly in Latin, others the vernacular follows the "real" scripture. Some places the PIPs kneel for the entire time except the Gospel and homily. Some everyone recites the Gloria along with the celebrant. One priest stopped in mid-Pater noster to silence the people who were singing along with him, another practically conducted us to sing along.
I was given to understand that this is all because, in the day, there really were no rubrics for the people.
But the rubrics for the musicians are pretty clear, I had thought, especially the distinctions between solemn, sung and read Mass, a la Musica Sacra.
But even these seem to be a source of confusion.
The organist at one parish told me she and her choir "just do what Father wants," and there are four different "Fathers" who might show up on a moments notice.

The Mass I attended Sunday was lovely, and profoundly prayerful.
I found myself entering into it such that I was saved from playing Liturgy Scorekeeper, (a more passive role that Liturgy Police,) no ticking off boxes, wondering why so and so did such and such.
It was only after Mass that I thought, hmmm, 2 Latin motets and one English anthem, or that was nice, that little organ filler, sounds like Rossini, and then repeat the anthem, or, gee, only one voice to a part, none of them very strong but sweet polyphony, or wait a minute, they only sang some of the Gregorian Ordinary, and we all spoke the rest together, didn't we?
It all seemed, it felt appropriate.
Were they, perhaps, applying principles of progressive solemnity from Musicam Sacram to the EF, taken advantage of the provision for varying "degrees" of sung Mass?
And why shouldn't they?
That might sound flip, or combative, but it's really not.
IRL I have no access to anyone particularly knowledgeable about this, and I thank God every day for Those InterWebs.
But the internet is full of Facts that Everybody Knows - that aren't true.
And there often seem to be differences of opinion as to what pronouncements are descriptive and what prescriptive.
I thought I had learned that Musicam Sacram does not apply to the EF, (though of course there are some who try to insist it doesn't apply to the Novus Ordo... who, pray tell, would they be?)
I was startled to learn, (but I am ignorant - people who keep up on these things also seemed startled to learn,) in the comment box of this several month old thread at New Liturgical Movement, which addresses these very questions, that a book of rubrics for the old Mass is available online. The date of publication is 1960, but would it be in effect for the 1962 Missal?
A lot of the conversation there of course is simply opinion - leaned, informed opinion, but not really helpful for those who might be preparing sing half take baby steps in preparing music for liturgy.
It doesn't matter to me right now so much what the Church should have asked of us as what She does ask.
I want to know what's what, and what ought to be, and what ought not -- because I have a premonition, or at least a hope, that I might need to know.
What “legitimate diversity” is there in the Extraordinary Form?


Bernard Brandt said...

Dear Scelata,

I remember the days when I was still writing in my old weblog, (pauca) Lux ex Oriente, and when you would make both kind and cogent comments there. I am happy to say that while I seem to have lost touch with you, that I found you once again.

As regards your 'Adventures in Progressive Solemnity', you have the misfortune of having more liturgical and musical knowledge than the priests you have attempted to serve.

The Dark Ages were so called by haughty humanists who decried a clerisy which did not know classical Latin and Greek. How much darker these ages, where the priests and bishops do not have ANY knowledge of those languages at all.

I feel your pain. What I cannot tell you is what to do about it. Sorry.

Scelata said...

How delightful to hear from you!
Actually, I have several things I can do about it, and one involves an Eastern rite Catholic church about an hour away.
During the school year, teaching religious ed makes it too difficult on Sundays,but it offered Himself and me a most marvelous Holy Thursday evening.
And I feel quite hopeful that there will be an EF Mass in town withint the year.
God bless you, and dont' be a stranger - are you blogging anywhere now?
(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)