August 23-26, 2001
volume 12, no. 146

The Germs of GIRM

Part Twenty-three: All song and no sense!

    [Continuing with selected passages found in Chapter Two of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in this issue Paragraphs 39 and 40 are analyzed. They both refer to music in the Mass. The problem is they have overemphasized Saint Augustine's time-warped quote, "One who sings well prays twice." It should be noted that song has its place, but not at the expense of reverence and common sense.]

Paragraph 39 of GIRM reads as follows:

    "The faithful who gather together to await the Lord's coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns and inspired liturgical songs. Liturgical song is the sign of the heart's joy. Thus Saint Augustine says rightly: 'To sing belongs to lover.' There is also the ancient proverb: 'One who sings well prays twice.'"
Comment and Analysis: Yes, singing is a very important part of Catholic tradition. Liturgical song today, however, is far from a sign of the heart's joy. Indeed, most of what is sung today provides a true lover of God with a profound ache in the heart and soul. The endless use of banal songs, most of which are designed to ingrain the anthropocentricity and insipidness of modernist theologians and liturgists, has done very much to destroy reverence in the Mass and belief in the Real Presence.

    That having been noted, however, Pope Pius XII noted that singing does have a role in the celebration of the Mass, including the use of hymns composed recently. But Pius added a very important qualification: "For, if [modern music and singing] they are not profane nor unbecoming to the sacredness of the place and function, and do not spring from a desire of achieving extraordinary and unusual effects, then our Churches must admit them since they can contribute in no small way to the splendor of the sacred ceremonies, can lift the mind to higher things and foster true devotion of soul."

    This is a very important qualification, one that is deliberately ignored today in direct favor of that which is profane and intended to produce effects which are opposed to reverence and solemnity.

    However, it is very important to be people of balance and moderation. Some traditional Catholics eschew all congregational singing, especially in light of the abuses which the Novus Ordo has engendered in the past thirty-five years or so. There are some very well-schooled priests who have met resistance from traditionalists when they have attempted to encourage some degree of congregational singing during the processional or during the recessional (or after the reception of Holy Communion).

    Again, Pope Pius XII offered us words of wisdom fifty-four years ago: "We exhort you, Venerable Brethren, to promote with care congregational singing, and to see to its accurate execution with all due dignity, since it easily stirs up and arouses the faith and piety of large gatherings of the faithful. Let the full harmonious singing of our people rise to heaven like the bursting of a thunderous sea and let them testify by the melody of their song to the unity of their hearts and minds, as becomes brothers and children of the same Father."

    What Pope Pius XII did not have in mind, however, was the introduction of profane methods of singing almost every part of the Mass, something which has become quite common even during weekday Masses in many parishes around the world, where some priests give witness to their being frustrated Mitch Millers, eager to lead a "sing along," indeed, even threatening people in the pews who do not sing along with them as they sometimes invent tunes out of whole cloth. This phenomenon has proliferated in an uncontrolled manner since 1969.

Paragraph 40 of GIRM reads as follows:

    "With due consideration for the culture and ability of each liturgical assembly, great importance should be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass. Although it is not always necessary to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung (e.g., in weekday Masses), nevertheless, the complete absence of all singing by ministers and people - which by law sometimes accompanies celebrations which take place on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation - should be particularly guarded against. "In choosing the parts to be sung, however, preference, should be given to those that are more significant and especially to those to be sung by the priest or deacon or reader, with the people responding or by the priest and people together."
Comment and Analysis:

    Here is the corruption and distortion of the role of singing in the Mass. It has never been the practice in Catholic tradition that there be a haphazardness to the those texts in the Mass which are sung and those which are not sung. There is a structure to the Missa Cantata and to the High Mass which do not depend upon the predilections of the individual priest or choir or schola (albeit admitting the fact that some indult Masses can become veritable Rube Goldberg contraptions, especially if a priest is inexperienced in the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass).

    The new Mass, however, of its nature is the plaything of the individual celebrant or choir or liturgical committee. Some priests simply decide quite arbitrarily what parts of the Mass will be sung and what parts will be recited. There is no rhyme or reason to this arbitrary exercise of idiosyncratic personal predilections.

    Indeed, the narcissism extant in the use of singing, especially during weekday Mass, can become so extreme that priests lose sight of the need of the faithful to get about the business of their daily lives, taking up to an hour to celebrate daily Mass precisely because of the improvisational and inappropriate insertion of singing at every turn. Obviously, the same thing can happen during Sunday Mass and on Holy Days of Obligation. The Mass is thus able to be manipulated by those who consider its form an empty shell which they must fill with their own personalized stamp.

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

Monday: Part Twenty-four: Sacking the sacrificial nature of the Mass for the sake of community unity!

For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives

August 23-26, 2001
volume 12, no. 146
CHRIST or chaos
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