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Perspectives: Music at Mass

Jenna Murphy

Friday, June 11, 2010

When I was growing up, the only thing that could possibly put a damper on a Sunday Beach day was fulfilling our Sunday obligation... on Saturday night.
EN_perspectives_100611Like many Catholics in the summertime, our family took advantage of the Saturday night Mass option in order to maximize outdoor time together at the family cottage or the beach.
I remember sitting in those sticky pews with my sisters on Saturday evening giggling amongst ourselves. We always joked that the Saturday evening Mass was the ‘old folks Mass’ because the music was, well, different.
“It sounds like choking chickens,” my sister would say of the banjo medleys during the “Holy, Holy, Holy.” But the older people loved it, as the foot tapping and head bobbing would suggest. And now, when I return home to the choking chickens on Saturday night, they are no longer strange (or even funny) to me. I see that the music communicates the identity of those present. It reminds them of the golden years of fellowship, Cursillo retreats together, and the Great Charismatic Renewal that took our town by storm… basically, the music reminds them of who they are and where they’ve been. But what is the goal of music at Mass: nurturing nostalgia, or “singing a new song unto the Lord”(Ps. 96)?
This week on our website and on Facebook, we posed the question: “What is the best music for Mass?”
Tony Pelletier writes via Facebook:
We, humans, associate instruments with circumstances and moods. It would be harder for a harmonica player, for instance, to lead people to prayer, given the emotional color usually associated with this instrument (emotions are not a bad thing, I know, but, at the same time, we need to be attentive to what God is trying to reveal us about Him - there are plenty of other times to contemplate our emotions)... in a word, Liturgy is about God and our relationship to Him. It shouldn't remind us of our latest kitchen party (no matter how much of a good thing it can be). So, while we need tangible means to connect to God, those means should clearly point toward Him.
And from Silvana Rossi:
I think that a balanced approach, re: the styles of music we use, is best. Musicians are instruments of prayer. The Liturgy is the work of the people. The music must be chosen by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, enhance the Word of God and rooted in prayer as all ministries should be. Music at church is not a performance, though well practiced musicians can better give their best to God and His people. I think we need to be sensitive to the people we serve and therefore have a balance of contemporary, traditional, Taize and Gospel. With a copyright license and a hymn book(s) that has variety, there is no reason that we, as musicians cannot aim for a balanced approach. We are very blessed to have so much music to choose from!!
Indeed, Silvana is right when she says that we have so many musical options! For the first time in the Church’s history, it is possible to satisfy every musical palette. But does that mean we should?
This Friday, June 11th, on Perspectives will welcome a “liturgical music panel” of three musicians/ songwriters who are well-versed (well-sung?) in all things liturgical.
Be sure to join us at 7:00pm or 11:00pm ET/8:00pm PT as we welcome Gabrielle Suthers, a liturgical musician, David Wang, Critical Mass frontman and music columnist for the Catholic Register, and John Dawson, the Program Coordinator and Music Director for the Office of Catholic Youth in Toronto.  If you miss it on Friday, you can catch an encore presentation at the same times on Sunday, June 13th.

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