måndag 3 juni 2013

Concert or liturgy?

INTROIT • Cibávit eos ex ádipe fruménti, allelúja (Solesmes) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Yesterday we had a Blessed Sacrament procession through the city, led by the Bishop. As far as I know, it was the first for 75 years. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do this in a country where for centuries it was forbidden to be a Catholic, and at a time when people all over the world are suffering for their Christian faith. For reasons which are particular to Sweden, the Catholic church has not suffered the catastrophic collapse which has led to the implosion which has been experienced throughout most of the western world.

So it seems churlish to complain about the liturgy, but since the near- collapse of the church in so many countries today began with the collapse of the liturgy forty years ago, if one is concerned about the future of the church one should be aware of what is happening in the liturgy. If things continue on their current path, the present happy situation could prove to be a flash in the pan.

Being about one-third of the way back in the Protestant church used for the occasion as the Catholic church is too small, (though cause for celebration in itself), I actually saw next to nothing. The altar was too low and too far forward, the church presumably having being re-ordered in imitation of the changes made to Catholic churches after the second Vatican Council. Unless they are sitting in the first half dozen rows, those in the congregation will be looking at the heads in front of them. Nor were things helped because the Bishop preached from the sanctuary instead of using the fine raised pulpit put there for the purpose.

My real criticism, however, was the music. Some thought it was beautiful. I was quite impressed with some of it. It was the choice that was wrong - an eclectic mixture which failed to add up to a coherent whole. It was was more of a concert than a liturgy and gave the impression that its main purpose was to demonstrate the prowess of the choir. If you knew what actually should and could be sung on this feast day, you would have been left with a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. This is more than a question of artistic judgement or preference or taste. It is about the propagation of the faith into the future.

The service began with Parry's "I was glad", a piece of Anglican bombast written for the coronation of King George V at Westminster Abbey in 1911. I don't like the piece for its harmonies and tonality and felt a sense of relief when it was over, but that is only part of the point. It should not have been sung at all. It did not belong. Nor did some of the other pieces that were sung.

The service ought to have started with the Introit for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Cibavit Eos (above). The Latin text is: Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti, alleluia. Et de petra melle saturavit eos, alleluia. (Psalm 81) Exultate Deo adiutori nostro, Iubilate Deo Iacob. The translation is "He fed them with the finest wheat flour: and with honey from the rock, and they were satisfied, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Rejoice in God our helper: sound the trumpet to the God of Jacob."

This captures the essence of the feast day. It is then reinforced by the great compositions written for the feast day by St Thomas Aquinas:  the sequence Lauda Sion, of which just a fragment was sung in Swedish, and the processional hymn Pange Lingua, which was not sung at all.

These pieces are integral to the liturgy for the day. They have an important catechetical function. They are a means by which the people gain an understanding of the nature of the Blessed Sacrament, which lies at the core of Catholic belief. The music is beautiful. It is not difficult to sing. Other appropriate music would have been Ave Verum Corpus - the Elgar, Mozart and Byrd settings are quite easy, and Farrant's O Sacrum Convivium.  There is no excuse for not singing the right music on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

If this were an isolated incident I would not be making this comment but this is a general pattern: we get fine music which is out of place. It destroys the coherent structure and integrity of the liturgy. In the short term it is just an irritation. In the long term it will dissolve the church as people lose their sense of the theology it is presenting. It needs to stop. The clergy need to take charge and insist that on the correct liturgy, the starting point being the Graduale Romanum.

It would help, too, if there was a wider celebration of the Tridentine Rite, which specific about what may, and may not be sung. Priests should ensure that their parishioners get to hear the Mass in this form a few times a year. Feast days such as yesterday's would provide a good opportunity. If they did that, priests would also have to make sure that congregations were familiar with the structure of the Tridentine Mass, through instruction of their parishioners and Catechumens, notes in the parish newsletter and on the web site, and by using the Roman Canon regularly in the vernacular Novus Ordo Mass so that the people know what the texts meant.

The Novus Ordo and Tridentine forms of the Mass need not be mutually exclusive. The Novus Ordo can have an important didactic function enabling the faithful to experience the more powerful though perhaps less easily accessible signification of the Tridentine form.

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