That Liturgical Music Thing Again

Y’all, sometimes I just have to get things off my chest.  And I haven’t ranted about church music in a while.  So, for those of you who like such things, enjoy this mini-rant.
I sang in the choir at the 7 p.m. Mass at Georgetown all four years.  (We had Masses practically ’round the clock on Sunday, including a 30 minute one known as “[Father] Freeze’s Breeze” and a “last chance” one at 11:15 p.m.)
When I was a Freshman, the choir was student-led.  So when we were taken over by the University’s choir director the following year, we chafed a bit under her direction.  One of the things she did not like was our pianist’s habit of playing what she called “traveling music” at points where no talking was going on, like after the Offertory procession, for example.  We liked the pretty music and did not appreciate her point:  that there were times in the liturgy where silence is desirable.
Well, apparently the choir director at my parish doesn’t appreciate it either.  Because he’s instituted a bizarre practice of singing TWO Offertory songs.  As soon as we finish the first one, our cantor steals a quick look at the altar and if the preparation of the gifts is ongoing she quickly announces another song.  Which we dutifully begin to sing.
But there isn’t time for two songs at the Offertory, not really.  So one of two things happens.  We don’t sing the whole song (and y’all already know how I feel about THAT), or Father stands there twiddling his thumbs and frankly looking impatient to get on with things already while we finish.
This singing serves no liturgical purpose.  Especially since we never sing songs that are about offering our gifts or ourselves anyway.  It’s filler, pure and simple.  And why does the Mass demand filler?  When you run out of Offertory song, there are the optional prayers and responses:  “Blessed are You, Lord, God of all Creation . . . ” and “Blessed be God Forever.” (Did these get changed, I wonder?  In our parish, I’ll never find out.)  Then there are the quiet prayers as the priest washes his hands, which always fascinated me as a child: “Lord, wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins.”
Everyone knows how much I love to sing.  Even when I can hardly stand the songs.  But can’t we just have some quiet time to pray?

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  1. Korinthia says:

    Silence is often just as important as sound. I’ve been hired to play viola in more churches than I can count and it always interests me how different the dynamics are in each of them.

  2. betsyk1 says:

    Agreed. Well ranted! 🙂

  3. Elizabeth McD says:

    I think it’s sad that so many parishes have lost the value of silence — silence for prayer, for reverence. There’s something to be said for very judicious use of “traveling” music. Sometimes it’s NOT for traveling, but to keep voices down. I coordinate our parish’s First Penance and First Communion programs. After the first Penance liturgy I ran, I realized quickly that we needed quiet instrumental music playing during the children’s confessions. Otherwise, the parents and family members were talking so much and so loudly, the priests couldn’t hear those quiet, timid voices!
    Our pastor works hard to remind everyone that in the church there is to be reverence. Before large liturgies (Christmas, Easter, First Communions), he often has to really work (sometimes yell) to get people’s attention to ask them to quiet their voices and to remember that people are praying in preparation for Mass. Some people don’t get it and just think of him as “too strict,” But he is just trying to maintain a sense of reverence.
    But silence during Mass (without traveling music), with some encouragement or explanation (if needed), can give us back some time to reflect on the Sacrament and all we’re really receiving.
    Funny you mention your Mass at GU. Each Mass time was really like a completely separate parish, wasn’t it? I sang with at the 5 pm.

  4. Pam says:

    My husband, friend & I sing at the 5 PM Vigil Mass. Sometimes we don’t sing an Offertory song, especially during Lent. When we do, it’s two verses (tops!) and then my husband will play quietly while the priest puts everything away. My husband has it down to the point where when Father puts his palms on the altar, my husband is playing the last note! Music does have it’s place, but so does silence. As a participant in a choir, I appreciate your series!

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