“The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.” We are now fully immersed (or nearly drowned?) in the New Roman Missal. In addition to the changes in the words, you as a perceptive observer have no doubt noticed that we are also singing more of the Mass than before. This is partly because of the belief that some of the prayers, such as the Collect or Opening Prayer, sound better sung than read. More fundamentally, we are singing more as another step in a decades-long attempt to “sing the liturgy.”
The first of several National Pastoral Musicians Conventions that I attended was held at San Francisco around 1980. Even back then the emphasis was on singing the liturgy. This concern arose even earlier, out of Vatican Council II, with the reform of the liturgy. The problem at that time, however, was that Catholics did not sing. The people in the pew were not accustomed to it and were uncomfortable with singing. Some observers thought Catholics would never sing. It took a long time, and many battles, to get to where we are today.
First we had the Four Hymn Syndrome: an opening hymn, an offertory hymn, a communion hymn and a closing hymn. This was the first baby step taken towards the eventual goal of singing the liturgy. The next was to get the people to sing the acclamations: the Kyrie (Lord have mercy), the Alleluia, the Sanctus (Holy, Holy), the Memorial Acclamation, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), and eventually the Gloria, and in more liturgically involved places (like St Austin), even the Our Father. Over the years we have gotten very good at this. At this parish people sing well!
But we are still just singing at the liturgy, rather than singing the liturgy, which is the ultimate goal of the reform of Vatican Council II. Back in 1967 the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy published “The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations.” In it they stated: “Among the many signs and symbols used by the Church to celebrate its faith, music is of preeminent importance. As sacred song united to the words it forms an integral part of solemn liturgy” (para 23).
As we now implement the new translation of the Roman Missal (3rd ed.), here at St. Austin we are also using this as an opportunity to take another step towards the long awaited goal of singing the liturgy. You will notice that more often the opening Sign of the Cross, the penitential rite, even the declaration “the Word of the Lord” at the end of Scripture readings, and so on, will now be sung. Not only the choir, but even lectors and the celebrant are singing!
At first this may be a bit slipshod and clunky. Well, we have been there before, with each addition of more singing to the liturgy. We will live through it. Eventually we will become accustomed and even enjoy it. St. Augustine (of Hippo) apparently also struggled with his congregation to get them to sing more. He told them, “Do not allow yourselves to be offended by the imperfect while you strive for the perfect.” So hang in there, and you will get the hang of it.
Now I confess that I like to sing. I don’t sing well, but I do sing loud. As a priest friend of mine in Alaska used to tell his parish, “If God gave you a bad voice, plague Him with it!” I encourage you to join in the singing of the sacred liturgy with all the talent and enthusiasm you can muster. You ought to get used to it, because after all, singing the praises of God is what we hope to do for all eternity!