The Trinity, the Paschal Mystery, and music at Mass. How do they relate? Call me crazy, but I think each provides a key to the others. My point in this entry will be that we spend an awful lot of time contending about what kind of music should or must be used, maybe even exclusively, but sometimes without sufficient grounding.
The Trinity. My students are usually aghast when I tell them that God is not within time, as we are, but exists all at once, outside time. What do you mean, they say. How can God be completely separate from us? There is no way God could know us or love us in that case.
God would not have time for us. Literally!
Hold on to your hats, I tell them. God’s existence outside time gives him the most intimate presence possible to us. Pretend you are a fish. Start swimming from Miami Beach and keep going till you get to, say, France. It took a long time, didn’t it? Well, consider this: God does not have to swim from Miami to France. God is the ocean. There is no “going to” the other shore, because the ocean is already there, as well at this shore, and everywhere else. Swimming takes “time.” Being the ocean does not. Yet the two are intimately together, as you can see. God is the ocean in which we swim.
This is backwards from the way we usually think. We always have God coming (from outside) into our work, our loved ones, our lives. But it is just the opposite. All of these are already within God, who is the ocean called love. Mystics see this most clearly, but it is open for any of us to behold: we just have to ask for the grace to see our place within the presence of God.
Objections arise. For example, “how could there be so much evil in the world if everything is contained in God?” To get at an answer, we have to leave the ocean imagery and progress to the Paschal Mystery.
God deals with evil and suffering through the love contained in that Mystery. Instead of abolishing evil with the wave of a wand, Christ, the second person of the Trinity, joined us in the midst of it. Actually, in the first part of his life, Jesus did in fact go about waving the wand, or at least his hand, taking away deafness and blindness and diabolic possession and more. But at a certain point he shifted from this activity and made his way toward an ultimate sharing of life with us, i.e., the passion and cross. This would have been a mere token gesture if it weren’t for the one thing that is stronger than life and stronger than death, the part that lasts when life is taken away: love. The resurrection, or to put it differently, the continuance of love, was already contained within his willing presence on the cross. This passion, death and resurrection is called the “Paschal Mystery.”
Part three. Why would SC say in paragraph #10 that liturgy (esp. the Mass) is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows”? This seems like a huge statement. The way I explain it to the students has to do with the very timelessness of God we had already gone over. The Paschal sacrifice did take place within time, and it took place once and for all. It cannot be repeated. But notice that the previous two sentences themselves reflect a viewpoint from within time. The sacrifice happened once. we say. That is true. But if you recognize that time itself is within God’s eternity, just as the swimming fish are within the ocean, then “once and for all” is changed. The Paschal sacrifice took place only once, but the “once” is present within God timelessly, without having a past or a future, or rather, incorporating the past and the future. The one redeeming sacrifice is present throughout all time because it still swims within the ocean of God’s existence. Celebration of the Mass does not entail a brand new sacrifice, just the opposite. It is the same sacrifice, presented anew for our participation. No wonder Mass is the source and summit of our work and grace of our lives.
It takes a bit of quiet and prayer to understand this, I tell my young students. I belabor it here not because the reader has never heard such things before, but because of liturgical music. The only possible reason for having music (or anything else) at Mass is so that we may participate in the total union Christ achieves with us in both the good and the bad parts of life. The Paschal Mystery.
This participation is the complete purpose of the worship act we name “the Mass.” Nothing else is bigger than it. Everything else follows from it: the shape of the church building, the configuration of the sound system, the content of the homily—and get this—the style and content of the music sung. This last is the purpose of my writing today.
Can we really claim that each of us derives our views on music in Mass from the reality of the Paschal Mystery? Do we let this mystery trump, as it should, such considerations as the history of music in the Church—important as it is—the type of music we “like” or have studied; the need to eradicate music we disdain because we think it is not up to whatever standards we ourselves follow? Interestingly, do we let it shape our reaction to what translation is used in the Missal? In order to be pastoral, liturgical and properly musical, as Sing to the Lord tells us to be (SL 126-136), our Mass music has to come forth from the Paschal Mystery and proceed directly back into it.
How can we make this happen? Surely through prayer and participation. SL specifies that the ministers at Mass, including especially the musical ones, are worshippers at the divine liturgy, before they are ministers of it (SL 48-49). I can say that I find humility a keystone of the Paschal Mystery; not my or our humility but that of God and of Jesus and of the Spirit. How else would the divine one have sunk so low as to serve us? We can choose music best by sharing that attitude of humility.
Included within this, I should think, would be for all of us to be more gentle and hospitable to other “paradigms” of music (to use Francis Mannion’s felicitous word) besides our own. If we have our souls on straight, we will understand that absolutely everything in life is secondary to the continuous entrance of God/Christ/Spirit into the world through the Paschal Mystery. This statement applies most critically to music. If there is to be a “renewal of the renewal,” however one interprets those words, let it be a renewal of holiness, humility and service, rather than a forcing of the Mass and its music into our own preferences. I specifically include here the bias that occasionally or even often surrounded the “popular” paradigm, insofar as it seemed to work against other paradigms.
Other types of liturgical music can tend toward the same dictatorship, of course, if they are not careful. Certainly chant is a wonderful medium of contemplation and of presenting the actual words of the Mass in musical form. But just like any other type of music, it can become a primary value, vying for first place alongside the real presence of Jesus in his Paschal Mystery. Insofar as it does this, i.e., become “the only way,” it is out of due proportion. It must be evaluated by how well it helps us participate in the mystery. The same is true of each paradigm.
I want to make the principle quite clear: we are created to receive God in the form he has presented himself to us. Human beings are made to receive and take unto themselves Jesus spread out in the very Paschal Mystery by which God has re-invented our lives. This is our primary duty, and everything else in life, including music, flows from it.
We can work together on a renewal or a renewal of the renewal, no matter what “camp” we may reside in when we live this reality. In fact, we simply must work together in this way so that God the Trinity continues to be present to the life of the world through the power of the Eucharist, in its Paschal Mystery, and least of all, in its music.