I have noticed a real problem in the church’s advice to parishes regarding music. I think it causes difficulty week after week, but no one seems to notice and no one does anything about it. The problem comes from the Bishops’ delineation of the threefold judgment that is supposed to be made about the music in every mass in every parish in the country. The judgment should be musical, liturgical and pastoral. Do these judgments always happen? Do they ever happen, except informally?
I bring this up because there is a very deep and important reason for spending time and money on the three judgments. The Church believes that Mass is a sacrament and a sacrifice, that these two are not to be separated, and most importantly that the “presence” of the Lord in the Rite of the Eucharist is nothing less than the presence of the entire Paschal Mystery. It is not a “thing-like” apparition but an active one. It is the reality of Christ’s accomplishment in the passion, death and resurrection. The much emphasized word, participation, means first and foremost participation in the Paschal Mystery, not a social connection or a “getting to know” everyone else, party-style. How can each of the judgment areas contribute to this goal?
The Mass is a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, not just a memory. Memory is just a calling to mind events from the past. “Remember how grandfather used to wear that old hat?” This is a memory. But a remembrance is based in the timeless reality of God. I ask the reader to follow this logic: God is a reality present at all times because God does not progress through time, but is himself the wholeness of time. He contains all of it, from beginning to end, all at once. Therefore, in God, the Paschal Mystery is not something that “was,” but rather something that “is” and remains “is” through all time. When an assembly steps into the sacred space of God’s presence, they do not have to look back into the past to find the crucifixion or resurrection. These are present now, surrounding them, in God. I do not mean a physical presence, as on the hill of Calvary, nor a re-enactment of Christ’s life as in a play, nor a mere memory that will help us straighten out our lives. In the Mass we are present at the sacrifice itself, timely in its timelessness. We are present by means of symbol and sign at that which is truly there in the “always now” of God himself.
1) The liturgical judgment is far from asking the simplistic question of whether all the rubrics are being followed. Yes, rubrics are important, they are minor instructions on the “how-to” of actions in the Mass. Without denying any of these helpful formatting aids, it still must be stated emphatically that the liturgical shape of the Mass exists to help the assembly enter into and imbibe the Paschal Mystery. Peter Fink’s article “Public and Private Moments in Christian Prayer,” shows how people progress liturgically though the Eucharistic liturgy from individuals into persons in community. The center of that community is the presence of the active Christ (Fink, Worship 58.6, November 1984: 482-499).
2) The pastoral judgment has the same goal but a different focus. Because congregations differ from each other, sometimes radically, the same solutions do not work for each and every church. STL says musical ministers have to ask whether
“. . . a musical composition promotes the sanctification of the members of the liturgical assembly by drawing them closer to the holy mysteries being celebrated? Does it strengthen their formation in faith by opening their hearts to the mystery being celebrated on this occasion or in this season?” (MCW 130)
This particular talent, the pastoral one, by itself would probably be the most important one. As an illustration, many “American” churches get their success from the personality of the pastor together with his ability to know each person in the gathering by name, as well as the problems and glories of each of their families. Who would not want such a home to go to each week, whether it is good liturgy or not?
The pastoral ability’s very strength is a completely necessary factor in the Roman Catholic mass. The pastor or priest may not be able to know every person in the congregation, since there are so many, but there is a way of knowing the people as a whole. Their reactions. Their likes and dislikes. The music they prefer. What it is that opens their hearts to the Paschal mystery.
3) The musical judgment refers to such a powerful element that some of the Reformation leaders (for instance Huldrych Zwingli) forbade music in worship altogether. It distracted too much from prayer, in their judgment. Our question here would be a bit more modest, how to harness music’s power when it threatens to become more potent than the main goal. Mere modesty is not the answer. The Paschal Mystery is.
Most musicians have heard the maxim, do not put their people’s favorite hymn at the Preparation of the Gifts. Why? It is the only thing they will remember when Mass is ended. It displaces the dynamic of the Mass itself. Participation in the Paschal Mystery, that is, in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, is the prime and exclusive purpose of the Eucharist. The whole assembly must be involved in accepting this invitation from God’s hand. If a piece of music distracts from that gift, then such music is a danger to the Mass.
Each judgment in the evaluation deals not only with the quality of pieces of music, but much more importantly with the consonant help music gives to the entire Mass to be a harmonious sharing in the real presence of Christ in the Paschal Mystery.