I’m at the Hymn Society conference in Redlands, California, this week. I’m on the editorial board of The Hymn which met yesterday before it all began.
Hymn Society is ecumenical and there is a good representation of Catholics, but we are a small minority compared to all the Protestants put together. It is always a pleasure and an inspiration to experience Hymn Society daily worship which is, broadly speaking, Protestant. (Well, one year they had me do a rather monastic-style Morning Prayer each day, and this year Sister Judith Kubicki is doing daily Night Prayer, so Catholic influences are certainly there, but I gather that the daily worship otherwise tends to reflect Protestant practices broadly speaking.)
Two observations I’ve made over the years.
1. Protestants talk louder. Have you ever noticed this? When there is responsive reading, or any spoken alternation between leader and all, the people really speak their parts loudly and with spirit. Catholic corporate speaking is still rather rapid and quiet, driven I think by Rosary practice. We can rattle off 10 Hail Mary’s quicker than they can do one Psalm 23. I like the Protestant way. They say it like they mean it! A visitor from planet Mars would wonder at Catholic Mass whether the people really believe what they’re saying. They do, I’m sure, but not in the same way and with the same intentionality as our Protestant brothers and sisters. Which is to say, I’m not sure we Catholic have yet an ethos of corporate worship, or a spirituality in which the manner of expressing corporate texts reflects what they mean to the participants. (Maybe turning the priest ad orientem will help all that? Haha.)
2. Protestants talk too much. I hope I have enough ecumenical cred that I can let loose with this one from my perhaps overly monastic and thoroughly Catholic liturgical background. Thank heavens our liturgy is pretty much set, and thank heavens commentators, popular immediately after Vatican II, have gone away. And chattiness in priests is mostly going away, thank heavens. When it comes to worship, I’d really rather just worship and not have someone talk me through worship.
Here’s what I’m trying to say: worship leaders should relentlessly check every word of explanation before saying it, and, if it’s not necessary, don’t say it! This, for example: “Now please join in singing the hymn as found in the booklet.” Really? My booklet had a hymn in it and – guess what! – I already had reason to think we were now going to sing it. I didn’t think we were going to hum it or imagine it or discuss it or tear it out of our booklet. Such explanatory words from the leader clarify nothing.
Or this: “And now we’ll recite the psalm responsively, in alternation between leader and all, as indicated in the booklet.” Well, those of us who can read can figure that out and hence gain nothing from the explanation. Those of us who can’t read the directions probably can’t read the responsive reading either and won’t be needing the explanation.
I suppose it doesn’t matter that much and I’m being nit-picky. Fine. It’s an aesthetic concern (no one reads the stage directions at a play, which would be aesthetically appalling), but also a spiritual one. It is nice to move graciously from word to silence to song, in and out, back and forth, without the distraction of needless words.
OK, I said it. Dear Protestants, I really like you all! I love worshiping with you! I feel like I need to say that before signing off.