The Holy Father had something good and important to say yesterday:
When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t accomplish a representation of the Last Supper: no, it is not a representation. It is something else: it is the Last Supper itself. It is to really live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We hear or we say, ‘But, I can’t now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard’, it is participated in, and it is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us.
I loved the first part of this statement, with its laser-like focus on the Mass as a sacrifice (and the word “theophany” really can’t be used often enough), but worried a little about the second part.
This whole idea of “participation” has become the battlefield over which a liturgical war is being fought.
Full, active and conscious participation in the Mass in the Middle Ages
For me, “participation” means prayerful attentiveness to the Mass, joining my prayers with that of the rest of the congregation and the priest in adoration of the Holy Victim, but for various “ultras” this is not good enough; the “Council” mandated a different form of “participation”, one that was “communal” (an idea thoroughly debunked by a cursory reading of Sacrosanctum Concillium, as pointed out by Dom Alcuin Reid).
This form of “communal participation”, with us all subsuming our wills to that of the group (is it just me or does that sound a little Nürnburg Rally?) in practical reality takes the for of reciting responses and hymn singing. I can live with responses and happily used to sing the Missa de Angelis at the main Mass in my youth, but hymns?
Hymns fall into three categories for me:
- the un-singable – the tune may be impossibly irregular or may require too large a vocal range
- the unconscionable – the lyrics are too drippy or downright heretical or, in the case of “Spirituals”, I find the cultural appropriation too objectionable; and
- the ones written by Fr Faber – catchy tunes, orthodox lyrics, easy vocal range, what’s not to like?
But even with a hymn that I like, it isn’t the Mass, it’s a distraction at best.
Sorry Holy Father, this Catholic “hears Mass” when he can, because all of the other stuff distracts from his full, active and conscious participation in the Mass.