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Friday, 2 January 2009

Active participation or mere activity?

Jeffrey Tucker, Sacred Music Correspondent at the New Liturgical Movement has given great service to the Church by his tireless promotion of properly liturgical music in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite. An outstanding article which summarises the problem with the celebration of the Ordinary form to be found in most parishes is: No More Roadblocks.

As he rightly points out, if you go to the choir practice area of many Churches, you will find a sheet that looks like this:
Setting: Creation
Pro: random hymn
Off: random hymn
Com: random hymn
Rec: random hymn
To take just one example: what is meant to be sung at the beginning of Mass is the Introit; and Vatican II gave pride of place to Gregorian Chant for liturgical music. Most people will only ever hear the Introit sung at Mass celebrated according to the usus antiquior. At English Masses, they will not hear the Introit in English set to Gregorian Chant or even in some modern musical form. Instead, they will get an "Entrance hymn" chosen to suit the "theme" of the Mass or the season, or because it is one that people know and enjoy.

Imagine suggesting that the Entrance hymn be replaced by the Introit - perhaps sung in English according to one of the psalm tones to start with. One of the most likely objections will be that the people cannot participate.

This leads to a deeper question concerning the nature of liturgical participation. From Pope St Pius X onwards, there have been calls for active participation - culminating in the call of Sacrosanctum Concilium for the full, conscious and active participation of the people.

Notice, however, that "participation" implies that we are participating in something. What we are meant to be participating in is the Sacred Liturgy. The hymn "Holy God we praise thy name", or "Colours of Day" - take your pick - is not a part of the Sacred Liturgy. If such a hymn is chosen in preference to the Introit, nobody is actually participating in the Sacred Liturgy: people are simply singing a hymn that they like (or at least that somebody likes or thinks that other people should like.)

Has not "active participation" given way to mere activity?
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