Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Importance of the Introit

Jeffrey Tucker at The Chant Cafe posted an excellent article on January 12 entitled “The Entrance to the Mass”. It is, in part, a review of a new book on liturgical music (by Jason McFarland,  Announcing the Feast (Liturgical Press, 2011), but it’s an excellent “tutorial” of sorts, in and of itself.  Read the whole article for the full effect – it’s a very compelling case for the importance of the introit.
Mr. Tucker writes:
Every Mass has an appointed entrance chant - and these chants have been largely stable since the end of the first millennium.
…The entrance chant is not there merely to foreshadow the readings of the day; it is there to build a theological and aesthetic foundation for the entire liturgical experience of the particular Mass that is being celebrated.
Instead, though, many parishes select an opening song that merely seeks to put everyone in a good mood – sort of like an ice-breaker at a social gathering.
…A poorly chosen “gathering song” only says to the congregation: hey, don’t worry about it. Nothing here is really different. This is pretty much the same kind of thing that has happened to you all week. This is more of the same: just another meeting, just another thing to do, just another place to be…
If we want Mass to be more like…well…Mass…we will almost certainly do better by using the “appointed chant”– the introit – to properly introduce the liturgy:
It seems that there is wisdom in the Church’s idea to the introit. From the very outset, we hear the words of Christ in the Psalms proclaimed to us. From the Sunday forthcoming: “Let all the earth worship you and praise you, O God. May it sing in praise of your name, Oh Most High.” Then the Psalm verses follow. “Cry out with joy to God, all the earth; O sing to the glory of his name. O render him glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome your deeds!’ “Because of the greatness of your strength, your enemies fawn upon you. Before you all the earth shall bow down, shall sing to you, sing to your name!”

Now imagine this text set to chant so that the text is very clear, proclaimed with confidence. No mixed messages, no yadayada about the community, no dance beats, no forced rhythms. Now, that’s an entrance. Does it produce some degree of discomfort? Probably it does. Thinking about God and eternity tends to do that. But it works as a kind of stimulus to the spiritual mind and to the soul. It gets us on the right track. It prepares us to understand and be changed by what follows. Why would we ever decline to open Mass with this goal in mind?
Jeffrey Tucker’s article has much more to say on this subject, and is well worth reading – please do!
Here, I would like to present a sort of “practical application” of what Mr. Tucker writes about. (Much of the following appeared on the blog of the Society of St. Gregory the Great on Jan 12.)
Wendi’s daughter was married recently; Wendi’s friend, Dr. David E. Saunders, served as organist/cantor and chantmaster for the Mass. On his blog A View From the Loft, Dr. Saunders wrote (my emphasis):
This will be a Nuptial Mass unlike any I've ever been a part of…

… It will involve an orthodox, serious-minded Catholic family, bride, groom and priest, and a Mass that will feature the actual chanted texts called for by the rite, sung in Latin by a group of musicians dedicated and committed to the restoration of chant in the Mass, and for a congregation that will both understand and appreciate what is happening. No "Here Comes the Bride, Fair Fat and Wide" at this wedding, oh no.

Here, for example, is the text the Church appoints for the entrance (Introit) that will be sung for this Mass:

God is in his holy dwelling place; the God who causes us to dwell together, one at heart, in his house; he himself will give power and strength to his people. (Psalm verse:) Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; and let those who hate him flee before his face.

Powerful stuff to begin the Nuptial Mass. The Church isn't interested in Hallmark card-style sentimental twaddle…

Wendi sees an application beyond the nuptial Mass, though – an application to every single Sunday of the year. She posted her reflections on her blog
Cradle Stories; she said, in part (my emphases):
I was quite serious when I said that my daughter's Nuptial Mass was the most beautiful Mass I have ever attended.  The priest was exactly as a priest should be.  Reverent, but joyful.  The homily was very personalized to my daughter and her husband.  The music was exactly what the music should be.  Chant and Polyphony, well-executed.  No hymns, nothing happy/clappy.

What I wasn't prepared for was the reaction of the other people in attendance… [A]bout 90% of the guests made it a point to come tell me how beautiful the Mass was.  One guest made the comment that she's been to a lot of Catholic weddings in her life and that this one was the most beautiful she had ever been to…

WHY were so many people having this reaction to a Mass?

…After some discussion with a number of friends trying to puzzle this out, I finally got it.

It was that the music and the priest matched.
They don't usually.

In many parishes the priest is reverent.

The music on the other hand...Parish music programs have been all but destroyed in the last forty years.

Here's the thing though...We could have that kind of music at every Mass.  It's possible.   

With two exceptions, everyone who sang for my daughter's wedding is a parishioner.  There are a number of others in the pews who have beautiful voices.  So even if the people who sang for the wedding can't come every week, good music is possible.

But people have to be willing to work for it.

Good music doesn't just happen.

…  It's about all of us, working very hard, together, to offer the best of ourselves in the worship of Almighty God in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Combine that with a reverent priest and you get beauty.  Extraordinary beauty.

I wish we did that every week.  I wish that my daughter's Nuptial Mass didn't stand out.

When a Mass like that is the norm, it will mean that we have the fullness of our religious heritage every week.

Which we should.

She’s right. Absolutely right.

And that brings us back to Jeffrey Tucker’s parting thought:

The entrance might be the perfect way to begin the reform process. The beginning is sometimes the very best place to start.

It’s never too late to start. The “new translation” is a good start. Now let’s move on toward making some changes in the music of the Mass.

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