Saturday, February 20, 2016

The importance of singing the Mass

I just watched the whole funeral broadcast for Justice Scalia and have to say, that was the most reverent Mass of burial anyone could reasonably expect out of the National Shrine, given the circumstances. I could nag about certain details like the use of white instead of black vestments, or the (entirely-expected) lack of the Dies Irae, but let's face it: we will probably never again witness such a high-profile Mass with the Vice President and so many other notable persons in attendance where the Introit Requiem Aeternam is sung and the priest uses the Roman Canon, much less preaches a homily so explicitly Catholic and mindful of the four last things as what just happened this morning in Washington. Has Biden ever sat through a funeral oration where the priest began:
"We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us. Known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many. Scorned by others. A man known for great controversy. And for great compassion.

That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth." 
Talk about a bait-and-switch to remember!

Here, though, I'd like to focus on a smaller detail that no other blog is likely to mention: the fact that Father Paul Scalia went so far as to sing the collects, the Preface, and a great deal of the other parts of Mass. One of the potential geniuses of the pre-conciliar rite was how it required a priest to sing the entire liturgy if there was to be any sung or solemn Mass at all. Of course, in the last couple of centuries or more, security turned to folly, and clerical laziness meant that low Mass would be the most well-trod path. With the 1970 Missal abolishing the hard distinctions between low, sung, and solemn Mass, the vast majority of priests naturally opt not to sing any of the Mass at all (except, oddly, the "by him, and with him, and in him" at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer; a phenomenon which I hope someone will explain to me some day).

Why does it matter, you might ask? Quite simply, because it takes the man's personality out of the liturgy and gives him the voice of the saints throughout the ages. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, of all men, has said he would have traded all of the music he ever composed in exchange for having the credit for composing the Gregorian Preface. But when a priest or other reader in the liturgy merely recites a text, he inevitably gives it his own voice; he impresses the liturgy with his own personality. As glad as I was to see Justice Clarence Thomas read the Epistle, and as dignified as his voice is, it's still distinctly Clarence Thomas reading the word of the Lord. When a lector or subdeacon chants the text in the traditional tone, it's much harder to think of its words emanating from another mere mortal's mouth. Above all, when a deacon sings the Gospel in the midst of the assembly, I think not of the man reading it, but of the words as though they were coming from Christ Himself.

The deacon singing the Gospel at our nuptial Mass


  1. Nicely stated. As a priest trained in standard Novus Ordo standards, but with a huge affection for the Traditional Mass, this bit about truly singing the Mass is something that I am working on personally convicted about. Thank you for this.

    1. Wonderful. Of course, the resources for singing the EF is readily available, but notation for the other forms of Mass is probably a little trickier to find. You might want to reach out to Father Phillips in San Antonio for more resources. He sings the bulk of the Ordinariate Mass, and is virtually the only priest on earth to go so far as to sing the whole Roman Canon in the Latin OF every single Sunday.

  2. When I was a little girl in Catholic grammar school in the 1950's, we were told that the reason for the Mass being in Latin was that anyone of any nationality or culture could hear Mass anywhere in the world and understand it.
    As for singing, it was said that "he who sings prays twice."
    What you said about singing being the voice of all the faithful and saints before you is even more pertinent.