Monday, March 12, 2007

The Feast of St. Gregory the Great: Why Sing the Mass?

Since today is the Feast of St. Gregory the Great (according to the Traditional Kalendar), I thought I'd grant myself a temporary dispensation and post a thought about sacred music (which was already composed for another situation), since St. Gregory is the one for whom our most cherished liturgical music has been named. The purpose of this short piece is to illustrate one reason why music is integral to the sacred rites and not a mere decoration. If you find the following to be potentially helpful to you or your parish, feel free to copy at will as long as you are sure to include due credit.

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Why Sing the Mass?

Singing has been important in the course of Salvation History. Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites sang a song of praise to God after they were delivered from their captivity in Egypt. Mary sang her Magnificat when she learned she was with child. Angels sang to the shepherds in the fields after announcing the birth of Christ. The Lord and the apostles sang a hymn at the Last Supper. Even on the cross as the decisive act of our salvation was accomplished, while he did not sing, Jesus cried out his last words, quoting from Psalm (song) 22. Finally, we read in the book of Revelation of the singing that goes on without end in the eternal liturgy in Heaven.

The Mass is the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery, the summary of Salvation History, where past and present, as well as the pledge of our future glory in Heaven, come together. It seems fitting then that, while we celebrate our salvation, we ought to sing as well, since the great works of the Lord have so often been accompanied by singing.

The Psalmist tells us to "sing a new song unto the Lord." This new song is not necessarily newly composed; rather it signifies the eternal song of salvation, a song that is ever ancient and ever new. It was the song sung by Moses, Miriam and the angels, by Mary, Jesus and the apostles. It is sung in Heaven and even on earth by us, the Church militant. This New Song is personified in Christ, Who has accomplished our salvation by virtue of His death, resurrection and ascension. May our song be always in praise of Him as we make our way to the New Jerusalem, where we will at last sing before Him, face to face.

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