Friday, September 21, 2007

Ruminations from a Drive to the Supermarket: Offering Our Bodies as a Living Sacrifice of Jubilation

Every now and then the parish musician or pastor is bound to be queried about the possibility of using recorded music in a liturgical service. In my experience, this is not allowed in most places, and at the same time it seems to be a subject that confuses a lot of people, including some who make or enforce the rules. It seems like a lot of people feel silly keeping this rule.

Some years ago I was worrying aloud to one of my college professors that recorded music from synthesizers, computer music, etc., could come along and put us all out of work. My teacher had a bit more equilibrium about the whole thing. He said that it was quite likely in his opinion that there would always be a demand on the part of audiences to see musicians making music with their bodies.

Bodies making music. I had never thought of this before. In hindsight it makes obvious perfect sense, and it's why singing is most highly valued by the Church. In fact, one would say that the principal bodily mechanism for making music, in many cases, is the breath, which recalls God's breathing life into Adam and the Spirit hovering over the waters and bringing order out of chaos. The breath is a creative force. Moreover, in almost every great musician I've rubbed elbows with, I've noticed that they are completely comfortable in their bodies; there is no awkwardness or clumsiness whatsoever.

The Psalmist talks about offering up a sacrifice of jubilation, and indeed, the singing at Mass is a sacrifice, as the whole Mass is a sacrifice, from start to finish. Moreover, St. Paul discusses the offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice. It seems to me that in order for our music in the liturgy to be a sacrifice, we must be using our bodies, and not just pressing Play on a remote control. Only then will the music reach its full potential to unite our hearts and minds to the mystery of the altar; only when we have given something away will a full return be granted back to us.

So don't feel silly about banning recorded music. Explain to the faithful the sacrifice of jubilation, and the importance of making a musical sacrifice with our bodies.

Might this kind of catechesis go a long way toward diminishing the concept of liturgical music as "performance" or "entertainment?" Might it also mitigate the puritanism which shies away from "art music" (which in the minds of many encapsulates everything from chant to Arvo Part), thinking it's unfit for worship, when it is often the greatest musical treasure that can be offered to the Almighty? Is this concept of sacred music as a sacrifice the paradigm through which it might best be reformed?

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