Friday, November 16, 2007

Time for a Moratorium on Midnight Mass Variety Shows

For some reason or other, it has become a custom in many parishes that the choir provides a musical program for 30 minutes or so before Midnight Mass begins. I remember one year being terrorized by "Go Tell it On the Mountain" before a Midnight Mass. It sounded like a show choir, like something from some cheesy Broadway musical. Usually this time is used to showcase people--the choir, the folk group, the frustrated soprano soloist whose career has been limited to, well, Midnight Mass. This year she'll be singing the Schubert Ave Maria. Again.

What is the point of all this? Why do we feel it is necessary? Is the Mass itself incapable of supporting good music? And would not a beautifully celebrated Mass be sufficient unto itself? Wouldn't a Christmas concert be more appropriate in a concert situation away from the Mass?

Enough with the Midnight Mass variety shows! Wouldn't it be wonderful if even one year your Midnight Mass began with the whispers of the Introit, "The Lord said to me, 'You are my Son, this day I have begotten you.'"? (After a soft organ prelude, of course;)) And wouldn't it be nice if the musicians focused on providing beautiful music that harmonizes with the liturgy, rather than showy music that harmonizes with their egos? In the time it takes to prepare three variety show pieces, a moderately talented choir could prepare one or two pieces of decent liturgical music. There would be plenty of time to be prepared to do at least two choral pieces in the Mass.

There is great beauty and symbolism in the Mass "in media nocte." It begins quietly in the dark of night with the whisperings of that introit. In the new rite, there is a prophecy from Isaiah, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light." This crescendo builds to the Gospel which tells the story of the angels proclaiming the birth of Christ to the shepherds. There is even a broader crescendo among the three Masses for Christmas. Whereas the Introit for Midnight Mass begins in a whisper, the Introit for the Mass during the day begins with the interval of a fifth, a trumpet-like setting of Puer natus est. This beautiful progression is lost when Mass begins with a Broadway show.

This year, let's allow the liturgy to speak for itself.

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