Sunday, August 17, 2008

Making the ordinary extraordinary

A major point of the liberalization of the older use of the Roman Rite is that it permits us to understand the new use of the Rite in its proper context. The world was not reinvented in 1970. The ordinary form divorced from its parent in the extraordinary form takes on a distorted shape. However, when the ordinary and extraordinary forms are celebrated back to back, you begin to see a pull at work that leads to greater continuity between old and new.

This is what was illustrated at the Byrd Festival with Masses for the twentieth Sunday of the year in both forms: vigil (ordinary) and Sunday morning (extraordinary form). The propers were the same. The ordinary was the same. The Gradual was sung at both. Neither Mass used any “hymns” (in the sense in which we think of that term) and yet the people sang and were involved at every step of both Masses.

This morning was the extraordinary form with its far more elaborate ceremony, held at the Dominican parish Holy Rosary in Portland. There are a few other notable differences: the positioning of the Asperges, the silent Canon, the Pater sung by the celebrant alone, the presence of a deacon and subdeacon with appointed roles (as versus concelebrants). But to someone who had just encountered the Mass, they would have certainly seemed like two somewhat different forms of the same Rite—precisely as Benedict XVI has said. This is in contrast to the usual impression people have of the OF and EF as two separate planets.

The celebrant for today’s Mass was Fr. (and Dr., Dr.) Richard Cipolla of St. Mary’s, Norwalk. His homily spoke of the liturgy as a contribution to the social order by what he called (in light of Josef Pieper) “leisure,” which is to say, not something that is work (toil designed for physical sustenance alone) but rather something we take time out of the course of our lives to love and embrace because it is beautiful and true. He explained why it is essential to treat the Mass as not only faith but art, not something ordinary but extraordinary.

As an example, he pointed to chant as pure joy—a “festival of neumes”—and likened polyphony to a waterfall that yields beautiful rainbows of color. We knew precisely what he meant because we had been listening to the children chant the Gregorian propers and the adult choir sing Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices.

I must say a word about this Mass setting. Three voices doesn’t sound like many. But there is something magical about the way Byrd scored this Mass. It sounds like many more. He does so much with so little, with impressive cascades of entrances throughout. His use of the ranges of the voices and their combinations to illustrate the text were well brought out by Cantores in Ecclesia.

From the singer’s point of view, this is a very satisfying setting. Every note matters. If one thing is out of place, you certainly sense it. But of course nothing was out of place with Cantores.

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