Thursday, May 29, 2014

“The Offertory Chant is Necessary at Mass” - Fr Eric Andersen on Sacred Music and the Virtue of Religion

We are very grateful to Fr. Eric Andersen for sharing with us the text of this very interesting talk he recently gave as part of the ongoing “Dominican Forum” series, at the church of the Holy Rosary in Portland, Oregon, entitled “Sacred Music and the Virtue of Religion.”
Recently, I was speaking to an editor of a Sacred Music publication and asked him to suggest something about which I could research and write. He responded: “Prove that the Offertory chant is necessary at Mass.” I had already been pondering such things, but not so precisely the necessity of the Offertory.
In order to narrow the focus down to the Offertory alone, one must begin by looking at all the texts of the Roman Missal that are to be sung, and then understand who sings what. Next, one must understand the answer to the question, “why?”. Why must all of these texts be sung, even the Offertory? This question will direct us to consider the virtues of justice and religion. In the end, we should see clearly that the Offertory chant is indeed necessary at Mass.
To begin with, let us look at the sung texts of the Mass to see who sings what. We can understand the sung parts of the Mass to belong to three categories of people: 1) the faithful in the pews; 2) the schola cantorum (or choir); and 3) the clergy and the ministers in the sanctuary. The faithful in the pews sing five parts that comprise the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). The schola cantorum sing five parts that comprise the Proper (Entrance, Gradual/Responsorial, Alleluia/Tract, Offertory, Communion). The clergy sing roughly five parts, including the dialogues, readings, prayers, and dismissal.
Each of these designated groups within the celebration of Mass “expresses its cohesion and its hierarchical ordering”, whether lay faithful, schola, or clergy, by carrying out “solely but totally that which pertains to them” (GIRM art. 91). A member of the faithful in the pews fully participates at Mass by reciting or singing the Ordinary parts of the Mass and responding to the liturgical dialogues of the celebrant. A member of the schola cantorum fully participates by singing the Propers of the Mass as a member of the schola, and the Ordinary of the Mass as a member of the faithful. Each person, depending on his hierarchical ordering, fully participates by singing that part which belongs to him.
In many if not most parishes, each group does not sing all that belongs to them. It is rare, for instance, to hear the Credo sung at Mass, even though the new Roman Missal provides two alternate chant settings for it in English. It is also rare to hear the Entrance, Offertory and Communion chants sung at Mass, as they are given in the official liturgical books (Missal and Gradual). When each group does not sing all that belongs to them, then people say that they feel like they are not participating. The people understand that there is something missing, but they have not been formed to know what is missing. Since the faithful are not singing all that belongs to them, and in the absence of a schola singing the propers, the people feel a need to replace the propers of the Mass with hymns.
It can work reasonably well. Here is a typical example of how the Mass might take shape in the normal parish using good hymns in place of most of the propers. We will look at the First Sunday of Advent (Year A).
Entrance Hymn: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
First Reading: Isa 2:1-5: The Lord will gather all nations into the eternal peace of the Kingdom of God
Resp. Psalm: Ps. 122. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
Second Reading: Rom 13:11-14: Our salvation is nearer.
Alleluia: Ps. 85:8: Show us, Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation.
Gospel: Mt. 24:37-44: Stay awake, that you may be prepared.
Offertory Hymn: Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying
Communion Hymn: Creator of the Stars of Night
Recessional: Alma Redemptoris Mater.
The hymns chosen are very good in my opinion. They are Advent hymns and they communicate to the people the character of the liturgical season. But there is nothing to say that those hymns must be the hymns chosen for the First Sunday of Advent. I chose them. I could just as easily have chosen other Advent hymns. The music sung at this Mass communicates my will, my spirituality, and my taste in hymns. I cannot fault it because I chose it. In my opinion it is next to perfect, except that it does not reflect the liturgical books. I planned it instead of preparing it. Archbishop Sample writes:
“It is important to keep in mind that we do not plan the Mass; the Church has already provided us with a plan. We prepare to celebrate the Mass. This is a subtle yet important distinction. The plan is found in the liturgical calendar and the official liturgical books: the Ordo, the Missal, the Lectionary and the Graduale. Our celebrations should carry out the Church’s plan as far as we are able, according to the resources and talents of the community, formed by knowledge of the norms and the Catholic worship tradition. (Pastoral Letter “Rejoice in the Lord Always” p. 11, e.)
How would this Mass look different if I had prepared it rather than planning it? Let’s look at the same Mass for the First Sunday of Advent as given to us by the official liturgical books themselves.
Entrance Antiphon Ps. 25 (24): 1-3 Unto you, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul; O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed. V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
Gradual Ps. 25 (24): 3, 4 They will not be disappointed, O Lord, all those who are awaiting you. V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
Alleluia Ps. 84:8 Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Offertory Ps. 25 (24): 1-3 Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed.
Communion Ps. 84:13 The Lord will bestow his loving kindness, and our land will yield its fruit.
In this case, we end up with a very different message. I couldn’t have chosen these texts on my own. These are the ancient and current texts of the Mass for this particular Sunday. These are the propers. The hymns I chose communicate a different message. These texts have are not governed by my spirituality, my will, or my taste. They are not about me at all. They are God’s word given to us. Notice that these propers are all taken from the scriptures.
What we see emerging here is an altogether different plan for music at Mass from that experienced by many Catholics. Conforming to the plan given by the liturgical books of the Church would mark a significant change in practice for the majority of parishes. Such a change is not easy, especially when we are so attached to our beloved hymns and religious songs. In order to conform ourselves to the plan given to us by the Church in her official liturgical books, a change of heart is needed. The Catholic people must desire to please God by giving Him the worship that He asks for, because He asks for it, in the way that He asks for it, and for as long as He asks for it (cf. Pope Clement XI. Universal Prayer. Roman Missal. Appendix VI). That is where the virtue of religion enters into this discussion.
Religion falls under the moral virtue of Justice. St. “Isidore says (Etym. x), a man is said to be just because he respects the rights (jus) of others” (qtd. ST II-II., Q 58, art 1). St. Thomas says that “justice, before all, subjects man to God” but “Since justice implies equality, and since we cannot offer God an equal return, it follows that we cannot make Him a perfectly just repayment.…Nevertheless justice tends to make man repay God as much as he can, by subjecting his mind to Him entirely.” (Q. 57, art 1, Obj. 3; reply Obj. 3). 
Therefore, we understand that subjecting our minds to God, and giving him a just repayment as much as we can, is a participation in the virtue of justice. Justice is an infused moral virtue that we hold when we are in a state of sanctifying grace. We receive it in order to cultivate it and cooperate with it. When we cultivate the virtue of justice and cooperate with it, then it slowly grows in us until it becomes as second nature. A virtue becomes as a second nature to us, but only after much practice and discipline. Therefore, to grow in the virtue of justice is not understood to be an easy thing. We must will it and then persevere.
The same goes for religion. The virtue of religion is a subcategory of the virtue of justice. We must will it and practice it and cooperate with it and participate in it, and over time, it becomes like second nature. When asked whether religion is a virtue, St. Thomas replies:
I answer that…a virtue is that which makes its possessor good, and his act good likewise, wherefore we must needs say that every good act belongs to a virtue. Now it is evident that to render anyone his due has the aspect of good, since by rendering a person his due, one becomes suitably proportioned to him, through being ordered to him in a becoming manner. …Since then it belongs to religion to pay due honor to someone, namely, to God, it is evident that religion is a virtue. (ST II-II., Q. 81, art 2).
Rendering to God his due defines the virtue of religion. It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give Him thanks. The Catechism also teaches us this:
“You shall worship the Lord your God” (Mt 4:10). Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment (CCC 2135).
We understand from this that divine worship belongs to the virtue of religion and that we offer divine worship to God in order to render to Him what belongs to Him––that which is His due. We also understand that divine worship is not determined by us, but by Him. He determines the way we will offer Him worship. In fact, it is He Himself who offers the worship. Christ Himself offers the worship through the ministry of priests in His Church. We unite ourselves with His worship of the Father. It is His work, the work of God (opus Dei). We call this work of God also the Officium Divinum, or Divine Office. All liturgy is the Divine Office or divine work of God.
When we participate in this work of God, it is called public worship. Public worship means that it belongs to the whole Church and not to any individual or group of individuals. In other words, the texts of the Mass are part of the public worship of the Church because they are taken from liturgical books (Missal, Gradual, Lectionary). The liturgical books are objectively the same for everyone. But if I choose hymns to replace the propers of the Mass, that part of the Mass becomes a product of my private judgment and therefore an act of private worship.
The Church officially teaches that there is a distinction between public and private worship. Public worship, or liturgy, is the prayer of Christ and His Church. Liturgy is defined as “an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. …In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 7). The Head (Jesus Christ) and His members (the Church) are configured in a hierarchy of clergy, religious and laity. In the Mass, this hierarchy is expressed through the clergy, the schola cantorum, and the faithful in the pews. What if there is not a schola cantorum? Or what if the schola cantorum is not available at every Mass?
We understand in the Church that we are represented by others in the hierarchy. A priest is set apart from the faithful to offer sacrifice on their behalf. A priest is also obliged by his ordination to pray on behalf of the Church. He prays the public worship of the Church (the Breviary) in addition to his own private time in prayer. Both public and private prayer are important, but public prayer has priority. All the faithful are obliged to pray, but the lay faithful are not obliged to pray the canonical hours of the Divine Office each day as the clergy and religious are obliged to do. The laity are only obliged to pray the Divine Office in so far as they assist or participate at Mass once a week on Sundays and on all holy days of obligation.
Priests fulfill their obligation to the Divine Office by praying their breviary several times every day. The highest form of the Divine Office is celebrated when the Mass and the canonical Hours are chanted. Communities of choir monks and nuns must chant the Divine Office. They do so on behalf of the rest of the Church, and on behalf of busy priests who recite the Office. Choir monks and nuns are also obliged to chant the Mass everyday. If their community does not chant the Mass, their obligation for the praying of the Divine Office is not fulfilled. The 1917 Code of Canon Law specifies the Divine Office as follows: “The divine office includes the psalms of the canonical hours along with the celebration of a sung conventual Mass...” (Can. 413.2; trans. Edward N. Peters. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2001). This canon is not found in the 1983 Code, but nevertheless it remains true that the sung Conventual Mass is part of the Divine Office and that someone somewhere must sing it on behalf of the Church in order to fulfill the praying of the Divine Office in full.
A priest can pray a quiet Mass in private that is completely spoken or even whispered and fulfill his obligation to celebrate the Mass. Even alone, it is an act of public worship. A community of choir monks or nuns must assist at a conventual Mass by singing the choral Mass in order to fulfill their obligation to the choral office. In total, the Divine Office to be sung includes Matins/Office of Readings, Lauds, (Prime), Terce, Mass, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline in that order throughout the day, every day.
The inclusion of the sung Mass within the Divine Office suggests that there is a work that is fulfilled in the singing of the Mass which is a different work than that of the priest offering the Holy Sacrifice. The work of the schola cantorum in singing the psalms, antiphons, responsories, and other propers is a participation in the Divine Office. The schola cantorum in a parish, when it is made up of lay men and/or women, takes up the duties of the choir religious. The schola sings it on behalf of the whole Church. They render to God what is His due on behalf of those who cannot do so. The priest cannot do so because he is engaged in praying the Mass as it pertains to the priest. The lay faithful cannot sing the propers because the propers require an advanced skill and proficiency that do not belong to everyone. The schola cantorum sings the propers for the good of the Church and for the fulfillment of the Divine Office, which is the work of God. It is a noble duty and it belongs first to the virtue of justice and, secondly to the virtue of religion. The propers are an essential part of the Mass that must be prayed by someone somewhere in the world.
Remember how we considered that the people might be singing songs while the priest is praying the Mass? We know that the priest fulfills his obligation and his office by offering the Mass as it is given in the liturgical books. How do the faithful fulfill their obligation to Mass on Sundays? The faithful fulfill their obligation by being present. Ideally, the faithful will also be mindful, reverent, and prayerful. Ideally the faithful will sing the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. They will recite the Confiteor and the Domine, non sum dignus. They will adore God at the elevation of the consecrated Host and the Precious Blood. They will receive Holy Communion in a state of grace, and they will ideally make an act of thanksgiving after Mass. In doing all these things, they give to God what belongs to Him. They belong to Him.
What remains is an obligation on the part of some in the Church to chant the Mass in the entirety of its texts from the Missal, the Gradual, and the Lectionary. Since there are some who are obliged to do so, therefore the Offertory chant is necessary. Somewhere in the world, this must be done. Let it be done here, and there, and everywhere. It is a service to God and to all the faithful that it is done; not for our glory, but for God’s glory and to render Him what is due to Him.

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