Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Singing of Ministers in the Eucharistic Celebration: Guest Article by Aurelio Porfiri

Once again, our thanks to Maestro Aurelio Porfiri for sharing an article with NLM, this time on the importance of singing the Mass. It will shortly be available in the May issue of Altare Dei, which can be purchased at the following link: http://choralife.com/product-category/magazine/

When speaking about a topic like the singing of ministers in the celebration of the Eucharist, there is a risk of seeing it in a manner that is distorted or incomplete, since we often concentrate only upon how or what the choir ought to sing, or about what instruments ought or ought not to be permitted in the liturgy, or whether the people ought to sing everything or are sometimes allowed to rest. The answers to these questions are available to anyone; all they have to do is glance at the existing documents. We shall speak about these themes below, merely repeating what everyone knows: there is a real and an imaginary Second Vatican Council. The real Council is the one we see in its documents; the imaginary is the one moved by that ineffable “spirit” that, “blowing where it will,” blows curiously often in the direction of many of today’s new-fangled liturgists. Unfortunately, their direction is saturated with immanentism, relativism, historicism, and so many other such things, to the point that it renders the true dictates of the Council a dead letter.

Lingering a bit over the question of the ministers’ singing in the liturgy, we can observe the mirabile dictum of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people” (113). Now let’s try for a minute to understand this passage. It says that liturgical worship has a more noble form when the divine offices are vested with solemnity. Further, this solemnity is achieved by means of song. And further, this song comes from the sacred ministers and from the active participation of the people. Now there is much brouhaha about the fact that the people ought to participate, and there has been ample debate over what is meant by this participation. (note 1) Yet to me one thing remains clear and worthy of note: the fact that the sacred minister’s singing is just as necessary as that of the people (in their proper participatory modes, and not in the frenetic “participationism” in vogue for the last few decades). The singing of the sacred minister is given such importance that, in the paragraph dedicated to musical formation, the document affirms as follows:

“Great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutions and schools. To impart this instruction, teachers are to be carefully trained and put in charge of the teaching of sacred music.

It is desirable also to found higher institutes of sacred music whenever this can be done.

Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training” (115).

Courtesy of the Fraternity of St Peter (from this post back in January)
As we read, training in seminaries and in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes is singled out first, before training in any other category, however necessary. We must not think that this training should be only a kind of cultural education, since in these places everything is ordered toward forming the priest in his role as alter Christus for the celebration of the Eucharist. In fact it says “teaching and practice,” thereby uniting the theoretical and cultural part with the practical, of which the singing of the ministers is an essential element. This conception is explained even better by the official Instruction Musicam Sacram of 1967, which very clearly affirms:

“Between the solemn, fuller form of liturgical celebration, in which everything that demands singing is in fact sung, and the simplest form, in which singing is not used, there can be various degrees according to the greater or lesser place allotted to singing. However, in selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together. The other parts may be gradually added according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone” (7).

It follows that the parts pertaining to the priest are to be considered the most important ones with regard to singing. A not insignificant statement! It should be read together with comes next:

“Whenever, for a liturgical service which is to be celebrated in sung form, one can make a choice between various people, it is desirable that those who are known to be more proficient in singing be given preference; this is especially the case in more solemn liturgical celebrations and in those which either require more difficult singing, or are transmitted by radio or television. If, however, a choice of this kind cannot be made, and the priest or minister does not possess a voice suitable for the proper execution of the singing, he can render without singing one or more of the more difficult parts which concern him, reciting [declamando] them in a loud and distinct voice. However, this must not be done merely for the convenience of the priest or minister” (8).

This paragraph has received very scanty attention in commentaries. Here we see that the case of reciting alta voce is not considered the normal situation but is only an option when the priest or the minister is not able to follow the singing parts; it also says that recitation alta voce ought to be “declaimed [declamando]”, not simply read in a loud voice. Declamation requires a controlled recitation and in some cases should also be accompanied by gestures. Thus it is a ritualized recitation, not a simple reading. But we must remember, this is considered a remote possibility (“this must not be done merely for the convenience of the priest or minister”) compared to the priest or minister singing the parts appropriate to him. Furthermore, it says it is permitted to declaim the more difficult parts, but not everything that is meant to be sung. Musicam Sacram specifies this conception even more neatly further down (16), where we read:

“One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song. Therefore, the active participation of the whole people, which is shown in singing, is to be carefully promoted as follows: (a) It should first of all include acclamations, responses to the greetings of the priest and ministers and to the prayers of litany form, and also antiphons and psalms, refrains or repeated responses, hymns and canticles. (b) Through suitable instruction and practices, the people should be gradually led to a fuller—indeed, to a complete—participation in those parts of the singing which pertain to them. (c) Some of the people's song, however, especially if the faithful have not yet been sufficiently instructed, or if musical settings for several voices are used, can be handed over to the choir alone, provided that the people are not excluded from those parts that concern them. But the usage of entrusting to the choir alone the entire singing of the whole Proper and of the whole Ordinary, to the complete exclusion of the people's participation in the singing, is to be deprecated.”

We need to understand as a priority point “(a)”, which refers to the dialogues of the priest with the assembly. How should the contributions of the sacred minister be performed? Here we should again consult Musicam Sacram. At number 28 it introduces the following criterion for discerning the use of music in the liturgical celebration: “The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation. These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.”

Now, in light of this tripartite division of the grades of participation in the sung Mass, it interests us to know what especially the first one comprehends, since it is the most basic one and can be used even by itself: “The following belong to the first degree: (a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer. (b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel. (c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal” (29). Now, it is enough simply to realize that here also it is speaking about the singing proper to the priest.

Once all of this has been said to systematize and clarify the legislative aspect, it remains to ask ourselves why priests still do not sing, or rather explicitly refuse to sing. In fact, it is quite remarkable that those priests who loath polyphonic music because it “excludes the assembly from participating” (demonstrating that they have an “activistic” conception of participation, different from active participation) are the first ones to say that they “are unable to sing”. This would be a mystery for anyone who does not realize that we are dealing with a tragedy, a tragedy of formation (not only liturgical) of priests in recent decades, who have imbibed false hermeneutics of the Council and are imbued deeply with sentimental “liturgical” songs that have ruled the house in the long season after the Council.

There’s no need to trouble ourselves here with neuroscience—a discipline that would be able to teach us about mirror neurons, the kind activated when others perform the same action. We do not need to know this to realize that we can’t pretend others will sing when the principal actor of song stands there silent and mute on the altar and fixes his eyes on them impassively. And the priest does not sing because he was not trained to sing, as we’ve already said, because he is the son of a liturgical and musical formation of the post-Conciliar period that has thrown away centuries of ecclesial practice per niente (no+ens), for an empty sentimentalism (which is not true sentiment) that has taken over our celebrations, suffocating them in its fatal embrace. There are priests who sing, but these are a minority compared to the vast majority.

I realize that many priests will be thinking of Pope Francis at this point, who as we all know does not sing. But we should not make the mistake of thinking that this is any license for other priests to do the same. This is a situation unique to him and which is definitely not found in his immediate predecessors, such as John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Paul VI himself, who probably was a poor singer, sometimes chanted recto tono. It made me very sad to see the ceremony of the opening of the Jubilee when Pope Francis recited the Psalm verses for the opening of the porta santa and the choir of the Sistine Chapel responded in song (it made very little sense to me.) But for Pope Francis there may be reasons of health that do not permit him to sing: “Very soon after his election the new pope showed he would not sing, but probably not by choice; rather, due to a surgical operation he had on his lungs as a young man. It is possible that this has caused a certain coldness toward music (including liturgical, sacred and classical), as we’ve seen in these first three months and a half of the pontificate. (...)

It is well known that Pope Francis has chosen to prefer the urgency of action over contemplation, just as he prefers the ‘existential peripheries’ to the more or less comfortable sacristies, and daily concreteness to cultural cliques: the first objective is to re-evangelize the people—without resorting to the traditional means available—with words and simple, essential actions, making sure to give hope to the one who suffers, since he is a part of the ‘suffering flesh’ of Christ. But it is also true that sacred music, liturgical music and to some extent classical music was and still is a privileged instrument of evangelization. Music can bring us close to God: ‘He who sings prays twice,’ said St. Augustine. And what sense does it make in any way to humiliate choirs and orchestras (even involuntarily) by ignoring their presence (as on Monday 17th June)?

His words to his collaborators might also cause perplexity, distinguishing ‘work’ from listening to music (considered, it seems, a waste of time). This is all quite enough to discourage people in the Church who have dedicated and continue to dedicate great and (according to us) much needed attention to sacred, liturgical, and classical music—in line with the previous pontificates. In sum, we should not wish that, in his peculiar desire to highlight what is essential in the Church and abandon the superfluous (for example certain tenacious accretions cemented by so many years of history), Pope Francis should reduce to the same category of ‘superfluous’ that which for its part is a fundamental part of evangelization, such as the music we have been speaking about. For walking together toward God cannot prescind from the emotions that impart beauty. True beauty” (note 2).

I wanted to include such a large passage of Rusconi’s excellent article because it points out something of interest not only regarding Pope Francis but the clerical world in general: we need to recover that fundamental part of evangelization which is true liturgical music. And true liturgical music is not whatever piece happens to be written by priests, considered liturgical just because it has a liturgical text or because a priest has written it. The way is becoming more and more difficult and there is no evidence on the horizon of a serious reform of seminaries that takes these concerns into account. And our liturgies continue to be infested with songs that do not befit their dignity, sacrality, and grandeur.

- Aurelio Porfiri is an Italian composer, conductor, writer and educator whose music is published in Italy, France, Germany, the USA and China. He has published 23 books, including “I would like to meet a saint: A Spiritual Diary.” Together with Prof. Peter Kwasniewski he promoted the Declaration on Sacred Music on March 5, 2017. He is the chief editor of ALTARE DEI, a magazine on liturgy, sacred music and Catholic culture.

note 1: Porfiri, A. (2016). Partecipazione al canto nella messa. Taken on March 20, 2016 from Paix liturgique: http://it.paix‐liturgique.org/aff_lettre.asp?LET_N_ID=2416

note 2: Rusconi, G. (2013, June 22). Papa Francesco e la musica: un rapporto problematico. Taken on March 28, 2016 from http://www.rossoporpora.org/rubriche/papa‐francesco/254‐papa‐francesco‐e‐la‐musica‐un‐rapporto‐problematico.html

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