How to get people to sing more at Mass – a reply

I hope many of you have had the opportunity to read this thought-provoking article from America magazine by Fr. John Zupez, SJ. It certainly got me to think about this perennial topic, Why Catholics Can’t/Won’t/Don’t Sing at Mass. And it’s still with us. Here are a couple comments in reply.

Hey, John, Thank you for your challenging article in America online this past week. You bring up a key concern that directors of liturgical, pastors, and worshipers music have grumbled about, one way or the other, since the Second Vatican Council.

I served as a liturgical musician, director, lector, presider, and erstwhile theologian for some decades now. Here are my reflections on what you so rightly brought to the fore. I’ll number these so I can demonstrate the distinctions I see.

  1. I believe the Catholic Church in the United States is still in a learning phase about how to make “full, active, and conscious participation” in liturgy a reality. And this is the larger issue that encompasses how assemblies sing. How relationships between the assembly, presider, ministers, director of liturgical music, ensemble, and choir actually function in general and at any given liturgy affects the quality of the church’s engagement in the paschal mystery, one aspect of which is singing.
  2. The key to full, active, and conscious participation is presence. Do worshipers in fact become present to the Presence? I believe presence is an environment to be cultivated, a skill to be learned, and a practice to, well, continue to practice in liturgical praying as well as in living.
  3. It is conscious presence, conscious participation that the Council called for, I believe. What are the conditions for the possibility of developing conscious presence in our pastor, pastoral staff, musicians, cantors, lectors, ushers, and congregation? What would help all to be consciously present with Christ in the Spirit toward the Father with one another and in the world?
  4. Pace. Tempo. Groove. Full and active engagement of our bodies and souls in the time-space continuum. Pace makes room for silences. Groove is what the music ministers seek in this moment. How does entering the truth of this song or hymn open us to our inner reality which in turn could connect with the Triune Mystery.
  5. This is most likely an impossible task for the hard-driving world of today. Go. Go. Go! Becoming present involves learning new behaviors so as to engage anew. It’s first a factor of time. Masses would go 75 minutes instead of 35. This means, it’s also a matter of willingness to let go of expectations of brevity which is my claim on God.
  6. It means becoming present especially to whatever we avoid in our lives that would surface in the silences. And learning to worship with that new reality. Which in turn could lead us all to become present to all those whom we otherwise avoid. Another new reality. Perhaps we, the faithful, would express ourselves in the kind of singing you point to, John.
  7. The kind of singing at Mass that fosters an encounter with our selves, God, and others will rely, certainly, on whatever music we sing – even how much of it. And… on how all the ministers and the assembly learn the kind of presence that comes through the singing and supports the kind of engagement with the paschal mystery that makes us a new creation as much as it pulls us out of our status quo comfort zones.

So, here ya go, John. Just a few thoughts about the singing congregation. Tag. You’re it! –roc,sj

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