Many of us remember the high Mass on a Sunday when there was a choir to provide the main music, or a low Mass with no music and the priest and servers were the main participants saying the prayers in Latin. Both forms were more of a listening experience to inspire the congregation.
Only because most of the faithful had a missal with side-by-side columns of Latin and English translation could we follow the significance of the prayers.
Since Vatican II reforms, we have a more active role in our daily and Sunday gatherings and truly can understand the prayers and songs, many of which are direct adaptations from Bible passages. In addition, pastors and choir directors work to match the music and lyrics to the Mass of the day.
“Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” dates back to the Te Deum Laudamus of the 4th Century while “Amazing Grace,” our song of trust, reaches back to the 18th century.
We pray, we sing in English, Spanish or other local language in sync with the readings for the season or special feast day. True, music styles have varied and songs seem to enter and fade in popularity but there are standards that remain. Some of the older songs have been adapted to modern translations and music. We should be thankful to have such an amazing selection of good music.
“Joyful, joyful we adore thee,” lyrics to Beethoven’s 18th century “Ode to Joy,” have been adapted for our current songs of praise.
However, every parish is different, with the pastor and/or choir director working to find the most significant combination of appropriate songs and ways of presentation. Cantors, organists and musical instruments help involve the people in the pews at weekend Masses, keeping in mind the music is to bring focus to the altar and the wondrous event that takes place at every Mass.
Post Vatican II, songwriters were busy bringing new songs, many based on psalms or canticles. Some have become standards like “On Eagle’s Wings,” a song of trust written in 1979, and “There is One Lord,” from 1984, is from Ephesians 4:5. Official liturgical song books are updated and approved by the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Perhaps it is age, but it seems just when we get to know all the notes and words to the “Gloria” or the “Sanctus,” the music changes and we seem to need to reprogram our song memory. Along with other physical inabilities, such as chronic bronchitis, the time comes when we can no longer reach all the notes and keep up with the rigorous vocal work required of singing in the choir.
“I don’t want anyone to miss out on fully participating in the Mass because they think that they can’t sing,” said our new choir director Nick Poss. “God doesn’t demand perfect beauty in the offering of our praise. Jubilate Deo: Shout, cry out; make a joyful noise unto the Lord. There are very few people who are physically unable to join in the sung prayer of the Body of Christ because they are unable to vocalize. If you can make a sound, whether it is a tuneless groan or a muffled murmur, do it with joy.”
St. Augustine reportedly said, “Those who sing, pray twice.” To the people in the pew, overlook the monotone singer or the slightly off-key person nearby. Try to stay with the music and participate raising your voice in praise to God with song.
Our former pastor liked to remind us, “We are all saints in the making.” On the day we make it to the heavenly choir, we will all “Sing a New Song” (1972 by Dan Schutte) with the rest of the saints.
(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.)