How It Should Affect Our Vorship
English Hymns, Latin, Boredom
BY DOM BERNARD McELL1GOTT, 0.S.B.
[Last week Dom Bernard McElligott, 0.S.B., explained how the spirit of the Liturgy lay at the heart of all true Catholic worship, affecting every one of us. In the following article he shows how this truth affords the correct canon by which to judge of criticisms and suggested reforms which are frequently the subject of discussion among Calholics.—EDIT0R.1 ENGLISH HYMNS BOTH the Liturgy and popular devotions, as was stated last week, are natural to a full Catholic life. And among the non-Liturgical devotions which closely correspond to a real need of the Catholic people is that of the use of good English hymns. The cultural atmosphere of a people changes in various ways from period to period. So does language. The same English words take on rather different meanings as the years pass. In a country predominantly non-Catholic this process is bound to have its effect on Catholics, who unconsciously absorb the new meanings even of words that express ideas fundamental to religion. A word like " vocation," for instance, has now come to mean " chosen occupation." Anyone who k interested might consider the changed significance, in contemporary journalism, of words like " Christian," " spiritual," " charity." Fine hymns, expressing Christian truth and feeling in clear language, and set to stirring, invigorating tunes, help to preserve and to teach, in a way second only to the Liturgy itself, Catholic faith and sentiment. Unfortunately, we hear many which lack some of these qualities. Language in which fancy predominates is not in general suitable for public expression by large bodies of people, especially if they possess the English sense of humour.
Too effusive public protestations of personal emotion (a thing the Liturgy never does), besides making people uncomfortable if they do not mean them, may defeat their own object by inducing other emotions, and words which cannot be sincerely uttered by those who join in singing them are much better left unsaid. This difficulty particularly attends some hymns which use the word " I."
There is every reason why we should sing, in non-Liturgical services where English may be used, many more of our best hymns. Why should not a congregation which sings three or four hymns a week know some fifty?
A point that occurs here is that understanding of the Liturgy and the Liturgical seasons can be fostered by English hymns chosen for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and the other times of the Church's year. Perhaps when the new Westminster Hymnal appears we shall find our Catholic treasury of hymns old and new to be richer than we imagined.
NOT AT MASS
T HERE is room for both the Liturgy and non-Liturgical devotions; I indeed there is need of both. But the need for the Liturgy (and by that is understood chiefly the Mass and the Sacraments) is by far the greater. Once the primacy of the Liturgy is clearly recognised, it follows that the right place for non-Liturgical devotions is not at Maas. Exceptions like the October Devotions which may, not must, be recited during a Low Mass are not set out as a model to be followed at all Low Masses. The norm of Mass is the solemn or sung Mass, and the .1!fotu Proprio entirely forbids the vernacular during a solemn Mass. The permission for certain vernacular hymns to be sung, by approval of the Bishop, at a private Mass is set out as follows in the Cardinal Vicar's letter of February 2, 1912, following the Motu Proprio of November 22, 1903:
" During private Masses and functions which are not strictly speaking Liturgical (Triduums, Novenas, etc.), even when there is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, it is permitted to sing in the vulgar tongue, provided that both text and music have been approved by competent ecclesiastical authority."
The wording of this, following the prohibition of the singing of non-Liturgical texts during a solemn Mass, would seem to make the mind of the authorities sufficiently clear.
Mass is a sacrifice in the offering of which the people join with the priest and with Christ Himself. The Church has surrounded this holiest of actions with prayers and a chant which she judges to be its most perfect expression.
Though all are free, it is at least reasonable to encourage all the faithful to use at Mass the prayers of Mass rather than others. In the Liturgy we are dealing with something that is on a level with the Faith itself, that in a true sense is the Faith itself in action.
" There is a close connection," declares Pius XI, " between dogma and the sacred Liturgy, and between Christian worship and the sanctification of the faithful. . . . No wonder, then, that the Roman Pontiffs have been so solicitous to safeguard and protect the Liturgy. They have used the same care in making taws for the regulation of the Liturgy, in preserving it from adulteration, as they have in giving accurate expression to the dogmas of the Faith."
MASS FOR THE PEOPLE
THE all-important thing is that nothing should come between the people and their full, active participation in the Sacrifice— the principal and indispensable source from which we acquire the Christian spirit.. If we believe this, there could hardly be a more calamitous suggestion than that the Liturgy is for the " educated " and popular devotions for the people. That is tantamount to saying that the people canuot understand the Mass, nor the Church's exterior presentation of her worship. Echoes of such defeatist nonsense are occasionally to be heard. They would not be listened to by, for instance, the J.O.C., who proclaim that the, spiritual strength of their great workers' movement is derived from the Liturgy, and many thousands of whom are accustomed to sing the Mass together, in a united offering of themselves with and through the offering of Christ on the altar.
The Liturgy is the common act-. It is for all Christians. Priests all over the world have borne witness that the poor and " uneducated " can grasp it and live by it as well as anybody, and perhaps better. Many priests have found that, when properly explained, the people take to it with joy, feeling a deep need of the " strong meat " of doctrinal prayer and a real active part in the Sacrifice.
X and Pius XI are insistent that the Liturgy is for the
" From the earliest times," says Pius XI, " the simple chants which graced the sacred prayers and the Liturgy gave a wonderful impulse to the piety of the people. . . . It was in the churches where practically the whole city formed a great joint choir that the workers, builders, craftsmen, sculptors and writers gained from tho Liturgy that deep Imowledge of theology. . . ."
(iv) NOT KNOWING LATIN
WHEN all is said about the difficulty of the Englishman not knowing Latin, it does not stop anybody understanding the Mass, or following it step by step in the translations available everywhere. Nobody is prevented from making a joyful offering of himself, nor even from joining with the rest of the congregation in singing the Responses, Credo, Kyrie and the rest of the Ordinary. Experiences with congregations largely composed of the poorest have confirmed this.
A far more serious obstacle than Latin is provided by the degrading effects on the mind of mechanised entertainment and the whole deadening business of industrialism run amok. To think at all is a painful effort for most of us. And certainly to enter into the Liturgy in common with others, to take the impress of its spiritual character, to submit to be taught by its direct truth and braced by its pure beauty, demands a certain surrender of personal taste and individual freedom of expression. To pray in public with others, using the same gestures and uttering the same words, is itself a constructive and satisfying discipline. All this is irksome to what is inferior in us; it means real humility, a denial of self-sufficiency and personal pride.
Many people, though in their hearts they know that the attitude of " passive attendance " at Mass establishes a sort of gulf between priest at the altar and people in the nave, yet are afraid of being "dragooned " and of suffering some (indefinite) invasion of their personality if they pray and offer the Mass as a communal act.
CONGREGATIONAL SINGING A RELIGIOUS, NOT A MUSICAL, ACT
REASSURANCE on this point is easy. The Liturgy preserves the personal dignity of the individual worshipper when he takes his part in the common action. The language of the Liturgical prayers, the social gestures and chants, are all such as do not injure his natural reserve. Rather they enlarge his personality, drawing it out into the warmth and sympathy that unite Christians performing together a work of supreme value. Congregations that persevere, for instance, in singing together only the Credo and Responses at their solemn Mass are in no doubt of this.
One condition is essential. Congregational singing should be approached as a spiritual and religious act, a matter of worship and holiness, not as a matter of music as such. The choice of music is, of course, important, and the best singing of which we are capable ; we have the specific directions of the Church about that.
But the singing of Mass is not entertainment or self-expression; nor has it anything to do with "brightening " our services. The only standards that govern it are those of the Church's public worship of God.
Boredom is the attitude of mind that comes from having no interest in what we are doing. There will be no boredom at Mass if we unite in offering the Mass, knowing precisely what we are doing and why we are doing it, and on that account wanting to do it according to the Church's standards of worship rather than our own. We " take an active part " in the Liturgy to give God the perfect worship of His people, to acquire the spirit of Christ by joyfully identifying ourselves with His Sacrifice and prayer; so to grow gradually into Christ and in Christ re-baptise the world.