I noticed an interesting phenomenon the other day at liturgy. I had always in my mind divided the parish population into two fairly distinct categories: those who sing, and those who don’t. If you had ever challenged me on it or asked me to delve more deeply into it I would have qualified the categories a lot and probably discovered many shades and levels of participation within each of the two general groups—or at least in the first, because I had sort of assumed the second category of “people who don’t sing” is just sort of a big monolithic group of, well, people who just don’t sing, ever, for any reason, nope, not a chance, they don’t sing.
Now that I’m attending liturgy as an ordinary “pew-person,” I have the opportunity to look around and see who sings and who doesn’t and really observe the patterns. (No, really, I do try very hard not to stare at people, or make anyone uncomfortable, or even let anyone see that I am spending large portions of the hour-and-a-bit scoping the congregation and seeing what people do; it’s harder than I thought it would be!) And I discovered something unexpected: I pinpointed a number of people who, at first glance, were in the Those Who Don’t Sing category. Not a single one stayed in that category for the entire liturgy. There were a couple of teenagers, a senior couple, a few baby-boomer-aged folks…and most of the sung portions of the liturgy they just stood/sat there. What was curious, though, was that even they would occasionally shift into mumbled and half-engaged lip-moving. And even more curious—it wasn’t ever at the beginning of a song, or even for whole sections of a song. Just a few seemingly random words here and there. “….are full of your….in the highest…hosanna…”
It was also fascinating to note that everyone sang the Our Father, despite it being a composed setting (I’ve noted before that people will sing the chant version when they won’t sing anything else, but I would not have expected this to be true of through-composed metric accompanied versions)–or rather, I should say, everyone’s lips were moving. Not necessarily audibly, but this seems to be the moment in the liturgy for which everyone will engage in some outward participation, even if they do it for nothing else.
Then of course I also have to wonder—we seem as humans to have that sixth sense that tells us when people are watching us. Could somehow the fact that I was observing have partially accounted for the fact that some people didn’t sing and then sort of abruptly began to phonate? (I know, that one’s sort of out there, but it’s still a question.)
And Advent draws closer…
My project has had a few bumps in the past few weeks, which is why this blog has been so silent. The initial parish I where I hoped to hold my study recently found itself in a state of staff transition, and that factor itself will make data-gathering fairly difficult. Obviously there’s no way to be certain, wherever I end up, that there will be no unexpected variables introduced along the way, but since I’m only one person and I don’t have the resources to work in several places at once, it sort of is what it is! That upheaval, combined with scheduling insanity and some run-of-the-mill health issues, has made keeping all the balls in the air difficult, and this one had to sort of sit on the sidelines for a little while…
But I think I’m now back on track with a new parish to work in. I hope. Another “ordinary-extraordinary” suburban parish in the suburbs, with an engaged population, good music ministry, strong leadership, and clearly articulated vision and values. And, as with the first, it’s a delightful place to pray.
Tomorrow I’ll start reporting on some of the observations I’ve been gathering there, and some of the questions that have been coming up and the things I hadn’t expected to run into.
Yesterday I had another “hmm this is interesting but there is no way I can even pretend to be objective in describing it” thing that happened during Mass.
There was this moment in the homily, where the priest segued into the Respect Life portion of his homily. It was so very very interesting…he had been speaking directly to the Gospel, and then he shifted focus with one very simple sentence to the effect of “Today is Respect Life Sunday,” and paused briefly before continuing.
You could feel the backs straighten all over the room, the ears perk, the eyes fix, the antennae go up. There was this breathless moment of “What’s he going to say?” that was almost palpable.
It was fascinating.
I was and am also very pleased, and this is personal to me and again I cannot pretend objectivity, that this parish’s focus on life issues is on life issues, and not only the one. They focus heavily on ministry for victims of domestic violence, and the pamphlet they handed out with the bulletin was about end of life issues. I heard the phrase “seamless garment” at least three times between homily and intercessions.
A pleasant change from some of my previous environs.
When he finished the homily, one parishioner burst into applause, which others took up. The air in the room relaxed.
I’ve been remiss in throwing out the “open thread” question in the past couple of weeks, as my own academic life has overtaken and often overwhelmed me…but I will get back to it as soon as I can. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to share anything that’s going on in your own places of worship!
I am delighted to have made contact, through this blog, with Jeffry Rexhausen of the University of Cincinnati; he and Fr. Anthony Pogorelc of Catholic University in D.C. are engaged in more rigorous empirical-type work than I can ever hope to accomplish, about this very topic–how will the new texts change the way we pray? They will be presenting at the conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion/Religious Research Association this October on some of their work. I look forward to following their research into the future–I’m sure they will do some really useful and fruitful work.
As an aside–I am so excited, lately, to be discovering the extent to which areas of study of all kinds are beginning to raise their heads and look around, to notice how much each individual discipline owes to all the others and to the social and political contexts of the times in which they happened. Yesterday I had my first class in 18th century music analysis, and it was like a revelation–the professor is starting with the sociopolitical contexts of composers of that century, looking at the world that led them to compose and for which they composed, and then working inward from that, rather than starting with Roman numeral analysis and Donald J. Grout as I would have expected. And learning of associations like the two I named above–I was brought up, in my early learning, that the essence of Roman Catholicism is what is written, is primarily in the documents and the books and the writings; it was years later that my professors would open my eyes to the interweaving of the writings and the times in which they were written. And when the deeper (social science) areas of study begin to interact with the deeper areas of religious studies, music studies, art studies–it is heady stuff.
(By which I mean, heady like too much very lovely wine, not heady like dry and intellectual.)
I am exhausted. This new life as a full time student with many irons in many fires is draining in the extreme, even though it is feeding me very well at the same time…at some point I will need to pause and re-charge.
Yesterday I attended liturgy in my “new” parish, the one I’m approaching for this study, for the third time. I went with my daughter; usually I prefer to sit halfway back, because it helps me get more of a sense of what is happening in the pews, but she wanted to sit in the front row. (She is short; she can see better!)
This was also my first time attending a liturgy here at which the parish pastor presided. The thing that struck me more than anything about the way he celebrated Mass was his easy and un-self-conscious grasp of the words he spoke and prayed. They were the words from the page, but they felt like they came through him, and he seldom needed to look down to read from the actual book, except to glance for reference. It was one of the first times I’ve noticed this phenomenon per se, although now that I think of it I know a number of priests who do this.
I also noticed that this is a presider who sings everything–and rarely needs to look at the worship aid. The songs are in him also.
(This is the kind of thing that makes me glad I have this blog; so many of the things I notice are interesting and relevant, but even in the world of ethnography “it looks to me like the prayer is coming through him and not just being read off the page” is hardly something that’s going to fly even in qualitative circles. I mean, that’s why I have this blog, to have a place to reflect on some of those things, and I’ll have plenty of actual data to work with, but I don’t want to lose track of the stuff that’s just plain interesting. )
Noticing this made me get for the first time, on a deeper-than-intellectual level, how difficult these new texts will likely be for our presiders. All of them, to be sure, but the ones for whom the current texts are this natural, this internalized, IMO, seem likely to be the ones who will have the most difficult time with the transition. I will be curious to see what happens…
Anyone who reads this, if you’ve started on your new acclamations, yet, we’d love to hear how it’s going. How did you present things, and how have they been received? Let’s start sharing stories!
(Tomorrow I’ll put up a post about my early experiences at my new parish…)
Just curious…and of course it will vary from song to song and Mass time to Mass time. But when is it that you hear the most secure and strong singing from your parish assembly?
And what is it about that moment, maybe, that you think causes this response?
Have at it!
Tomorrow is Sunday, September 5. Thus today, Saturday, is the day when many parishes first have permission to use the new sung texts for the first time.
I wonder how many will be actually doing it?
If I were still “in charge” (really, when is the DMM ever really in charge of anything? :-)) of a parish music program, Labor Day weekend would be the absolute last day I would think of as a good time to launch into something new. If it didn’t happen over the summer (which in this case, of course, it really couldn’t), it would probably wait till early October; attendance is much too erratic and energy levels are too scattered. I couldn’t even get my choir and cantors together until early September at the earliest, and since as of last May when last I met with them we thought we had till November, there is not a single one of them with any new Mass settings in their being at all, anywhere. So it would be wildly impractical even to try. And yet I know several musicians who are all prepared to begin launching new Gloria settings this evening and tomorrow. Interesting. It just reminds me again of how different parish cultures and timetables are.
Tomorrow morning I will pay my first of many visits to the parish I hope will be my new “parish home” and the home for this ongoing project. I’ve found a lovely large active suburban parish with a thriving and active music program–okay, not so difficult to do in the Archdiocese of Chicago (bias admitted freely!)–that meets both my requirements and most of my hopes. I made a decision at one point that I would try to avoid parishes whose music and liturgical staff included some of the higher-profile music publishers, authors, and liturgical speakers so wonderfully plentiful around here: we have GIA, WLP, LTP and CTU all within spitting distance, all steered by amazing people who pray in various places around the parish every weekend, and obviously their presence in a parish will influence how that parish prays in a way not accessible in most places. This place is large but not gargantuan, with multigenerational engagement, a full time musician, and a culture which cannot be pinned down as either obviously “progressive” or “conservative” but which contains elements of a healthy across-the-board ethos.
The hope it does not meet: It is a longer drive from my home than I’d hoped. (Welcome to Chicago. Nothing’s close to anything.)
We’ll see. I am looking forward to visiting them, and to hopefully becoming more than a visitor in the months to come.
A few weeks ago I bid farewell to the Carroll Thomas Andrews Gloria–a dear old friend, comfortable and well-worn. A couple of months before that, it was the Mass of Light Gloria, with that sparkly-fun keyboard accompaniment that is my barometer for my piano technique (if my right forearm is seizing up by vs. 3, I know I’m doing something unhealthy). Today, I sang the Mass of Creation Gloria for what may well have been the last time.
(Of the three, it’s probably MoC I’ll miss the least…no offense to it, its composer, or anyone who loves it. We just never got on that well.)
I’m curious, since next weekend represents the first official date we are “allowed” to use the new settings…is anyone planning to start new settings next weekend, right away?
And what old friends will you miss most? Which farewells will be hardest, and which will come as a huge relief?