The Body of Christ: Singing Divine Worship
The chief source of our unity as Catholic Christians and therefore our unity as a parish is the universal Christian prayer that is the very Holy Mass itself. As St. Augustine famously said, “he who sings [the Mass], prays twice” (qui cantat bis orat). Catholics are exhorted to sing at Mass, but even more so, we are exhorted to sing the Mass-that is, to sing at least some of the parts of the prayer of the Church’s Liturgy. Communal singing of prayer is not just something that Christians invented. Rather, it is primal for all humanity. Every culture in the history of the world has always understood that sung prayer puts us in touch with the divine in a special way.
Now the prayers of the Church have a long history. They originate in the sung Psalms of ancient Judaism. The Hebrew Psalms were more than just “praise songs” written by “songwriters”, like King David, for instance. They were written to be sung by official musicians whose chief task was to sing the worship of God in the Temple. In the Catholic Church, every Christian is the “temple of God” because by the grace of baptism we enter into the Holy of Holies itself-the Body and Blood of our crucified savior, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist. It is “right and just” that we “lift up our hearts” in song to the Lord and let the temples of our bodies resonate with the ultimate song of worship, which is what the Mass is.
At the campuses of Holy Cross Church there is a fine tradition of communal singing, both in hymns and in the Mass parts. You have all noticed by now that Fr. Howe and I have the habit of chanting certain of our own priest-prayers at Mass and to that you are all responding very well.
To continue to help us move toward greater unity at prayer, and toward deeper communal prayer at Mass, we are introducing a fresh sung-Mass setting this Advent-Mass in Honor of St. Ralph Sherwin. It’s a beautiful, recently-composed setting that is also “classic” and traditional, and really quite easy to learn. You’ve all been rehearsing week-by-week for the last month before Mass, and I must say that everyone is starting to sound pretty good. To paraphrase a piece of (true) popular wisdom, “the merged parish that prays together, stays together.” In addition to this new Mass setting, in at least some of our parish Masses we will begin to chant the “Proper Antiphons” for the particular Sundays. There are Antiphons for every Sunday and Holy Day of the Year, which are drawn from the readings for the day or of the given Saint or Holy Day and thus serve to highlight the main Gospel theme for that Liturgy. The two principle antiphons are the “Introit” (pronounced “in-tro-it”), which will come at the beginning of Mass, and the Communion Antiphon, which sung just before distribution of Holy Communion. Beginning this Advent we will be incorporating these antiphons into at least some of our parish “sung” Masses.