Song of Songs

Next I’d like to address the issue of participation, which I believe to be all too often misunderstood. Many, like the author of the article, see quotes like that from GIRM #41 above and conclude that whatever we sing must be something that the entire congregation (from my warbling five-year-old to the even warblier 85-year-old behind us) can sing along to. Not so! It just doesn’t make sense that the same document that mentions Gregorian chant at every turn would expect everyone present in a church to sing, especially since a vast majority have never seen square notes before in their lives. No, I’m pretty sure that the “active participation” referred to is a spiritual action, and I’ll go once again to the Catechism for backup (emphasis mine):

All have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way: readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the whole people whose “Amen” manifests their participation. (CCC 1348)

Our “Amen” means so much more than we give it credit for. The Catechism tells us that we call this particular sacrament, among other titles, “Holy Communion, because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in His Body and Blood to form a single body.” (CCC1331) So simply by saying “Amen” we are admitting
that, in much the same way that the “two become one flesh” in a natural marriage, our flesh becomes one with that of Christ. By receiving this Most Blessed Sacrament with a worthy “Amen,” we are consummating our mystical marriage to Christ! Doesn’t that just knock your socks off? For more on the relationship between the sacraments of Marriage and Eucharist, see this post by Funky or take up a study of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

I’m hoping that there are some married readers out there who will pick up on where I’m going next. In my natural marriage to my spouse, God uses the one-flesh union we share to grace us with children. This fruitfulness is the
cause of great joy for us, and we express our unity as one family frequently and in many ways. Now, imagine what it would be like if, at the moment of consummation, we called the kids in to start singing, “We are family – I got all my sisters with me!” As in the movie “Young Frankenstein,” doesn’t it seem more appropriate for the bride, alone with her lover, to sing “O, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you!”?

I’m not trying to be offensive – my sense of humor is just that quirky. The last gripe I’m going to make is about songs of adoration being labeled as inappropriate. We are the unified bride of Christ, and together as
one body we share a one-flesh union with Him. Should we not, at the moment of our consummation with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as one body, adore Him? And if the choir is good enough to sing “Adoramus Te Christe” or Adoro Te Devote” such that our hearts burst with “Amen!” are we not fully participating in their prayer? Doesn’t adoration at this
point in the Mass just seem more appropriate than songs about our brotherhood as Christians?

The author concluded the article with a call for “good catechesis, careful planning and quiet perseverance.” On this lone point, we agree. The Catholic Church has a wealth of beautiful, reverent, sacred music that most of
us have never seen or heard. The GIRM, the documents of Vatican II, and the writings of our ancestors in faith go largely unexplored when we address liturgical music. But if we take the time to look beyond the entertainment and feel-good value of the music of the Mass and really see it as the lifting of prayer that it ought to be, we will
succeed in experiencing the Communion Procession, and indeed, the entire Mass, as a “unifying and sacred time.”

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