We were out of town this past weekend, so we attended Mass in a parish other than our own. Our experience has sparked some inner turmoil and discussion.
Before Mass, the choir started a song which shook me out of my prayer in surprise–there were bongos in the song. I tapped David gently over Elle’s head– “Bongos!” I mouthed to him, my eyes wide. We shared a silent giggle. I’m not anti-bongos; they just struck me as funny.
Later, the chimes were used. Yes, the chimes that are used signify dream sequences or fairies flying around or other magical occurrences. David and shared another wide-eyed look.
The climax of our instrumental journey came during the sprinkling rite. As the priest walked around with holy water, I couldn’t help but turn to look at the choir to confirm my suspicions–a rainstick! They were using a rainstick while we were singing about being cleansed from our sin. I couldn’t look at David.
These musicians were talented. They had practiced. Unfortunately the music at Mass this weekend was a huge distraction for me. I don’t want to be all Screwtaped by this–to miss out on the most holy part of my week because I’m being nit-picky about the music, but I also feel like I need to explore this idea about music and Mass. I have no degree in liturgy or theology, but I’d still like to think through this issue and find some peace. My reaction to some of the music at Mass was to laugh. And that troubles me.
First, I need to consider my background. Growing up my Mass experience was largely OCP type music. My parents sang in the choir, so I grew up participating in the music at church. This cover image is a big part of my childhood.
Little girl Alicia hoped that we’d bring out the tambourine and sing “And The Father Will Dance” at the end of Mass every week.
And then I met David. Mass was often a part of our dating, but I never realized he had Strong Held Ideas on Liturgical Music until we were planning our wedding ceremony. I was all, “Let’s One Bread, One Body this up!” and he was all, “Do you think the choir would mind doing all the music in Latin?” Since Latin wasn’t something with which I was familiar, it made me bristle.
Mostly over the years we’ve kept our ideas to ourselves about liturgical music. We go to Mass and participate, whatever the musical stylings may be. (I do have to remember to pat David gently during lent so he doesn’t audibly groan when we sing “Ashes,” though. He’s not being judgey–it’s an involuntary response.)
For almost eight years, my struggle at Mass is keeping my kids from being a distraction to others, so thoughts about liturgical music have taken a back seat. However, when we were visiting a different church for Mass a while back, I realized my views on the organ had completely evolved. Our home parish is a guitar/piano kind of parish. So it makes sense that when I was younger I found the organ–uncool. You don’t need the organ to sing my favorite childhood Christmas song, “Violet in the Snow,” after all.
But that particular Mass, everything was different. The big, old, clunky organ–it covered the noise of my kids shuffling around in the pew. It was really easy for me to follow along with the music, because the organ made the melody clear. The soft playing of simple melodies without the choir at the offertory helped me be prayerful. Oh man, David was right. David was right. Right then and there, I wished we had organ music all the time back at home. Grownup Alicia is a big fan of the organ.
This is a lot of backstory to talk about a little rainstick, isn’t it?
Yesterday after Mass, David and I talked about the music. I asked him (he DOES have a degree in theology) to give me some concrete sources on liturgical music. He said that the Church isn’t super specific on what is or is not allowed because Catholicism is universal–it crosses countries and centuries. In short, we can’t definitively say, rainstick=good or rainstick=bad. It’s more complex.
I did some research, and it supports what David said. Sacrosanctum Concilim states
120. In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.
But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.
According to Musicam Sacram
63. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.
Any musical instrument permitted in divine worship should be used in such a way that it meets the needs of the liturgical celebration, and is in the interests both of the beauty of worship and the edification of the faithful.
64. The use of musical instruments to accompany the singing can act as a support to the voices, render participation easier, and achieve a deeper union in the assembly. However, their sound should not so overwhelm the voices that it is difficult to make out the text; and when some part is proclaimed aloud by the priest or a minister by virtue of his role, they should be silent.
Looks like there is good news and bad news. The good news is that I’m not crazy for giggling at the rainstick, because rainsticks, bongos, and chimes are unusual and out of place at Mass here in the Midwestern United States. I’d also giggle if a family brought a baby into Mass with just a diaper (something we’ve done when we forgot spare clothes), just because it’s something novel.
The bad news is that it looks like there might need to be an uncomfortable discussion with the priest about the liturgy. If it were my home parish, David would probably sit down with Father and talk about his concerns. Fortunately they have a relationship where they talk about all sorts of things, so it wouldn’t be a confrontation so much as a discussion. But–this was not our home parish. So we’re sort of off the hook. I think.
Liturgical music can be a contentious issue; there are lots of opinions surrounding it. I know that my opinions are based largely on how I feel, so I’m grateful for the wisdom of the Church to help me navigate the waters of discerning what is true, beautiful, and holy, regardless of my emotions. Looks like we won’t be bringing any finger cymbals along to Mass next week, but we will also participate joyfully, even if the bongos make an appearance.