Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Liturgy and Emotional Expression

Happy Wednesday to you all.

I had guests in from out of town (Pennsylvania) over the weekend. We went to my parish, Saint James, for Sunday Mass. It has been a longstanding tradition at Saint James to sing the Albert Hay Malotte setting of the Lord's Prayer (except in Advent and Lent). Before coming to Saint James, I was not a big fan of the hand-holding ritual that takes place in many parishes during the reciting or singing of the Lord's Prayer. But, parishes have a way of forming us in different ways, don't they? At St. James, as the introduction is played, everyone reaches out to those around them and we lift our voices like no other parish congregation I've ever heard. We pause before the "For thine is the kingdom . . ." so that the priest can pray the embolism. I know that many of you would say that singing this setting is simply wrong, because it is not the official text of the Lord's Prayer for the celebration of Mass. And sure, there is a part of me that says the same thing. I would not introduce it in a parish that has a few settings (including the Snow chant) under its belt already. The Malotte just happens to be what has been sung at St. James for as long as most people I talk with there can remember. And I can't imagine it not being a part of Sunday Mass.

As a matter of fact, when we finished, with arms raised high, my out of town guest put her hands to her face and began to weep. It is an emotionally charged moment, for sure, especially for those who have a somewhat staid experience of musical liturgy. I almost don't want to continue here, knowing the kinds of comments that this will engender. But I will anyway. Don't out parish liturgies need to have a certain amount of emotional expression so that peoples' hearts are drawn into the Mass? The Malotte does that for me each week. Chanting the Pange Lingua this past Holy Thursday did it for me. Chanting the Salve Regina with the priests and seminarians of the Archdiocese of Chicago at a recent fundraiser did it for me. Being drawn into a closing song with drums, guitar, and piano—knowing that I was sent forth after communion to be Christ for others—did it for me. And I am not talking about a sentiment like "the liturgy made me feel good" here. What I am talking about is a deeply personal and communal emotional experience that draws my heart and the hearts of those with whom I worship closer to the sacred heart of the Lord Jesus. This is why I don't think I could be one of those people that likes the early Sunday morning so-called "quiet" Mass (of which I do not think there is such a thing anyway). I need music to lift me out of myself. I need music to acclaim the work that God is doing in my heart. I need music to connect me with the millions who have gone before me. I need music to help me grieve. I need music to help express my lament. I need music to connect me to my billion plus Catholic brothers and sisters all over the world.

How about you?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

More than ever, gotta sing and gotta pray.


Liam said...

I don't encounter the Malotte as much these days in my travels as I did a generation ago; it seems to be fading in use among Catholics. Frankly, the doxology makes my skin crawl; the main prayer can be tolerated if it's presented without the melodramatic style that tends to accompany it.

Apropos the issue of emotional expression, while I would not deny its value outright, I would say the far greater danger for Catholics in the First World is that our preaching and our liturgies tend to shy from engaging the spiritual dryness that is, by centuries of spiritual testimony, the normal experience of maturing Christian souls; instead, we gravitate towards sensory comforts that tend to keep us alienated from the desert spirituality that would actually give us the manna we need if we would see as God sees rather than as the world sees. If we expect liturgy to always be an oasis of comfort at a *sensory* level, we may well be undermining what we really need for our theosis. Want and need are different things; as this past week's Gospel indicate, much depends on seeing things the way God sees them, not the way we are inclined to see them.

Anonymous said...

i agree with liam. this emotional expression business started 40 years ago with guitar masses and the kumbaya generation. so many catholics want every human need that can exist to be satisfied at mass.

Linda Reid said...

"Don't out parish liturgies need to have a certain amount of emotional expression so that peoples' hearts are drawn into the Mass?"
To your query, I would answer with a resounding "yes"
Who would derive nourishment from a completely cerebral, overly wordy sterile liturgy that draws none of the senses into it.
Catholics have had a long tradition of "smells and bells" and elements that appeal to the other senses and, therefore, to the emotions.
I don't think an emotional element satisfies "every human need that can exist", but it helps to draw the WHOLE person in,body and soul, not just his/her cerebellum.

Liam said...


Well, popular preconciliar hymnody included a significant dosage of saccharine crap, too. You can't pin this on the Council. What happened is that the implementation of the Council did not result in quite the improvement in the situation that was envisioned and that, given trends in popular culture, have become more greatly needed.