Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Mass in Regensburg, Germany: Passivity and Activity

Welcome to this installment of "New Translation Thursday."

I wanted to provide further commentary on my experience at Saint Peter's Cathedral in Regensburg, Germany.

I attended the Sunday Mass at which the mens and boys choir sang.

Most German churches I visited had a cool electronic system for posting the hymn numbers. All of the churches has a German national Catholic hymnal in the pews. The number was flashed for the Gloria and very few people picked up the books. The Gloria was the traditional Latin chant. It was intoned by the celebrant; then the Gloria was supposed to be chanted aternately between choir and people. Very few people in the pews sang at all (my voice was sticking out quite obviously!). The Entrance and Communion Antiphons were chanted in Latin (with psalm verses) by the choir alone. The Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei were taken from Masses that I did not recognize, and were sung beautifully by the choir alone. The "Memorial Acclamation" was recited and the Great Amen was chanted on two pitches. Following communion, there was a hymn of thanksgiving, in which everyone joined; the number was flashed on the electronic hymn board.

What struck me was the stance of the celebrant and assembly while the choir sang alone. Now, granted, I am an American Catholic not used to this European Cathedral style. So, while the music chanted or beautifully sung in parts by the choir was lovely, I was left feeling like a spectator. The celebrant and people looked as though we were all simply waiting for the piece to finish before moving on. Don't get me wrong; I loved listening actively, but when these crictical moments in the liturgy, when I am called to add my voice to the "choirs of angels and saints" become moments of passivity, I just feel disconnected to the action of the liturgy.

The one thing that I found quite striking during the Mass, however, was the singing of the dialogues. I would venture to say that the majority of people (90% plus) at this Mass were parishioners, or Germans from other parts of the country. There were not lots of obvious visitors at the Mass. The Germans sang their responses in the dialogues with vigor. Perhaps at other Masses celebrated at this cathedral, Masses without choir, the people do join in singing much more of the parts of the Mass. Perhaps if I ever return there, I should experience more of a "low" approach and see how the singing is.

So what does all of this have to do with the new translation? I return once again to the importance of singing the dialogues once we implement the new translation. As opposed to the spoken form, the chanting of these dialogues really lifts the entire experience into a more sacred realm. To the Germans in Regensburg, it was just so natural. It is my hope that this becomes the practice in the United States.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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