Friday, May 1, 2015

Hmmm...the student body isn't singing at Mass???? Gee, I wonder why?

I attended the student Mass at my son's high school today.  It was the last Mass of the school year (save the baccalaureate Mass the day before graduation) and the seniors were the guests of honor (besides Jesus, of course).  Not expecting much (I have, after all, attended a few of these student Masses over the last four years and have not been impressed), I was utterly dismayed at the lack of participation in the ritual.  It was as if the students were just there to witness a really dull presentation rather than fully enter in to the beautiful mystery being unfolded before their very eyes.  It's not like it was all bad...the priest's homily was SUPERB...but for all its clarity and wonderfulness, Father's message was lost in the shuffle of the mediocre music and less than half-hearted worship.  Oh, and don't even get me started about the student who read the verses to the psalm in such a way to make the students laugh at the ridiculousness of his dramatic reading, ON PURPOSE!!!  However, the ultimate disappointment came right after Mass when the campus minister got up to speak to the student body and actually admonished them with a not-so-subtle dig on the way they don't sing at Mass.  Now, don't get me wrong.  She had a point.  The students looked bored because they WERE bored (and perhaps a little too imbued with that "I'm too cool to go along" attitude that in fact makes themselves very boring, indeed).  BUT...the lack of singing by the students was NOT due to their lack of  interest, aptitude, or [insert other appropriate noun here].  Uh...NEWSFLASH:   Mass planners (the campus minister, the Pastoral Arts teacher and the music director) take note...the students don't sing because they can't and/or they won't.  The music selections, meant for a solo recording artist, have too wide of a range, difficult rhythms, disjunct melodies that are hard to follow, harmonies and chord progressions that make every song sound the same.  The singers, all too many of them with inflated egos, are NOT good at what they do.  I understand that you have to take everybody in the Pastoral Arts class, but NOT EVERYONE SHOULD BE IN THE CHOIR.  If I've learned anything over the years, it's that people want to join in singing when the music is pleasing to the ear.  If you have too many choir members belting out of tune pitches over a sound system set so high as to deafen the congregation from hearing their own voice, guess what?  Oh yeah, that's r...i...g..h...t...  THE PEOPLE WILL NOT SING!!!  If you choose music that is too difficult to quickly pick up (especially if you are not teaching them the songs before hand), guess what?  Oh yeah, that's r...i...g...h...t...  THE PEOPLE WILL NOT SING!!!  If you pick out songs based on what you believe the teens will think is cool and the lyrics of those songs only speak to namby-pamby plain-jane vanilla squishy "me and Jesus" moments without having a strong theology firmly rooted in scripture and Tradtion, the teens will think the song is stupid and guess what?  Oh yeah, that's r...i...g...h...t...  THE PEOPLE WILL NOT SING!!!

And, let's just for a moment, take a look at what participation really looks like at Mass.  Some liturgists will foam at the mouth when they explain that unless someone is actively singing EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. there lacks "active" participation among the members of the congregation.  In reality, the participation should be measured not by some external governing board but by the individual themselves.  I mean, how do we ever know if someone is prayerfully participating on the INSIDE?  We can't know...and it really is none of our business what a person's relationship with Jesus is in any given moment during the Mass.  Yet, if we need to look to some external metric, then perhaps we can judge it by how well the congregation is entering into the responses and acclamations. If liturgy is truly the work of the people, then what's most important is for the congregants to sing, say, and pose in those moments where our participation CONSTITUTES THE LITURGICAL ACTION ITSELF (responding the the psalm, acclaiming our faith during the reponses to the Eucharistic dialogue, etc.).  Simply singing one of the songs in the "four-hymn sandwich" only ACCOMPANIES some sort of liturgical action and therefore is not as important as the liturgical action itself (and why we're not singing the Propers from the Graduale as called for as the primary choice in liturgical music at Mass is beyond me...but I digress; that's an argument for another time). 

If you (and by you, I mean well-intentioned but poorly formed campus ministers and music directors) want the student body to participate, first, analyze your own expectations of what "participation" looks like.  Second, become better catechized yourself...this way you can effectively impart to your students what proper reverence and adoration in the liturgy actually is and inform them of their important role in it so they can better (and more naturally) enter into the full worship of the Most High, the Lord, Jesus Christ.  

(Oh, as a side note, please, please, PRETTY PLEASE, tell the girls, especially those who are liturgical ministers at Mass, to dress appropriately.  It really is not nice to make parents who are visiting spend all that time worried like mother hens that any wrong move by any number of girls will result in a tragically embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.  Thank you.)

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