Monday, July 28, 2008

What I Love About Catholicism: Sacred Music

Before all else, worship is about God. It is the duty of the creature to know, love and serve the Creator, and to render to God the service of prayer, praise and thanksgiving that is his due.

Worship is about us, the creatures, only insofar as we desire with all our hearts to serve God as he tells us he wants to be served.

Historically, Gregorian chant is in direct, organic development with ancient cantilation -- chanting -- patterns of the psalms in temple and synagogue. This was the background and experience of the first Christians. So our chanting today is in direct relationship with theirs.

One can see, then, that when we sing the chant, we are truly "in connection" with our fathers and mothers in the faith.

- Father Samuel Weber, Director of the Institute of Sacred Music in St. Louis, from the interview given to Zenit, "Sacred Music That Serves the Word of God Pt. 2"

I clearly remember the time I expressed a love for Gregorian chant to my father. At the time, I was attending a non-denominational church which treated worship music like a mini-Woodstock. His response?

"You should," He said dryly. "You grew up with it."

Well, that wasn't totally accurate. He may have heard it as a young boy but I certainly didn't. By the time I was attending Mass, the worship was filled with folksy guitar music and earnest young people singing "One Bread, One Body." Gregorian chant simply wasn't on the menu.

Over the past twenty years, I have experienced a wide variety of worship and praise music. From organ arrangements to small guitar quartets to full studio bands - all of it has been enjoyable to a certain degree. And during the times in my life when I was especially in hot pursuit of God, I achieved a deep level of worship.

Praise music is, in my mind, a little outside the gate. It can get you excited about God, but the deeper more profound reflections are more likely to result from true worship. But worship has a tough crowd. Why?

Because we live in the age of entertainment and worship is, if anything - anti-entertainment.

Entertainment is all about me. It's how I receive something, whether a song or a movie. It's all about my response, my perception, my enjoyment. When I would listen to one of my many "Praise" CD's, it was almost like listening to Muzak.

"God is good..."

Oh, my mind would say, that's nice.

Worship is different. Vastly different. Worship is when I focus entirely upon God and realize that in the midst of everything, I am nothing. He is all. He is entirely and perfectly complete, perfectly perfect, and nothing can mar that perfection. Not for one second does true worship consider me except my response to Him. It's all about Him.

What other style of music could express that priority with such purity, except chant?

Not even Classical music could do it, with all its hoots and fanfare. Instruments almost spoil the soul's desire to ascend toward the heavenly realm. It's as though our spirits need to be unhindered and unencumbered as it reaches forever for the only communion that truly matters - knowing God. We know that we stand alone before God, we will stand alone before Him in judgement, and chant is a lonely song. It is a peaceful song, though, understanding that it must surrender all - even unnecessary notes - in order to connect with the Holy of Holies.

I think that God made us pretty smart. Smart enough to realize that for all the bombast of modern music, we know it's just a diversion. Maybe that's why the CD "Chant" has surprised even the monks who created it. (thanks to The New Liturgical Movement.)

We need the simple and pure because deep down inside, we know we can't fool God.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Mary Rose, I wish you could come to Minnesota and hear the Catholic Chorale at St. Agnes! Until I started going to that church I had no idea that these hundreds of years' worth of sacred music existed. It disgusts me that the vast majority of parishes threw it all away in favor of "Glory and Praise Vol. 2" etc.
(The Chorale's recordings can be enjoyed and downloaded here, for your long-distance
There is chant as well as the chorale/orchestra. And it's all novus ordo, believe it or not. ;)
I get such a kick out of your blog!