Monday, April 21, 2008

Liturgical Gains Made with Papal Visit

~Shawn Tribe of TNLM has done a comparison of the Papal Liturgical Events in Washington and New York and has offered some conclusions. Realizing, of course, that the trickle down will take some time, the observations are welcome signs of restoration.
The breakdown that we see here is that Washington comparatively excelled on the scale of those elements which are more visual in relation to the liturgy (altar arrangement, stadium sanctuary design, vestments) while New York excelled in the area of sacred music.

If the two liturgical aspects had come together (and technically they did at the Washington Vespers service) at all the liturgies, it would have been very characteristic of Benedict and Marini as they are able to operate within Rome. (And let us recall that both elements are very important.)

But does that mean there weren't gains made here? Quite the contrary:

1. Three of the four liturgies were characterized by traditional forms of sacred music. Beyond that, we also saw the sung Gospel, the use of the Graduale and more polyphony and chant than has likely been heard at most any papal Mass outside of Rome in recent memory. This is significant.

2. As part of that, this also means that there was significantly more Latin (and Greek) at these liturgies than has also been heard in similar papal Masses in recent memory.

3. Two of the four liturgies had the complete "Benedictine altar arrangement"; and while the other two were a compromised version of it, at very least they had the central altar cross meaning it was at least present in some form -- a reference that couldn't fail to be noticed. The Benedictine arrangement is, by consequence, much more in the consciousness of priests and laity in the United States because of it.

4. Other elements could also be mentioned, such as the predominant use of the Roman Canon, the beautiful cope for Vespers and so on.

If one takes into consideration these international papal liturgies with what we have typically seen in recent years and decades (including so recently as World Youth Day in Germany, or the Papal visit to Austria), there is quite a bit here, and while all the elements didn't simultaneously come together as they presently do in Rome, the elements were there at very least.

Beyond that, while it is important for these elements to come together, they are also each important in their own right and so their very visible and audible presence cannot but be a good thing.
Even the rather musically clumsy Washington Mass showed some breakthroughs....a grudging nod to chant, yes, but still there we had...Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Ubi Caritas, Pange Lingua Gloriosi. The settings were not ideal, but I would take the strange Pange lingua setting over the atonal Psalm responsory any day. And Latin was coming forth from the choristers' mouths...yes, that dead, irrelevant language.

Am I over-reaching and looking for positives where they're illusory? Maybe, but we are people of hope, so I'll choose to be hopeful. After all who would have thought at the start of 2007 that I, in the middle of the Carolina coastal plain, would have access to the traditional Mass so promptly after the heels of Summorum Pontificum? And I have three new members to our little schola group. How's that for being in the middle of nowhere? Sometimes the Holy Spirit breathes oh, so softly.

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