Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Singing as "Active Participation"

I hate music for what it has done to me in my life and I have spent many years butchering it, strangling it, and cutting its remains to pieces. I was asked not to sing the Regina coeli before daily Mass at the Oxonian Oratory years ago. I was advised, jokingly, that I could never have a monastic vocation owing to my terrible voice. A friend suggested a buy a firearm for defense against neighbors who might justly desire to end my life when I sing in the shower or while playing the piano.

And yet it all seems to fade away during the Great Fast, Lent. Other than Jerusalem Mattins, the Presanctified Divine Liturgy is the most beautiful service in the Byzantine rite. Yes, it is aesthetically beautiful, but it is also beautiful in truth. It is exactly what "good liturgy" should be: a natural and seamless prayer, a two way conversation and meeting with Christ Our God, the convergence of sinful human nature and Divine grace.

The Byzantine rite has more grand gestures and actions than the Roman rite most of the year and the Lenten Presanctified Liturgy is no exception ("the Light of Christ enlightens every man who comes into the world", "Let my prayer rise like incense" etc). Still, the music of the Presanctified Liturgy of Saint Gregory is a gem on its own, a true and proper example of how tone and text really are inseparable as prayer because they originated together and in the same place.

Our choir does not consistently show for these services so your's truly—with his narrow range, tone deafness, and general inability to hold a note (if I can find it)—leads the popular aspect of the Liturgy. I am glued to the page, only occasionally looking up to see what is transpiring at the altar. In this small aspect of singing I have a window into the challenge proper singers must often encounter when serving at the Divine Liturgy or Mass throughout the year. One is so enraptured in the words that one risks losing sight of the larger picture.

In this case, the words and the actions are one and the same. The supplication for mercy and genuflections, "Let my prayer rise like incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands like an evening sacrifice", humble this sinner. Then there is the great entrance:
"Now the powers of heaven are mystically celebrating with us. For behold! The King of Glory now enters! As the mystical sacrifice, perfect and complete, is now solemnly brought forth. Let us all approach, full of faith and love, let us draw near and become partakers of everlasting life. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"
This is not a saccharine hymn from a 19th century Anglican pew book. It is, in fact, exactly what is happening in the liturgy and it is as latreutic and it is heuristic.

Then comes the invitation to Holy Communion: "Taste and see how good is the Lord!"

In seven years I have never tired of this Liturgy despite my role in it has evolved from that of a normal attendee to that of bootleg cantor. I do less in my more confined space, yet there is endless mystery to be discerned in these prayers.

Now, you mustn't tell the police that this serial [music] killer is hiding in a Greek Catholic Church in Texas....

1 comment:

  1. Sorry. Too eastern. That vibralto effect or whatever it is makes me feel like I'm in a Turkish prison with some goofball yodeling from the meuzzin tower outside the bars. I'm afraid if I'm to go Eastern, it would have to be Russian.

    As it is, I'm a fifteen year member of an FSSP parish whose liturgical tastes were honed by the 1940 Hymnal and 1928 BCP in a High Anglican parish back in the early '70's. West is best.