Sunday, November 28, 2010

Biting off more than can be decently chewed

Last night I had to attend Vespers in a suburban church. I wish I hadn't. It was one of the more hideous liturgical experiences I've had. Normally this place makes a fairly good fist of things. Musically it's got above average resources and doesn't over stretch them. Tonight they did and fell, fair and square, flat on their faces. My continuing prejudice against over emphasising music got confirmed.

 It was a 'polyglot' rite. Bits pinched from here and there. English lesson, Latin Psalms limping between the competent work of the cantors and the choir who didn't know what they were doing. The Magnificat was prolonged beyond all belief by a set of very badly sung polyphonic interpolated verses. A curious candle lighting ceremony at the beginning then a modern Benediction tacked on the end made for a bit of a nightmare. My only consolation was the thought that this might be an introduction to the Divine Office for some who had never seen it before. Then I thought but would they bother to come again?

There can be a tendency in traddiedom to over do things just a tad. Last night's Vespers was certainly not the work of traddies but I've seen similar in other places. The best that we can offer to God is not always the most complex, the flashy, the musically erudite, but rather that which we can do decently and well. Goodness me! It could even be a simple said service.


  1. For quite a while I have been uncomfortable with some of the trappings of traddiedom. There are the impressions of a ‘clique’, a sort of secret society of ‘in’ people who - while they may not have secret handshakes or other elements of a closed group - nevertheless display the appearance of elitism. You are either part of the group or you are an outsider. And when it comes to the Liturgy, this is a travesty of what Liturgy is supposed to be – common worship of God imparted to us by the Church, which is not our exclusive property but is open to and intended for the salvation of all.

    I am uncomfortable when people wax eloquent about the trappings of a High Mass. “It was the Mass of ‘X’, with the Gloria of ‘Y’ , the Credo of ‘Z’…ably performed by an accomplished organist and Schola with the congregation even joining in for the parts they knew…”

    This suggests to me: “The Mass as performance” – which mutatis mutandis might just as well be a review of Un Ballo in Maschera at La Scala or a Proms Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. And as the ‘performance’ would usually be followed by tea and cakes in the parish hall, the inescapable conclusion is that: “A good time was had by all”.

    That is not how I view the Mass – either EF or OF. While the combination of organ, choir and music can be a worthy accompaniment in giving glory to God, it is just that – an accompaniment. It is not the ‘main act’. It is not why we are here. It is secondary and it is not essential.

    Again I go back to Martin Mosebach’s comment in his book “The heresy of Formlessness”, where he said: “…a low Mass in the old rite, read silently in a garage, is more solemn than the biggest church concert with spiritual trimmings”.

    He had it right.

  2. ...I hoped you were praying for those not 'doing a good job'- it's not easy singing at Mass- I pray the angels take over when we make such mistakes!


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