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CNP Feedback -
Pique-a-Boo – Hot in the Pew

Q. Dear Sine Nomine Parish:

Two weeks ago I showed up to attend the Saturday night Mass only to find out a Confirmation was to take place. Once we saw that, my husband and I immediately left, as we had dinner arrangements at a restaurant that evening. If memory serves me correctly, you even told me that it was going to be longer than usual. We left and came back for Mass on Sunday night.

I believe you decided to take it out on me this past weekend. You figured if I was going to leave the bishop's Mass and Confirmation, you would get even somehow. Well, this past Sunday evening you more than got even. One hour and twenty minutes is over the top. In my humble opinion that was ridiculous.

I am only kidding about your "getting even with me." However, I am very upset about the length of that Mass. I am sure you know the scripture better than I do; however, there is a part in the Bible about finding and saving a lamb that was lost from its flock. Well, on Saturday night four members of the flock were lost. My daughter, her husband and their two children informed me that they will no longer go with my husband and me to Sine Nomine Church. They were as livid as I was. However, I am not going elsewhere.

About thirty miles away, I live two blocks from our official parish church. We have had a number of terrible pastors in my 42 years of membership at that parish, and none of them were able to drive me away. However, we are getting close at Sine Nomine. I was going to write a letter to the bishop, but my husband would not let me do it. I know I am only one voice and that I will have to put up with the current situation; however, I felt I should voice my opinion.

I have a couple of questions:

  1. Why do we have incense and blessing of water every Sunday for six weeks after Easter? Is that Sine Nomine's doing or the diocese? There are many churches in my area down here and none of them do that. Is it the will of the parishioners or is it forced on us? Have you ever asked the parishioners about that stuff?
  2. How about the music ministry? Do we have to have that "high brow" music all the time? Don't the musicians know any contemporary music? Do we have to sing all the responses that we do? Even when I go to the cathedral, I can attend a "Low" Mass when I want to. Is a "Low" Mass beneath Sine Nomine?
  3. Is Sine Nomine trying to be "better than" everyone else? Are we trying to impress the bishop? Who are we trying to impress?

Just my thoughts and my children's and grandchildren's thoughts. I know we are only part-time members, since we also attend churches closer to our home. My husband and I do support the Church in many ways. I have been a Catholic all my life. I have kept my mouth shut most of that time. I needed to get this off my chest. Sorry for the tirade.

Irate Irene

A. Dear Irene:

Thank you for the opportunity to examine some of your concerns about the Sunday evening Mass this past week.

  1. Incense: Using incense is a symbol of our prayer rising to God and a sign of heightened solemnity. At Sine Nomine Church, we use incense during the liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as well as for Solemnities that occur throughout the year. Given that, there is also a certain schema that exists for various Masses. There is never incense at the anticipated Mass on Saturdays, to accommodate those who have health difficulties with incense (there's always an incense-free Mass). The early morning Sunday Mass uses limited incense during the seasons mentioned above. The late morning Masses and the Sunday evening Mass make more abundant use of incense.
  2. Holy Water: The Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water is an option at any Sunday Mass (or Saturday anticipated Mass). Just as water was blessed and poured on us at our Baptism, so this holy water, sprinkled on the People of God, reminds us of that Baptism. The new Roman Missal – Third Edition instructs: "On Sundays, especially in Easter Time, the blessing and sprinkling of water as a memorial of our Baptism may take place… " At Sine Nomine, following our own parish schema (not any diocesan regulation), we use the Sprinkling Rite at these times: (A) at the First Communion Mass and at the Confirmation Mass, to demonstrate the connection among these three Sacraments of Initiation [Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist] and (B) during Eastertide (as recommended in the Roman Missal), to remind us of our Baptism and our solidarity with those who were recently baptized at the Easter Vigil. To make this Rite, which when used replaces the Penitential Act, flow comfortably, we always sing the same music (either the Introit Antiphon or the Introit Hymn) for both the Entrance and Sprinkling music.
  3. Style of Music: There is great variety to be found with music used at Catholic churches in this country. Some parishes use almost exclusively popular-style music and songs, particularly those whose modern architecture harmonizes with that. Some parishes, like Sine Nomine, use mostly traditional-style music (music that has been with us for many centuries) — and this, too, is enhanced by the very traditional architecture of our church building. That does not mean that we never use contemporary music, especially if you recognize that the word means "recently-composed," and not necessarily "guitar/piano based." We have at least three composers closely associated with the parish, whose music is often sung at Mass — hence there is quite a bit of true contemporary music!
  4. Amount of Music: Because of the power of music as the pre-eminent art form used by the faithful to worship our God, the Church offers numerous suggestions and guidelines as to what is importantly sung at Liturgy. Highest in this hierarchy are the dialogues between the priest or deacon and the congregation. Other congregational singing comes next: Entrance, Gloria, Responsorial Psalm and Gospel Acclamation (with cantor), Eucharistic Acclamations (Sanctus, Mystery of Faith, Amen, Agnus Dei) and Communion Hymn or Psalm. These are what we sing at Sine Nomine. To these, an Offertory Hymn was added at non-choir Masses years ago at the request of the clergy.
  5. Purpose of Music: Music at Liturgy is never intended to impress anyone. Sacred music serves one purpose — the worship of Almighty God. You'll notice that all the congregational texts are focused and directed toward God — we do not sing "in God's voice" nor do we sing "about or to one another" in our hymns. Since music has a mighty power within Liturgy and words speak profoundly to the Christian heart, the Church closely guards what is used at Mass. In fact, the Roman Missal offers official texts for chants at Entrance, Offertory and Communion — these are called "Propers" and are really what Catholic parishes should be singing at those moments. Only as "fourth-string substitutes" were other hymns and songs ever allowed at Mass. Unfortunately, over the last fifty years, this idea of a "substitute" (or a "loop-hole," if you will) has become the absolute norm in most parishes. Hymns and songs are likely what you hear at other parishes you visit. At Sine Nomine, we try to be as faithful as possible to what the Church actually expects us to do and sing at Liturgy.
  6. High Mass / Low Mass: This distinction does not officially exist anymore, although the idea of progressive solemnity (variety among what is done and sung at liturgies) was indeed promoted by Vatican II. For a time, we used much simpler music at the Sunday evening Mass. The new pastor, in an attempt to be equitable and to fully implement certain liturgical ideals, asked that this Mass look like all the others on a weekend.
  7. Length of Mass: We know that there are no documents or rules that regulate the length of a Mass. We also know that many people feel uncomfortable if Mass lasts longer than one hour. Having played, with very few exceptions, at every weekend Mass at Sine Nomine Parish for the last nine years, I can tell you that most Masses are very close to an hour in length. Exceptions do occur, sometimes due to long readings (the last three Sundays of Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter Vigil), sometimes due to huge crowds (Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday), and sometimes to a zealous preacher's homily (like last week). Understanding that a typical Mass is very close to one hour, we can then more easily accept that occasionally such will not be the case. I'm sure no one is advocating that every Mass be "capped" at one hour.

Unlike at meals or parties or social gatherings, where we can choose to offer "what people like," those of us dealing with Sacred Liturgy have more to accommodate than simple popularity. We need to please God first (via the rubrics of His Church); people, only second. More and more in contemporary liturgical thinking, the important P-word is not "popular," but "proper." In other words, it becomes "What should we sing?" not simply "What do we like to sing?" The goal, obviously, is to bring the parish to like what should be sung. Sometimes that's tough!

I appreciate your sincere interest in Liturgy and hope that you'll continue offer your insights and feedback, all of which help us to improve the way we worship God in his Temple on earth.

Anonymous Music Director
Condensed and edited by Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
Article written late Eastertide 2013

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