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Musical Musings: Liturgy

Discovering the Transcendent and the Immanent in the Liturgy

by Fr. Paul Schmidt

Part I: Introduction

Father Paul Schmidt has served as the priest personnel director for the Diocese of Oakland, California, and also as diocesan director of religious education and as pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Concord. He holds a master's of divinity degree from St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park and a master's degree in English from California State University, Hayward. He was a columnist for The Catholic Voice, the Oakland diocesan newspaper, for many years. Father Schmidt is author of the book Buried Treasures: A Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

This article, which has appeared in The Voice (Oakland), is reprinted from The Catholic Herald, the newspaper for the Diocese of Sacramento, with the kind permission of Julie Sly, Editor.

Some people whose memories go back 30 years or more say they miss the reverence that used to characterize the celebration of the liturgy. There was silence during most of the Mass. There was a sense of mystery. The priest stood in a special holy place separated from the people. Most of the time he faced away from the congregation. His gestures and genuflections, his vestments and the Latin language in which he prayed gave evidence that a sacred drama was being enacted.

Some writers characterize this form of worship as "vertical," directed "up" to God. It is called "transcendent," that is, reaching out beyond this world to the Lord. The priest, acting "in the person of Christ," goes into the holy of holies, to offer sacrifice as mediator between earth and heaven. The congregation watches in awe from afar, joining their prayers to the prayers and sacred action of the priest. Music, architecture, and art all cooperate to illustrate the sense of the holy. This is, indeed, one dimension of the liturgy.

People with shorter memories, however, if they wandered into such a liturgy (and the Mass as it was in 1962 is still celebrated in a few places), would find it strange. The worship we have grown accustomed to since the Second Vatican Council has less mysteriousness about it. It uses our own language. It often occurs in plain, practical, modern buildings. It involves many people besides the priest--lectors, musicians, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. The congregation takes an active part in song and prayer. Words, music, and artistic decoration aim to draw the people together as a community, to help them sense that they are the family of God gathered in joyful celebration.

Some writers characterize this form of worship as "horizontal," directed not only "up" but "across," drawing in the whole congregation with the priest and with each other. It is termed "immanent," that is, conscious of the divine presence in this world and in the people as well as on the altar. This, too, is one dimension of the liturgy.

 Back to Liturgy Index

Part II: Presenting Both Dimensions

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