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Musical Musings: Liturgy

The Jargon of Liturgists:
Brain-washing the Faithful

by Calvert Shenk

Here are two different ways of describing the beginning of holy Mass:

  1. "Before the Eucharistic celebration begins, the assembly gathers in the worship space. As the assembly sings the gathering song, the presider and other ministers enter. The presider greets the assembly and, in preparation for liturgy of Word and Eucharist, invites them to reflect on their sinfulness."

  2. "Before Mass, the congregation enters the church. As the introit or the processional hymn is sung, the celebrant, deacon, lector and servers enter in procession. The celebrant, having made the sign of the cross, greets the congregation and, in preparation for the sacred mysteries, exhorts the faithful to call to mind their sins."
It may seem that these descriptions are essentially the same, distinguished from each other only by more-or-less arbitrary differences of terminology. The first description is a fairly typical specimen of modern liturgical jargon, the second a straightforward exposition in more traditional nomenclature. It seems to me that in imposing the first kind of language on the Church through missalettes, hymnals, orders of worship, articles, homilies, and any other means available, the liturgists of a certain school are really seeking to impose notions of the sacred liturgy, the sacraments, and the Church which are quite different from those which are in fact held by the ecclesia docens.

Let us examine some of these common liturgical catchwords so beloved by modern liturgists, and seek to account for the insistence with which they are pressed upon us.

Eucharistic celebration, Eucharistic liturgy, etc.
Any term may be used except "Mass." Mass, of course, is the word which most Catholics have used for centuries to designate the principal service of their Church. To call holy Mass a "Eucharistic celebration" may be to imply (more or less subtly) that a different service is really in prospect-or, at least, a transformation of our conception of that service. The term "celebration," though venerable in the liturgical lexicon, is often used now in a rather different sense from its traditional meaning. The connotation is that we are going to have something very like a party, and that the Mass is an action which we who "celebrate" perform (indeed, liturgists often talk of our "doing Eucharist"), rather than a sacrifice which Christ offers. It is not many steps from this notion to the idea of the "community" celebrating itself.

This is meant as a somewhat tendentious translation of gahal or ecclesia: the coming together of the faithful. As opposed to "congregation" (the more common term until recently), it is designed to include all who "assemble," including the priest. The intention is to eradicate the distinction between the celebrant, acting in persona Christi, and the faithful who participate in the sacrifice analogically. (See Pius XII, encyclical Mediator Dei, and many other conciliar and papal pronouncements giving the Church's view.)

Worship space
A "space" is just a space; a church (building) is a symbolic, visible expression of the Church (the Body of Christ).

This idea-really just the fact of people being present at the same time and place-has been elevated by modern liturgists to the level of sacred action. As a "gathering rite," the opening prayers and hymns of the Mass (introit, penitential rite, Gloria, collect) become entirely a matter of people "gathering." The emphasis shifts from prayer and praise to such concerns as "hospitality": This is the trivialization of worship. We also, of course, gather for club meetings, sporting events, and virtually every other human enterprise involving more than one person in the same vicinity.

The constant use of this term for many sung parts of the liturgy is particularly exasperating to the faithful church musician, to him whom Father Robert Skeris calls "the competent Kapellmeister." "Song" (as unfortunately enshrined in the ICEL sacramentary) seems to be a mistranslation of cantus (chant) as in cantus ad introitum (entrance song) or, worse, "gathering song." It is used to refer to hymns, proper chants (e.g., introit, offertory or communion, when these are acknowledged at all), and any miscellaneous musical elements with the exception of the ordinary parts of the Mass. At least, I have not yet encountered terms such as "glory song" (Gloria,) "holy song" (Sanctus), or "bread-breaking song" (Agnus Dei). The implication in contemporary culture is that these sung items are the musical equivalent of pop tunes, and of course in practice they frequently are. I remain committed to the use of specific terms such as "hymn," "antiphon," "psalm," "canticle," and the like.

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Part 2: "Presider", "Minister" and more...

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