Thursday, February 22, 2007

Awesome Ash Wednesday

Last night's celebration of Ash Wednesday was beautiful.

As described several days ago, this Lent we are doing some different things at Mass: we will begin with an Introit, or a "psalm-antiphon" as I described it in our bulletin; we are using instruments less -- so, last night, we had almost no instrumental music, only voice; we used new music for the Memorial Acclamation: "Dying you destroyed our death..." and the Lamb of God; and we introduced the chant Sanctus.

Church was full, which is always a wonderful sight. Handouts were in place, and the music director reviewed the music with the people a few minutes before Mass. I was in the sacristy, chatting with the reader, and I interrupted her and said, "just listen to that": the people were practicing the Sanctus and it was stunning.

The music worked well, I thought; unfortunately, the memorial acclamation and Lamb of God were also new to folks, so that was a little weak. Also, the Sanctus, because people weren't holding their handouts at that point, and aren't used to that. But that said, folks did sing the music well, and the power and beauty with which they sang it prior to Mass clearly proves they can and will sing it! So, with time, I believe it will work well.

As my music director observed, part of what made it beautiful was that the singing was unaccompanied. It's amazing to me how seldom one hears this on Sunday -- as if there were some "rule against it" or it was "too hard." It is not "too hard"--people sing unaccompanied all the time. Could it be that some music directors either lack the skill to do this; or they don't want to have (seemingly) less to do?

Other music sung: Parce Domine during the imposition of ashes: Latin refrain, English verses; "Hear us, Almighty Lord" (Attende Domine) in English, at the offertory. At communion, we did something contemporary, but I cannot recall what it was (perhaps my music director will wander over here and post the title); but it was well chosen, and it fit, and it worked far better as part of a mix, than it would when everything has the dreary sameness.

At the end, we sang "The Glory of These Forty Days" which seemed a hopeful finish.

I did something a little different with the ashes--I wonder if anyone wants to offer a liturgical critique on this: I set them up on a table, in front of the baptismal font, which is in front of the Mary altar. The Easter Candle was there, unlit of course. I blessed the ashes, and sprinkled them with holy water (which comes from the baptismal font when possible), then imposed ashes on the extraordinary ministers who came forward and met me there. Why do it that way?

Well, the other way is to set it up on a table at the foot of the sanctuary -- where the altar rail used to be -- or, to have the server hold them on a tray. Anyway, I thought the connection with baptism useful. That is, after all, a major theme of Lent (and Easter); we are either preparing for baptism, or recalling the initial conversion of our baptism. Liturgically, our path of Lent will lead us right back to that font, on the Vigil, and on Easter Sunday.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was so thrilled when you said the singing was fine unaccompanied by instruments.
Some yrs. ago I attended an Amish service in connection with writing a story for a publication. The absence of accompaniment made the voices so personal and awesome. The experience was so impressive that ever since then when I (and the other non-Amish who were with me on that occasion have expressed similar thoughts)hear accompanied singing it doesn't sound "right", like eating chocolate on mashed potatoes or something.
There is just something transcendant about the human voice praising God and it doesn't need the loud or mechanical embellishment of musical instruments sometimes.
I applaud you for noticing this and for being willing to encourage it, Father Fox!
Annie

Jim said...

Nice job using the baptismal font as a location. Our liturgy is so full of symbolism and uniting these two powerfuls symbols is wonderful.

John L. Wright said...

The song we used was, "Remember Your Love," a song recorded by the Dameans in the 70's. I, Fr. Martin's music director, was also very pleased with how things went. The choir seemed to be empowered to fill their role as leaders in the sung liturgy.
The organ can sometimes act as a security blanket. That is why I think choirs (or at least our choirs) sometimes feel intimidated to sing a cappella. I think the assemblies, over time, will also feel a little more ownership in the liturgy where there is a good amount of a cappella singing.

John L. Wright said...

P.S.
What's wrong with chocolate and mashed potatoes?

T.O. said...

We're doing our Holy Week liturgy entirely unaccompanied. I'm really looking forward to it. The hardest part is teaching the choir four-part harmony -- it's a lot more work to do it unaccompanied if you want it to SOUND good. IMHO, of course. :)

Anonymous said...

Hee, hee!
To some of us, John, musical instruments sans voices are great, and voices sans instruments are great, but both at once can, on occasion, with some music, sound incompatible. That Amish service was outdoors at sunrise, and while the deep men's voices and soft women's voices sounded very natural, guitars would have been the ruination of the whole effect.
I'm tolerant of organs and pianos in church but do not care for guitars, brass, etc. except on certain occasions such as Christmas carols. Because I'm OOOOooooooold, I don't like rock Masses at all but concede they have meaning to the young - that's ok, we'll just go to different liturgies! (I don't think things I don't like are wrong, as in evil or undesirable, they are just not my preferences.)
If you are a music director, John, you are one of the hardest-working people on a parish staff - but I'm sure it's a labor of love for you, and you definitely haven't lost your sense of humor!

Annie

Anonymous said...

John, your remark about the organ as a security blanket was very true (I'm an organist myself,BTW). Sometimes our choir has sung a capella, and it's beautiful -- besides which, I get a chance to sing (heh). Also, you are very fortunate to have a pastor who's so proactively involved in preparation of liturgical music. For whatevver reason, our pastor seems to have given our choir directors a free hand. They are firmly stuck in the Haugen-Haas mode, and I'm bored because they choose the same "songs" sung over again. I don't know what the congregation's reaction is (our loft is in the back, upstairs), but I'd like someday to hear them sing unaccompanied. That's a great way to foster more active participation at Mass. I'll keep praying for that, and as Annie said, bravo to Fr. Fox for encouraging this! Pat

Father Martin Fox said...

Thanks for the kind words.

I have high hopes, and my purpose is to magnify the participation of everyone at Mass, to make participation in Mass a more meaningful and attractive experience...

Hence, to draw more Catholics to Mass...

Hence, to strengthen how Catholics evangelize in this community.

Father Klingele said...

Regarding the original post but not the thread (forgive me):

Has the Church ever approved EMHCs distributing ashes? If not, I know people will interject, "But it will take so long." If so, would they then be called EMA (extraordinary ministers of ashes).

One would likely say, "if they can give out Holy Communion (greater than ashes), surely they can give out ashes." Is the EMA merely handing out ashes in the fashion of a mother handing out blessed rosaries to her children? Or is the EMA actually effecting a blessing on the people marked with a cross of ashes? EMHCs have been roundly told to stop 'blessing' the infants accompanying their parents for Holy Communion.

I know that this is a veritable can of worms. But there seems to be some fundamental issues here. Certainly if the act of marking a cross is a constitutive blessing, we are in trouble because all the EMAs giving ashes is worthless. If the distribution of ashes is merely distributing blessed ashes (which may be suggested by the fact that many countries sprinkle ashes on the head instead of marking a sign of the cross on the forehead) then why don't we get a tenth of the people assembled to distibute to 9 people each.

Has anyone thought this out?

Father Martin Fox said...

Father:

Without adverting to chapter-and-verse, I recall that emhc can be permitted to administer ashes, as well as a modified form of the St. Blase blessing.

While I can see your point that the imposition of ashes having new meaning if clearly performed by an ordained minister (I'm assuming you wouldn't object to deacons doing it), my sense is that's a battle for another day...

Anonymous said...

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The song is "Communion Song" and Chris Sligh wrote it. He is my families' American Idol Lets help him do good and as Chris Sligh put it, "Make David Hasslehoff cry" Please send this to any or all of your Christian e-mail lists.


http://www.worshipideas.com/CommunionSong_VocalDemo.mp3

http://chris-sligh.info/content/view/37/1/

http://chris-sligh.info/content/view/37/1/
Just click the play symbol Communion Song

Lord here we are We've come to be filled
Reached out our hands to received the blood you spilled
Humbly we bow here with hearts on display
To take of the Body that took our guilt away

And we come here yes we come
Take us in Here we are come in and know us
come take our hearts
This is all our hearts live for is...
Holy Communion...nothing more...nothing more

Lord here we are Naked in sin to taste of the wine
And be made clean again
Humbly we bow here to take of the bread
Bled forgiveness run like new oils on our head

And we come here yes we come
Take us in Here we are come in and know us
come take our hearts
This is all our hearts live for is...
Holy Communion...nothing more...nothing more

Lord Have Mercy ...Christ Have Mercy..
Lord Have Mercy on us (repeat 4 times)

Take us in Here we are come in and know us
come take our hearts
This is all our hearts live for is...
Holy Communion...nothing more...nothing more