Sunday, 1 April 2018

Praying Twice, Or Maybe 50%

Another Easter Vigil gone.  More beautiful liturgy.  More people received into the Church.  Gloria in excelsis Deo!

St Augustine said (apparently, it seems to be apocryphal) that whomever sings well prays twice.  We were fortunate during this year's Vigil: our parish priest has a good singing voice; and he had a guest priest from Poland concelebrating whose voice was extremely good.  The latter chanted the entirety of the Exsultet, and it was wonderful.

Aside from my usual embarrassment when faced with a non-native English speaker that speaks flawless English (paraphrasing Bruce Willis, I only speak two languages: English; and bad English), there was something else that grated on me a little this Vigil.  Actually, this is a little grating in a lot of Church things I do.  It's the singing.  And the fact that I'm a terrible singer.

I'm told by someone I trust about these things that hardly anyone is inherently, naturally bad at singing: like everything else, it's an acquired skill.  With enough training and practice, it's within the grasp of most to sing well.  I suppose then, with me, it's a lack of application for one reason or another: I've chosen to prioritise other things, not least because, until recently, I've never had any desire to sing or seen any real need to.

An Ordinary Form Mass (and other liturgical services) often involve the people singing.  You're asked to sing hymns.  You're asked to sing the responses.  There are some prayers that are usually sung too, like the Gloria.  When I sing these, I'm predictably awful.  I don't know how other people in the congregation are doing, but I'm sure that only about a fifth of us are actually trying.  As far as I can gather, none of us are doing very much to improve the situation.

This is all by way of saying that I really need to do something about this.  I'm not too bothered about being one of the few non-awful, non-lackluster singers at Mass.  I'm more concerned that there is a good role for beautiful singing and I'm being deliberately obtuse in not doing something about it.  Thankfully, there's a tonne of really good resources online on how to sing plainchant: once again, the Latin Mass Society comes through!  I know that it'll only take me so far though; eventually, I'll have to find someone to help.  As for singing more polyphonic things, I suppose that'll be next.

One last thought: if most people don't have the time or inclination to learn to sing, should liturgy comprise of sections where the active participation of the majority of the congregation is necessary?  Perhaps small, professional choirs are a better option than a pretense of mass participation: any individual that wanted to meet a standard could join; and most of the congregation that felt singing was burdensome could concentrate on prayer more comfortable to them.  I doubt that's an idea that'll find much favour, but it might inject a welcome degree of solemnity in place of a sullenness I'd imagine no-one really wants.

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