FROM THE NATIONAL LITURGY OFFICE
by Rev. Bill Burke
I once heard the story of a religious sister who was granted a sabbatical to mark the 25th anniversary of her profession. She planned to spend Christmas Eve at home with her mother and from October onward, she dreamt of the meal after Midnight Mass when her mother always served the best bread pudding in the world. But her mother was planning a surprise. She had enrolled in a gourmet cooking class, and for this very special Christmas homecoming, she had prepared an exotic French dessert. The surprise proved to be a major disappointment for the daughter who said: “It’s not about the dessert Mom, it’s about the memories.”
In the Christian tradition, memory is not about nostalgia; rather it is very much concerned with meaning. “Do this in memory of Me.” The Christian way of memory or anamnesis enacts the mystery of Christ really present among us. In our rich Roman tradition, the highly developed liturgical year is truly a gift and the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle is one of the jewels in the crown. This season is replete with symbols, traditions, foods and customs. One of the most evident is the treasury of music associated with this festival. Although the stores begin a musical assault with Christmas carols in October, people are still moved when they hear their “favourites” at Midnight Mass. In fact, they may be highly annoyed if they don’t hear them. Such is the importance of “memory” at Christmas.
But in matters of the faith, memory must be at the service of meaning. The power of music to bear the great weight of this multivalent season shows clearly the integral significance of liturgical music for every celebration in all times and seasons. Music is not an accompaniment to prayer; it is prayer and therefore, like all formal liturgical prayer, it is to be governed by meaning- the meaning of the liturgy and the role of music in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. Put bluntly, it is therefore governed by “the Church.” In this issue of the newsletter, we present reflections on liturgical music. May the great music of Christmas inspire us to take seriously the task of providing good and solid liturgical music all year long.
National Council for Liturgy
Advent is upon us and with it—and the Christmas season to follow—we are blessed to have so much beautiful music. Music ministers need to remember that the music of the Sunday liturgies still follows the norms for all Sundays. For example, the responsorial psalm must indeed be the appointed psalm sung in a responsorial manner. There is no provision here for the choir to sing alone or for a hymn, even one based on a psalm text, to be sung after the first reading. There is, though, the possibility of singing a seasonal Advent psalm, if your community lacks music ministers or if the community is not yet a singing one. (See CBW III no.15, 16.)
It is Advent, so until the Evening Masses on December 24th, we sing Advent music. Even though the secular world has been blasting out the carols since Hallowe’en, we have only four Advent Sundays and so much wonderful Advent music to sing. O Come O Come Emmanuel is such an important part of our Christian tradition that it deserves to be sung at least once on an Advent Sunday.
It makes eminent sense at all the Christmas Eve and Day Masses to use familiar carols which everyone can sing. This is basic musical hospitality. Again though, follow the norms for choosing music on Sundays in deciding when to sing carols. It is still proper to sing a psalm—or an appropriate Communion hymn—with a brief refrain during the Communion procession so that the people can sing as they process. Familiar carols can fit at the gathering, as the gifts are presented and at the going forth. Keep the Christmas music for the entire season from December 24th until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.