Thursday 28 October 2010

The Heritage of Holiness

Whilst in Rome last week I offered Mass in the Holy Cross chapel of St Mary Major's. Here we are in the sacristy complete with two concelebrating priests ( I make an exception for the dreaded concelebration when on holiday) Deacon and Religious Brother serving. There was a sign in the sacristy directed at the priests that read:

Offer this Mass as if it were your first...
your last...
and your only one.
We had a small congregation of about 20 pilgrims who participated actively and actually with great devotion by chanting the parts of the Mass. The Antiphons were also chanted. It was very beautiful, simple and moving - and completely possible to offer the Novus Ordo Mass ad orientem, in Latin, with chant in the often less than ideal circumstances of turning up in a church on pilgrimage without having the chance of much preparation. I noticed that whenever the chant was sung, a crowd gathered outside the glass doors of the chapel. We had no problem when requesting a Latin Missal and an English Lectionary in either sacristy and this time, and nearly always, find that other people not from our group are drawn to what they see and hear and come and join us - the beauty being that Mass is not in our or their language but in the language of the Church, which breaks down the barriers.

The beauty of the experience echoes with something James McMillan has written in response to an article in the telegraph, when, after the Scottish bishops had asked him to compose a Mass setting for the Papal visit, it was almost railroaded by a "committee" who took against it for, among other reasons, that "it might require a competent organist". I'm not actually the greatest fan of Mr McMillan's liturgical music (although streets ahead of what we have suffered in the last 40 years) but here is part of his response on Damien Thompson's site:

Chant should be re-introduced universally in our liturgies. It can be done in Latin or the vernacular. I truly think that it might be a time for composers to butt out for a bit! We have enough music, and not enough care is being taken in reviving the great Catholic traditions. We (composers) might be better employed for a few years adapting the chant traditions for the use of ordinary people.

We have such a wealth of chant and chant based Church music for the liturgy - the heritage of holiness - with such variety that there are examples that can be sung in any setting - from the lowliest little parish to St Peter's. If only we would use it to stimulate our sense of God's presence and let it help us pray!

We had a similar Mass at St John Lateran as well, pictured below.

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