Monday, January 11, 2016

Christmas Liturgical Duties

With the first of the three "major" liturgical seasons (I group together Advent/Christmas/Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord; Lent/Triduum/Easter; and Ascension/Pentecost/Holy Trinity/Corpus Christi as peak times for preparation and performance for musicians) now over, I was reminded of this through a couple of posts on my Facebook account. An invitation extended by a former 'blogger who lives there became the start of my more serious interest in Gregorian chant and, by extension, the liturgy. While that flame kindled six years ago may only be an ember now, it really doesn't take much to ignite it again.

Proof of that occurred this past Christmas and the weeks leading up to it. While there has been little, if any, opportunity to experience, much less put into practice, what happens during events sponsored by the Church Music Association of America, the three Christmas Masses at which I assisted were a breath of fresh air. What the rest of this post will be, in essence, is a "What I Did During My Christmas Break" essay.

A Little Background

In 2013, I was asked to become part of the choir at another parish about 13 miles from where I live. Two years removed from when the choir in my home parish was disbanded, where I still am one of the cantors, I seized the opportunity. I was reunited with the former Music Director at my home parish; he actually replaced his son at this other parish.

Now, fast forward two years.

In mid-October, the 73 year-old pastor at this other church came down with a serious case of pneumonia and an even more serious reaction to the antibiotic. He found himself in the ICU of a hospital for a month, then continued his convalescence at an Catholic assisted living facility. Recovering has been slow but steady, and he is expect to return to duties sometime soon. (Rumor has it he might be returning within a week or so of this post.) In the meantime, weekend Masses have been led by either a retired priest or the judicial vicar of the diocese.

While the parish was grateful for the assistance of these priests, the question of who would be here for the holidays hovered.  The answer was a pleasant surprise. From Christmas through Epiphany, we would have one of our more recently ordained priests, a former member of my current home parish, who is currently finishing doctoral studies in Rome (he made the comment he lives in the library). It was around that time plans for Christmas were being made. Throughout the exchanges of email between the MD and the guest priest over the upcoming weeks, they put together the liturgies.

Popping The Questions

During our choir rehearsal November 5, the MD informed us all three Masses for Christmas (the Vigil Mass, the Mass During the Night, and the Mass During the Day) were going to be Missae Cantata. You cannot imagine my delight upon hearing this; obviously, I was completely behind it. After rehearsal, having been asked to stay behind, the MD asked me two questions:
1. Would I prepare the Graduals for these Masses? While we do have a paid cantor at this parish, he is new to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite and unfamiliar with Gregorian chant. I think the only more humbling "yes" to a question was Mary's to Gabriel. 
2. Had I ever sung the Readings? I answered, "No, but I would love to learn." While confirmation of that role would come two weeks later, I was already pointing and preparing them.
In early December, I also received a copy of the Universal Prayers; they were my responsibility to prepare as well. Along with this extra work, I also had my choir responsibilities of learning the other selections for Christmas, including learning the English version of Credo III.

Inquiring Minds 

And now, the question on everybody's mind:  How did it go?

They all went well. That holy building shook with joy. Here are the highlights:
1. The only parts of the Masses spoken were the "Confiteor", "Orate Fratres", and "Ecce, Agnus Dei". From what I could tell from the ambo and where the choir sits, the congregation picked up on their responses quickly. There is some singing during regular Sunday Masses, so the idea was not foreign to them. 
2. The priest is an alumnus of the Madeleine Choir School in Salt Lake City and a very good musician in his own right. His execution was wonderful, including the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ at the Christmas Mass--During the Night. I had never heard the Roman Canon intoned until these Masses; it added such a glorious element to the celebration. (As a side note, he offered in the Extraordinary Form the Christmas Mass--At Dawn as a Low Mass. As much as I wanted to assist at that, I didn't wake up in time to go.) 
3. There was a misunderstanding on my part regarding the readings. I thought the Readings for the Christmas Mass--During the Night were also going to be used at the Vigil Mass. Wrong. Fortunately for me, having been a Lay Reader at other times in my life and somewhat accustomed to reading "cold", I was able to prepare the proper Readings rather quickly. Good thing the tones for the Old Testament and Acts are the same, although I used the New Testament ending (using a descending minor third instead of the perfect fifth for "The Word of the Lord").  Despite the snafu, all of the Reading were proclaimed well. 
4. Because of that misunderstanding, I didn't prepare the correct Gradual for the Vigil Mass, "Hodie scietis": I used "Tecum principium" instead, (And looking at "Hodie" when I got a chance, I saw it was basically the same melody as "Tecum", so it would have been somewhat easy to learn.) "Tecum" and "Viderunt omnes" went well enough; I stayed in mode and in tune, despite some slight bobbles in very few spots. It had been two-and-one-half years since I have publicly sang any of the Propers as a "sola schola" (as I am not allowed to sing any of the Propers at my home parish); I got props from one of the extra singers brought in as choral reinforcements for the courage to do that. 
5.  The Universal Prayers went off without a hitch.
As I mentioned early, the church did shake with holy joy with our joyful noise. But, that was not the only thing shaking. Granted, I have had the privilege of intoning the "Exsultet" and the "Proclamation" as a church musician (and would love to complete the trifecta with the "Proclamation of the Moveable Feasts" at Epiphany). But in all honesty, my role as Lay Reader/Psalmist for these Masses were the most challenging and nervous 5-7 minutes (each) of my liturgical career.

And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

"When The Student Is Ready,..."

"The teacher will appear."

Lessons learned (or perhaps better stated, reinforced):
1. There is no such thing as over-preparation.
2. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
3. Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
I hope it's not too long before I can assist in a Mass like that. I don't mean having a somewhat prominent role as I did. I speak of another Missa Cantata. I want to help install another brick in the restoration of sacred and beautiful liturgies.

To those who are a part of these kind of Masses on a regular basis, please remember it's rare for me to have this kind of opportunity. I am not meaning to brag; I just wanted for you to "come, share my joy". I am pleased and proud of what I did.

Thank you for allowing me to share this experience.

The afterglow is still there.

St. Augustine, in either quote attributed to him, is spot on.

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