Sunday, September 5, 2010
THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN THE PRIEST AND THE CHOIR IN THE EXTRAORDINARY FORM HIGH MASS: IS IT NECESSARY?
One of the things that I felt unusual as I learned how to celebrate the EF High Mass is that in many places prior to Vatican II, the priest was required always to say all the parts of the Mass even though the choir was also singing them. For example, the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Offertory antiphon, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Communion Antiphon were always said by the priest even though the choir was singing these also. If the choir parts were long, the priest would sit as well as the congregation while the choir completed their parts. But the priest had already said these! In the revival of the EF Mass, I find that some priests or congregations are still emulating this which I think truly does need reform. There is no reason why it must continue for the High Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
But there is a positive as well as the negative aspect to be considered. The positive aspect of this disconnect from the choir/congregation is that it emphasizes the role of the priest at Mass as precisely that "priest" or mediator between God and Man. Jesus is ultimately that Mediator or High Priest during the celebration of the Mass, the ordained priest only represents this realty in a sacramental way. So what the priest is doing even independent of the choir/congregation is important as it points to or reveals Jesus Christ who is the One Intercessor before our Heavenly Father. We cannot go directly to God the Father except through Jesus Christ! The sacramental priest standing between the laity and God the Father is a sign of Jesus' exclusive High Priesthood who represents us before God the Father.
The negative aspect is that it implies that the laity from whom the ordained priest is called, does not also have a priestly function during the celebration of the Mass, albeit priest and laity have different roles. The laity together with the clergy form the Body of Christ and His Bride. So for the priest to usurp the parts that the priest and laity have in common and use them exclusively as his own prayer seems to be a corruption of his function at the altar and a diminishment of the legitimate priestly function of the laity by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation at any given Mass.
In fact the first revision of the Mass and its rubrics immediately following Vatican II in the 1965 missal instructs the priest to say or sing together with the congregation and or choir those parts of the Mass that belong to both clergy and laity. This was a most needed and important reform of the Tridentine Mass and there is no reason why it cannot continue with the 1962 missal although the rubrics are not explicit in it as in the 1965.
The only exception I would suggest would be to non-Gregorian chanted Mass which use Mass settings that are more choir or concert pieces. Of course, the use of this type of music would be very rare in any given parish except for some special occasion if the church choir could pull it off or a visiting choir wanted to perform a very difficult concert Mass. Then the priest could do as was commonly done and sit as the choir completed their lenghty pieces.
The other exception is for the Roman Canon after the Sanctus. I can see where it might be advantageous for the priest to say the Sanctus by himself and launch into the canon prior to the choir's completion of the Sanctus. The people in the EF Mass kneel at the Sanctus, not afterward. The canon is prayed silently, a symbolic way of entering the "holy of holies" like the Eastern Rites enter behind the Iconostasis of their sanctuaries. I'm not opposed to a silent canon if it is properly understood as a sign of reverence and the holiness of the Canon.