Praying a Musical Landscape
March 28, 2014 Comments Off on Praying a Musical Landscape
OK, I confess. For me a good mass is all about the music. When I hear mass, I need good music. When I was spiritually starving, it was the study of music, especially the works of the great Renaissance masters that put me back on the track to Christianity. And then, many years later in my journey to find St. Luke’s whose tradition was musical and liturgical, was a gift for which I have never stopped giving thanks. Given the choice, I could do without a sermon and just have great music.
OK, now that I have alienated our (and I suspect many other) clergy let me unpack this a little. I would like to offer an opportunity for all of us in the great season of Lent to spend a little time meditating on the very gifts and rewards our musical tradition provides. The next time you are at mass, take a moment and meditate on how you feel about the sounds you hear around you. What do we do when we sing or listen to music? Are you drawn to the chanting of the prayers and gospel readings? Do we find ourselves talking during the Offertory? Do we take time to really pay attention to the texts we either sing or hear? Do we pray the Kyrie, Sanctus or Agnus Dei as the choir sings it? If you don’t, give yourself permission to give it a try, I think you will be surprised at what you experience. As a resistant church returner, If I could find my way in, anyone can. You don’t have to be a singer or a musician to participate in our musical tradition.
As with any good sermon, composers of sacred music are inspired by the word of God, the teachings of Christ and the encompassing presence of the Holy Ghost, even if they aren’t entirely aware of it themselves. Composers of motets and mass ordinaries draw from the same tool box of inspiration as a priest preparing a sermon. The only difference is that the composers express themselves initially through a tonal language that becomes the vehicle in which language is the passenger. Although composers communicate their message more subtly, their interpretations of the message of prayer, scripture, meditation, self-examination, and joyfulness (even during Lent), can shine through in often surprising and very satisfying ways. In their work can be found not only great musical ability, but a clear and, I believe, a two-way, connection to the divine. The great composers and poets are, in addition to their obvious musical abilities, a conduit for a greater message and purpose. That such beauty could be created without a connection to God and a deeply held system of belief seems impossible to me. The creation of Art in any form is one God’s greatest gifts, and that we celebrate it here is a blessing.
– John Bradley