Today, we sang the Mass to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. For the last two years, we have sung the Mass at one of the scheduled Masses for every holy day. When I imagined this particular Mass, I envisioned the normal 9:30 am congregation joining in the dialogue chants with gusto as they have done in the past, accepting the extra singing in light of this joyful feast of All Saints. However, since we haven’t had a holy day for awhile, today felt like we were really doing this for the first time. Other aspects made singing the Mass feel more cumbersome to me than it has at other times. For example, the 9:30 am Mass crowd filled the church to capacity with people sitting in extra chairs and standing in the back. Two issues, the time change and Halloween, made the 9:30 am Sunday Mass an especially popular Mass time this weekend. The 9:30 am Mass is always full, but today it was crowded and that changed the vibe. People weren’t sitting where they normally do. The 9:30 am regulars were outnumbered by visiting parishioners. In our parish, when we gather like this (this also happens at weddings, funerals and at Christmas and Easter), when we gather in a different manner than the norm, our usually confident congregational singing weakens. These factors made our Mass chants and music more choir led than I would have liked, even though our pastor did a great job leading the sung orations and the choirs sang well.
What is the good that is being accomplished by singing the Mass in a crowded church where most of the people aren’t prepared to participate in this way? I could argue that with repetition, people would be more able to participate, but singing the Mass makes the Mass last longer, so it isn’t something that we will do every week. Or, I could say that the greatest good is that the choir members have learned how to sing the Mass. The choir members consist of youth and adults who rehearse weekly. Learning to sing the Mass in rehearsals helps form their liturgical spirituality, helps them to contemplate the beauty of the Mass. Finally, I would argue that this is what we are asked to do by Mother Church: sing the Mass. From the first popes to the second Vatican Council, the Church asks us to sing the Mass chants. However, in light of overwhelming current practice of not singing the Mass, these arguments aren’t compelling. They don’t promise an obvious objective good, like increased collections, or increased attendance by non-church goers.
A colleague and I frequently discuss how to successfully evangelize today. I appreciate my colleague’s insights and wisdom. He meets with people in all walks of life through marriage prep, baptism prep and RCIA. I admire his understanding of where people are spiritually. He shared with me that, in his experience, good evangelists have a knack for listening as much as talking. They listen in order to learn about the person they would like to evangelize: listen to their story, their concerns, their life experience. A less successful type of Evangelist draws from his own experience and projects that onto everyone else. Sometimes, converts fall into this trap as they have experienced great joy in becoming Catholic and are ready to force others to experience that joy. This is soapbox evangelism, in your face evangelism. I remember as a child visiting New York City and seeing an evangelist on a street corner standing on a box and shouting out the Gospel to the city. What an incredible witness to love, but also what a very limited tool for evangelism.
I try to argue that zeal is attractive, but it’s obvious that there is truth in what he is saying. So, is singing the Mass an example of in your face evangelism? An attempt to put the liturgy on a soapbox? I think of this in light of the titles of a couple of Matthew Kelly books: Rediscovering Catholicism and Rediscover Jesus. The order of publication of these books shows the problem that we face today as Catholics. The author wanted to share his Catholic faith with disheartened Catholics, ergo the first title. However, the feedback received from this attempt showed that it is not just that Catholics don’t know about Catholicism (which is true), it’s that they don’t even know about Jesus, ergo the second title. In this way, one could argue that singing the Mass really misses the mark in terms of what normal Catholics are able to appreciate, and that all this chanting actually discourages them by making participation in the Mass more demanding and tedious.
Each of us face these issues every time we try to share our faith. How do we make our faith attractive to this generation? In this case, how do we make the sung Mass a tool of the new evangelization?