Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Mass as Work

Father Martin Fox, an excellent priest who blogs in Ohio, is working up a parish study of Sacramentum Caritatis. That is the exhortation Benedict XVI issued in response to the Bishops' synod on the Eucharist. What a marvelous idea! I am tempted to suggest we start a study group in our own parish (Blessed Sacrament, Wichita, Kansas.)

His posting catalyzed my thoughts on the liturgy as work. Hence this posting.

Many wonder why we sing in the mass; why we chant. Chant reunites us with three thousand or more years of Hebrew praying, the prayers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the praying of Annas, Hillel, and Jesus. True! But it also is central to the mass as work.

Today, we do not have a sense of the mass as work, but we need one. We have been focusing on the mass as a supper and a communal get together (the horizontal dimension) rather than the hard work of worshiping the King of Glory (the vertical dimension.) One reason I believe the the priest and the congregation should face the same direction (east) is that both are doing the same work; both should be working together. That is the true priesthood of the faithful.

Work has changed so much we have forgotten how human beings work together. We have forgotten the existential reality of millennia of sweat and exertion.

Work is highly industrialized in our world. We either do our specialized tasks to the clang of a machine or we work in silence in paper factories. Admitedly some of our paper factories produce only "virtual paper." The norm in our more human past was to sing as we worked. For work was physical and power was muscle power. This dependence on people rather than machines puts a premium on teamwork. Getting team members to (literally) pull together requires physical coordination: power in line was more than one person pulling together. Why sing? The melody made men move together.

"In times past, songs unified men in work. This is how gangs of men build the rhythm to work in unison. Think of sea shanties! Each crew member pulled on the beat to heave the anchor....

"In the liturgy, the role of chant is to join us in the rhythm of prayer: the common work of praising the transcendent God. We must relearn to pray like men."

True folk songs are predominantly work songs. What irony that the "folk songs" that became the model for contemporary American Catholic masses were the songs written to entertain the upper middle class college kids of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They are a far cry from the work songs handed down from generation to generation with which the "folk" did real physical labor.

The Holy Father chose the name of Benedict whose motto was "Pray and Work" (Ora et Labora) with good reason. The monks when they sung the mass and the office were working just as much as when they tilled the fields with a song in their lungs and a hoe in their hands. The divine work in the oratory produced fruit no less than the human work in the fields.

The whole mass should be chanted with the chanting uniting the priest, the congregation, and the heavenly martyrs, angels, and saints as they do this divine work, a work that bears eternal fruit. Augustine tells us that he who sings (chants) prays twice.

Redouble your efforts!

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