Our new associate pastor, Fr. J, celebrated his first mass at our parish this past Sunday. Things look quite encouraging. He was just ordained a month ago, so we're his first assignment. He's a fine singer, and it turns out that he performs with classical and renaissance music groups around Austin. He did an excellent job chanting the Eucharistic rite -- which just highlighted the banality of the service music.
I greeted him before Mass and told him I'd heard he was a skilled chant teacher (one of our friends is a seminarian for the diocese of Austin and knew Father there). Was he planning on starting a Schola? He said that at this point he was playing his cards close to his vestments, but that perhaps once he's settled in he might look into putting something together. I expressed interest in participating in such a group, should one form.
I know that there are a number of fine singers in our parish who don't regularly participate in any of the choirs because of the music selections at the various masses. I myself sang with the choir at Christmas and Easter -- perhaps that's cherry-picking for the best music of the year, and yet those are also solemn times when the choir should add good voices to swell the song. It would be easier to retain those extra voices if the music during the rest of the year were taken as seriously as at Christmas and Eastertide.
And yet, I don't want beautiful music just for the sake of beautiful music. It has to serve the Mass. A choir director must have the humility to know, for example, if not all of a carefully practiced hymn should be sung after communion if performing the song in whole will hold up the Mass. This is a trend I've noticed at several parishes I've attended. Music that stops the Mass at key points -- overly long offertory hymns or post-communion selections -- becomes performance music, and has the unfortunate tendency of inviting applause from the congregation. It draws attention to itself.
So here's to Fr. J and his chant. May his example on the altar have a strong influence on the liturgical life of the parish. He's in our prayers.