Homily at the Polyphony Weekend

Article excerpt

Delivered at the Chapel of Christ the King Seminary, Irving, Texas, February 22, 2009

The culmination of the music worksop of the last three days is the Eucharistic Sacrifice which we are celebrating this afternoon.

It is a "Missa Cantata," almost a "solemn" Mass, where most of the texts are sung by the priest, by the choir, and by the congregation, as the Second Vatican Council ordered us to do.

Sacred music belongs to the celebration of the Eucharist. The singing of the choir is not an accessory to the liturgy, or just a beautification of worship, but rather, as Vatican II put it, "a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy." (1) Your singing, dear choir members, gives more solemnity to the prayerful offering of the community gathered here together. Granted, such wonderful celebration is not possible in the daily parish. But it is the model and inspiration to all of us.

I suppose that you, dear singers, regard it as your task to offer to God the Best and the most Beautiful. In your own community you resist the penetration of the artistically cheap, the primitive, and the vulgar into sacred music. I hope, you do not sing today only for the sake of art, but for God's sake. Quality and beauty should characterize the music of our worship. To sell out sacred music to mere functionalism or cheap commercialism or to lower it to the level of teenage song-feasts would not make our liturgy more "open" but pitifully poorer.

Let's now reflect shortly upon a few parts of the ordinary that we all share prayerfully with our choir, the Kyrie, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei.

In the Kyrie we called to the Lord; "Have mercy on us!" If we really mean what we are singing, it should have some consequences: We should break with the sins of the past; we should free ourselves from compulsive egoism; we must honestly try to liberate ourselves from bad habits which are repugnant to God; and we shall set out upon a new life. Quite a program--but there is more. We must ready ourselves to make atonement and reparation for our sins.

But ... with the vows of absolution, pronounced by the priest, God grants us true forgiveness! He does not simply cover up our sins, he takes our sins away. He forgives them. The guilty become innocent, not just free from punishment.

Dear friends in Christ: every time we sing or hear the Kyrie we should feel humility, contrition, and petition, but also joy and thanksgiving. "Flevi in hymnis and canticis tuis," says St. Augustine. "I have wept in your hymns and chants, O Mother Church." (2) The choir sang God's love and mercy into our hearts today and they will do so in the future in their own parishes. The Lord will reward them for it and we thank them for it.

Now a few remarks about the Sanctus.

A great majority of post-conciliar liturgists insist that this angelic hymn belongs to the people, that it is an acclamation (3) and it must be sung by the entire congregation. Why does then our choir sing it today? We follow the suggestion of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict:

   If the congregation has a choir that can draw it into cosmic praise
   and into the open expanse of heaven and earth more powerfully than
   its own stammering, then the representative function of the choir
   is at this moment particularly appropriate. Through the choir a
   greater transparency to the praise of the angels and therefore a
   more profound, interior joining in with their singing are bestowed
   than a congregation's own acclamation and song would be capable of
   doing in many places. (4)

And, as we experience today, we have here a most capable choir! Pope Benedict continues in his article to talk more about the Sanctus, a very interesting remark:

   The choral Sanctus has its justification even after the Second
   Vatican Council. But what about the Benedictus? The assertion that
   it may under no circumstances be separated from the Sanctus has
   been put so emphatically and with such apparent competence that
   only a few brave souls have been able to refuse to comply with it. …