Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eucharistic "Danny Boy" Prayer

From the blog of Fr. Z:

From a reader:

That is strange.

Last weekend we had a visiting priest and something strange happened.
He sang the first part of the Eucharistic prayer to the tune of “Danny Boy”. Well, needless to say most of us were a little more than thrown off by this priest’s crooning. He had a good voice but it was so strange. After mass it was explained to several of us that chanting is acceptable and this was just another musical version of the prayer, like the chant. Can a priest set the prayers of mass to whatever tune it suits him?

Weird. And wrong.

Singing the Eucharistic Prayer to the tune of “Danny Boy” is reason #24456 for why we needed Summorum Pontificum.

And would I be right in assuming that this was a Mass “facing the people”? And that the priest was….not particularly young?

While there are approved liturgical books with musical notation for the Eucharistic Prayer, there is no one approved way to sing it. Sadly, some priests and bishops have made up their own versions. Results vary. Priests are wise to stick to approved books, in my humble opinion, or at the very least stick closely to the model of sacred chants of our tradition.

Music for Mass is not a mere ornament, external to the liturgical action. We cannot simply change it arbitrarily. It is of the essence of the liturgical action, and integrating part of the liturgical action. Music for Mass must be artistic and sacred. The texts which are set should be sacred texts proper for liturgical worship. The music should be art and in an idiom which is recognizable as sacred. That is a tricky issue, of course. Allow me to illustrate by simplification.

“Danny Boy” has a nice, sentimental tune, but there is nothing of the sacred about it. When you hear Danny Boy, you think of Irish pubs. And the more pints you have, the better you are at singing it, alone or with others. When you hear a Sousa March you think of a parade or sporting event. You don’t, however, go to a parade or football stadium and expect to hear Gregorian chant… unless of course that parade is a liturgical procession. You don’t want Sousa in church or chant at the ball game.

“Danny Boy” doesn’t belong at Mass. No matter how well the priest could sing it, the tune of Danny Boy has the wrong idiom for Mass.

I have often wondered if, in the case of priests who make up their own idiosyncratic thing, they are not making Mass about themselves. “Look at me! Listen to how clever I am!”

It seems to me that, as younger men come up in the ranks, men who are open also to our older, traditional Form of Holy Mass, this sort of thing will quickly fade.

Priests have to get themselves out of the way of the liturgical action, of what the Lord – the true Priest at Mass – is doing.

In Sacramentum caritatis 23 we read that:

… priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the centre of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.

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