Mixed Voices – Pastor’s Reflection (May 15, 2016)
Each year this great feast presents us with the commotion unleashed by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Virgin Mary. The jumble of languages that erupted out of the Upper Room tells us two key things. First, each heard the Gospel in his or her own language. Second, only the Spirit understood the whole of that scene. It was for God alone to perceive and enjoy the coherence beneath the chaos.
Have things really changed very much in the meantime?
I find that the Spirit communicates the faith to me, and sustains it, using a certain language. Meanwhile, right next to me, I can hear that another receiving the same faith, and thriving in it, via a completely different means of communication. The continuing Babel of Pentecost asserts itself no more raucously than in worship. Consider incense. The fragrant clouds of smoke rising to heaven have always offered me a potent sign of our intimacy with God in Christ. Yet my neighbor perceives that same sign as a noxious irritant. Why is it that I can soar along with the organ as it accompanies the great hymns, meanwhile my good friend longs for the reflectiveness of chant, and still another finds all church music to be in the way of the Divine connection.
By an amazing mystery men and women speaking all the varied languages of worship find themselves gathered in our parish, and in “their” parish they would speak to God in “their” way. This truth makes the organization of Liturgy a profoundly pastoral act.
One of our goals in designing the new Mass schedule, to take effect the first weekend in July, is to give more scope to our own liturgical Pentecost. Last week I wrote at length about the significance of the parochial Solemn Mass (St. Vincent’s at noon). Set in the public square of parish life, this liturgy draws those who worship in the language of song and ceremony. The “High Mass” at St. Catherine’s at 10 am will provide people a similar mode of engaging in a more brief format.
At the opposite end of the spectrum stand the significant number of men and women for whom liturgical music hampers prayer. Theirs is the craving for silence and for unadorned speech. Such are the men and women who seek the quiet focus that comes with “Low Mass.”
Our new Mass schedule for Sundays provides for two Low Masses. At St. Vincent’s the spoken liturgy at 8 am is of longstanding and we can preserve it to our profit. Of late, St. Catherine’s has not had a Low Mass for Sunday, and so we are making one available at 4 pm on Saturday afternoon. We hope this Mass may be of service to families visiting the hospitals, as well as to older residents in the neighborhood who would like to begin their evening earlier.
Another language of worship revealed itself to me a couple of years ago when one of our St. Vincent Ferrer High School students played her violin at the Vigil Mass. She elicited a strong positive reaction from the congregation on this and several subsequent occasions. People sat or stood very still and gave her all their attention. Naturally they were struck by great skill and poise in one so young, but they were also revealing another way in which music serves prayer. Here, music releases the speech of the heart and the receptivity of the soul by calming and soothing. It struck me that the work of the violinist struck a responsive chord in busy and stressed New Yorkers.
The insight of that moment has never left me. So, when it came time to think about the Mass schedule and the music program I wanted to incorporate a pastoral response to the need I perceived. Further, it seemed to me that such a contemplative experience of the Eucharist would most fit the evening hours. What we would like to offer at the two 6 pm Masses at St. Vincent’s and at the 5 pm Mass at St. Catherine’s is a gently played, gently sung experience of the Eucharist. Our hope is that with this format, people would come to mass at the end of the day for an unwinding directed to connection with God, self, and neighbor.
Offering this range of musical alternatives honors the variety of temperaments existing within the unity of the Parish. It also allows people to move freely between liturgies according to the spiritual needs of a given day and time.
In upcoming weeks, I will continue to reflect with you on these impending developments.