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Online Edition - Vol. X, No. 6: September 2004

 Universa Laus: "Music in Christian Liturgies II"

New Tricks from an Old Doc?

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

A new statement on music from Universa Laus -- an "international study group on singing and instrumental music in the Liturgy" -- was published this spring. Titled "Music in Christian Liturgies II", it is only the second such document from the group since it was founded in 1966 for the purpose of helping implement the liturgical reform following the Council. Universa Laus ("universal praise") was organized by a group of European liturgists and musicians, several of whom were periti (expert consultants) at the Second Vatican Council.

Among the best-known of its founders is the French liturgist, Father Joseph Gelineau, SJ, who composed the first "singing version" of the psalms. Father Michael Joncas, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the US "correspondent" for Universa Laus. (Father Joncas is best known as the composer of "On Eagles' Wings".)

"Music in Christian Liturgies II" consists of 29 short paragraphs and took the members seven years write, according to British liturgist Paul Inwood, former president of the group. (Document I, issued in 1980, was undertaken to resolve a "fundamental disagreement over some basic matters of principle" and took only three years, he said.) The new version appears in the current issue of Music in Liturgy (Spring 2004, pp 20-22), a journal published in England by the Society of Saint Gregory.

The following excerpts from "Music in Christian Liturgies II" illustrate the result of seven years of effort to compile a statement on which all Universa Laus members (mostly Catholic, but including a few Lutherans) could agree.

1.1 - Listening involves the totality of the individual body. The state of listening through which human beings "open their ear" places all one's senses on the alert, to such an extent that the entire body is put into a state of listening. The ear rules the body which is engaged in listening. Human beings exist because their entire beings are called forth by the act of listening.

1.10 - The minister of the word is the first hearer of the word. The role of ministers of the word is to listen to the word in the Scriptures and to offer their entire body to the word, in order that the assembly in its turn may hear it, listen to it and allow the Word to become flesh in that assembly. For their part, the role of the ministers of song is to listen to the assembly in order to awaken in that assembly its own voice and in order to set free its own song.

2.1 - The act of singing marks a stage of achievement in the evolution of human language: a standing posture has allowed the spinal column to resonate and thus the entire body; lips, tongue and jaw, originally linked to a prehensile function, have become available for articulated language; primitive bodily action was transformed into crying, then into singing and speech. In this slow process of humanization, human beings have progressively identified themselves with the logos which intersects with them; they acquire the capacity to give of themselves through the word and through singing.

2.7 - In liturgy, no type of singing or instrumental music is in itself sacred. In Christian worship, it is not music which is sacred but the live voices of the baptized singing in and with Christ.

2.8 - In liturgy, what makes up the beauty of a type of singing or instrumental music does not exist by itself, independently of the celebration, the place, the rite, of the assembly which includes such singing or music. Certainly singing or instrumental music can manifest and magnify the truth of what the assembly is in the course of living through; but what is primary is the state of listening and the singing of that assembly. It is this "availability" which embellishes the assembly and which opens it to the beauty which is to come.

2.12 - The singer's body is the holy place where he or she stands in the presence of God. In Christian liturgy, the song of the assembly requires the body of each individual, handed over and linked to everyone else, in order to form a single body. Believers, rendered capable of forming a body through their singing, and united by the Sprit in order to be the Body of Christ, participate in the mystery of the Incarnation and tell out the glory of God.

3.1 - In liturgical celebration, instrumental music and singing allow everyone to gather together, to greet each other whether they are similar or different... In order to set free at a deep level the song both of everyone together and of each person individually, liturgical music must in an intimate way touch all those who take part, by tuning in to their life-rhythms...

3.4 - In humility of service, singing shows the ecclesial community that it has a prophetic role... [I]t reminds the community that it needs to strive against a refusal to share, strive for the forgetting of differences, and strive that those who are the least in the assembly may be truly served.

3.6 - In liturgy, the mission of instrumental music and singing is to aid, to accompany and to express the passage from death to life which is the fruit of all sacramental action. In a non-violent way, they tear the disciple away from a narcissistic contemplation of self and open the same disciple up to the broader horizons of the promise of the Gospel; and all of this with the proviso that at no time does anyone -- whether officiant, cantor or any other minister -- take control of that moment when within each member of the assembly there is accomplished the letting-go of self, let alone the paschal 'transitus' or adoption as son or daughter.

Okay, now, let's see if we've got this straight: If we open our ears, keep our spines straight and resonating with our life-rhythms, and hand over our bodies linked to each other, we assume our prophetic role and non-violently tear each other open to broad horizons of letting-go and accomplish paschal "transitus"?

Clear on that, everyone? (We can hardly wait for UL's Document III!)

"Memorial Acclamation" was Father Gelineau's idea

In a recent interview, Father Joseph Gelineau reminisced about his work after the Second Vatican Council as a member of the Consilium (the council established by Pope Paul VI for the implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy) -- and his "achievement" in adding the "memorial acclamation" of the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer:

Said Father Gelineau : "... [I]t was my achievement to have succeeded in having an additional acclamation included in the center of the Eucharistic Prayer - the memorial acclamation. We actually wanted more, but we said to ourselves that we were more likely to get it past the bishops if we limited ourselves to one! Unfortunately, the memorial acclamation is not in the right place".

How did this new acclamation by the people get in the wrong place? It was the pope's doing, Father Gelineau says. The Mysterium fidei ("Mystery of Faith") was originally part of the words of consecration of the chalice. The liturgists removed it, but Pope Paul VI insisted that it be included, so it was placed after the consecration. Thus it became the "lead-in" to the new memorial acclamation.

Father Gelineau was interviewed by Paul Inwood, past president of Universa Laus and now a member of a subcommittee of the Worship Department of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, as well as an associate member of the US Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC). Mr. Inwood is best known in the United States as a composer (e.g.,"We shall draw water joyfully"). His songs are published by OCP.

This interview appears in the current issue of "Today's Liturgy" (Ordinary Time I - June-September 2004), a liturgy planning guide published by the Oregon Catholic Press. It is an excerpt from Voices from the Council, a book of reminiscences of men who attended the Council, also published by OCP this year.

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