Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sound of Catholic Prayer

Does Catholic Prayer have a distinct sound?
My first visit to a Catholic Church was quite frightening: I remember as a child of ten or so, a protestant, child going into a Catholic Church and hearing what I later discovered must have been the Rosary. It was said in the way that was peculiar to Irish matrons of a certain generation, that extenuated "Heeeeil Maiee-ry" followed by the rest as fast as possible, which I couldn't understand. As there were about thirty of these ladies the response was quite thunderous. I left, actually quite frightened, thinking more of spells and witchcraft than worship. It was quite unlike worship I had encountered in the Church of England.

Pope John Paul ii leading The Rosary

In the Divine Office from Ampleforth in the vernacular.

Carthusian Monks sing the Te Deum

The Canon of the Traditional Mass

It strikes me there is a common "sound" to these different examples of prayer.
There is an absence of self, a conformity of self to the liturgy.
What is vocalised is important, but not the most important thing.
The "sound" that lies behind the sound is silence or stillness in the presence of God.
I am trying to clarify my own thoughts ...I am wondering whether traditional musical forms are important to prayer. Can the same thing exist in the type of prayer that is essentially, "Lord, I just want to bring before you ...", or music that is accompanied by electric guitars and a drum kit.
...or am I just rambling?


gemoftheocean said...

But if "ad orientem" is so hot, why is it every time someone films it, it's from the side? I can't stand that so called "silent canon."

I suppose it's what you're used to. I find the repetition of the prayers of the rosary to be very soothing. And I do like Gregorian chant. I like to think that the type of melody that soothes me now also helped focus monks 1400 years ago.

But I suppose a joyful "Go tell it on the mountain" sung by a gospel choir has its points too.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I know where you're getting at...Traditonal music forms are conducive to prayer, as that's exactly what they're designed called "Praise and Worship" music is taking Rock or pop styles and fixing them to prayer, that can not be done, as Rock and Pop are diametrically opposed to the worship of God.

Anonymous said...

So funny this post! I took part in the Rosary crusade on Saturday at Westminster. At one stage we processed through a narrow street lined with tall buildings. The Rosary was being recited and it sounded like thunder rumbling through all creation. For a moment I was terrified by the power of it. Funny you should post on this today.

Volpius Leonius said...

That common sound can be labelled as Apollonian, the more modern forms and music are its diametric opposite Dionysian.

The sound of the traditional forms of prayer and sacred music are Apollonian in that they are characterized by clarity, harmony, and restraint.

The performance of the modern forms are dionysian in that they are ecstatic, orgiastic, or of an irrational nature; frenzied or undisciplined.

In this may the modern forms match up with the secular forms of music and religious worship of false gods such as money, celebrity, sport etc. in opposition to the traditional forms which are inspired by and have always been used for worship of the One True God.

PeterHWright said...

Music in the liturgy must be conducive to prayer. If the music doesn't lead the individual into the liturgy, so that he or she is led by the liturgy, then I don't see the point of it. It is an irrelevance. Worse, it is a distraction.

I think two people can know the answer to this, the person making the music and the person hearing it. Sacred music is offered to God. Therefore, it must be the very best, most beautiful music we can achieve. It must not be merely a pleasant sound in the background. It must never be merely a source of entertainment, either for the person making the music, or for the person listening to it. Not in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a concert.

It is quite another thing to listen at home to a CD of uplifting music. (At least, I hope it's all right. I do it.) You can even hear a concert of sacred music in a church. Very good. Very nice. But that is a very different thing from music performed during the liturgy.

As to modern hymns, etc., I would say : if you want to have a singsong, if you want to entertain and be entertained, fine, but go and do it elsewhere.

Public prayer does have a certain sound, whether it is recited, sung, chanted. You may not hear or understand all the words, but you can hear the sound, the rhythm, of prayer.

If the sound of prayer is absent from the music, then is it really sacred music ? And if it is not sacred music, then what's it doing in the liturgy ?

I wonder if the composers of some modern church music see it this way. I don't think they do.

Father asks "Am I just rambling ?" No, he is not, but I think I am.

Thanks to Father for a thought provoking post.

Anonymous said...

Worship is not entertainment, it is the lifting of the heart and soul to God.

Adrienne said...

I was never "frightened" by a Hail Mary. I was quite puzzled as I though they were saying Hail Mary, full of grapes." I couldn't imagine why they would stuff Mary full of grapes.

As to the music - The majority of the "modern music" played is not conducive to prayer.

Both my husband and I are muscians and my husband is a master teacher. He has studied at depth the effects of different types of music on brain waves, et al

There is a very good reason the church has a long history of Chant and Polyphony...

Ttony said...

The sound of silence is the thing I associate most with Catholic worship. It is nearly drowned out in the OF, but seems to assert itself after Communion if the priest gives it a chance. And look at the alacrity with which a post-sermon "moment of reflection" has been adopted wherever it has been taken up.

The particular sound of the Rosary derives from the fact that it is the one paraliturgical action which is (or at least was) traditionally lay-led, even at Church. Go to an old-fashioned reception the evening before a funeral, and the priest's job ends at the end of Mass, even though he is welcome to go and kneel at the back.

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