I have been meaning to do something about this blog for a while, but nothing has happened yet. Yesterday, I happened to have started a whole chain of emails going on the topic of hymns at Mass by responding to an article that a priest friend sent out to a large number of people.
The article was analyzing different kinds of songs used at Mass and urging the use of more traditional hymns. I have to say that I have a lot of personal sympathy for this position since I grew up in the Episcopal Church, which at least used to have some of the best of that sort of thing going. Episcopalians, even not particularly devout ones, can sit around singing hymns and enjoy it. I just assumed that church and hymns went together.
Then I learned something about liturgy, and even more, experienced something about liturgy. I had a revelation. The three or four "hymn sandwich," which has become the norm at Mass in our culture, has very little to do with the Roman liturgical tradition, whether these hymns are traditional, praise and worship, or ghastly "we-we" songs. The liturgy has an organic form, and sticking random songs into it is a mismatch. At all the points at which we insert a more or less appropriate song, the liturgy already has a text and music -- except at the end of Mass. These texts are as much a part of the Church's intention for the celebration of the Mass as are the readings. As a matter of fact these "proper" texts are scriptural themselves and echo and reinforce the other texts of the Mass. The Church wants us to use the propers but permits our songs, if we insist. Shouldn't we listen to the wisdom of the Church? It is not as if our liturgical experimentation over the last 50 years as been a rip-roaring success that we are going to threaten.
OK, for you hymn lovers out there, among whom I count myself, we can have our hymns, even at certain points in the Mass. We can also have them in the devotional practices of the Church, at holy hours, novenas, the Divine Office -- all of which should be restored to the life of the parish. But hymns of whatever quality are really not what the Church has in mind as the musical staple of the Mass. The propers are.