Laity squeezed out?

Well it does to the people who post here... dispassionate and reasoned debate, with a good deal of humour thrown in for good measure.

Moderators: Dom Perignon, Casimir

BobHayes
Posts: 123
Joined: Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:22 pm
Parish / Diocese: St Mary of the Angels - Diocese of Salford
Location: Ashton-under-Lyne

Laity squeezed out?

Post by BobHayes » Fri Nov 06, 2015 9:52 pm

Over the past few months I have attended Sunday Mass in several parishes in the Midlands and North. In no fewer than three churches I was struck by the utter passivity of the people in the pews. Congregational singing - and even the responses proper to the laity - were in the sole possession of a music group / soloist. A few examples:

The Psalm - and responses - sung by a soloist.

Music group (sitting in front of the off-set Tabernacle) sang a flamboyant Holy, holy with which parishioners were evidently unfamiliar.

A flamboyant Great Amen apparently known only to a soloist.

No hymn books or other hardcopy words/music for the congregation.

Responses and hymns projected on to a screen above the Sanctuary. In one case the music group sang a different memorial acclamation to that on the screen, which quickly silenced the congregation!

Am I just unlucky in my recent experience, or are the laity elsewhere becoming the 'strangers or silent spectators' referred to in Sacrosanctum Concilium?
Bob

User avatar
VML
Posts: 674
Joined: Thu Feb 12, 2004 12:57 am
Parish / Diocese: Clifton Diocese
Location: Glos

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by VML » Fri Nov 06, 2015 10:16 pm

It seems a sad fact that some musicians and / or singers, whether through ignorance or a kind of arrogance, see music is something that is performed by specialists for everyone else to listen. This can be just the organist/ guitarist who plays as loudly as possible so that no-one can hear themselves sing. Or it can be choice of music that is too complicated or unprepared for the assembly to sing. The charitable thought on these parishes you have visited would be lack of experience and formation on the pat of those charged with providing music.
I know that in our parish we may be in danger of keeping to a small repertoire of Mass settings as we have no choir practices, but the people do sing enthusiastically.
The wrong Acc on screen can happen to anyone, but very unfortunate. We have recently invested in screens, one each side of the altar in our sideways church, (altar on long wall). I had very strong reservations, but a committed non singer said to me after the first few weeks that everyone sang so much better!
There is still the problem of engaging the assembly, and I am sure there are musicians who may just about have summoned the fragile confidence to play and sing, but not to get out in front and lead or animate.
I have no answers to these problems, except to encourage formation and ongoing outreach.

oopsorganist
Posts: 739
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 9:55 pm
Location: Leeds

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by oopsorganist » Sat Nov 07, 2015 5:10 pm

I often wonder if we just don't expect much from people - low expectation - when I went to play organ at a local Methodist church I noticed that everyone had a melody edition of the hymnals and that the music was chosen by the Minister without considering if the people knew it, or liked it or not. Everyone was expected to use the dots to get the tune and then sing the hymn. It helped that Methodists like very long hymns with lots of verses!. After that I noticed that harmonies were added at whim and always, the whole kit and caboodle was enjoyed - if it went well or not. They were elderly people from a very deprived area of Leeds. It never occurred to them that they would not be able to sing whatever was asked of them. Such a contrast to the often timid response in a Catholic church.
uh oh!

oopsorganist
Posts: 739
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 9:55 pm
Location: Leeds

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by oopsorganist » Wed Apr 06, 2016 12:32 pm

I was thinking of this thread on Sunday - taking comfort in a fairly familiar church whilst still in transit and wandering between various parishes.

So they have a gifted and accomplished organist/leader who sings in a powerfully and trained style with trained pronunciation. Incidentally and irrelevant - there is a posh accent there too.

This week there was a minime. Or mini me. A young chorister with a beautiful and powerful voice. The chorister did the Christus Vincit solo at the beginning. Might not have been that. There is no mass sheet here so I think that was the thing done. Then there was a hymn. And so on. The both of them, organist and mini me sang everything. Some harmonies too. A solo during Communion. Loadsa Latin.

The congregation do sing and sing heartily for the right hymn and for Latin Creed, Holy Holy, Lamb of God..... they know more than one version. They might know some English ones also I am not sure.

Sounds great?

The child was occasionally off key. I clench my jaw when this happens it is quite a painful thing - did it for years in my ex parish where the music was dominated by a sharp soprano and flat soprano. It was nearly impossible to sing. I am not unkind or intolerant. If someone near me is singing badly I don't care. Might be amused. God does not care. But when voices are "trained" and they are powerful and dominant it is very hard to not try to block out the bum notes which I do physically.

You want to be grateful to people for offering their gifts, dedicating their time to practice, having the confidence and faith to lead the congregation in prayer. All that. At the very least, it means that I do not have to bother to sing.

So anyway, similar experiences of solo singing taking over in parish masses.

And a question. Does singing in a trained way have a higher chance of producing off notes? Does it come with the territory? I kind of felt I had wandered into a bad opera.
uh oh!

alan29
Posts: 1062
Joined: Fri May 27, 2005 8:04 pm
Location: Wirral

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by alan29 » Wed Apr 06, 2016 2:20 pm

If a trained singer is not in tune either they have forgotten what they were taught or they were badly taught in the first place.
There is a real problem when musicians imagine they have the right to supplant the congregation. It is usually the result of either arrogance (I'm simply the best), or ignorance (nobody has explained the role of musicians in the liturgy) or, sometimes insecurity (I feel safe doing it this way.)
I know a parish (no names etc) where one of the masses is blighted by a pair of women who stand together at music stands with a mike each (turned to 11) and stand to sing absolutely everything. They leap to their feet for the memorial acclamation. Their voices don't blend at all, they approximate high notes and their sound totally dominates procedings and silences the congregation. The priest has moved them from the front to a place among the congregation in an attempt to moderate the effect, but the paraphanalia has travelled with them, and they do their leaping up and down from the middle of the congregation. They are totally oblivious to comment. If they were employees it would be possible to do something. But as volunteers they are immovable.

JW
Posts: 794
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2007 8:46 am
Location: Kent

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by JW » Wed Apr 06, 2016 6:44 pm

Was in Westminster Cathedral for Good Friday. There was nothing for the laity to sing apart from a couple of responses and 'When I Survey' during the Veneration. Needless to say hardly anyone was singing - it was a bit like a concert - quite lovely though. I now sing very loudly whenever I visit a church! I either get dirty looks or get asked to join the choir.....

Going back to the original post, of course the laity are not playing their part in the church. This is a great worry for priests who find their workload ever increasing. The problem stems from centuries of educated clergy who ran the churches and less educated laity who were expected to attend, pay and obey. If you doubt this, just look at and the way the choir and high altar were divided off from the nave by thick Rood Screens in medieval churches and cathedrals.

What happens now, is that many don't bother attending, others still want to work with the ancient model of church, and those who want to modernise are marginalised by those same clergy who need help. Oh, and there are those who moan!

Another thing overlooked is that most laity work for a living, whereas the clergy's work is to look after their people. Having recently found that some priests are unwilling to give up the time to be a Governor at their parish's school, it does surprise me when they expect the laity to volunteer for all sorts of church tasks.
JW

oopsorganist
Posts: 739
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 9:55 pm
Location: Leeds

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by oopsorganist » Wed Apr 06, 2016 7:11 pm

Hey I was in Westminster Cathedral the week before. On my way to get the Mega Bus.

i just popped in to check everything was OK. There was a Mass about the start. It started - there was a choir - just a few - nice singing and all that. But nobody in a rather large congregation was singing. A bit weird really. It might have been Holy God we Praise Thy Name. We used to all know that by heart.
uh oh!

High Peak
Posts: 150
Joined: Wed Apr 09, 2014 10:49 pm
Parish / Diocese: Diocese of Nottingham
Location: Derbyshire

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by High Peak » Wed Apr 06, 2016 7:22 pm

For some reason I appear to have missed this thread when it was first posted.

alan29 wrote:If they were employees it would be possible to do something. But as volunteers they are immovable.

But this shouldn't be the case. Ministries in the Church are about using your gifts in service to others and to the glory of God. The discernment of personal charisms is, surely, part of the pastoral governance - one of the three munera or tasks of the ministerial priesthood and, with tact, sensitivity and love, he should recognise when someone is either in a ministry, the needs of which their particular charism does not meet, or if they are exercising it in an inappropriate or unhelpful way.

Sticking my neck out a little, I wonder whether the issue wrt participation of the laity, be it in joining in with their responses and singing or taking up ministries in the church, is down to what may be termed cultural Catholicism. Do they see themselves as Intentional Disciples? (see Sherry A Weddell's book) If they don't then we can put together the most beautiful liturgies with the most marvellous music and it will have little, if any, effect. The liturgy has to be an expression of the fervent faith of the community or, day I say, it is very little indeed.

Can liturgy help build up, nurture and support faith? Yes; absolutely. But only as catechesis - not evangelism, I suspect.

I will now put on my tin helmet and hide behind the parapet. :D

User avatar
VML
Posts: 674
Joined: Thu Feb 12, 2004 12:57 am
Parish / Diocese: Clifton Diocese
Location: Glos

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by VML » Wed Apr 06, 2016 11:41 pm

I think there is a big difference between the average parish Sunday Mass and any Mass at Westminster Cathedral. At WC it is pretty well going to be a multinational assembly who may well be unfamiliar with most English hymns and Mass settings.
In the parishes where there is a regular congregation we are failing if the people are not involved.
I count myself blessed to be in a parish where very many people are involved with all aspects of ministries and parish life, and where the PP is also immersed in the schools and community.
A music leader is not doing the job properly if the people are not encouraged and enabled to sing. S/he may be the greatest organist or best trained and qualified singer and musician, but if there is not effective communication with the assembly, and they are inhibited from singing then all those qualifications are pointless.
Singing is what we do. Getting people singing is a vital ministry. We don't have a big choir, just a few people who have been turning up for years, and I have given up on trying to get anyone to come and practise, BUT.. the psalm refrain is played through, then sung by the choir or cantor, and the people repeat it, and the rest of the Mass parts are sung well enough. Maybe having the people in the choir area who are not too accomplished encourages the rest. That is not to say we are flat or out of tune! We are just average and ordinary.

alan29
Posts: 1062
Joined: Fri May 27, 2005 8:04 pm
Location: Wirral

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by alan29 » Thu Apr 07, 2016 8:54 am

VML has hit several nails on the head there.
I would just add that getting the people to sing also involves picking stuff that is actually good to sing - straightforward, tuneful, rhythmically strong, memorable and enjoyable.
Not a big ask at all. :mrgreen:

Southern Comfort
Posts: 1792
Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 12:31 pm

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by Southern Comfort » Thu Apr 07, 2016 12:07 pm

VML wrote:I think there is a big difference between the average parish Sunday Mass and any Mass at Westminster Cathedral. At WC it is pretty well going to be a multinational assembly who may well be unfamiliar with most English hymns and Mass settings.


I do not believe that WC should be exempted from the desideratum of full, conscious and active assembly participation just because that assembly is often more diverse than most. It's merely an excuse to continue the spiritual concert + incidental liturgy. There are plenty of creative ways in which a polyglot, polycultural assembly can be engaged in singing, while maintaining high musical standards. You just have to want to do it enough!

alan29
Posts: 1062
Joined: Fri May 27, 2005 8:04 pm
Location: Wirral

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by alan29 » Thu Apr 07, 2016 3:36 pm


oopsorganist
Posts: 739
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 9:55 pm
Location: Leeds

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by oopsorganist » Thu Apr 07, 2016 6:50 pm

"There are plenty of creative ways in which a polyglot, polycultural assembly can be engaged in singing, while maintaining high musical standards." (said SC)

And some would say that is the reason to sing it in Latin! That is what they say round these parts anyway. :roll: (Wanders off humming Panis Angelicus and Ave Maria because she doesn't know the words.)
uh oh!

organist
Posts: 525
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2004 11:39 pm
Parish / Diocese: Westminster cathedral
Location: London
Contact:

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by organist » Sun Apr 10, 2016 4:54 pm

Westminster cathedral does provide text and notes for the Masses. The High Mass is of course choir orientated but at the other Masses the people are encouraged to sing by the cantor. Unfortunately a lot of the large congregation do not join in. One reason for this is that when in the congregation even a singer like me can feel isolated in such a huge space!
Recent experience elsewhere confirms that only a few actually sing despite a good lead from the priest. This same priest commented to me that the Bishop thought the congregation really sang!! Annoyingly they did when the Bishop came! Another issue with unaccompanied singing is setting the right pitch initially also some people anticipate in the gap between hymn verses. But why can't people who sing hymns be taught to sing a simple Sanctus?

JW
Posts: 794
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2007 8:46 am
Location: Kent

Re: Laity squeezed out?

Post by JW » Mon Apr 11, 2016 2:11 pm

Says a lot when everyone sings unaccompanied and without printed word, at a football match, but nery a squeak in church!
JW

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Exabot [Bot] and 11 guests