We have a new organist at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, where I teach RCIA and Adult Faith Formation. One of the things Chris has done since his arrival is change the format of the worship aid that provides the music for Sunday Masses.
For the Voluntary he plays on the organ before and after the Mass each week, rather than simply identify the composer and name of the piece, Chris includes a brief explanation of the music. For example, this past weekend, he opened with Herbert Howells’ Master Tallis’s Testament, and the aide included this:
Nineteenth-century English organist and composer Herbert Howells based this piece on a melody by Thomas Tallis, hence the reference to “Master Tallis,” in the title. That same melody is the basis for the choir’s anthem at the 11:00 mass. Its somber, melancholy nature fits well with the text for the anthem, with the overall ethos of the season of Lent, and with the foreshadowing of Jesus’s death in today’s Gospel. Eventually the piece builds to a loud climax, which parallels the Second Reading’s description of Jesus offering “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” (Cf. Hebrews 5:7) The quiet, plaintive end to the piece connects with Jesus’s humble acceptance of his fate.
Is any of this necessary? No, of course not. I can participate fully in the sacrifice of the Mass without reading any of it.
But we know that music has the ability to greatly enhance the worship experience. And for me, reading the explanation beforehand allowed me to enter into Jesus’ experience as I listened to the piece – to feel both his “loud cries and tears” and his “humble acceptance.” It was a wonderful preparation for entering into the Sacrifice of the Mass.