Saturday, December 06, 2014

Why settle?

The sound of my own voice has never had the hypnotic power over me that some may have attributed to it.  I am under no illusion as to its beauty or tone.  Nonetheless, entrusted with the solemn task of leading the great prayer of the Church that is her Holy Eucharist, I do insist on singing.  As I have introduced to you before, not simply songs, but the Mass itself is meant to be sung, by priest or people or both together.  And no part of the Mass is more appropriately set to song than the Preface.
Some parts of the Mass are Commons, which are part of every Mass, such as the Sanctus (Holy Holy Holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God); or of every Mass of a certain type, like the Creed for all Sundays and Solemnities, or the Gloria (Glory to God) for all Feasts and Sundays outside Advent or Lent.  Other parts are Propers, which change according to the day or season. These include the Collect at the beginning of Mass; the Prayer over the Offerings (right after the people say, May the Lord accept the offering at your hands…), and the Post-Communion.  The Preface stands somewhere in between; some are proper to a single day (the Assumption of Our Lord); some pertain to a broad range of days (Sundays in Ordinary Time I - VIII); and there are even six called Common Preface I - VI.
Other prayers begin with a simple Let us pray.  The Preface is the beginning of the Great Prayer of the Church, the Eucharistic Prayer, and is introduced by a dialogue between priest and people that sets what follows at a higher level of importance and formality:  The Lord be with you. - And with your spirit; Lift up your hearts. - We lift them up to the Lord; Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. - It is right and just.  Then a formula common to most Prefaces makes it very clear what we are doing: It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.
We are here to give thanks and praise, and the Preface unites the voices of the priest and the people in doing that.  It then cites the particular reason for this great Thanksgiving (Eucharistia), often a particular mystery in the life of Christ, as in the one we are using now for the first part of Advent: For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.
With the voices of our earthly assembly thus united in thanks and praise, the Preface concludes by announcing our union with the company of heaven, where the praise and thanksgiving to God is constant and perfect.  And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim: Holy Holy Holy!
So having begun by acknowledging our duty (It is right and just!) to give thanks to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit; we then announce to all present, and even all the earth, the saving work in which we rejoice particularly that day.  Finally, we dare to use the very words related to us by the Prophet Isaiah and Saint John the Evangelist, to unite our voices to those who rejoice at the Banquet of the Lamb, as without end we acclaim: Holy Holy Holy!
Voices united in thanks, praise, and giving glory - so singing the Preface could hardly be considered my idea.  Besides, with all that noise, how could I possibly hear the sound of my own voice?
Monsignor Smith

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