This morning I went to the Chrism Mass at St Mary`s cathedral. Under the previous bishop I was never a great attender of this event as I found the music too challenging. ( It was me or the improvising trombone and the trombone won.) Bishop Kevin has introduced some welcome changes into the Mass. I was never that keen on the sanctuary being filled with concelebrating priests as that meant that anyone in the pews looking at the altar would have their gaze met by that of a hundred or so priests. I`m in favour of as few people as possible staring at the congregation over the altar ( preferably none) as I think it distracts from the Mass. Last year the concelebrants behind the altar were restricted to the regional Episcopal Vicars and the Vicar General (although not the Episcopal Vicar for Religious nor the Judicial Vicar) and maybe those priests celebrating jubilees of ordination but I can`t remember for sure. The concelebrants were in the nave on the epistle side. This year we were on the Gospel side and the only concelebrants on the sanctuary were the Vicar General and one regional Episcopal Vicar. There were most of the permanent deacons on the sanctuary but I imagine as their number increases their numbers will have to be restrained. The new arrangement also has the benefit that it allows the bishop to address his clergy face to face in the homily whereas in the past we were looking at his back.
The bishop spoke, in his homily, mainly to the priests and focused on the hands of the priest, speaking first about the importance of hands in general and then specifically in the life and work of the priest.
The music had not, for the bulk of it, caught up on the `hermeneutic of continuity` however. There was again nothing composed before 1970 apart from the tunes of the opening and closing hymns and a Tallis anthem, from his Protestant phase, `If ye love me` which was kind of the theme tune of the English College, Rome, in the early 1990`s. The Gloria and Responsorial Psalm were composed by a local Catholic guitarist who was part of today`s music group and the Eucharistic Acclamations and Breaking Song were by Marty Haugen. A pleasant interlude came with the hymn `O Redeemer, hear our singing `an ancient hymn probably written by an Irish poet and used in the liturgy of Maundy Thursday since the time of Charlemagne` according to the booklet, which was sung unaccompanied to its plainsong tune. We were meant to sing `O Godhead hid` after communion but it was dropped for reasons of time, I suppose. I seem to remember something similar happening last year.
Most of the music was performed in a `folk` style with guitar, piano and flute accompaniment. My reaction to plucked string instruments in the liturgy is similar to my reaction to private revelations to `seers`. If it happened 400-500 years ago I can cope better with it. Thus a theorbo in the sacred music of Monteverdi or Vivaldi is ok. The guitar today feels like a symbol of the liturgical revolution. So I am happy with the dialogues of St Catherine of Siena but feel uneasy with more recent uncanonised people claiming divine authority for their revelations. At least the improvising trombone has gone!