bls is asking some good questions on the previous post so I’m starting a new post to keep the conversation moving. Her questions are around the various parts in worship. What I’m suggesting is that each set of liturgical participants should, as much as possible, be consistent in what they do and how they do it. In particular with reference to the previous post, I’m suggesting that priests should be consistent in either singing or speaking their parts and not switch back and forth. That led to a variety of other topics include which parts are assigned to which people—particularly the congregation—and bls noted that in composed Masses, the choir sings the part of the people.
This is true. And it’s one of the chief ambivalences that I feel against such services. Yes, they can be quite beautiful, but her point is precisely my objection—they’re stealing the congregation’s part…
To sort all of this out, I think it’s helpful to go back to principles. And while I mean “principles” generically, I also mean it’s time to go back to W. H. Frere’s Principles of Religious Ceremonial, the third chapter, which is entitled “Congregation and Ministers.” Frere begins by railing against the notion of a service as a duet between a priest and clerk who do the talking and doing while everybody else eavesdrops. After talking about the Office a bit, he then turns to the Eucharist:
With regard to the Holy Eucharist the case stands differently; for here, from the nature of the case, there has always been a distinction between the ministerial and the congregational part of the service. This rite, however, was not in early days a duet, for the whole company of the faithful took its part in the Holy Mysteries in graduated order. The celebrant had necessarily his ministers to attend on him, some sharing with him in the recitation of the service, some ministering in the ceremonies accompanying the rite, some singing the music which alternated with the lessons and the prayers; while the congregation itself, in the days of heathenism and under the system of church discipline, had its own gradations, and took a greater or a smaller part in the service accordingly.
. . .
Here again, then, there is little or no sign of the idea of a duet with which are familiar: all is co-operative. For example, in the due performance of the Latin rite, as seen before the great period of liturgical decadence had set in, the Liturgy was everywhere normally the work of the whole Christian community, worshipping God in its several grades. The celebrant had the solemn prayers to say, the variable collects and the fixed forms as well, including of course the actual consecration. The deacon had the Gospel to read and subdeacon the Epistle; while the former also was responsible for the leading of the people, though this duty soon shrank to very small dimensions in the West as compared with the East. These two sacred ministers, or two groups of sacred ministers, were also in attendance upon the celebrant; they both waited upon him themselves, and also served as intermediaries between and the lesser grades of ministers, such as thurifers, taperers, etc., so far as their ministry concerned the celebrant. Again, besides these ceremonial attendants must be reckoned the singers or Schola cantorum, who were not concerned with ceremonial, but had their own part of the rite; they were responsible for the more elaborate and variable part of the music and such chants as employed soloists, especially the Introit and Communion with their psalms, the Gradual, Alleluia, and Offertory. Lastly, the congregation had its part both in the psalmody and in the prayers of the rite. At first the Kyries and Sanctus, and then later the Agnus Dei and Creed, and lastly the Gloria in excelsis, represented the popular element or congregational parts of the singing, while the responses to the celebrant, and especially the solemn Amen after consecration, represented their share in the prayers.
One can hardly fail to see, even in the dim obscurity which surrounds all early liturgical history, that the tendency to deprive the people of their part of the service, by making it so elaborate that it was of necessity confined to the choir, was one which showed itself at very early stages. The simple psalmody which once went on between the lessons or during the ceremonies of the Offertory became ousted by the elaborate chants of the Graduals or of the Offertories. Next, the psalmody that still survived at the
Introit and at the Communion was cut down, and became also uncongregational. Meanwhile the congregation was making its voice heard in new ways instead, and was singing the Agnus Dei at Communion, or on occasions the Creed. It managed for the time to retain its rights over these parts of the service and to acquire rights over the Gloria in excelsis, which at first was a purely sacerdotal element in the service; but, on the other hand, to a considerable degree it lost the Kyries, as these ceased to be the simple responses to a litany and became the elaborated melodies of the later mediaeval period.
Yet, in spite of all such changes, the old ideal still remained, viz. that all should contribute their share to the corporate Christian worship; and it is not too much to say that without any doubt this is the only true ideal of Christian worship.
It survived, however, down to the end of the mediaeval period only in a shrunken and a steadily shrinking form. A baneful process of decay was all the time in growing operation, which eventually reduced the oratorio to a mere duet, if not to a monologue, for the ordinary Latin Low Mass became little more than that. The congregation forfeited much of its share, partly through coldness and carelessness, but more still through the changes by which Latin ceased to be a tongue understood of the people. Simultaneously all the ministerial parts were also being cut down, and the co-operative principle was being lost. The Mass was said instead of being sung; so at one blow the whole of the functions of the Schola cantorum were gone, and the musical texts were transferred to the celebrant’s part. Or it was said without the attendant ministers; thereupon the celebrant took into his own hands so much of their functions as could be, or must be, managed, and the rest dropped out. So again at one blow the co-operative principle was obscured and almost lost. Then the relics of the Liturgy which remained were conglomerated into the hands of the celebrant and formed the Missal, or compound sacerdotal book; the participation of the faithful disappeared, and the resultant service was rightly called ‘Low Mass,’ for it represents the low-water mark of eucharistic service, and is a painful contrast to the true but almost lost dignity of the old celebration of the Holy Mysteries, with the full and intelligent co-operation of all the faithful, each in their several spheres and grades taking their own proper part in the adoration of Almighty God.
While Frere gets pretty harsh here on the change, he acknowledges that there were several factors that led to it and that several of them are positive even if their impacts on the liturgy weren’t so great. So—the establishment of daily worship, Office and Mass in cathedrals and other large foundations where a sizable daily congregation wasn’t a reality was a factor. So too was the proliferation of village churches. This is the real culprit in his eyes:
For in practice, as the Church grew, and small churches and parishes belonging to special shrines or connected with landed estates took their place in the Christian economy side by side with the town churches, the materials were not available for the old solemnity of the Liturgy. For choir and ministers the parish had to make the best shift it could with whatever materials were available; and when it became necessary to define the lowest terms which should be considered possible for a celebration of the Eucharist, the minimum requirement was fixed at two persons, the priest and a clerk to serve him. And so we come to the duet. What wonder if the people soon came to regard the service as something done for them instead of something done by them? (Principles, 39-40)
Frere does say that the English had an advantage over other groups because of the way that their liturgical books were normed:
The character of pre-Reformation Service-books in England was especially calculated to keep up a good deal of the old ideal. While continental mass-books very constantly contemplated nothing better than Low Mass, the English books always had High Mass in view. Indeed, this is so much the case that it is a matter of great difficulty to reconstruct what an English Low Mass was like before the Reformation, since the Service-books make little or no provision for it. Moreover, many of the Service-books, both for the Eucharist and the Divine Service, incorporated as rubrics large sections of the ceremonial and ritual directions of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury. By this means there penetrated even to the village churches some echo of the dignified and corporate worship of that illustrious cathedral body; and the smaller bodies were encouraged to do their best to maintain the same ideal, and to resist as far as possible the progress of liturgical degradation and decay.
While what he says is true, we must resist the temptation to triumphalism—the retention of the old pattern probably had less to do with a consciousness of theological principles than the scribal habits of the Salisbury book trade.
There was an opportunity to restoring the old pattern at the Reformation, but it was neither recognized nor seized (as they were too busy seizing other things…):
This failure to restore the ancient ideal of worship was probably not so much a matter of design as of accident. The reformers no doubt wished to reduce the elaborateness of ceremonial, to simplify the services and make them more congregational. They objected to the ceremonial partly because it seemed to men of that age, as the result of bad traditions, to be in itself an un-spiritual thing, and partly also because it was intimately bound up in the popular mind with doctrinal views which they wished to eradicate. They did not see that, in abolishing the provision for it so much as they did, they were destroying good as well as evil, and were robbing a number of the people of the privilege of a share of their own in the worship. Nor did they perceive that, while attempting to abolish the sacerdotalism which they had seen so much abused, they were in fact, so far as service went, erecting a new barrier between clergy and laity, and a sharp line of demarcation between priest and people, such as had not existed previously in the days when priest, deacon, subdeacon, acolyte, clerk, incense-boy, and congregation still had each his appointed share, and ministered in his several degree. (Principles, 43-4)
As has happened so many times, the old clericalism simply gave way to the new clericalism… Frere closes the chapter with his recommendations on the matter which, though lengthy, are totally worth recounting in full:
Liturgical worship must be co-operative and corporate. It is a false sacerdotalism that seeks to comprehend as much as possible in the one pair of hands of the priest or celebrant. It is always a gain that, with due regard to structure and liturgical principles, the services should employ many persons in divers functions. The clergy and other ministers, servers, clerks, and choir, all have their own part. The different parts of the ceremonial action must be harmonious; but, so long as this is the case, it is no harm, but only good, that different people should simultaneously be doing different things. A good deal is needed to get rid of the false idea of the duet of parson and clerk, or parson and choir, or even parson and congregation. For example, it is far better that the psalms, when read, should be read as they are sung, from side to side, and not as a duet; that the lessons at Divine Service and at the Eucharist should be assigned to different persons; that the first part of the Litany should be sung by clerks; and that many other survivals of the old ideal be retained. And most of all it is desirable that the true ideal should be so clearly set before the congregation that it may become less of a cold critic of a ceremonial which it does not understand and perhaps dislikes, and more of an active and hearty participant in a great act of corporate and co-operative worship.
For this purpose it is necessary that the musical parts of the service which ought to be congregational, should be kept so simple that the congregation can, if it only will, take its part in them; and of such moderate pitch that the men’s voices can sing as well as the women’s. All elaborate harmonised music is out of place for these parts of the service, except in those churches, which, though rare, do yet exist in England, where a large section of the congregation is able to take the various vocal parts, and is not confined merely to singing the melody.
The Kyrie and Creed at the Eucharist, and the psalms in Divine Service, are the special parts which both can be made, and ought to be kept, congregational; and where psalms are congregational there is great gain in singing them for ‘Introit’ and ‘Communion,’ as well as the best possible authority for doing so.
But when the congregation has its own part it must not grudge others their part, nor expect to follow or share in all that others are doing; such an expectation is a very common cause of complaint on the part of the laity, and it results from the misconception of the idea of corporate worship. No one expects or demands that on the stage only one actor should move at a time; and if this is not expected on the stage, where all is done for the benefit of the audience, and adapted to the spectator’s capacity for taking in the situation, far less is it to be demanded in religious ceremonial, which is done not for the benefit of the congregation, but for the honour of Almighty God; and where, therefore, there is no need, as in the other case, that it should be adapted to the congregation at all, except so far as to be decorous and uplifting in its general effect.
Each person in his own sphere has taken his due part in the public worship if he has contributed his own quota, be it great or small, according to his responsibility and place, to the general sum; and if at the same time he has followed generally the whole of the action. This is the ideal whether for the Eucharist or for Divine Service. These two differ widely in their general character, and therefore differ widely in the nature of their ceremonial. The Eucharist is one homogeneous and continuous action, and goes forward, if one may so say, like a drama; it has its prelude, its working up, its climax, its epilogue. The Divine Service has no such unity; it has a series of different actions which are not necessarily closely connected, and might almost equally well be placed in any other order as in their existing order. If the Eucharist may be called, in regard to the nature of the structure of the service, a dramatic action, the Divine Service may be called by contrast meditative or reflective. But, great as is this difference of nature between the two, they are alike in their ideal of corporate worship, and alike in requiring that the whole body of the faithful should as far as possible, and in very various degrees, co-operate. And in both cases this work of worship done by the Church on earth is a work in co-operation with the heavenly hierarchies in their celestial worship, whether it is the definite sacrificial climax of the Eucharist or the subsidiary work of preparation and thanksgiving, which, properly speaking, is the essence of the Divine Service.
So, that having been said, Frere puts forth strongly the fundamental principle that worship should be as communal and as corporate as possible—each group having and knowing its own roles and appreciating the roles of the others. It’s therefore on the strength of that recognition and understanding that I think we should parse the distinction between the priest’s roles and the other roles and try to maintain proper consistency within them. Of course it’s not the only way to do it, but I think it helps us better understand and keep the corporate ideal alive.