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Why sing the parts of the Mass in harmony?

posted Oct 28, 2012, 7:24 AM by Steven Vaughan
From the Greek word harmonia, harmony means several tones of different pitch sounding simultaneously as a chord.  Although it is probable that singing in two or more parts was popular in ancient times, this principle was not applied to Roman Catholic chant until the ninth century.  (Some people mistakenly believe “chant” means in unison, with no harmony, when in fact chants range from simple repeated tones to highly complex harmonic musical structures, such as the Great Responsories and Offertories of Gregorian Chant.)

This Monday evening, at 7:30 pm following the Holy Hour, I'll spend an hour reteaching the harmony parts of  Curtis Stephan's Mass of Renewal we sing.  Everyone is welcome to attend, though why would members of a congregation want to sing some parts of the Mass in harmony?  Isn't that the choir's job?  Well...

First, it sounds nicer.  If you missed my 9/23 column on musical beauty, you can still read it online.    Beauty testifies to the creative and redeeming power of the Word, and lifts our world-weary hearts and spirits. 

Second, it requires effort.  Cultivating a skill instills discipline.  It teaches humility, recognizing that even natural gifts need to be honed.  It enhances attentiveness, not just to music, but to voices and people around you.  It demands restraint, knowing when and when not to use it.  And, like any skill done well and with right motives, it honors God. 

Lastly, it recognizes that differences exist.  It trains us to offer our own abilities to the good of all.  Even when not done perfectly – a congregation singing in harmony becomes a visible sign of the invisible grace that unites the different parts into one.  As St. Paul writes:

For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function,
so we, though many, are one body in Christ – and individually parts of one another.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them...
                Romans 12:4-6
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