Ava Lalor" />

The conversation surrounding the liturgy is a good thing

Choir members sing during a traditional Latin Mass in 2021, at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)


Many months ago, on a Thursday evening, I was at my parish attending a viewing of the biblical TV series “The Chosen,” which has taken the Christian world by storm with its relatable and moving portrayals of Christ and the disciples who followed him. While our parish had drawn larger crowds for previous episodes, that day it was only myself, my fiancé, my roommate and two elderly couples who always attended.

After watching the episode, we took some time to discuss what had stood out to each of us. One of the elderly parishioners — I’ll call her Ann — explained how moving it was to see a portrayal of Christ that was personal and not distant.

“When we were your age,” she said, “we had the Baltimore Catechism, so we knew what the Church taught, but we didn’t know that we could have a relationship with Christ.”

For days, I mulled over her words. Not only was this experience foreign to me — my high school youth group years were steeped in conversations and experiences surrounding having a relationship with Christ, including many hours of Eucharistic adoration — but it also challenged my assumptions about what the Church was like before the Second Vatican Council.

As a young adult who grew up at a standard novus ordo parish in the Midwest, I’ve been on a journey of diving deeper into different traditions in the Church, including how the liturgy was celebrated prior to the Second Vatican Council. As Timothy O’Malley has been sharing in his series about Vatican II’s liturgical reforms,  there are many nuances. And I, like many, have seen a trend on both sides of the spectrum within the Church. On one side, I’ve noticed older Catholics who complain about how the Church was before Vatican II, while on the other, I’ve seen — and personally experienced — young Catholics being drawn to a more traditional approach to the liturgy. While I have my opinions, the biggest thing I’ve come to believe is that the answer is the Catholic approach to most things: both/and. Changes both needed to happen in the liturgy, and yet some traditions and practices were unnecessarily set aside. Let me give an example.

Within my own journey, I’ve gravitated toward more sacred and traditional music in the liturgy. I love praise and worship music, don’t get me wrong; but I think it has a place outside of the liturgy. And while I’ll sing whatever the organist/pianist chooses for a particular Sunday at Mass, certain modern hymns can feel more distracting instead of helping me enter deeper into prayer and worship.

So, when a friend asked me to join a women’s chant choir she was forming at our parish, I eagerly agreed. Eight young adult women responded to her invitation — as well as our associate pastor, who just happens to be from Trent, Italy, and has an impressive understanding of Gregorian chant and traditional polyphony — with only some of us having any background in traditional sacred music.

Yet, within a couple months, we were singing at the Wednesday evening Mass. We started small, learning simple polyphonies and new Latin Mass settings — the Missa de Angelis is my favorite so far. And while we didn’t know how the parish would react, we were overwhelmed by the positive response. Our pastor was fully on board, so much so that he invited us to sing for Tenebrae on Good Friday. Additionally, many parishioners of all ages who regularly attend the Wednesday evening Mass said they were moved by the beautiful music — including Ann, who tells us each week how much she loves our singing and the music we choose.

While Catholics can squabble about how the Mass should be celebrated, including what music should be sung, I think all sides and generations need to be open to the thought that some changes were good and some went too far. Many changes have led to a deeper relationship with Christ, but some may have led others to not take the Mass seriously enough. Both sides should be considered and dealt with in charity. The Holy Spirit is always at work in the Church, even if he permits imperfect — or even sometimes bad — changes to happen for a greater good in the end — such as the current conversation happening in the Church, a conversation I am glad we are having.

Ava Lalor is associate editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.

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