Just who is the “audience”?
I want to share some thoughts and reflections with you about our worship, an important part of which is singing together – all of us! We’ve heard Fr. Patrick on several occasions encourage us to sing at mass. He’s even cited Scriptures where God commands us to do so. Yet some of us still are reluctant, or uncomfortable, and sing very softly, or maybe not at all.
Have you noticed how the singing of the National Anthem at sporting events has changed over the years? It used to be that everyone in the stadium stood, put their hand over their heart, and sang, perhaps accompanied by the organ at Dodger Stadium, or by a marching band at a football game. But how often do we see that now? Almost never. Instead, the singing of the National Anthem has become an event at which one person performs for the rest of us. S/he sings, and we stand there with our hands over our hearts (maybe) and then applaud. The next day we take to social media and dissect the performance.
Shows like “The Voice” and “American Idol” reinforce the notion that singing is a specialized activity reserved only for the chosen few. But this is a very recent development in human history and one that I think robs us of our ownership of and our comfort with communal singing and its beneficial effects. Singing together in community can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, reduce heart rate, and cause endorphins to be released that create a sense of wellbeing.
It is not necessary that the singing be perfect, just that it be together. Fr. Patrick recently reminded us that all of God’s commandments are intended for our benefit because God loves us. I’m sure the commandment to sing our praises to God is no exception.
Perhaps bearing in mind that we are singing primarily for the God who created us, who loves us, and who knows us better than we know ourselves – and who has commanded us repeatedly in the Scriptures to do so – can help us. A shift in our perception of the different roles at mass may be called for here.
I think many of us have the notion that we are the audience; that the priest, lector, cantors, servers, deacons, etc. are the performers; and that God is the “executive producer” of the show. But the truth is that God is the Audience and that all of us are called to be performers for one another’s benefit and for God’s pleasure. Of course it is also true that the mass is the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest offered to the Father by the Holy Spirit. And it is also still true that Jesus Christ is present at mass in the person of the priest, in the proclaimed Word of God, in the Eucharist . . . and, yes, in the gathered Body of Christ – you and me and all of us.
Last weekend’s responsorial psalm asked “how could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?” The Chosen People had been exiled from the Promised Land to Babylon and one of the ways their captors there tormented them was by asking them to “sing the songs of Zion.” They thought back longingly to the temple in Jerusalem where they worshipped the LORD, singing together in happier days.
Maybe those of us who still feel resistance to the idea of singing at all, particularly in a way where anyone else can hear us, could step out in faith and just try, this Lent and Easter season, to move beyond our comfort zone for the sake of the worship the Lord asks us for. It could transform the experience of celebrating the liturgy together for all of us.
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