Thursday, February 03, 2011

Two New Terms in My Liturgical Lexicon

The very mention of “my” and “lexicon” generally strikes fear and loathing among my friends and fellowes here in St. Blogs. Why, within a couple of days, one of two dearest of my singing sisters in chant implied that my posts are rife with “hyperbole," (she’s correct, of course!) whilst the other worried that one of my posts at Musica Sacra was so “pithy” that the real me had been abducted!

Well, this post-Winter Chant Intensive article is intended to address a “boots on the ground and let’s chum the still waters” inquiry I made of Dr. Mahrt in New Orleans. (See that, I mixed metaphors already!) I asked whether there existed any historical precedence for having the Entrance Procession begin from the sacristy, as I’ve experienced at EF Masses, but in the OF.

So, here are the terms, courtesy of Dr. Mahrt’s reply: “Circumambulation” and “The Stuffed Mass.
To “circumabulate” according to simply amounts to “walk(ing) or (to) go about or around, esp. ceremoniously.” It’s origin and source dates around “1656, from L. circumambulare , from circum "around" + ambulare "to walk.

A new agey website Kora Chronicles surprisingly offers a fairly apt (in synch with Dr. Mahrt’s definition)-
“Generally, circumambulation is to walk or move around something, especially as part of a ceremony or ritual. In a religious or spiritual context, circumambulation is performed around a special object, just as a shrine or an altar. A Catholic (celebrant) may circumambulate an alter, other priest or person, gifts etc while swinging a thurible of incense (also known as censing) as part of a blessing or ceremony. The number of times and the method used to swing the thurible is significant and, in some denominations, forms part of the liturgical law.”

“The Stuffed Mass,” as defined by Mahrt, is when we bereft directors have to stealthily deploy the proper antiphons (and verses) while maintaining the practice of having congregational hymns sung AT THE SAME MASS. The good professor neither condemned nor endorsed the practice, but simply acknowledged that “on our journey to the kingdom” many of us (like me) are using the Introit as a de facto prelude, wedding an Offertorio to the so-called Hymn of the Day, and chanting the Communio during the quarter hour it takes for the EMHC’s to receive H.C. and the ciboria and chalices, followed by the Communion processional hymn, etc.

In this post I would like you folks to either raise or lower the standard (flag) of proposing the practice of circumambulation for the Entrance Procession as a legitimate way to accommodate the singing of both a hymn and a proper. Isn’t it the standard practice at our churches to have the celebrant and ministerial entourage leave the sacristy to the exterior of the church and re-assemble at the narthex for the entrance? And if that is so, doesn’t that require some sort of “cue” for the congregation to rise? And from that point, all of the strategic issues and disputes about partipatio activa (congregational singing), or antiphonal singing/chanting between the choir/schola and congregation of the Introit, or the congregation visually “taking in” the deeper meaning by actively viewing the procession, or more mundane concerns as to how many verses of a hymn are to be sung, or is it a processional hymn or “gathering song”…. Could circumambulation remediate most of those concerns?

But what is the “special object” being recognized should the celebrant’s entrance begin with the ring of the Introit bell, the procession moving through the sanctuary and into the nave via a side aisle and then without interruption (or a "meet and greet" outside of the church beforehand) proceeding up the main aisle to the sanctuary again, where reverencing, incensation, etc. would constitute an uninterrupted liturgical action? Well, couldn’t that “object” be the “priesthood of believers” called the Faithful? (Well, maybe yeah, Charles. But wouldn’t that mean that only half of the congregation would be so recognized?) Not if you approach the Offertory Procession by using the same procedure for the other half of the congregation!

“Oooohhhh, that’s a BINGO!” (exclaimed Colonel Hans Landa in the film “Inglourious Basterds.) Then we could stuff those two processions with the hymn whilst the ministers are ambulating in the nave, and seamlessly transition to the proper chant/homophonic/polyphonic setting upon their return to the sanctuary.

But really, as everyone knows, I’m not an academic. But I am given the office of fulfilling the Church’s directives for optimal worship. I do know that this, to some, might seem to blur or transgress what are considered to be clearly delineated options in the GIRM. But, as Dr. Mahrt outlined in his wonderful schematic drawing (above)* of his experiences of various types of circumambulation at Salisbury Cathedral, it might just advance among the people a higher appreciation for the function and arts associated with processions.
*Just in case you're interested, I've copyrit the graphic above as "The Munchian Scream of the Presider!" However, Dr. Mahrt believes it more resembles an example of Scott Turkington's method of chironomy. You make the call.

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