By Aurelio Porfiri
One of the bigger problems for church musicians is to having to deal with people that demand the liturgy be understood by everyone. Now, this is a tricky concept and has to be handled with care. Of course we want everyone to be able to participate in the liturgy in the most proper way and so we aim for a spiritual understanding of the same liturgy.
But these people’s demands are often of a different nature, they think that participation means understanding word for word, and doing as much as possible. But in doing so they are condemning the liturgy to a dramatic immanentism. Immanentism means that there is no reality beyond what we know, so God and the world are the same thing. But if God is not outside the world how He can possibly save it?
Reducing the understanding of the liturgy to a pragmatic dimension means not taking into account the biggest dimension of the liturgy, the invisible one. In the antiphon for the Epiphany “Venite Omnes Populi” we observe that we are asked to glorify the “invisibile mysterium,” invisible mystery. The spiritual and invisible dimension cannot be understood but with the eyes of faith, and calling for this sort of total understanding of everything happening in the liturgy would be a betrayal of what the liturgy is.
After the consecration the priest asks us to proclaim the mystery of faith. We have listened to the words of consecration but the mystery happening there goes much beyond the simple understanding of the words said. Music, when it is good liturgical music, helps to create a reverent atmosphere that allows us to penetrate, a little bit, this incomprehensible abyss.