Reflections on the Feast of the Assumption

Singing for Sunday’s Assumption Mass brought two things to mind. One is how much I like chant. The other that August 15 is indelibly connected in my mind with Byzantine (Melkite rite) celebration of the day, in particular, Archbishop Raya. 

Chant

The topic of chant during liturgical prayer is an ambivalent one for me.  On chant itself, I have no mixed feelings.  It’s a wonderfu way to pray the psalms and parts of Mass.

In some ways, I feel I’ve never been without chant. Others have not been so fortunate, which is one reason why it was nice to have chant at Sunday’s Mass.  Among my memories of the pre-1962 Mass, chant is not an immediate one  but undoubtedly there as background.  Time spent at the Abbey of the Genesee was also a deep experience of chant.  Mostly though, I draw on my time at Madonna House where mornings start with chanting the psalms. Music purists turn up their noses at Gelineau psalmody, which is what Madonna House uses. That reminds me of a quote of Tolkien’s about those who didn’t like LOTR.  While chanted psalms are a perfect way to start the day, a chanted Gospel in Mass drives me up a wall.  I think the difference is that the psalms were written to be sung and the Gospels weren’t.  I’m well aware the Gospel is chanted at Mass – I’m just saying that I find it to be a distraction.

The ambivalence on the topic of chant is mostly because it is a focus in the liturgical wars and even the most neutral mention is likely to draw heated comments. I have and will continue to mostly stay out of discussions about music at Mass. Partly it’s because I like a wider style than whenever the topic arises. Partly it’s because I’m equally irritated with both those who refuse chant in any form and those who disdain anything other than Gregorian chant. At any rate, I enjoyed the chant at Sunday’s Mass.

Assumption

A Latin rite Catholic’s first experience  of a Byzantine liturgy is generally an eye-opener. The effect is even more pronounced when the celebrant is Archbishop Raya, whose physical body barely contained his joy in the Lord.  He knew suffering but his entire being manifested suffering as only a prelude to the glory of the Resurrected Lord and he did so better than anyone I know.

That is particularly apt for the feast of the Assumption or as the Eastern rites call it, the Dormition of Mary.  During Archbishop Raya’s time at Madonna House (he died in 2005: Wikipedia entry here; Madonna House bio here), the weekend of the Assumption was busy as they celebrated both Latin and Byzantine aspects of vespers and the day itself.

Now that I think about it, of all the major feast days, Mary’s Assumption/Dormition most reminds me that “the Church breathes with both lungs.”

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