Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am so happy that we were able to welcome the Little Sisters of the Lamb for our parish Lenten retreat this year! I have known the community for over a decade, and their prayer and example have left a lasting mark in my heart. Throughout their week in Fairfield, I reflected on the beauty of their liturgical prayer, especially their singing. Unaccompanied voices singing in perfect harmonies—even with only four sisters, they sounded like a full choir! Most of all, I hope you caught the heavenly element of their singing. Truly, when you attend a liturgy of the Little Sisters of the Lamb, you are transported away from all that is earthly and brought into a profound spiritual communion with the Lord.
Another element of their liturgies struck me. The components of each liturgy were largely Scriptural. Antiphons (short verses, either quoting Scripture or paraphrasing God’s word) were sung to introduce and conclude the Psalms. Everything the Sisters sang was rooted in Scripture. This is not something limited to the liturgies of the Little Sisters of the Lamb. The whole Church uses this structure in liturgy. The word of God proclaimed at every Mass finds an echo in the antiphons and the music proper to every Mass. Did you know that the Church gives us particular texts to sing with every Mass? Take, for example, the singing at the entrance procession. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (#48) gives four options: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the psalm from the Roman Gradual (the official book of liturgical music for the Catholic Church), (2) the seasonal antiphon of the Simple Gradual (a simplified version of the Roman Gradual, especially intended for use in smaller parishes), (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, of (4) a suitable liturgical song approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop. The same list applies to the music sung during the Offertory and during Communion.
In general, the fourth option for music is the most common. Truthfully, I have no idea why that is. Why would the first or second option not be more common? It seems to me that a beautiful element of our liturgical prayer ends up being left out in favor of hymns that may be musically or theologically wanting. Most importantly, the singing of the antiphons and psalms takes us out of the ordinary (as the singing of the Little Sisters of the Lamb does) and audibly tells us that what we experience is different than anything else we do on this earth. The Mass is not just another event. Therefore, the music ought to sound different. This is why we have been singing antiphons at Communion for the last several months.
Having the Little Sisters of the Lamb with us this last week allowed us to glimpse an element of liturgical music that can be rare in ordinary parish life. Music impacts the human heart differently than the spoken word. When we lend our voices and talents to liturgical singing, our hearts are changed. And so, as we reflect on what we do in the Mass and all of the Church’s liturgies, let us give voice to our prayer in song and allow our prayer to be united to the prayer of the whole Church.