Length of Music at Mass
  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123
    I just started directing the music for a TLM, and it only took until the second Sunday for someone to approach me with this question:

    "Is every week's Mass going to be like last Sunday's?"

    This person had a missal with him, so I couldn't imagine that the issue was the EF, and as it turns out it wasn't. He then asked incredulously, "An hour and a half?????"

    "Well, a Missa Cantata, properly celebrated, usually takes about an hour and a half, yes." The whole time I was saying this, this person shook his head at me, as if to say, "No, no. You young guys don't know how this Mass was really celebrated back when it only took four minutes and thirty three seconds." This is the kind of mentality that has worried me every since July 7 when the MP was released, in spite of all the blessings that this event should bring.

    Now, I think it's interesting that this person should approach me, the music director, rather than the priest. There is a myth out there that good music adds time to the Mass. It can, but it is not so in my case, save for the interlectionary chants, and even then we're talking about a practical difference of two to three minutes.

    This leaves two questions:

    1. How do we get people to realize that music not only does not add that much time to Mass, but that it is an important, indispensable part of Mass?

    2. More importantly, how do we deal with the mentality that Mass should be over in 59 minutes and 59 seconds?

    Someday, also, I'm going to look for the opportunity to teach people about the integral relationship of the chant melodies themselves to the Mass. It is more than just the text, but reductionist mindsets have created mental blocks on this subject with a number of people.

    And in case you're wondering about the guy that approached me.....he left after the sermon.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Frankly, I would just shame them. God is worth more than four minutes and 33 seconds of our time. If that man doesn't believe that, he doesn't belong in the building. It's a legalistic attitude prevalent in the pre-boomer generations that's (hopefully) dying out quickly.
  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123
    Gavin, I hope you're right, but there are a lot of people even our age who will counter any concerns about music at Mass, etc., with, "But didn't the consecration happen??? What else do you need???"

    So far as I can tell, such reductionism is a distortion of Scholastic thought, but maybe I'm in over my head there.
  • This seems to be a matter of parish culture. Where the Mass is under an hour, the people never adjust to anything else. When it is longer and the pastor has properly explained to people that Church should require more of an investment of time, there is not a problem.

    In so many ways, Catholics are impossibly shabby about this. Prots are at Church on sunday 4 and 5 and 6 hours!
  • And on Wednesday evenings for Baptists!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I worked at a black church and their services were soooo beautifully slow. Nothing was hurried a second faster than it needed to be, no one was in a rush, it was quite wonderful. Services were commonly 2+ hours long. So my response would be "well, black churches have long services. ARE YOU A RACIST OR SOMETHING?!" That is to say I don't think people who complain about Mass times deserve a non-sarcastic answer. But that's just me, there probably is a tactful way of dealing with it.
  • Slightly off-topic...

    I find that the length of a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form is very dependent on how fluidly the celebrant can pronounce the Latin readings and prayers. If the celebrant's tongue stumbles through the Canon alone, that can add a good 3-4 minutes to the Mass. (Know also that same tongue has already stumbled through the Collect, Readings, Gospel, etc.) As a result, I've assisted at the occasional 75-minute Low Mass (incl. Leonine prayers), which happens to be about the same length as some of the High Masses I've assisted.
  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123
    Wow! 75 minutes for a Low Mass! Now THAT would get me to switch to the Byzantine Rite!!!!

    (That's just a joke.)
  • mahrt
    Posts: 517
    I would not shame them; you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. A good argument might be, how long does a football game or a good movie last? Which is more important, which deserves more care and attention, these forms of entertainment or the divine liturgy?

    It is all a matter of education. For many people, their only experience of the old Mass was a mini-Mass: a low Mass spoken with utmost efficiency. When I was a naive undergraduate, I found an old Jesuit, a professor of history, who said his low Mass every weekday morning at 7:30; he said it with dignity, but with utmost efficiency, and it lasted 15 minutes. I could go to that Mass, grab my breakfast, and be in class at 8:00. It was only later that I realized that the liturgy required celebration with reflection, meditation, time, and discovered the high Mass and just what the music, especially Gregorian chant, added to that reflection, so that on important days, one does not begrudge the extra time, for it adds to the solemnity and devotion of the liturgy.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    There is a myth out there that good music adds time to the Mass. It can, but it is not so in my case, save for the interlectionary chants, and even then we're talking about a practical difference of two to three minutes.

    Write a little column in your church's bulletin to explain this.

    Also, you know what's amusing? The idea that, in the OF, "extraordinary ministers of the eucharist" help to reduce the time of communion, that it's "more efficient" to have them. People have told me this, but they are demonstrably wrong. I've timed communion now and then, with the presence of EM's and without them, with the same size congregation, and the time difference is usually no more than a minute or two. Why? Because of all the time it takes to set up the EM's with their kits, have them commune first, and then disperse to distribute. (One has to conclude that they're not there for any "extraordinary" reasons at all.)

    Offertory, Communion, Homily, Hymns, Long Prayers of the Faithful, and overly-troped dialogues are the largest consumers of time. Questions and comments:

    1. Is passing the basket at Offertory mandated? Where?
    2. "Second collections" have become so common as to be an unofficial rubric. Is this abusive?
    3. Has the Church put any limits on the number of EM's in a parish, or at a Mass?
    4. What on earth requires a homily longer than seven minutes? The pain of an overly-long, improvised homily has to be too familiar to discuss.
    5. Some of the contemporary Gloria's and Agnus Dei's are so heavily troped as to reach absurd proportions. There is no need for them. Bin them.
    6. It takes no more time to chant the Pater than to say it. I've timed it.
    7. The thoughtless use of banal, musically trivial, multi-verse hymns probably has the most to do with exhausting people's patience. Particularly "recessional hymns," which appear nowhere in the GIRM.
    8. Prayers of the Faithful are often needlessly detailed. It is not heartless to say so.
    9. The "Responsorial Psalm" could be structured as [ congregation response > all the verses sung by psalmist > congregation response ] with no loss.

    I could probably think of more. I am greatly in favor of giving as much time to God as the Church wants, but I do not believe everything that lengthens the Mass (particularly the OF) increases its solemnity and conduces to devotion. A concise, dignified, holy, prayerful, musical Mass is a profoundly moving thing. Often the things that take a lot of time are the things that obtrude one's personal preferences into what's going on.
  • "Prots are at Church on sunday 4 and 5 and 6 hours!"

    Really? Where? Perhaps in Lutheran churches back in the time of J.S. Bach (typically 7 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m., including a one-hour sermon and a full cantata or two).

    It's a struggle in some non-Roman-Catholic churches to convince people to invest two hours on a Sunday morning, for both worship and education. In other places, that's the usual amount of time spent: 9:45 Sunday School; 11-12 noon worship.
  • Anyone remember priests who prided themselves on getting through Low Mass in 17 minutes, or 15? Wonder what the world record is!
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Prots are at Church on sunday 4 and 5 and 6 hours!

    Where I visit regularly, Southern Baptists are at worship an average of 45 minutes. The longest portion of this is the preaching. Those other hours are spent at Sunday School, "visiting," hanging out with the kids in the gymnasium, etc. The particular church I visit is one of those humongous "mega-churches" complete with coffee shop, bookstore, gymnasium, athletic facility, media room, cafeteria...
  • Oh it's true. Many come to church for Sunday school for an hour, and then there is the main service, which is 1.5 hrs, and then there is coffee etc., so you get there at 9 and leave at 12, and then there might be a post-church picnic, and then come back at 5 for a Bible thing and then Sunday night services, and leave at 8pm. This is the Baptist tradition in my own lifetime, though that could be collapsing too. Also when I was growing up in the 70s, there was Tuesday night visitation and Wednesday night prayer meeting.

    Now, it is possible to beef things up among Catholics. I once heard homily in which the pastor told everyone very directly that he wanted every parishioner to commit the whole of Sunday mornings to Church. People arrive for Mass and/or CCD (not sure how the schedule works but it does) and then stay for a weekly talk by someone, usually a priest and then coffee and donuts served on nice plates and with saucers etc. So people ended up coming from 9 until 12 every week. And the people really did respond to this demand. Hundreds and hundreds of people made the commitment and carry it out.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    I'm sure there are people and priests who would be satisfied with speed-reading everything but the Canon, just to get on with it. Put in your time token, get the Eucharist, and disperse. "Mass production," you might say.
  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123
    Dr. Mahrt,

    Thank you for those perfect analogies. I'll be sure to make use of them.
  • Darcy
    Posts: 73
    Our good old priest in grade school (God rest him) would have us out of there in 20 minutes (ordinary form) but I could never understand a word he said during Mass because he talked so fast and I think he might have suffered a stroke sometime before I ever knew him. (For all I knew he was saying some of it in Latin.) However, he always had the altar boys and any kids who did readings at Mass come to the sacristry afterwards to kneel down for his blessing. He would take time then to ask us a question or two, or explain what the sacrarium was, etc. It's true that his Sunday Masses were pretty popular. They gave people more time to get ready for a football party.
  • At the heart of the 60-minute Mass is the fact that Catholics have an obligation to attend on Sundays. The Protestant churches are mostly full of people who want to be there (not saying that all Catholics don't want to be there). If the obligation were lifted numbers would probably drop a bit and anxiety of priests and music ministers could recede just a little. I'm not advocating this. Just pointing it out.

    It does all come down to the pastor. There are too many who think that the least significant part of the Mass (the homily) is the most important. I've met very few who could not streamline their homily to great effect. BTW what if they put the homily at the end of Mass? How would change things?

  • Your point about obligation is worth thinking about. I'm always struck by attendance on Ash Wednesday - packed but not obligatory.
  • Jeff, yes, those "one time only Masses" should be overflowing since all the folks who attend the various Sunday Masses should be there at the same time.

  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    Twenty minutes singing something I know by heart is shorter than four minutes singing something new; moreover, what the schola/choir knows by heart and what congregations know are often very different.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,711
    Time. Unfortunately, it's all built around expectations. And here is the worst of them.

    "Well, we have just enough TIME to get them in their cars and out of the parking lot before the next crowd comes in for the next Mass."

    As Dustin Hoffman said when he played Hook, "Bad form, bad form!"

    This does a great disservice to the Liturgy in every aspect. I was DOM at a Benedictine church years ago. The pastor VALUED music as much as we could properly fit to each liturgy! We had NO liturgy committee, (crucify them all!) and the congregation came because the liturgy was always beautiful. When the pastor UNDERSTANDS what the liturgy is, length of music is not even an issue! It is complimentary to the liturgy. This is why 90% of our problems will dissapear when we have priests who UNDERSTAND the nature of the liturgy. Unfortunately, most priests have not been taught these very basic principles, nor do the seminaries understand nor promote them.

    What the leaders do in moderation the followers will do in excess. Let us pray for the priests and the heirarchy. We have undone ourselves in the last 40 years and now there is no general rule to look to.
  • When I did the Extraordinary form at Holy Name in Providence, High Mass ran about an hour and 15-20 minutes. A low Mass with hymns went about 50-55 minutes.

    An unfortunate note is when an Ordinary Form Mass is considered too long if it breaks 45 minutes. Even worse is when the pastor wants the music abridged, but his homily is a good 20 minutes.