Eugene wrote to Fr. Mille in April about over extending himself when he was already sick and also about the type of hymnals to be used during the giving of missions.
“… In the missions. I recommend you use hymns with a refrain, which the congregation can repeat. I insist that there be refrains which the whole congregation can sing, nothing more. I don’t find anything more wearisome than listening to some isolated voices which annoy you by their unison without anyone being able to hear one word of what they utter. It is the very opposite of devotion. In this case, music, far from sending the souls to God, turns them away from him. Instead of praying at such a precious moment, people languish. […]. And so I would like to suppress, in our missions, any adoration, any hymn, in which the refrain could not be repeated by the entire congregation. Hence I insist on hymns with a refrain because during the mission all must sing.” (Letter To Father Mille, at N.-D. du Laus April 6, 1837 611:IX in Oblate Writings)
Eugene speaking from his sense of liturgy and mission almost 200 years ago, yet I find myself in agreement with him. I remember what it was like sometimes before Vatican II took place, to be in the pews during Mass. I never felt a part of it – the priest(s) was separated by a wall (that we called the communion railing) and everything took place on the ‘other side of the wall’. We had to content ourselves with reading from our little prayer books. I remember as a little girl taking part in family gatherings which included my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. There was always a little table where we children had to sit. And although I understand the dynamics of such a gathering and why our parents did this – I wanted to be at the big table with the adults – that’s where all the action was, the talk and the laughter. I didn’t like the separation.
Here Eugene was talking about the singing during the mission liturgies and it struck such accord with me. I love to sing although I am not a good singer. And at our church we have an incredibly beautiful choir. The choir members have wonderful voices and they sing from their hearts in such a manner as to invite all of us in the congregation to join in – and we do. We do not have to stand or sit there listening to them, but rather are able to join in and be a part of praising God in such a wondrous manner. To be able to join them, sing and praise God, be a part of our celebration rather than just a spectator – this to me is solid joy.
It is a gift indeed to be able to take our places around the table of the Eucharist in the many ways open for us to do that.