One of the repeated themes of the Catholic Mass that remind us most of the classical symphony orchestra is the liturgical use of periodic phrasing. In the classic symphony orchestra, periodic phrasing consists of an antecedent as a question phrase and is immediately followed by a consequent phrase. The melodic phrasings are beautifully balanced in length, and truly do sound like a question and answer, or a call and response being played on musical instruments. One of my best examples of the classical periodic phrasings comes out of the first subject of the first movement in Mozart Wolfgang Amadeus’ Symphony no. 40. Just click on the MP3 player below to listen to a short instructional on this topic by Richard Fox.
Did you hear that? How the one group of instruments sound as if they are asking a question, and the other group of instruments answering it?
Periodic phrasing is one of my favorite things about the classic symphony orchestras. On my way to Sunday morning Mass one day, I was listening to this first Sonata in Mozart’s no. 40, and it was still in my head when the Mass began, and when we responded to the first call of the Priest, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” by saying “And with your spirit,” I instantly felt like I was in the middle of a symphony. And it continued, these calls and responses between the Priest and the People, one after another; this was periodic liturgical phrasings. How beautiful and divinely melodic?
Perhaps, most or all of the liturgy oriented religions would say that they incorporate some sort of call and response in their worship, but for Catholics, because our liturgy is connected to the memorial of Christ Jesus’ salvific work on the Cross, this melodic exchange of words between the Priest and the People takes on divine implications. That is, these period phrasings; these questions and answers, blessings and responsorial blessings are consequential to the healing and salvation that the Mass offers.
In my book The Divine Symphony: An Exordium to the Theology of the Catholic Mass I elaborate upon this tool used in the liturgy; how to compares to what Protestants are doing with their version of the ‘call and response’, and how our dialogue with Christ, through His Priest, is a means of grace. If you haven’t already taken advantage of the preview option of my book offered by Amazon and Google Play, please take the time to read and consider what I have to say about this topic and take it with you next time you participate in the Mass.
For, the Mass is not just music for the soul; rather, it is a Divine Symphony that grants the increase in grace for freedom from light daily faults, remission of punishments, preservation from mortal sins, restraint of concupiscence, the growth of the virtues, sanctification in Christ, and more. Therefore, to understand it as such should increase our desire to participate fully in it, and no longer respond to the Priest as if we prodded like reluctant cattle on the way to the slaughter.