St John Cantius is a paradox to me. Everyone tells me that I should love the place. You love the liturgy, you will love St John Cantius. You love sung liturgies, you will love St John Cantius. You love Latin, you will love St John Cantius. And so on.
I have been there twice now. It has been a lousy experience both times. Last week, I left the celebration of Tenebrae early it was that bad. And I have pinpointed the problem. The choir. Not the Latin. Not the chant. The choir. There is nothing that turns me off more than a choir that sings a polyphonic setting that I can neither understand what they are saying nor dare participate. It was no doubt beautiful. But it was not prayerful. Maybe the fault rests with me, but I would seriously like to know how people overcome the distraction. I have participated in sung liturgies before, of several rites and in a number of languages. I have never had this problem before and, upon reflection, all of them had in common the fact that their music was participatory or at least capable of it.
I would really love to hear from some who go to St John Cantius. Tell me how you or others deal with this. Spare me abstract defenses of polyphony or the traditional liturgy. You are talking to someone who is favorably disposed to all of that. I went to St John Cantius because of its treasures. But how does it become prayerful? Because twice now I have gone and it has not been. It became a concert. And I struggled tonight to avoid that.
I hope someone from St John Cantius or who loves the traditional Latin mass can read this and understand what I am identifying and speak to my real need expressed above. I don't think I am alone in my experience and that this is my stumbling block with the way the extraordinary form is celebrated in many places. All screeds about the pitiful state of folk music in the ordinary form of the liturgy will be deleted. I'm not pining for a guitar mass. I am genuinely asking where that line is between beautiful, mystical musical prayer and a concert? And if it primarily rests in the way one approaches the mass and one's participation in it, what am I not getting?