Hallelujah! sings the psalmist. Praise God in his holy sanctuary. Praise him for his great majesty. Give praise with blasts upon the horn, with tambourines and dance, with strings and pipes. Give praise with crashing cymbals; praise him with sounding cymbals.
The Mass is a holy event of great solemnity, centered on the Eucharistic sacrifice through which God’s people are fed. It is also an occasion for the exultant praise of God described in the psalms—that practice of communal worship in which the prophet Miriam, joined by the Israelite women, took a tambourine in her hand and went out dancing, proclaiming Sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; the worship of David and the house of Israel as they danced before the ark of the Lord with all their might, with singing, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals.
Practices like these—of praise and worship, of dance and song, of music played on piano and horn, tambourine and drum—are the life of Sunday Mass at the small mission parish that my family calls home. Saint Eugene Mission in Tallahassee is a microcosm of the global church: the first Mass in the morning serves the Spanish-speaking community, and at the Mass we attend the community is mostly black, a mix of Florida natives and immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. The church is small, its walls mostly unadorned, its windows a rickety frosted glass through which passersby can hear our worship when it reaches its peak.
On this particular Sunday that peak takes a while to come. This is partly because it’s early July in Florida, which means it is close to 90 degrees outside by eleven o’clock in the morning, and the church’s air conditioner can’t quite do what’s needed to make the space truly comfortable. Meanwhile, we are missing our regular music director and several key members of the choir, the piano isn’t properly amplified, and our drummer is late in arriving. So as our worship begins and we sing, Sign me up for the Christian jubilee; write my name on the roll, the atmosphere is still short of jubilant. I want to be ready when Jesus comes—yes, but we are not ready yet. Nothing is working as it’s supposed to. It is hot and we are sleepy; much of the congregation has yet to arrive. Our worship is mostly routine so far—we join in the chorus but are less than expressive in what we sing.
But the liturgy is there to give us a routine, and the highs and lows in its rhythm provide us the time to find ours. As the readings are proclaimed, someone fixes whatever had gone wrong with the piano. The drummer arrives; the pews are gradually filled. The priest, a member of our pastor’s missionary congregation, preaches on the simplicity of Jesus’ message and the promise of rest to those who take on his burden: You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little ones; my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Once it is time for the Sanctus we have found the spirit of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, their shouts echoing the words of the psalmist: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! The piano is loud; drum and cymbals sound; the congregation sways and claps as we sing. Hosanna!