The “Sinai Mass” is intended to be sung by the parish congregation and the important words there are “mass”, “congregation” and “sung.” This is not music to be listened to or to be discussed or even regarded as an aesthetic object (which, of course, makes this a bit ironic because I’m discussing it but you get my point). It is not music for a rehearsed choir. Instead, it is to be sung by the entire congregation. And it is not music to be heard outside of the liturgy in a concert but within the service. It is music to be sung by the faithful as they gather to hear Christ’s gospel proclaimed and, in obedience to Him, receive the sacrament of His body and blood. It is not a work of art; it is instead a liturgical apparatus—like the kneeling cushions and the church’s front steps or even the parish parking lot—its purpose is to modestly assist the faithful in their worship.
But saying this is not to say that the liturgical apparatus isn’t beautiful, instead the liturgical apparatus possess a different kind of beauty than that which characterizes a work of art. The steps to the church need to be competently made, meaning that they should be sturdy and durable. And their design should be decent and fitting for their location. But their beauty lies in the years of wear they show as the faithful have crossed them on their way to worship. This is the beauty of the liturgical apparatus. It is not the beauty of a museum exhibition, caught in a quick look. Instead its beauty is revealed only over time as it serves to aid a Christian’s worship and because of that function is held in his memory. It is the beauty of walking those steps to worship and the memory of that worship.
Music that functions as a liturgical apparatus should be decently made. Like those steps, it shouldn’t make people stumble, making the worshippers momentarily forget the words because of an unnecessary oddity in the music. And as the liturgical music is sung over the years, its relationship with the liturgical words should seem ever more natural–even inseparable from them–just as the chapel would seem somehow unfixed if not approached by the steps. And the beauty in the music lies not in the music itself, but in the lives of the Christians who have used it as a path to worship, even as those stairs have served as a path to the Eucharist.
In addition to his post as Artistic Director of the New Haven Oratorio Choir, Shaw serves as Minister of Music at the St. Augustine Church in Seymour, CT. Previously held positions include Assistant Conductor of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, Minister of Music at Middlefield Federated Church, Director of Choirs at the Zion Lutheran Church (Pittsburgh), and Director of Middle School Choirs at Trevor Day School (New York City). He has served on the faculties of Duquesne University and John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.