On September 8th, we celebrated the Nativity (i.e., birthday) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although it was a weekday, Anthony played the organ, singing the opening antiphon, then leading us through the opening hymn, a sung psalm response and the rest of the ordinary parts of the Mass, as well as hymns at offertory, Communion and recessional. I sang the primary three prayers proper to the Mass: the opening collect, the offertory, the prayer after Communion. Why all of this music at a weekday Mass?
The answer is that the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a liturgical feast. In other words, liturgically it's a higher celebration than a normal weekday Mass. And, the higher the celebration, the more solemn we make it. This is called the "principle of ascending solemnity". People who remember the days before Vatican II will remember attending "low Masses" and “high Masses”. The idea is the same. A low Mass was a normal weekday Mass, and high Mass was a fancier Mass, celebrated usually on a Sunday or other feast.
Following the principle of ascending solemnity, we add things to help all of us sense the solemn nature of a higher celebration. We add more music, and musical accompaniment. We add more candles around the altar. (You might notice that we try to have only two candles for a normal weekday, but up to six candles for a Sunday or feast day. When the Bishop is present, we add a seventh candle.) We put on a fancier altar cloth for the bigger feast days. On the greatest solemnities we use incense. We add flowers. All of this helps us to follow the principle of ascending solemnity.
Why follow the principle of ascending solemnity? First, it is good for the soul! As body-soul composite beings, what we experience with our senses makes a big difference. We hope that following the principle of ascending solemnity will help each soul at Mass enter more fully into each Mass and experience it more profoundly. Second, the Lord is worthy of the higher worship on the greater feast. It's right to put more work into a liturgical feast than a daily Mass. Remember, the first purpose of the Mass is to give God worship!
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu, Mariae et Josephus,