This past May I attended the final spring concert of the Houston Chamber Choir. It was a performance of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (with Christ Church Cathedral’s Canon Bob Simpson conducting and Cathedral parishioner Kelli Shircliffe singing soprano solo). Even with my unsophisticated ear, I love Mozart. But this was the first time I’d heard the C Minor Mass. When the Credo began, I listened with great intent as I followed the English translation in the playbill. The creed continued, “True God of true God; begotten, not made” and crescendoed with “Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven…” And then it stopped. The entire movement. Cut short. Unfinished.
Mozart never completed this mass. It is a half-done thing. As words read on the page, it is actually pitiful: choppy, distracted, even half-hearted. Of the mass, Mozart wrote to his father in 1783, “The score of half a mass, which is still lying here waiting to be finished, is the best proof that I really made the promise.” The “promise” in question was for a family visit to Salzburg to which Mozart had committed, but it could equally refer to the unfulfilled promise of the mass itself, a sin of that “left undone.”
How like Mozart’s C Minor Mass we are. We are intended by God to be things of glory: incarnate spirits endowed with great creative power. We are placed on God’s earth full of promise, and yet so often we fail to finish the good thing God has started. We commit ourselves to God but are quickly distracted. We love half-heartedly. We flit from one thing to another in our lives at a choppy pace. Instead of pursuing God’s hopes for the world with vigor, we forget the promise for which we are made and give our attention to lesser, self-centered things. There are times when we, like the bare words on Mozart’s page, are pitiful.
But words on the page don’t tell the whole story! When sung, the Great Mass in C Minor is among the most glorious masses ever written. It buoys the soul and draws the heart toward heaven. Even though it is unfinished, the mass is still widely performed two hundred and thirty years after Mozart set down his pen, and we rejoice in its majesty and celebrate Mozart’s half-hearted effort.
This is because we don’t hear Mozart’s great work through the filter of its incompleteness. Rather, it is as if God himself has taken the thing Mozart began and infused it with grace and glory. God redeems its incompleteness and declares it good. And that, surely, is also God’s posture towards us. What will God make of us, his unfinished creations, and the promise begun in us? If we’ll listen with a discerning ear and respond with a ready heart, God will infuse us with grace and glory; God will challenge us to pursue his purposes in the world; God will inspire us to love one another in full measure and see one another—all of us—as glorious things to be sung and celebrated. And the spiritual music we will make together will buoy our souls and draw our hearts toward heaven.