Saturday, May 8, 2010

But I like "joyful" music at Mass

Dear Rev. Know it all,

What do you mean that Mass has become a kind of hybrid with American Protestantism? Will you ever cheer up? You’ve been listening to that dreary chant so long that it appears to have hardened your brains. Remember as St. Augustine said, “the Christian is an alleluia from head to foot.” The Mass is supposed to be joyful. The Christian is supposed to be joyful. I want music at Mass that makes me joyful and chant just doesn’t fit the bill.


Ms. Joy Buzzer

Dear Miss Buzzer,

You sound like you got your theology from the back of a shampoo bottle. “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.” A nice hairdo may involve bubbles and lather, but the Sacrifice of the Mass does not. The joy of the Lord is not exactly the same as the joy the world offers. The joy of the Christian is caused by the nearness of the Lord, and not by how catchy the tune is.

First of all, put things into context. St Augustine may have said it, but when he said alleluia, he was chanting it in Hebrew. Alleluia means “Praise the Lord.” It is Hebrew and it has always been chanted until recent times. The very quote you use makes my point. The word “Hallelujah” was not in the common language. It was retained in the Catholic Liturgy of which St. Augustine was a priest and bishop in order to tie the Christian worship to their Hebrew past. It was kept in a “sacred language” precisely to express the universality of the Church. Remember that “Catholic” is the Greek word for “Universal.” We are members of a universal Church and, while it is appropriate to speak to local culture, we cease to be Catholic by definition when we make the Mass so local as to be unidentifiable. It becomes mine, not ours. I want to be a member of the Church that Jesus founded through the ministry of the Apostles, a Universal Church. Universality, that is Catholicism, means that the Church extended not only through space, but also time. The Church I belong to is part of an unbroken chain of worship.

In the church in the village where my family comes from in the old country, there is a baptismal fount. It is carved from a block of sandstone, and is so worn with time that it is almost impossible to tell what the carvings and decoration on it are. It goes back, I assume to the 1200's when the church was built. When I first saw it and touched it, I realized I was touching something that generations of my ancestors had touched. It was a vehicle by which they had reached through time in order to bring me to Christ and Christ to me. By my Baptism and my participation in the Mass, I was more profoundly united to them than I was even by my genetic and cultural inheritance. Well, I suppose we should throw it out and get a new one, one that made sense, one that has words on it we can read. Don’t you understand that there is a language that speaks more powerfully than words? Just because something isn’t easily decipherable doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be understood. The inheritance of 3,000 or 4,000 years shouldn’t be thrown away just because it leaves me cold. Perhaps the fault is mine, not the fault of the inheritance.

Fr. Martin Luther decided to rewrite the Catholic Mass, to declare that it was not a sacrifice. It simply became a re-enactment of the Lord’s supper, a sort of stage play, aimed at the audience, not the ultimate act of worship. "The cult (i.e. Mass) was formerly meant to render homage to God; henceforth it shall be directed to man in order to console him and enlighten him. Whereas the sacrifice formerly held pride of place, henceforth the most important will be the sermon.” (Luther quoted by Léon Christiani, Du luthéranisme au protestantisme (1910), p. 312)

The course was thus set for the modern world in which the value of a religious service had nothing really to do with the worship of God. Rather it has everything to do with the well being of the participant. It is about me, not about God. In that sense it is the worship of me, not of God. It is modern man distilled. Man, not God, is the measure of all things. Though I may feel just wonderful about the whole service, I have not stepped into the unending stream of history. I have not stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai nor entered Solomon’s Temple. I have not trod Calvary’s holy ground nor drank from the cup which the Savior drank. I have not wept for joy at the empty tomb, nor felt the fire of Pentecost. I’ve been to a Church service and I guess it was okay and now I’m going out to breakfast.

We live in a disposable society. We have plastic plates and plastic forks and plastic shoes and plastic cars and plastic music and on and on. It is all disposable, as are we. We are drowning in a sea of plastic. Give me something made of rock. Give me the Catholic Mass.

Rev. Know-it-all

1 comment:

  1. I was exposed to Latin, to chant, and to the music of our Catholic tradition in my pre-Vatican II childhood. It was not all chant; nor was it all Latin either. Even in elementary school, in a parish not too far from St. Lambert, I participated in choir at the daily Latin Mass. We sang/chanted the Mass parts in Latin.

    Until education and opportunities are provided and until people develop an appreciation for that kind of liturgical music, I don't see how you will make it happen.

    Today's young people have not had such exposure. Neither have their parents. If you want to return to the type of music you are describing, what is the Church doing to expose and educate people about it? Where does a parish find musicians who have that training?