Letter to Kerry Zmatick, continued (please, won’t somebody put a stop to this endless harangue?)
Let us again refer to St. Paul.
“When you come together, let each of you have a psalm…” 1Cor. 14 26.
This will never work. You can’t just let anybody sing at a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting has to have a music ministry, the purpose thereof, to get the people going and to make the whole thing a better experience of worship. (What this really means is that a meeting without decent music can be numbingly boring.) We are a spectator society. We want to have someone else do the work for us.
When I was a lad, we still used to learn how to play a musical instrument and would sing while we dried the dishes. Now we put the dishes in the dishwasher and watch television. The Charismatic Renewal has a strong element of the consumer culture.
“How do you expect me to pray without someone leading worship and a decent music ministry? I come to prayer meetings to be uplifted.”
Oh. I thought you came to praise the Lord. I have actually heard people say, “Tonight we’ll have to cancel the prayer meeting . We don’t have any music!” What they actually mean is that they have no one to play instruments. The old ladies I mentioned earlier who would lock themselves in church for the night with pillows and coffee pots had music. They had it in their hearts and souls. They would come armed with nothing but tambourines and determination and they would sing for hours as the Holy Spirit prompted them. I am not against good music, but again, one can structure the brains out of a prayer meeting.
The point of a prayer meeting is to hear from the Holy Spirit. I have been to prayer meetings that seem more like a show with five or six acts. If there is a lull in the doings the choir gets up, goes to the microphones and sings an inspiring number and when they are done the prayer group leader says “Let’s all stand up and really just praise the Lord.”
When I was a lad and first involved in these things, our group had an out-of-tune piano and an old lady for the music ministry. Somebody in the meeting would start an old chorus like, “We see the Lord, He is high and lifted up..” The piano would chime in exactly on key. (I call this the charismatic gift of ukalalia. For the humor impaired, I am joking.) We would sing those words from Isaiah over and over again, because in our hearts we did see the Lord, high and lifted up. (Isaiah 6:1) I remember a night of wonderful testimonies and as each of us shared a story of what the Lord had done in the past week, we would break into the old chorus “In the name of Jesus, we have the victory...” It was schmaltzy, it was childish and it was wonderful fun. Nothing was planned, no two songs were alike, and no one led music.
As I said, I have nothing against good music, or even bad music for that matter. My problem is with self-aggrandizing music. I remember a retreat for all the prayer group choirs in Frostbite Falls. I asked if any of the choirs ever went into the church privately and serenaded Our Lord in the tabernacle. Of the thirty or forty prayer group choirs present, one said they actually did that regularly. I was shocked that one choir actually had thought of it. I expected no one to have made music just for the Lord.
I once read an old article from a Boston newspaper that read, “At yesterday’s gathering the Rev. Doctor Blatherworth delivered the finest prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.” It could also have read “the finest hymn ever sung to a prayer group.” If you have a music ministry that is absolutely in love with the Lord and which sings and plays solely because they love the Lord, that’s great. If you know of such a group, I’d like to meet them. You know how to tell such a group? I’ve already said it. Take away their microphones. I have had more difficulties with prayer group choirs than I care to remember -- power struggles, hurt feelings when a lead singer is replaced, choir directors storming out, recriminations about failure to attend practices, fights about money and record profits. You can tell when a Charismatic music ministry is on the skids spiritually. They decide to record an album. Then they get invitations to go to other meetings get invited to do conferences. They have finally made the big time. Incidentally, one can buy their recordings at the book table.
“But Father, we are doing this to help people. They can listen to our music at home and in their cars and feel closer to the Lord.”
They may feel closer to the Lord, but God would rather they BE closer to Him by obeying His perfect will. When it’s about how you feel, it’s no longer about the Lord.
Church choirs need practice, but I would venture that a real prayer group choir shouldn’t practice, except when they are going to sing in a locked church before the Tabernacle with no spectators present. Offer the best to the Lord, but let the Holy Spirit inspire the prayer meeting. No practices, no microphones, no adoring fans. Do it for the Lord. If there are no musicians, sing songs yourself -- flat, out of key, rasping, cat-howling songs. If they come from the heart and are inspired by the love of God, Heaven will really enjoy them, just as you enjoy songs that your children make up. A prayer meeting is a gathering of the people of God for the free exercise of the gifts of God. It is not a polished liturgical performance for the amusement of the congregation. So, dump the music ministries. Keep the music but dump the music ministries.
Next, the absolute worst idea of all! Dump the Charismatic Mass. It is a liturgical abuse of the worst kind. Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of Calvary, not of Pentecost. Mass is the solemn Sacrament, the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ.
You must be tired of my telling you that the Latin word Sacramentum means an “oath to the death.” I go to Mass to swear my blood oath to give my life for Christ and His Bride, the Church. I certainly receive at Mass, if I am properly disposed to God’s grace, but that is not why I go to Mass. I go to offer my life with His on the altar. That’s why we call it the sacrifice of the Mass. We don’t call it the sacrifice of the prayer meeting. Mass is a covenant ceremony and as such it is a carefully and beautifully structured liturgy.
“But I get so much more out of a Charismatic Mass! I am so bored at those regular Masses.”
You sound like the kind of person who, standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, would have gotten bored about an hour and a half into the crucifixion and gone off to see if there were a concession stand nearby. If Christ had been crucified in a mega-church, at least then you could have gone out to the lobby and gotten a cappuccino.
There is nothing spontaneous about Mass. Everything should be spontaneous about a prayer meeting. It seems that sometimes Charismatics want spontaneous Masses and structured prayer meetings! Have a prayer and praise session before Mass. Pray for the sick after Mass, but please let Mass be Mass. To conform Mass to a particular modern taste is to cut it off from the well springs of history and the communion of the Church. Mass is something we do in fellowship with a billion people alive today and with billions more who have left this world or have not yet entered it. At Mass we are made one with all believers in space and in time and beyond time.
At a prayer meetings we struggle to hear the Holy Spirit. Mass is worship. A prayer meeting is not worship. A prayer meeting is wonderful in its prayer and praise, but Mass is true worship, because there is no worship worthy of the Majesty of Heaven, except the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God on Calvary. My hand clapping enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but it cannot compare to the Blood shed on the altar of the Cross.
When people invite me to say a Charismatic Mass, I always say, “Sorry, I only know how to say a Catholic Mass," and I mean exactly that. The structured nature of the Mass makes it universal. I am doing what they do in India and Africa and China and in Heaven. A prayer meeting is a wonderful thing. In a sense, it is the opposite of universal. It is local. The Holy Spirit makes the universal and unchanging Word of God specific to the needs and the situation of a small local group. This is a good thing.
The intimacy of the prayer group is wonderful. It should not be made liturgical. It is not meant to have a structure. It is meant to be spontaneous. A good prayer meeting can make the Mass more meaningful but it is not the Mass. Don’t confuse them. Dump the Charismatic Mass, no matter how nice it is and how good it feels.
Next week: What is this speaking in tongues nonsense?