Thursday, March 24, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 20

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 20


So why is it that we are beset by Pascal Turkeys and stage dramas? St. John the Dwarf wrote in his spiritual classic The Dyspeptikon that “Only those remain in the priesthood who have deep faith in and love for the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, or those who are hoping for a corner office down at diocesan headquarters.” Faith and the love of God are not indispensable requirements for employment in the field of religion. Have you ever heard of “church-craft”. There are people who are very good at the business of religion. They may be holy, or they may be less than holy. They may be clergy, or they may be laity. It matters not. They are just plain good at the business of religion.

I was alarmed a few weeks ago at a regional meeting of clergy and diocesan office wonks, when a young priest used the phrase “salvation of souls.” He said it right out loud! In my 40 plus years of attending such meetings, I had never heard anyone use this phrase. It has always fascinated me that one can meet with dozens, even hundreds of religious workers, ordained and non-ordained, and after the opening prayer, not hear the divinity so much as mentioned until the final prayer.

In my life as a priest I have attended perhaps ten thousand meetings. (Conservatively estimating, that’s 37 years in the clerical state, at a rate of 4 meetings a week). At present, I can only remember three or four of those meetings. I have now participated in about four or five programs to revive the church. I have participated in at least as many fund drives that would solve our financial problems. I cannot count the liturgy meetings, the planning meetings, the meetings to evaluate the meeting to prepare for the meeting that we have not yet had, but will have at some not too distant date. Every meeting seems to generate a new committee, or surface a new need for which a diocesan agency is absolutely necessary. That agency will of course send out important mail and devise new programs to meet the crying need, whatever it may be, and all employees, volunteers and carbon-based life forms walking within twenty yards of a church building will have to attend, lest we be accused of insensitivity to the plight of left handed Bosnians, or whatever oppressed victim is the new cause celebre.

I say this having been a diocesan office wonk myself for at least twenty years. (At least two meetings a week.) I was also a pastor at the time. I decided to collect all the diocesan mail that I received in one month and bring it to a meeting of my department. I staggered in to the main office under an Everest of mail. My colleagues were appalled at the amount of mail we bureaucrats generated. If I remember correctly, someone suggested that an office be opened to deal with the problem and that a mailing be sent out on the subject.

Now things are much better. The mail comes by computer and everyone knows how computers have reduced the junk mail problem. In all those mountains of very important mail; and all those important meetings, I cannot remember a single incidence of anyone seriously asking what God Almighty might think about the situation. That is why, when that young priest said something like “the salvation of souls” he might have as well have made an unfortunate digestive sound.

“Why,” you may ask, “have you gone on this rant when you are trying to get to the end of this interminable history?” Simply this. There is no manual of marital technique that can save a loveless marriage, and there is no number of meetings or programs that can substitute for deep and passionate faith. Church-craft is killing the church. She can only be revived by conversion.

Those thousands of meetings I mentioned, for the most part, had all the passion of a lecture on how to repair the Xerox machine. Some people who work in the business of religion love the Lord with all their hearts and souls. Some do not. Zippy, zingy technique cannot save a marriage when love has died. So too, theatrical liturgy cannot replace faith. I am getting old. People like me who remember the tradition are getting fewer. A few men, who were considered “experts” forced the Church into radical separation from the unbroken continuity of her liturgical history during the twentieth century. I suspect these experts were really good at church-craft.

The Holy Spirit said very clearly in the Vatican Council that the Church must adapt to a changing world. The Council Fathers had no idea just how much the world was about to change. The “experts” were given permission to make a few adjustments. They made more than a few. It was a little like telling your 19-year old child, “Now while we’re visiting your great uncle Reinhold down in Boca Vista Palma Bella, you can have a few friends over, but nothing wild and NO beer!” Inevitably you will come to a smoking ruin, a gaping hole where your little cottage with the white picket fence had been, and you will be living in a motel for quite a while.

The generation of juvenile delinquents who burned down the house of the Lord is approaching 70 and 80 now, and they are being replaced by their bureaucratic protégés who never saw what Mass was like before Broadway was baptized. They think tradition is big. It involves glitter and orchestras. If it’s in Latin it must be Catholic.

The infection of theatrical liturgy is everywhere. There is no more pious community than the Asian Catholics who made up half of my parish back at Sts. Dismal and Precipitous in the Harbor District of Frostbite Falls. They emigrated to this country at its liturgical low point and all the young clergy and seminarians took courses at Christian Technical Underwriters on the south side of Frostbite Falls. There they learned that stuff from the old country, like rosaries, novenas and quiet Masses had been done away with by the Vatican Council. So they developed grand liturgies with huge choirs that sang hymns set to tango melodies. (I am not making this up). I remember a young Asian man who ran up to me breathlessly as curtain time for Mass approached. He asked me if he should put the microphone up on the “stage.” I was about to go into a long disquisition pointing that it was an altar, not a “stage,” but I just looked at him and said “Yeah. Go put it up on the stage.”

It had in fact ceased to be an altar. It was a stage and there would be no sacrifice, only a kind of community meeting in the midst of a stage performance. We have liturgy offices filled with generations of young church-crafters for whom the Hollywood extravaganza is the only paradigm they have for liturgy. They have never seen the real thing. Isn’t that a little extreme? Hollywood extravaganza? Let me tell you a few stories.

I remember a little old lady who was pretty much as deaf as a stone. She had been away from the church and her daughter, an active Catholic took her to the Easter Mass one year. She was a little surprised when, in the sanctuary she found ducks and bunnies in a kind of Easter display. That wasn’t what she remembered as a Catholic. The next year she gave it another shot, and this time they had constructed a rather elaborate display for the Easter Holy Water. It was a sort of babbling brook. They made some of the older parishioners uncomfortable during longer services, but were all the rage for a while. You still see them sometimes. Our stone deaf grandma who didn’t see too well either, heard the sound and asked her daughter what it was. Her daughter tried to tell her that it was a babbling brook. To which our heroine responded at the top of her voice, “WHAT? BABOONS? LAST YEAR IT WAS POULTRY! HAVE THESE PEOPLE LOST THEIR MINDS?” Yes, Grandma. They have lost their minds.

Liturgical chic is now cranked out by experts on a regular basis. Priests, deacons and religious are required to pray the liturgy of the hours daily. I remember a liturgical show that passed for vespers at a priests' conference not too long ago. It was beautiful. Pure George Gershwin. “Summertime, and we’re gonna have vespers....” One of the most requested funeral hymns these days is that old religious favorite “I did it my way....”

Rev. Neinbaum, my former liturgy teacher encouraged us “...try to put a little pizzazz in your sermons, gentlemen.” We have had enough liturgical pizzazz to last until the Lord’s return. Liturgical improvisation seems to be the order of the day. It is not uncommon to hear a priest preach four or five miniature sermons during a Mass, all in an attempt to improve on the basic product. For example:“This is the Lamb of God, the Lamb sacrificed, the Lamb who loves us, the Lamb who is a gentle and non-violent creature, this little Lamb who is Jesus, who radical separation from the unbroken continuity of loves us, yadda, yadda, yadda.....” To which we are expected to respond, “Lord, I am not worthy...” At this point one is lost and looking to find his place in the missalette and wondering if he should have brought mint jelly with him.

You are not lost, friend. It is the celebrant who has wandered off. And always with deep emotional feeling and long dramatic pauses. Father, we are there for Christ, not for you. In particular, I remember the sad funeral of a seminarian. The priest who offered the funeral Mass was a raging thespian and gave it all he had. He held his arms straight out as far as he could, like a man crucified, and beseeched heaven with weeping and long soliloquies. I was tempted to go up, tug on his chasuble and remind him that the guest of honor was in the coffin. I believe he has since left the business of religion to pursue his thespian dreams elsewhere.

I am so tired of hearing people say that they don’t get anything out Mass. You don’t go to Mass to get something. You go to give something. You go to Mass to give your life to Christ who has given His life for you. You offer him your flesh and blood and He in turn gives you His Flesh and Blood. It’s called a covenant. St Paul says that we make up in our flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. (Col. 1:24)

What could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? There is a beautiful old prayer called the Morning Offering:
“O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, and for the salvation of souls.”

There are many variations of the prayer, and it usually includes prayer for the intentions of the pope. The important thing is that it unites our joys and sorrows to those of Christ. We join Him as co-redeemers of the world as he asked us to do. (John 14:12-14 “I tell you the truth. The person that believes in me will do the same things I have done. Yes! He will do even greater things than I have done.”) That is the meaning of Mass. It is the perfect sacrifice that allows me who am no one, to climb up on the cross with Him for love of the Father and for love of the world that He so loved. We have become so shallow that we think Mass is an entertainment designed to cure our boredom for a little while, forgetting that it is the un-bloody re-presentation of Calvary’s sacrifice.

One more story. A new bishop came to the diocese and there was a grand Mass to welcome him. There were two, count them, two choirs, one in front and one in back. Afterwards, the overheated cathedral choir director asked me if I thought the new bishop liked it. I said, “I’m sure he was very pleased. I hope God enjoyed it as much as the bishop did.” Church-craft. We are killing the Church with church-craft, but at least we do not lack for entertainment on the way down.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 19

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 19

(Another disclaimer: I wish I were making all of this up.)

In 1986, after I had served as a curate in three parishes, I was asked to be the pastor of Our Lady of the Loons, a poor parish in the heart of Frostbite Falls. The parish had a large Asian population as well as Mass in Spanish and Gh’eez, a Coptic liturgical language. The Asians regularly blew off firecrackers in church to scare away the devil. I don’t know if the devil was frightened but the Lunar New year was definitely a trial for house pets. The Copts regularly used drums at their Masses and both used umbrellas for processional purposes. It was quite a place. The parish was also famous for the best St. Patrick’s Day party in the Frostbite Falls Harbor District. It also had the greatest concentration of the mentally ill and coincidentally, of liberals, in the diocese. It was the diocesan home of Catholics for a Free Choice, a pro-abortion rights group and it had a noon Mass that drew an interesting, and very forward looking crowd. The school children would regularly be dragged down to the lawn of the mayor’s house to protest something or other.

Upon arriving there, I was informed that I was not welcome to say the noon Mass. They had their own priest, Fr. Gustave, who did not use the words “Father” or “Lord” when referring to the Divinity. He was a former brain surgeon who lived his religious order vow of poverty admirably, but seemed a little less clear on his vow of obedience, a likeable fellow who never said much. I was also greeted by the representatives of “el comite,” the Spanish-speaking counterpart to the Liturgy Committee which ran the noon Mass, and pretty much everything else in the parish. “El comite” would allow me to say the Spanish Mass, but they took up the collections and made the announcements. There was one other Mass at which the sermon was regularly preached by a former Augustinian seminarian, husband of an ex-nun. God had called him to preach, just not to be ordained. At this point, you may be saying, didn’t they appoint you the pastor? Yes. They also gave me a key to the rectory, where I had access to a bedroom and a bathroom and not much else. The rest was public space.

My immediate superior, Monsignor Wuetigarzt, was much enamored of the dynamic young people who ran the Noon Liturgy Committee. Both he and they were very much involved in the movement to free Tibet, hence these heroic young people could do no wrong in his eyes. Politics is the art of the possible, and these days it is fairly easy to remove a pastor, so I did what I could and endured the rest. I had no clout, neither high nor low.

Not long after my arrival at the parish, I got a tearful call from a woman who taught religious education and preparation for First Holy Communion. She asked “Why had we bailed out Diego?” We were always bailing out someone who had been arrested for some heroic anti-government activity. I asked “Who is Diego?” It turns out that Diego was her live-in boyfriend, another religious education teacher. Apparently he had been unfaithful to her and had been arrested for a long list of illegalities. Having been bailed out by the parish, he had robbed her blind, jumped bail and had returned to his home in Tierra del Fuego. I soon discovered that quite a few of our religious instructors didn’t worry much about sacramental marriage. To say the least, I was surprised.

I’d had enough. I called a meeting with the “el comite” and announced, “No more special collections that I don’t approve, and no more announcements that I don’t write and deliver. I remember Anita Comino, the leader of “el comite,” fixing her icy gaze on me and saying that “We got rid of one pastor. We can get rid of you.” (My predecessor had been driven out of the parish. He had left the active ministry and was resting quietly somewhere.)

That’s when the excitement really started. “El comite” doubled as the choir, and every other Spanish speaking parish organization. The choir quit, the strikes and the protest marches started, and slowly normal Catholics started to return to the parish. The progressive agenda had gotten the congregation at that Mass down to about 75 people. Finally, one Sunday, “el comite” stormed the pulpit at the end of the Mass and started to read a manifesto about my misrule. Having blessed and dismissed the congregation, I left the church and the congregation followed me. The “comite” was left haranguing an empty building.

On to the English-speaking Masses. I often sat in the back at the noon Mass. Remember, I was not allowed to say that Mass. The celebrant was a very creative man. The congregation wrote its own creed. It was really quite nice, except that it left out the resurrection, the divinity of Christ and the Church. In the same progressive spirit, the celebrant made up the Mass prayers. I think he usually had some form of the words of consecration. He always sat in the congregation, and shared the preaching schedule with other men and women, though not with me. He never wore a chasuble, only an alb and stole, and when he made his way to the altar he was always accompanied by lay men and women who stood at the altar, as if concelebrating. It was always very moving. I can still hear the opening words of the liturgy “In the Name of the Fathermother, (one word) son (or daughter) and Spirit” or “In the name of the Creator, savior and sanctifier” and if things Native American were being highlighted, especially at Baptisms, the four winds and the earth mother might be thrown in for good measure. I remember a man who was trying to return to the faith who told me that he had been to the parish three weeks in a row before he realized it was a Catholic church.

One fine Sunday, as I sat in my pew in the back, wondering what would happen next, a young woman took to the pulpit and urged the congregation to go to a march downtown in support of a woman’s right to abortion. That was it. The end. The hill I would be happy to die on. Finito, Kaput. Over. When it was just liturgical silliness that my superiors were happy to permit, that was one thing. But when it was something that would result in the violent deaths of the most defenseless among us by murder in the womb, I could take no more. I went to the front of the church as they sang the closing song and said that I wanted to meet with the Noon Liturgy Committee immediately. So began a series of negotiations that ended in open ideological warfare.

At one of the meetings I said that “Perhaps you are right and I am wrong. Perhaps it is evil to call God “Father”. I don’t think so and I have a conscience, too. Don’t change the words of the sacraments, especially Baptism. People have a right to the sacraments and I have to sign a form that says that this child has been baptized according to the rite of the Roman Catholic Church. You have no right to force me or my successors to agree with YOUR decision of conscience.” The following week, a prominent member of the Committee, and a parish employee, had his son baptized in the name of the Fathermother son and spirit, and God knows who else. I said “I have no idea whether or not the baptism was valid, I will have to call the chancery.” Here I made my mistake. I called the competent authority, who told me over the phone that the baptism was probably invalid and they would deal with it. They called Fr. Gustave in and told him to desist. They called me to say that they had taken care of the problem. They called me. I should have gotten it in writing. They wrote the parents in question that they would be happy to know that their child had been validly baptized because Fr. Gustave’s intention had been to baptize in a Trinity of persons.

The Committee decided like “el comite” before them, that I had to go. A letter writing campaign started and the bishop would regularly send me copies of the letters he got demanding my removal. I would copy them and put them in a binder in the front office for people to read while they waited to see the pastor. The progressive nuns who lived in an apartment across the street would regularly come and steal the binder, and just as regularly I would put out a new one. It was all great fun.

The “inclusivist” community, as they sometimes called themselves, all youngish, Caucasian professionals, demonstrated and protested and wrote letters. I remember one particular event of which they heartily disapproved, a forty hours devotion ending with one all-inclusive, multilingual, parish wide Sunday Mass on Corpus Christi, and a procession of about a thousand people all dressed in their ethnic costumes and carrying their national flags to accompany our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It was glorious as we marched, banners waving down to the docks and back. The “inclusivists” were furious that I had cancelled “their” Mass in favor of a medieval superstition. During the procession all fifty of them met in the church basement to discuss the direction of the parish. I could have told them the direction of the parish quite easily, it was marching west on Huguenot-Walloon Drive, and the back east again on Merganzer Boulevard. Something had to be done about the pastor! They boycotted the collection. The collection went up. They boycotted the soup kitchen. The soup kitchen flourished. They came to Mass less often. The congregation grew. My supervisor, Fr. Wuetigarzt, called me in repeatedly. “Why”, he would ask, “are you causing me so much trouble???”

Finally the last straw. I had begun to alternate with Fr. Gustave as celebrant of the Mass, provided he would do it by the book. I offered to have him say the other Masses in the parish. He was uninterested. One morning, as I sat in the presider’s chair, the choir sang that much loved hymn, “I fall on my knees, to the Maker of Jesus...” (Remember, they had decided that it is morally wrong to call God “Father”.) Without thinking, without blinking, I shouted in mid-verse, “Did you just sing ‘Maker of Jesus?’ If you’d say the creed now and then you’d know it’s ‘begotten, not made’. Now sing it like St. Paul wrote it!!!” They complied, packed up their guitars after the Mass and never came back again. The battle was over. The war goes on.

The attitude that the Mass is ours to do with as we please persists in the Church. It has nothing to do with the Second Vatican Council. It is the fruit of a renewed American Heresy that continues to infest the Church, its seminaries, its universities, its mid-level bureaucracies and many of its parishes. My predecessor at Our Lady of the Loons, no longer in the business of religion, was, and I imagine is, a good man, much more progressive than I. (But then again, who isn’t?) They treated him as badly as they treated me, perhaps worse. There is a saying, “If you manage to get rid of your pastor, God punishes you by sending you a worse one.” I was the worse one.

Theologically and liturgically, my predecessor was pretty much on the same page as the Liturgy Committee and “El Comite”. His only crime was that he was not the pastor who had gone before him. He once had a turkey dinner in the sanctuary on Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper being offered in the midst of the “fixin’s”. Laity sat around the table as they re-enacted the Last Supper, Pascal Turkey and all. You laugh, or more properly gasp. In 2010, a prominent activist priest in a prominent city who happens to be my fellow alumnus from St. Rhipsima’s Theology School at Bathsheba Bible College, did pretty much the same thing. You may have seen the video on You Tube. It was lovely, one of the finest dramatic presentations ever offered to a congregation. Original script, wonderful stage set, breathy intonations, dramatic lighting, liturgical dancers waving diaphanous cloths, stunning. Simply stunning. However, I didn’t see same kind of Pascal Turkey at this second extravaganza. It’s all lovely. It just isn’t Catholic. It isn’t part of a Universal Church. And it has nothing to do with Calvary where the Sacrifice began. It is all Hollywood, all musical, no mystery, and in the long run it is boring, unless, of course, you can top it with something more amusing or outrageous next year. That’s show biz!


Friday, March 11, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 18

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 18

(Note to the squeamish: I am not making a word of this up. I have fogged the identities of some people. I have no desire to be sued.)

Do whatever steps you want if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff
Everybody say his own Kyrie Eleison
Doin' the Vatican Rag

Make a cross on your abdomen
When in Rome do like a Roman
Ave Maria, gee it's good to see ya
Gettin' ecstatic an' sorta dramatic an'
Doin' the Vatican Rag

So go the lyrics of a song recorded in 1965 by the Harvard mathematics professor/comedian, Tom Lehrer. In the preamble to what is an amazingly offensive song by one of my favorite humorists, Professor Lehrer says that the Vatican, “ an attempt to make the Mass more entertaining, has allowed more popular music to be used at Mass” or words to that effect. When I say offensive, I really mean it. If you love our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament the song can make you weep. Still, the song sums up a very strange moment in history. I remember about that time, going into a darkened church where a wooden altar had been set up in preparation for the first mass facing the people in our parish. Monsignor O’Brien, a veteran of the old Liturgical Movement, had held off until the last possible moment, but the liturgists had told him that he could postpone things no longer. I remember looking at that flimsy wooden table that now hid the marble altar on which Mass had been said for years and thinking that tomorrow the world would change forever. “Everybody say his own Kyrie Eleison.” Being a young man at the time, I was all for change, but as I saw that wooden table, a wave of sadness swept over me. And now that I am an old man, the sadness sweeps back reminding me of all that has been swept away.

All the old rules about liturgical propriety were melting away like gray March snow on a beautiful spring day. Permission could be given to say “home masses.” It had been forbidden to say Mass outside an approved place without special permission. Now permission was given at a local level, and when it wasn’t given, well who cared? We lived a few doors from a huge Romanesque church, and the young assistant pastor came to our house one night to celebrate the first home Mass in the parish. We “had” Mass sitting around the dining room table. A choir of habited nuns perched on the dining room radiator and the house was filled with neighbors who’d come to experience this wondrous new thing in the life of the Church. We really believed that this was what the early Church must have been like, guitar playing nuns and all. By the way, the nuns’ habits were gone within the year, and the nuns themselves were gone a few years after that. I myself was a folk singer at the time, folk singers being defined as anyone who could play three major chords and two minor ones on a guitar and could sing badly enough to sound authentic. I was drafted into playing for the first small group Mass at my high school. We sang those classic Catholic hymns, “Sons of God”, “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” and “Kumbaya.” (I was not sure what Kumbaya really meant. I assumed it was religious, perhaps a form of speaking in tongues.)

From there, the slide downhill continued unabated. Any song that anybody liked now became liturgical music, especially if the words could be adapted. I remember hearing the Jim Morrison tune, “Come on Jesus, Light my Fire” played as an offertory song. And there was that inspiring communion hymn, “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I’ve got God in my Tummy.” And of course almost anything by Bob Dylan was essentially religious. As I went off to the college seminary, such great lyrics as “Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine...” made splendid offertory songs, after all, the song does mention wine. I remember an old seminary professor preaching an extended homily on the lyrics of the Judy Collins song “Clouds,” which I believe was the communion hymn that day. We had regular small group masses celebrated with loaves of pita bread and port wine on coffee tables in recreation rooms. Some clergy actually used coffee and doughnuts for Mass, though I myself never participated in a Dunkin’ Doughnuts Liturgy. At the first such small group Mass in my dormitory, the music played on a record player by the celebrant was taken from the Beatles “Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. For a while in my first year of college seminary, we would still troop in to chapel for morning prayer, (if we were awake) and evening prayer (if we were still awake). For Lent and Advent, the different dorms would plan the services. I remember one vespers service that consisted entirely of the playing of the musical sound track of the “Wizard of Oz.” Lauds and Vespers definitively ended one fateful morning when the morning prayer service was designed around that Christian classic, the movie “Easy Rider.” There we sat, a few hundred groggy adolescents recovering form the disciplined academic life of the late sixties seminary in which we had immersed ourselves on the previous evening. From the back of the chapel we heard the revving of a motor, and a liturgical presenter did a wheelie up the main aisle of the chapel. I do not remember another morning or evening prayer being held in the chapel for the rest of my college career.

And thus were trained the pastors, theologians and liturgists of today by the glorious experimentation of the sixties. The competition to make the next liturgy more exciting than the last was huge in my college seminary. Plans were kept hush-hush, lest the competition figure out how to top what we were planning. I remember a great theologian, on loan to us from another diocese. He was furious with me because I had figured out the chords to a Jacques Brel song that his liturgy committee was planning on using. I had, he said, no right to steal a song that they had already stolen, and I was to stop playing it immediately. He went on to be the director of a prestigious pastoral institute, a renowned author on moral theology and the moral consultant to an archbishop, who is long since dead. His career hit a bit of a speed bump when he announced that he was leaving the priesthood and the Church to marry someone who was very, very interesting. He has since resumed lecturing on moral theology and is a very popular speaker in some Catholic circles. His theories on the near impossibility of committing a mortal sin had a major effect on the thinking of the times and still exercise a great influence in Catholic morality even now.

You cannot imagine how exciting it all was, this return to the spontaneity of the early Church. It was such fun to go to Mass. You never knew what you were going to get. The hootenanny Mass quickly gave way to liturgical dancers, rock bands, clown Masses in which priest and congregation dressed in clown costumes and the liturgical music was invariably taken from the musical “Godspell” along with the Beatles hymn “Fool on the Hill.” Some time after I was ordained and I had sobered up from the sixties (which seemed to drag on through the 70's and 80's), I was invited to be the celebrant of a special youth group Mass. I was carefully coached by the liturgist in charge how to time the words of the consecration to fit in with music and the visual images projected on a screen behind me. It was at that point that I had finally had enough. The unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary had become a joke, just like Tom Lehrer’s prophetic 1965 song, “Everybody say his own Kyrie Eleison.” Every priest his own pope, every theologian infallible, every opinion valid whether it comes from the bishop of Rome or a rock musician/liturgist. I actually remember my liturgy teacher from seminary say in reference to a papal statement about the liturgy, “Well, that’s one man’s opinion.” My liturgy teacher was certainly an exceptional American. He wasn’t about to let some Italian bishop stand in the way of liturgical progress. It seems that Luther got his way and more, Mass is no longer a sacrifice, but a vehicle for the consolation and instruction, and dare I add, the entertainment of the faithful.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 16

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 17


We are in the home stretch. Now we begin the rapid descent into liturgical silliness. The Benedictine abbey of Solesmes was destroyed during the French Revolution, only to be re-founded in 1832. There began a movement to restore classical Catholic practices, and to return to the style of worship common the Middle Ages.

Pope Leo XIII specifically asked the Benedictine Order of monks to lead the restoration of the Roman liturgy to its classic form. And why did the liturgy need reform? It had been overwhelmed by pop music. Granted, that pop music was written by the likes of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and that crowd, but it was still pop music and had little to do with the music that had come to us from the temple in Jerusalem and the early Church.

The Masses of the classical and romantic eras became great performance pieces that just happened to be hung on the skimpy skeleton of the Roman Catholic Mass. The Mass itself can take as little as a half hour. The music for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis takes about 80 minutes. I remember the Masses of my youth when father and the congregation would have to sit as the choir sang an interminable Gloria or Credo. It was great music, very entertaining and inspiring but it had little to do with Calvary. Such grand spectacles still pass for traditionalism.

I remember a Mass a few years back that had Mozart’s Requiem as its musical accompaniment, one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of music ever written. I was a bit shocked when a lot of people got up and left the church during the Sanctus. Apparently Mozart died before finishing the whole Mass and others composed the rest using bits and pieces, some written by Mozart, some not. The real Mozart aficionados weren’t going to stay for the lesser parts of the Mass, like the Agnus Dei and all that stuff the priest was doing up at the altar, like making the Creator of the universe present in the form of bread and wine. The purpose of the Liturgical Movement of the 19th century was to return the Mass to its simplicity and timeless beauty after a couple centuries of such pious entertainments.

Remember all that American exceptionalism that I have spent the last three months explaining? Now I’d like to talk about a couple of exceptional Americans and their international post-war influence.

Monsignor Frederick Richard McManus was exactly the kind of person who embodied the American Church at its zenith. He was Massachusetts born and bread and attended the Second Vatican Council as an expert (peritus) on the liturgy and member of the council's Liturgy Commission. He wrote large hunks of the Vatican Council document “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium). He was president of the Liturgical Conference from 1959–62 and again in 1964-65. He was key in establishing the Federation of Diocesan Commissions in 1968. He was a member of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) for most of its early history. He was brilliant and very influential in steering the Church in the direction he thought it should go. Among his many accomplishments, one affects us today more than any other. He presided at the first large public celebration of Eucharist facing the assembly, not including those said at papal Masses and some smaller experimental Masses. As far as I can tell, this was the first of its kind. It happened at the opening Mass of the 1962 Liturgical Week in Seattle where people had a “...quite unique opportunity to experience aggiornamento (an Italian word meaning “modernization”) It was the year of the Worlds Fair, Century 21, and the ubiquitous images of the Space Needle were a constant reminder of the future and what it might hold. The local Church joined wholeheartedly in the events of the exposition... And in August, at the Worlds Fair Arena, the Archdiocese of Seattle hosted a kind of liturgical Century 21: the 23rd annual North American Liturgical Week, a major instrument of liturgical renewal in the United States.”

There you have it all: modernity, the space needle, America, the worlds Fair and a non-papal Mass facing the people for the first time in a large, public, official Catholic event, and Boston’s own Father McManus doing the honors. The whole thing was seen as a kind of warm up for the Vatican council. “The theme for the week was ‘Thy Kingdom Come: Christian Hope in the Modern World’, and the link to the Council was not lost on the Holy Father, who sent his apostolic blessing to all the participants in the Liturgical Week... During the Liturgical Week, the people of Seattle had an opportunity to experience what the liturgy could be like... as a huge assembly gathered on three sides of the temporary altar in the Arena. A lay commentator stood at a lectern in the sanctuary, offering succinct explanations — in English! — of the various parts of the Mass. The choir was placed close to the altar, not in a far off gallery; and the people joined in the spoken and sung responses and in the singing of hymns. It was a little taste of the future.” (refer to “Liturgy Notes”, newsletter of the Seattle Cathedral Liturgy Office, article by Corinna Laughlin, Director of Liturgy.) So there you have it. Father, later Monsignor, McManus and his associates had decided that the early Church must have faced the congregation. They were experts, after all.

Rembert Weakland is our next exceptional American. He entered the Benedictines in 1945 and was solemnly professed at Solesmes Abbey in France, where the Liturgical Movement had begun around 1832. He studied music in Europe, Columbia University and the Juilliard School and went on to teach music. In 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed him consultor to the Commission for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. He became abbot primate of the Benedictine order in 1967 and later archbishop of Milwaukee whence he ended his remarkable and distinguished career beginning his retirement in 2002. There is a particular part of his distinguished career that should interest us in our search for the origins of the hootenanny Mass...

Weakland served as President of the Church Music Association of America, and as chairman of its Music Advisory Board, a committee formed in 1965 to assist the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. At its February 1966 meeting, the Music Advisory Board was presented with a proposal for the use of guitars and folk music in the liturgy. I quote a disenchanted former member of the board, Msgr. Richard Schuler, author of the enlightening essay “a Chronicle of the Reform.” “It was clear at the meeting that Archabbot Weakland was most anxious to obtain the board's approval.... Vigorous debate considerably altered the original proposal, and a much modified statement about music for special groups was finally approved by a majority of one, late in the day when many members had already left. This statement on “Music for Special Groups” observed that “different groupings of the faithful respond to different styles of music,” and said that in services specifically for high school or college age young people “the choice of music which is meaningful to persons of this age level should be considered valid and purposeful.” It specified that such music should not be used at ordinary parish Masses.- "...incongruous melodies and texts, adapted from popular ballads, should be avoided.”

Still, that is not quite where the hootenanny Mass got its start. As early as 1964, the National Catholic Reporter ran a story about Sacred Heart, the "hootenanny parish" in Warrensburg, Mo. To paraphrase a Bob Dylan song, “the times, they were peculiar.” Things were already getting strange by 1958. In the October, 1958 edition of the Catholic magazine “Jubilee”, there appeared an article on John Redmond’s recording “The Ten Commandments/the Seven Sacraments” including such inspiring songs as “The Ten Commandments Song”, “Extreme Unction” and the ever popular, “Why Do We Tip Our Hats to a Priest?” The article mentions that:
“The Redmond tunes are swingy, simple and syncopated. Musically they parallel current popular idiom, such as catchy love ballads and novelty numbers. On this record Redmond has employed chimes, gurgles and other effects of the wholesome Guy Lombardo/Lawrence Welk school of music, thereby underscoring the baptism of current American swing. An Arthur Godfrey arranger scored the tunes for the recording and Dolly Houston, a vocalist with the late Tommy Dorsey has done a remarkable job of imitating a boy soprano. She is accompanied by girl trio plus a male quartet and an orchestra... a bishop even cried with emotion when he heard the record and ordered song sheets for the children in his schools... originally intended for catechetical use, (the songs) are now spreading into church and are being sung at sacramental services... The diocese of Portland, Maine uses “I’m a Soldier in Christ’s Army”, a rollicking march that on record appears to begin in samba tempo, as a recessional at Confirmation, and it has been reported that a few churches are singing some of the numbers at Mass.”

Guitars or folk music are not mentioned, but the previously quoted “Statement for Special Groups”, but with Weakland’s help and that of a few others, the statement was taken for official approval of the "hootenanny Mass" later called folk or guitar Masses. And so it was that the hootenanny Mass became the gold standard for all that was modern. Weakland was critical of the decisions of the Vatican Council when he said that “...false liturgical orientation gave birth to what we call the treasury of sacred music and false judgments perpetuated it.” His was the proper liturgical orientation and one of his orientations was the guitar Mass. He dismissed the organic tradition of the liturgy and used his considerable influence to make the Catholic Mass unrecognizable, all in the Spirit of Vatican II.

There remains an unanswered question: How is it that in 2011, such Masses are everywhere in the world that there are Catholics? Remember all that interminable discussion of American exceptionalism? You have no idea how popular it was to be American in the 50's, 60's and even the early 70's. I remember being asked by cousins in Germany, “und Richard, gibt es viel Kountry Vestern Musik in Amerika?" (Is there a lot of Country Western Music in America? Even in 1973, when I stayed in a flea-bitten hotel just inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, I was greeted fondly in a questionable restaurant adjoining the run down hotel. I was invited to join a small circle of hookah smoking locals, and in a short while I was in fear for my life. My host began to ask if I thought he could get a visa to the USA. He shouted the he loved the USA and would kill any man who told him that he could not go to the USA, which he loved. I assured him that I thought he could go to the USA. After an hour of assuring him that he was just the kind of person that we were looking for back in the States, I extricated myself, went upstairs, locked my door and itched myself to sleep. But, things American were sure popular for a while.

The American Protestant belief that Mass was not a sacrifice, but an instruction, and the Enlightenment idea that Mass is not a mystery, but a musical, combined with Bugnini’s experiments and voila: a sort of Mass that was as modern as modern could be, masquerading as the Mass of the early Church and the Mass of Vatican II. It was peppy, it was entertaining and it was superficial. If Mass must be an entertainment, I suppose I prefer Mozart to Lawrence Welk.