Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Friday, 26 October 2007

All are welcome! (but some are less welcome than others)

This Sunday's gospel resonates very strongly for me.
My general objection to much of modern sacred architecture is the same as to much of modern "worship":
(as a writer whose name I have sadly forgotten said,) we have made no place in our places of worship for the Publican.
It is all very well to say, sure we have, he's welcome! let him come right up here with us and shout out with joy! but if he doesn't want to come up there and shout out with joy, that isn't welcoming.
Whether as a result of his mood or emotion or even perhaps tragedy of the moment, or as a result of his lifelong personality or proclivities there are people who are quiet, or diffident, or sedate, or analytical or detached or shy, or cerebral or low-key -- or otherwise not loud or touchy/feely or energetic.
The person who insists on hugging the stranger isn't welcoming if the stranger is the sort who withdraws, shuddering from having someone he doesn't know wrap his arms around him and pat and squeeze.
The song leader who berates or cajoles people who aren't singing the hymns or saying the responses loudly enough, doesn't make anyone think, gee, I think that's just what I wanted all along without knowing it, to sing out louder, it makes him think, how can I get out of here? or worse, drat, I could have gone to brunch.
Sometimes, some people want dark corners, where they can kneel, in supplication, in awe, in penitence..... heck, in exhaustion!.
Big, white-walled, round spaces, lit up like police interrogation rooms make lousy churches.
My second objection to far too many churches is sheer ugliness, and I've seen plenty of that.
But I do not have the knowledge or expertise in aesthetics or the visual arts to address that properly, so coming from me, that is merely disputing about taste .
And my third objection is the barren simplicity of much of it. Nothing "noble" about the simplicity, the blank uniformity of many modern churches.
I think the overly decorated, fussy, tchotchked-up church interiors are, ultimately, more useful to the faith, more conducive to fostering devotion, more compelling, more likely to lead the soul into new ways of thinking about God, than the minimalist, see-everything-there-is-to-see-at-first-glance, nookless, crannyless, detail-less spaces that one encounters so frequently nowadays.
It is reminiscent of the flat, get-everything-out-of-it-that-can-be-gotten-on-first-hearing prose to which we are subjected.
Yes, yes, more of my inchoate, incoherent rambling....


Anonymous said...

I see few articles such as yours with which I both vehemently agree and vehemently disagree :P

A couple things I agree with: First, on a non-religious I too am annoyed by people who expect EVERYONE to act as they do. I'm a quiet reserved introvert. I "get out of my shell" every now and then, but generally I keep to myself. So a common occurrence at my church is like on Thursday when some old lady stopped me and said "you know, you can go far if you just smile and say hello to someone." I was tempted to say "how sad that in your long life you have NEVER met anyone who was less social than you!" She didn't care that I was having one of the worst job days since taking the position, she didn't care that she had made no previous effort to be a friend to me, she only wanted me to treat her like a celebrity! A pox on such people, that's just poorly disguised bigotry!

Your point about white bright churches is apt, but it's more than that. It's the way churches provide a sensory overload. IT'S THE FREAKING MORNING!! I don't want to get up at 6, drive to church, and get blasted in the face with fluorescent lights or get pounded by the sound system! I've long held that a church should NOT have a sound system or artificial lighting. Stained glass and strategic acoustics can do the job. My church, for example, is easily small enough to hear the priest whisper at the altar. Why should we amplify him?

I agree that we haven't made a place for the publican, but that's not so much the "community" vibe but rather that there's no sense of sin. What would the publican sing at a typical Amchurch Mass? Would he be able to get to the confessional before Mass? If everyone around him is saying "Lord be merciful to me a sinner", I see the point of the group-hug mentality. But if all it rests on is the "I'm ok, you're ok" mentality, there's no reason at all for a Christian community!

Anonymous said...

Things I disagree with:

The biggest is your comments about the song leader. I WISH I could announce the Entrance hymn and then say "and I will not begin the hymn until I see EVERY ONE of you with a hymnal in hand! THIRD ROW, LEFT PEW, GENTLEMAN IN RED, I see you!" Some people want dark, solitude, a corner? Let them sit in a closet. We're here to attend Mass as a community. That means the congregation has parts that you can't mumble through or ignore. That means you need to pay attention to the choir. That means you're not checking your watch at 11:50. Yes, I know that at times you don't want to sing, don't want to do anything. That's OK. What's NOT ok is to make that your modus operandi at Mass. To be honest, I don't say a word at the early Mass except when I make the peace with the cantor. I just can't bring myself to do it that early in the morning. Now, if I were willingly attending an early Mass, I'd say I need to wake up later and attend a Mass where I DO have the energy to participate. If that means my parish has to close the still-dark-outside Mass, I can live with it.

I've complained often about the trad idea of getting rid of all new music since 1960 (because that gets rid of your "white list" works as well) and I think the tendency to reject ANY form of community is equally harmful, if not more. The way some people view Mass, I'm surprised they don't demand the priest come to their house to celebrate a private Mass each Sunday. The fact is that from the beginnings of the Church, Christians have GATHERED for Mass. They haven't just happened to go to the same place, they did it as a Church. That doesn't mean that's the EMPHASIS of the Mass (and there's the fault of Amchurch nonsense) but it does mean we approach God and act as a community. I had someone tell me they don't sing at communion because they're busy praying. What horrible gall! I quoted St. Augustine back at her and pointed out that she's refusing to pray with others. How Christian is that? Can't even join with prayer with her own family. And, before you remark about individual prayer, I'll mention that the singing ends when the priest begins cleansing the vessels and he still has an extended moment of silence afterwards.

Ultimately I think that the good of the past 40 years outweighs the bad. In a list of the good I include comprehension of the texts at Mass, an increased sense of community, congregational participation in the Mass, lay interest in liturgy, and of course we couldn't have the building attempts to enforce the council without the bad things of the past 40 years. So you lose so much when you throw out the good with the bad. Of course you know the bad, but I'll add that in my opinion the SINGLE WORST change of the past 40 years was the elimination of ad orientem.

I really like your point about the church looking like an interrogation room. And the priest facing you doesn't help one bit.


Anonymous said...

"The biggest is your comments about the song leader. I WISH I could announce the Entrance hymn and then say "and I will not begin the hymn until I see EVERY ONE of you with a hymnal in hand! THIRD ROW, LEFT PEW, GENTLEMAN IN RED, I see you!" Some people want dark, solitude, a corner? Let them sit in a closet. We're here to attend Mass as a community. That means the congregation has parts that you can't mumble through or ignore."

That's really not the point.
I didn't say everyone shouldn't sing or say the parts the Church assigns him.
(All things being equal... there will be times when just getting there is almost as must effort as a body can muster, and it's not up to someone else not suffering from a sore throat, or someone else less hung-over, or someone younger, or more energetic, or fonder of singing -- or, as you noted, AMPLIFIED, decreeing what amount of effort would meet with his approval.)
So it does not therefore follow that any else should feel it is his job to act as a cheer leader to get the less enthusiastic to join in.
It is our job (sometimes literally,) to be enthusiastic in a way that will inspire like enthusiasm in others.
What purpose, (apart from at a school Masses,) does berating a captive audience to sing my choice of songs serve? IME it is counterproductive.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced. The main reason why pastors and parishes don't put money, effort, and design into church interiors is because they've spent the wad on the school. The arts just don't have the sex appeal in US culture.

That said, there is a lot of good architecture and design going into Catholic churches these days. I tend to pass off as urban legend "all" or "most" churches are bland.


Anonymous said...

I'm not suggesting that it's OK for cantors or music directors to patronize or berate the congregation. And we've all run into that: "open up your hymnals. Make sure to get a nice deep breath. Hold your hymnals up higher so you can breathe well - n, I said higher!" But at the same time I can appreciate the sentiment behind it. Catholic congregations are soooo very pathetic about singing that it leads to frustration in even the cheeriest musician. Sometimes I'm even tempted to throw things at people who leave during the closing hymn.

To put it plainly, I'm just not impressed with lists of excuses when it comes to music. Bring me a doctor's note if you're too sick to sing. If you're hung over, bring in some of the alcohol to prove it (and I'll test it to make sure it is alcohol ;)). If you're too tired, go to a later Mass. I understand there are some situations where you just don't want to sing. I feel that way EVERY Sunday in fact. At the early Mass I sit on the organ bench looking like a zombie only opening my mouth to say "peace" to the cantor. But I'm in a bit of an extraordinary situation. If half of my parish has a sore throat, I'd recommend they wave at the peace instead of shaking hands. If they're all hung over, we should start an AA group. If they're tired, we should get rid of the early Mass. Again, I DO understand why someone wouldn't sing. But I also know the probability is that not every person in my church who doesn't sing has a physical impairment keeping them from doing so.

Congregations do need reminders that they have a part to do. I think a speech in church should only be undertaken RARELY, when CAREFULLY written, and as a LAST RESORT. As for me, I'm writing an article for the bulletin about singing. If I had the space available to me, I'd probably have a bi-weekly reminder put in.

And I'll make the final point that the error MOST music directors make is to judge the success of their program by how many people sing. Just check out that stupid poll NPM did. I don't fall into that trap, but I do expect it people people.