Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Friday, 18 April 2008

It's About the Culture? In a way...

Some excerpts from comments about yesterday’s ballpark liturgy from Fr Rob Johansen, a Michigan priest.
Long, but worth reading. (I now see that it excerpting sections, I have ended up with purt dang near the entire thing. SO read it, what else ya got to do?)
[The Pope] celebrated the Mass, as we've come to expect, with dignity, reverence, and obvious devotion.
… Many have commented
on the poor musical choices, and how they seemed to reflect little awareness of Pope Benedict's teaching on the liturgy, or even much awareness of the Church's teaching and directives regarding liturgy and music. Fr. Richard Neuhaus, commenting during live coverage on EWTN, may have expressed the problem best when he pithily remarked "Perhaps those responsible for this are unfamiliar with Pope Benedict’s many writings on the liturgy..."
… But I will make a few observations about the reactions to the Mass, and what this Papal Mass reveals about the state of Catholic culture. Firstly, I was taken aback by the sheer violence and passion of the reaction … I gathered from many of the comments … that people were shocked and surprised … I don't get the shock: the organizers of the DC Mass reveled three weeks ago that they intended to present a mish-mash, or, again in Fr. Neuhaus' inimitable words, a "liturgical stew". And that's precisely what they did. …
I was also, alternately, both dismayed and amused by some of the commentors who spun wild conspiracy theories suggesting collusion of Msgr. Marini (the pope's Master of Ceremonies) or even of the Pope himself, in the nefarious agenda represented by the music of the DC Mass. Some tried to lay the blame on Marini, saying "he was the one sent over to approve the arrangements, he' s the one to blame." As though Msgr. Marini is supposed to have a a current and particular knowledge of the repertoire of American Catholic sacred music. ... I laughed out loud when I read one commenter's suggestion that henceforth, whenever the holy father celebrates Mass away from Rome, he should bring with him his own MC's, servers, and choir. Not exactly a practical solution. Sooner or later the holy father and his staff have to rely on the locals organizers to, well, organize. That reliance may be well or ill-placed, but there's really no alternative.

[THANK you! The vitriol hurled at the new Marini is as nasty as that hurled at the old Marini -- with even less cause, considering that this is, IIRC, the first large scale international trip, the liturgies for which he has had any responsibility. I think I could describe almost all of the…. less than worthy musical selections in a way that would make them seem acceptable to anyone but the most All-Gregorian-Propers-All-the-Time liturgical musician. I suspect Marini II brought a certain naivety to the job -- who, not having experienced it, would expect, or even believe the depths to which the American Liturgical-Industrial Complex will sink in their flouting of all decorum, rubrics, taste and common sense?]
Yes, I'm sure some will be tempted to use the DC Mass as "evidence" to perpetuate the Americanized "Spirit of Vatican II" liturgy. But really, that whole way of thinking is becoming more and more patently dated by the day. It just isn't flying anymore, because more and more people are becoming aware of what Vatican II really taught about the liturgy, and Pope Benedict's teaching in this area is having an inexorable effect. The priests ordained in the last 10 years are almost universally tradition-friendly, and that trend is only expanding. The current liturgical disorder wasn't created overnight, and it won't be undone overnight.
Furthermore, we have to recognize that, in the greater scheme of things, the music offered at the DC Mass was in many respects far better than what you'd find in a lot of American parishes. … I have been acquainted with pastors who forbid the singing of a single syllable of Latin at their parishes.
[Uhm…. Really? No, REALLY? Gambling at Rick’s?]… the work of authentic liturgical renewal has just barely begun.
…. Which brings me to the larger point. Archbishop Wuerl, in his
greeting of the Holy Father at the beginning of the Mass, stressed the different cultures and ethnicities represented at the Mass. Fr. Neuhaus observed that the spirit of "multiculturalism" pervaded the Mass. A different EWTN commentator, after the Mass, gushed about how the Mass represented the "diversity" of the Church in America. Others waxed about how the Mass was an opportunity for the Church in America to show the Holy Father who we are. The problem:
That's. Not. What. Mass. Is. About.

The Mass is not an "opportunity" for me, or we, to "show" anyone anything, let alone "who we are." The Mass is not about "representing" the diversity (or anything else), of those who participate in it. The Mass is about re-presenting the eternal Sacrifice of Christ at the Last Supper and Calvary. It's about Him, not me, and not even about we.
… In our pride and self-centeredness, we want to turn the liturgy around to focus on ourselves. As a priest I have encountered this in many ways. This attitude commonly rears its head in weddings. When, from time to time, I have had to say "no" to the unreasonable liturgical demands of some bride, I have heard the reply "but this is my wedding". To which my response is, "yes, it is, but it's not about you. At confirmation, graduation, and other special Masses, frequently the organizers try, in ways verging upon the silly, to concoct ways to "involve" all the confirmands or graduates, to give them all something to "do" in the liturgy, because it's "about" them.
This kind of thinking was evident in the DC Mass. There was a seemingly never-ending parade of cantors, musicians, and pieces of a dizzying variety of styles and ethnic origins, all aimed at trying to "include" every possible different ethnic and racial group. This process had what Amy Welborn aptly called a "frenzied" quality. It seemed frenzied because it was so obviously labored, and so obviously detracted from experiencing the liturgy as any kind of unified whole. This "multicultural" approach failed liturgically, and it also failed in it's own putative aim: rather than celebrating unity in diversity, or some such thing, it ended up exaggerating the ethnic differences and working against the
communio that the liturgy is intended to bring about.No, the problem, as I heard another priest once say, is that most Catholics "don't know anymore what the Mass is for. " And not knowing what something is for, we will tend to make it for ourselves. Part of the cause for this state of affairs is the collapse of catechesis in the 70's and 80's. I belong to the generation for whom CCD stood for "Cut, Color, and Draw." There is a whole cohort of Catholics who were never taught the rudiments of sacraments and liturgy, nor much of anything else. However, this "knowing" what the Mass is for is something that goes deeper and reaches farther than intellectual understanding. I would imagine that, if you asked the musicians and participants at that liturgy, most of them in one way or another would say that the Mass is about worshipping God. But in spite of "knowing" this in some way, most Catholics experience of liturgy in their parishes, and the experience of the DC Mass, in fact works against what we supposedly "know". In order for what we "know" to really form our lives, it must be "incarnated" in the culture in which we live. And I believe we have come perilously near a point where we cannot, in any meaningful sense, identify a coherent and unifying Catholic culture in the U.S.
No doubt there are many reasons for this, but it seems to me that at bottom the foremost cause goes back to this tendency to try to re-focus the liturgy back on ourselves. For thirty years, have been trying to impose one agenda after another on the liturgy, and all of those agendas boil down to "It's all about me." We have tried to re-make the liturgy in our own image, and in doing so have enervated the culture which makes the liturgy intelligible. The Mass, of it's nature, is, as Amy Welborn said, about Something. And that Something is objective. It is what it is, and calls us to conform ourselves to it. But once we start imposing our own agendas and on it, we create confusion, and lead people to think that it's about Whatever I Want It To Be About. That leads to fragmentation, chaos, and the breakdown of culture. As soon as the liturgy is seen as about Anything, it will be perceived by some to be about Nothing.
The liturgy, as Pope Benedict has written, should form our culture. But for the last thirty years the prevailing culture, and it's winds of trend and fashion, has been allowed to to de-form the liturgy. This is the lesson that our bishops and priests must learn. Once again, the evidence of this tendency was glaring in the music at yesterday's Mass. This process has both damaged the liturgical life of the Church, and weakened Catholic culture. The reversal of the process cannot begin with the prevailing culture that surrounds us - it contains much that is simply antithetical to the Faith. We must begin with the liturgy - as it is understood and lived in the continuity of the Church's Tradition. We must allow ourselves to be formed by the liturgy, so that we can be conformed to the Something that the liturgy is about. Then we will, almost without consciously trying, begin to rebuild and reform the culture of the Faith and of the world.

One final note,from me... while the music, (and the sensibility that informed its selection,) was as bad as it seemed at first hearing, I have no doubt that the performances and arrangements were better, but were done no favor by the amplification and the broadcasting.


Shea said...

Perhaps I was watching a different celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I saw joy, reflection, pure encounters with out Lord and Savior.

For people to criticize this broadcast is unkind, and meanspirted. I watched and listened to Father Robert Reed on CatholicTV. He appreciates the Holy Father and all those who graciously and joyfully served at these specatular liturgies.

Shea said...

Please excuse the typo: it's OUR Lord and Savior.

My apologies.


Sir Monocle said...

I loved this article. Thank you - hope you don't mind me linking to this one.

Anonymous said...

No, I'm pretty sure you're all talking about the same Mass.
The occurance [sp?] of joy and reflection and encounters with the Lord wouldn't preclude the music that accompanied that joy being bad or inappropriate, Shea, does it?

I'm not sure that people who object to us objecting to some of the music that finds its way into sacred liturgies believe that there IS such a thing as inappropriate music (I'm not talking about texts, I'm talking about music.)

Do you, Shea?
Is there such a thing as bad or inappropriate music?
Is there any music or musical style you think WOULD be objectionable for use in Mass?
Or is ALL music, are ALL styles suitable?