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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Liturgical Music Complaint Post MMCMLII.

I joined another organization--what a surprise.

Mr. Gilleland expressed surprise at the explosion of interest. I'm not--for most of the members, it's a weekly phenomenon, occurring at the "source and summit" of our life as Catholics. I'm going to avoid my usual tactful approach ("Incoming!") , which provokes the usual response ("write your own!"). I also won't go into whether the stuff is "heretical" or not--a fruitless endeavor that is really pretty well stymied by the frothingly artsy poetic ambiguity of the ditties in question. Usually you can put an orthodox spin on most of it, albeit with with heavy parenthetical annotations:

I myself [In a wholly derivative and secondary sense related to our individual membership in the mystical body of Christ, the ultimate Bread of Life--ed.] am the Bread of Life/
You and I [See above note]/
Are the Bread of Life...


OR

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place. [Indeed, the Church embraces all sinners, though we are compelled to advise you that you are not welcome to take the Eucharist if you're coming here directly from a bordello without confession and are looking forward to the hit you have to perform this afternoon--Ed.]

Consequently, the heretical charge is a taffy pull, basically, and a battle not worth fighting.

Instead, I think the main problem is different: the music emphasizes only one aspect of the Mass, and completely obscures the other. Yes, the mass is indeed a meal--we go up to eat and drink, after all--just like Christ said. So complaints that go after that aspect of the Mass are, in one real sense, a non-starter.

But, there is another aspect to the Mass--the concept that it is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the re-presentation of the Sacrifice on Calvary, at which all participants in the Mass are somehow mystically present. It is in conveying this mystery that the lot of modern Catholic liturgical music fails utterly.

One of my wife's friends at the parish is a member of the Mom's Club. The recent subject of discussion was That Gibson Film. In speaking about it with Heather, she said she had never even made the connection between the Mass and the Cross. Sure, some of it can be chalked up to being another member of the Lost Catechetical Generation, like my wife and others of her age. Even leaving that aside, though, she's been a faithful Mass-goer her entire life--but the way it has been celebrated has successfully hidden that connection from her--until now.

Part of that has to be the music--all celebratory and community centered. Indeed, as Heather pointed out, the modern music fits what happened at Calvary about as well as the People's Front of Judea singing For He's A Jolly Good Fellow at the end of The Life of Brian.

Always look on the bright side of life, indeed. Post-Vatican II Catholic liturgical music does nothing but.

Try imagining Haugen or Haas meditating on the precious blood or the body broken for us, or the stripes by which we are healed--nope, I can't do it either. Ditto Conry, Hurd, Dufner, Norbet, the St. Louis Jesuits, etc.

That is the great failing of Catholic music, and another example of the cross-shaped hole in our spirituality and worship for the past two generations.

Too bad it has to be filled by a movie.

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