Anti-Liturgies of Pop Music

In Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (33-4), Tracey Rowland takes note of the Pope’s sharp critique of popular music, including contemporary Christian music.

Benedict “quotes Adorno’s judgement that ‘the fundamental characteristic of popular music is standardization’ and describes this as ‘incompatible with the culture of the Gospels, which seek to take us out of the dictatorship of money, of making, of mediocrity, and brings us to the discipline of truth, which is precisely what pop music eschews.'”

He views rock concerts as “anti-liturgies where people are yanked out of themselves and where they can forget the dullness and commonness of everyday life.People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe” (Benedict’s words).

In such a situation, the church’s tradition of music has little chance to be heard: “The music of the Holy Spirit’s sober inebriation seems to have little chance when the self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments.”

Rowland comments, somewhat sardonically, that neither the Pope’s conservative allies nor his liberal critics have taken much notice of his pronouncements on music. Given their vehemence, and the fact that his brother is a musician and choral conductor, one suspects that music lies near his heart.

This is, after all, a theologian who has warned: A “theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous [since] blindness and deafness toward the beautiful are not incidental: they necessarily are reflected in his theology” (quoted, 30).

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