Catholic Liturgy Today


We have Curt Jester to thank for these shapshots of Catholic liturgy. A friend and fellow convert called me last week just about at his wits’ end with the music in his parish. Three ancient crones with one guitar squawking out the latest goofy song as a recessional, “We can make a difference…we can make a difference in the world.”

“I can’t stand it anymore” said my friend. “The music is awful. Just awful. Combine that with the fact that we have a very sweet and intelligent African priest, but we just can’t understand him. His accent is too strong, and because of the priest shortage he’s only here for a few months, and he won’t change anything. My wife and son don’t want to go to Mass at all because its so awful, and its so bad I have to admit they’re even tempted to go to the local Protestant mega church. We’ve tried real hard to say, ‘Yes, its the Mass and we’re there for Jesus not the music, but I come out of Mass angry and surely that’s not the way. Why do they choose such awful crap?”

I had to remind him that unfortunately a good number of the people in the pew actually do like that stuff. Yes, dear traditionalists, it’s true. While many Catholics roll their eyes and endure the most execrable musical and liturgical travesties, many other Catholics do actually like the stuff.

The thing is, I’m not so trad that I’m against rock music. We had a pretty decent Catholic rock band do a concert at school today. I’m not even totally against rock music at Mass. At the giant youth rally at March for Life a decent rock band played ‘We can make a difference’ and with 25,000 kids singing it before the March for Life it was great.

But for most masses on a regular basis all the trendy silly stuff just doesn’t work. I don’t say this just because I dislike that kind of music, but because it just isn’t worship. Nine times out of ten the music and the words are all about me feeling good, not me worshiping God. It’s not a matter of taste. It’s a matter of what worship is, and what the liturgy is supposed to do.

What’s to be done? The only hope is that a new generation of priests and people will learn that Mass is not about entertainment, and they will leave all the puppets and clowns and go go dancers and sentimental music shows and concerts and try Catholic worship for a change.

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  • Wise words as ever Fr..

  • blarg

    Father,I agree with enchantment over entertainment on the basis that entertainment distances people from the sacred mysteries when they need to come ever closer to be participants in them; however, I believe loud percussion diminishes Christ’s death and resurrection and has no place in the Mass. If by permitting rock music at Mass you meant an acoustic guitar, this is one thing, but a snare drum and cymbal I disagree. Loud percussion, typical of rock music, contrasts the sacred mysteries so far they take over them. In this case, Jesus comes out like a second banana. It is chorus centered liturgy rather than Christ centered liturgy. Now, I am sure many here will disagree and write all kinds of beatitudes about what this kind of music has done for them and their parish, and there are always exceptions; however, I remember C.S. Lewis wrote about casualness at Mass. His thought was people needed to come back to the idea of dressing up to have a good time. It is not mere taste, but what is appropriate for a given occasion. Who would think to meet the President in a pair of swim trunks and flip flops, much less Jesus Christ? There is a time and place for everything under the sun, and loud percussion at Mass is not one of them.

  • Good one. We need less snottiness and more humility. Too many people are getting so worked up about the Mass being prayed in ways they dislike, that they forget it’s still the Mass.

  • Anonymous

    Have you read ‘Why Catholics Can’t Sing’ by Thomas Day? Excellent book. I am a young Catholic just passing through your blog, best wishes…

  • bernadette

    What`s to be done ?, you ask, Fr.I think His Holiness provided an answer to that on July 7th 2007, didn`t he ?

  • I don’t run around in public complaining about our music. Any complaints about the church are between hubby and me at home with a goal of “what can we do to help.” As churches go it could be way, way worse.However (always listen to what comes after however), I do have a sense that the majority are being held hostage by the minority. It seems the folks who want tambourines at Mass are a bit more vocal while the rest of us sit in silence, reminding ourselves that it is, after all, still Mass.It is also complicated by the fact that participation by the laity is hard to come by in the way of choirs and musicians. It is not as simple as just sitting back and saying I want better music. That music has to come from somewhere.I also get weary of hearing folks slam acoustic guitar. There is a huge difference between classical style nylon string guitar and folk strumming. My husband is a master musician and teacher and when he plays at Mass it sounds like a band of angels has landed.

  • This is why, when my local parish has the dreaded “children’s mass” I take a two hour trip to get to a Sung Latin mass. Reverence, reverence, and more beautiful reverence. The choir there isn’t even all that good, but chant is almost impossible to screw up once you understand the basics. Everybody chants along with them. Thus, with respect to adrienne, my continuing dislike for the acoustic guitar at mass.

  • The whole purpose of the shocking seventies church music we have to endure is neither that anyone should really like it nor that it should have any high or low brow artistic merit. It exists primarily to exalt the performers and composers of these dreadful pieces, and focus attention on them as the ‘real presence of Christ among us’ , the ‘facilitators’ of the ‘gathered community’.This is confirmed by the fact that anyone who criticises will be seen to be almost guilty of blasphemy and sacrilege! ‘How dare you be so uncharitable to such love, devotion and holy people.’ Why? Because these performers and clowns are what is really being worshipped….

  • Orthodox Observer

    The only viable solution to the issues you raise is not to “come home to Rome,” but to submit in loving obedience to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church as founded by Jesus Christ—namely, the Orthodox Church. Within Orthodox worship, the liturgical aberrations you describe in your post are absolutely inconceivable. Because the celebration of the Eucharist entails a concrete encounter with the living Christ, it must be undertaken with the utmost reverence and appropriate solemnity. As Orthodox faithful, we cannot even fathom a “guitar-Divine Liturgy,” let alone a clown Mass or liturgical dance. For us, apostolicity can never become merely an abstraction; rather, it must be embodied in the ongoing life of God’s people. Even from the standpoint of an outside observer, the Orthodox liturgy bears the mark of apostolicity. The form of our worship is in complete continuity with the single deposit of faith handed on by the apostles. Given the gravity of our calling as the Church founded by Jesus Christ, Orthodox Bishops and Priests approach the entire celebration with utter seriousness, guarding closely our ancient liturgy and considering anathema any deviation from the approved rubrics. Unfortunately, although Roman Catholics have traditionally held a similar stance, in recent years the so-called “Western rite” has fallen into complete disarray. Now, when one steps foot into a Roman Catholic parish, one has no idea what she or he might find. In fact, on a trip home recently, I attended a Roman Catholic Mass with my in-laws. Realistically, if I had been plopped down into the service without any context, I would not have known whether I was at a Roman Catholic liturgy or at a mainline Protestant one (we even sang “Amazing Grace,” the quintessential Protestant hymn). Sadly enough, in our historical moment, many Lutheran and Anglican churches worship God with greater reverence and solemnity than what one is likely to find in your standard American RC parish. And, before you label me a snob, please realize that this is not simply about aesthetics (though that should certainly matter as well—see David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite); rather, this touches at the very heart of Christian formation. As numerous Christian educators have noted, one of the primary means of catechesis is Church music. So, if RC parishes are for the most part incorporating human-centered, semi-pelagian tunes into the mass (and they are!), then what does this mean for the formation of her constituents? Even more sobering, what does it mean in terms of the G/god Roman Catholics truly worship? I pose these questions not to demean, but b/c I am genuinely concerned about the spiritual wellbeing and eternal salvation of your members. As I state above, some of what I have witnessed at RC liturgies would be absolutely inconceivable within Orthodox worship. The difference is night and day. So, please… before you lash out at me with a vicious counter-attack, prayerfully consider what it might mean for you to enter the Orthodox fold. If apostolicity is not an abstraction, but something to be embodied across space and time, then where can one find it: at a contemporary guitar-mass in a sanctuary/social hall cleansed by iconoclasts, or behind a beautifully ornamented iconostasis with a validly ordained Priest offering holy incense and ancient prayers to the Triune God and in honor of our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary?

  • Andrew

    Dear Orthodox believer,First I do sincerely thank you for sharing your thoughts about the beauty of the Divine Liturgy and it’s adherence to tradition. You have a true love of your faith that comes through in your zeal to share it.Also, I appreciate your open invitation for us to become Orthodox as well. As a former Protestant this was a real consideration of mine.However, despite the Orthodox having valid orders/sacraments and an exceptionally beautiful liturgy; the drawbacks and inconsistencies far outweighed those good things.My first thought was, if I, being of mostly German and Western-European extraction choose to become Orthodox, which Orthodox Church do I choose. There is certainly not on “Orthodox Church” that one can choose to join. Do I join an autocephalous Orthodox Church (Russian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian, etc) in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople? Do I join an Oriental Orthodox Church (Coptic, Ethiopian)? Then once I decide, how do I incorporate or at least reconcile my culture heritage with the cultural monopoly each Orthodox Church has with its country of origin (since most are or were formal state churches)? What do I accept as the canon of Scripture since many Orthodox Churches seem to have there own lists? Also, how do I get over the fact that every one of the historic Patriarch’s at one time or another in Church history embraced a major heresy? There is one of course, who did not, but that is the Bishop of Rome?Finally, as a Protestant, I am leaving behind my belief that the church is simply an invisible, spiritual body comprised of “true” believers, and will now embrace the belief of a visible church, full of sinners and saints, with a human structure. How do I accept a visible body that does not have a visible head? How will there ever be another Ecumenical council (as understood by the Orthodox) if there is nobody in charge to call one?It really comes down to Peter. I know the tambourines are annoying, but Christ didn’t build his Church on Andrew, James, or Mark.Blessings,Andrew

  • One way to look at this is that when the ‘liturgy’ is transformed it ceases to be ‘liturgy’, but rather an expression of some personal prayer experience.I tried to make this point in a recent post I did on why people fall away from praying The Divine Office…they fail to distinquish personal from liturgical prayer.Isn’t one of the hallmarks of liturgical prayer the fact that the prayers are carefully crafted and scrupulously reviewed to reflect the fact thay they are the prayers of the Church itself…and not our personal prayer?Much of this ‘stuff’ should simply be moved out of the liturgical setting and explored in some other mode.

  • blarg

    orthodox observer, I fail to see the Orthodox Church as the only viable solution to the current tragedy in Roman Catholic liturgy. Reformation, or if you prefer the Ezra-Nehemiah tones, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, is just as much a viable option as apostasy. I think there are other essential theological matters pertinent to one’s choice of church than music, but thank you for you suggestion orthodox observer.

  • Liz

    We joined the Catholic Church at a parish 10 miles from our home rather than in our home town because the parish in our home town didn’t even have an RCIA program. Through the years we have attended locally on occasion (like when there was a major blizzard), and every time we’ve been thankful that it isn’t our parish. It isn’t just the music (which is truly horrible in the manner you are speaking of), it’s been the theology in the homily and the lack of reverence on the part of the congregation. We are fortunate to be in a parish which has several masses each weekend only one of which is usually “folky”, but occasionally our regular mass (the most traditional of the lot) gets taken over by the children’s mass version due to First Communion prep. Then we get up and go to the 7:30 A.M. mass which has no music at all. I’d go to it every week, but my son hates getting up that early. I would suggest, however, that if your local parish is becoming an occasion for sin for you (because you come out of church fuming every week) that you might look elsewhere. Surely there are some better parishes around.

  • Anonymous

    It isn’t just in Church that Americans now expect to be entertained and not have to put any focus or intensity of their own into many situations. Take education for example. Kids are brought up on “Sesame Street.” So when they get into school the pattern is set and carries all the way to high school–the teacher must be an entertainer. I saw the transformation taking place and am glad I was able to retire from teaching. I know my subject very well (History) and know how to add an interest factor to what I taught, but I am NOT Jay Leno, or 0one of the Marx Brothers.

  • Anonymous

    Three points that I’d like to make, Father.The first is on your two disparate comments: “I’m not even totally against rock music at Mass,” and “Mass is not about entertainment, and they will leave all the puppets and clowns and go go dancers and sentimental music shows and concerts.” How do you reconcile saying in one sentence that Mass is not about concerts, yet you concede that rock music at Mass can be OK? Why? Perhaps the 25,000 people at one Mass makes it OK? Does the nature of the Mass change depending on the number of people? If it’s only the priest and a congregation of 10 then music should be one way, but if there are more than a thousand then it’s OK to devolve into a party/concert atmosphere? No, we need to maintain a musically reverential attitude at Mass, regardless of the size of the congregation or reason for the gathering. We need only turn to the Vatican Council Fathers who maintained that Gregorian Chant is particularly suited for the liturgy and should be held high above other forms of music for Catholic worship.In a similar vein, the reason that some people want to have rock music, clowns, acrobats, dancers, etc. at Mass is because they lack a fundamental understanding of the nature of the Mass. They have been poorly catechized, which has been the hallmark of the past two generations of Catholics, at least in the US. If people had a basic understanding that the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, that that same sacrifice is being made manifest on the altar at Mass, they would break every last drum set and guitar that people dared bring into a church. Unfortunately, the catechesis that most people receive nowadays is that the Mass is about us, and that it’s about entertainment. Even the posture of the priest – facing the people – implies that it’s a show.Finally, your friend made note of the vocations crisis in his lament. It astounds me that so many priests and bishops turn a blind eye to the fact that it’s the traditional orders that are garnering vocations, while it’s actually the Novus Ordo parishes that are experiencing a vocations crisis. The Tridentine Mass inspires vocations at a rate that no Novus Ordo Mass can match. If the Church wants to get out of the vocations crisis, she needs to return whole-heartedly to the spirituality that is imbued in the Traditional Mass.Sorry for rambling.

  • one person’s entertainment is another’s meaningful worship. For this reason there are many churches and many different Masses and (yes, it’s true) different pastors and styles. That is the great thing about the Church. Entertainment is Seinfeld-30 minutes about nothing. Remember, Mass is never about nothing. But if certain music reaches that mother of 3 to take the Mass and live it in her daily life, then whatever is sung has had true impact. I have found myself singing some of those choruses as I work during the week. I think of that mother of 3 in the pew on Sunday singing one of those choruses as she rocks her child to sleep. Maybe even one of her kids will latch onto it. Making Mass meaningful to the average believer is not a bad thing. What conerns me just a little is the person who goes to a Mass they know they will not like and then complain about it. On the other hand it may be an indication that they are but strangers in a strange land who will never be happy until they praise God in Heaven!

  • AS

    This is what happens when we forget that there should not be music “at” Mass. This is where we need to remember our roots and the practice of our Eastern Catholic brethren. We should sing THE Mass. The Church provides us with all the music we need… it is called the Missale, the Graduale, and the Kyriale. In those you will find the music of the Priest, the music of the Schola, and the music of the People. There is no need to add in our own tastes into the Mass. Just obey the Church and do as the Church does. No hymns, no rock music, no folk music, no bongos, no guitars, none of that nonsense. Sing the Propers! Sing the treasures given to us by Holy Mother Church! Stop making the Mass about us when it isn’t.Also…. while music is incredibly important as it is intrinsically rooted in Liturgy….we cannot expect people to sing like Catholics when they cannot worship like Catholics. They need to fall on their knees when they receive Communion and return to receiving on the tongue. They aren’t going to worship like Catholics if they behave like Lutherans. They will not believe in the Real Presence if they treat Our Lord like a cookie. Stop allowing these extraordinarily ordinary “ministers” of Holy Communion from forming an army in our parishes that outnumber the people in the pews. The priest is more than capable of distributing Communion himself. How can you believe in the Real Presence when you are forced to receive in the hand from a 60 year old feminist in a pant suit with a plastered smile on her face who insists that “YOU are Eucharist!” as she presses the host into your palm? There are so many things to fix that are not a matter of taste. When we get the Church to believe and worship like Catholics then we can worry about the music…but it wouldn’t even be a problem if we would stop trying to please ourselves and would just obey Holy Mother Church.

  • Andrew, the picture is a bit more complicated than what you let on. First of all, in terms of unity, your charge is the single most frequent attack that I hear Roman Catholics making against Orthodox Christians, and what’s funny is that when these attacks are made the RC interlocutors think that the matter is then settled. What I would argue, though, is that there is a unity within the Orthodox communion that RCs cannot even begin to imagine. You see, within the RCC, the unity is a unity on paper alone, or it could be called a juridical unity—a unity supposedly enforced by the Pope. Within Orthodoxy, however, the unity we possess bears not only on our ecclesiology, but also on our spirituality, theology, and liturgy. Thus, in whatever Orthodox congregation you decide to join, you will find a safer haven than in 90% of the RC parishes in this country. And, in all the Orthodox congregations, you will find the same spirituality, the same theology, and the same liturgy. The same cannot be said about RC parishes. For instance, I have many RC friends, and they tell me that in our medium-sized town alone there is a “social justice” RC parish, a “traditional” RC parish, a “contemporary worship” RC parish, and a “liberal” RC parish. In the traditional parish, Mass is celebrated according to the missal promulgated by John XXIII in 1962. In the liberal parish, the priest brings a female lay ecclesial minister near the altar to make it appear as if she is concelebrating. In one parish, communion is on the tongue, while in another everyone receives on the hand. In one, baptism is by immersion, in another by sprinkling. In the social justice parish, the priest reduces the Christian faith to social justice issues, while subtly undermining the Church’s teaching on birth control and the sanctity of marriage. So, if this is the kind of unity that you’re upholding, I’m not sure I want any part in it, because these are no small matters. At the very least, you may want to refrain from criticizing Orthodox for our supposed lack of unity until your own house is in order. In terms of your charge of heresy, a couple of comments need to be made: First of all, you write: “Also, how do I get over the fact that every one of the historic Patriarch’s at one time or another in Church history embraced a major heresy? There is one of course, who did not, but that is the Bishop of Rome?” I would urge you to pick up a sound, scholarly on Church history, and reread the section on Honorius I, whose teachings and example were condemned by both the Third Council of Constantinople and also by another Pope, Leo II. Secondly, as Orthodox, we do believe that Christ founded his Church on Peter (that much is clear from Scripture), and our succession traces back to Peter. We do not think that means, however, that Christ extended to Peter and his successors the kind of infallibility defined by the First Vatican Council. In fact, we can already see from Scripture that Peter himself does not possess infallibility, by the fact that Paul challenges Peter’s teaching and actions in relation to Gentile believers (in these matters, Peter “stood condemned”—Gal. 2:11). The Orthodox are freed from having to defend Peter on this matter, because we do not ascribe infallibility to an individual. Rather, the Church as the mystical body of Christ possesses infallibility, specifically, through Sacred Scripture, the Creeds, and the seven Ecumenical Councils. This is the common ground that will serve as the sure foundation of true ecumenism. In terms of your question about, “How will there ever be another Ecumenical council (as understood by the Orthodox) if there is nobody in charge to call one?” I do not worry about that too much. If what the Orthodox are supposedly missing out on is something akin to the Second Vatican Council, then again I want no part in it. In my mind, Vatican II may be the most damaging event for Christian witness since the Protestant Reformation. Since that time, Western Christianity has been in complete disarray, not only at a liturgical level, but also in terms of basic assumptions about the faith (e.g., Christianity in relation to world religions, false ecumenism, sexual morality, etc.,). In short, what I would continue to press is embodiment: embodied unity, embodied catholicity, embodied apostolicity. I find that RCs quite often have airtight arguments on paper, but that they are unable to account for the reality on the ground. I’m not talking about the presence of sin within the community—that will be with the Church until God in Christ makes all things new; I’m thinking specifically of liturgy and theology. What does it matter if Joseph Ratzinger is firmly orthodox when on the ground all sorts of heterodox opinions and practices are allowed to persist (not simply among the laity, but among the clergy and theologians as well)? And, this is not an isolated issue either. Look at the majority of Catholic institutions of higher learning. There are theology professors in those universities that wouldn’t last a week at an Orthodox seminary. Or, what about some of the most prominent Catholic periodicals (e.g., Commonweal, America, and the National Catholic Reporter)? Why doesn’t the Vatican or the USCCB unequivocally instruct RCs not to read those periodicals? Again, I do not level these charges vindictively. I wish it were not so. I long for the return of Western Christians (Roman Catholic and Protestant) to the Orthodox fold. This reunification would become a very real possibility if we Orthodox could look at your liturgy (as celebrated on the ground, not on paper) and see in it clear marks of apostolicity. Unfortunately, as we survey the vast wasteland of Western liturgical practice, all that we find is variation, unrestrained creativity, and, in many cases, outright heterodoxy. Remind me again why the Orthodox should “come home” to that?

  • What, you mean like this, Father?I know you’re not particularly enamoured of the Latin Mass, but I go to the one in the video every week. You can see why I agree with you 100% about decorum!

  • Catholic39

    “Much of this ‘stuff’ should simply be moved out of the liturgical setting and explored in some other mode.”I totally agree. I was just thinking about how those Haugen-esque “songs” that are used as hymns at Mass wouldn’t be bad to listen to…AT HOME. Some of those songs are quite beautiful and even dancing and performance dedicated to God can be quite moving…JUST GET IT OUT OF THE MASS.

  • Anonymous

    The end is nigh…

  • Andrew

    Orthodox Observer,You bring up good points and demonstrate that the case is more nuanced that my original post. I don’t know if Fr. Longenecker would want us to clutter his comment box with this exchange, so I will try to respond quickly to only two points that you brought up. One you, correctly, critice heterodox teaching “on the ground” in the Catholic Church. It is valid, however, you fall into the same trap that most Protestant’s do when they crticize the Church by pointing out a liberal priest, nun, parish, school, or even bishop. This is exactly against your statement that “I’m not talking about the presence of sin within the community”. But that is exactly what that is. Dileberately teaching something that is counter to the Church’s official teaching is sinful. No matter how much we lament that it happens, it does nothing to disprove the truth of the Church’s teaching.Two, I am familiar with the case of Pope Honorius (I’ll link to a short Catholic Answers article on this issue here – If that is all that Papal Infallibility opponents can come up with, then I remain unconvinced.Andrew

  • Andrew, in my mind, blogs like this one seem like the perfect forum for discussing just these kind of issues, but if we indeed are cluttering Fr. Longenecker’s comment box then I’m willing to desist. I read the Catholic Answers article on Pope Honorius and remain unconvinced. It seems unfair to charge Orthodox bishops with heresy and then, when there’s evidence of a Pope teaching heresy, to say, “Well, he wasn’t teaching ex cathedra.” It seems that Honorius’ actions in relation to the Monothelites bears directly on matters of faith and morals. Listen again to the condemnation confirmed by Pope Leo II: “And in addition to these we decide that Honorius also, who was pope of elder Rome, be with them cast out of the holy Church of God, and be anathematized with them, because we have found by his letter to Sergius that he followed his opinion in all things, and confirmed his wicked dogmas.”Even if you don’t buy it, I’m going to stand by my original distinction between the presence of sin in the community and deficient faith. Maybe I stretched the matter too far in my rant about liberal theologians and publications (though I do think that the RCC in America would benefit from stricter discipline), but I won’t back down from my criticism of deficient liturgy. If the law of prayer truly is the law of belief, then the current state of the Latin rite is deeply problematic in terms of what the Roman Catholic Communion claim to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Liturgy and theology are intricately linked; a community’s liturgy reveals its theology. This is not merely a matter of the presence of sinners within the community; rather, this is about what and how you prayer. And, I don’t think it only pertains to priests not adhering to the liturgical directives of Rome. I’m afraid that the liturgical issues are germane to some elements of the approved rite. I immediately have in mind some of the RCIA rites (for instance, the rite of welcoming) approved after Vatican II, but a lengthy discussion on these matters is, as you point out, a bit too cumbersome for the present context.

  • The first sentence of the second paragraph above should read: “Even if you don’t buy it, I’m also going to stand by my original distinction between the presence of sin in the community and deficient LITURGY.”

  • I apologize for some of the errors in my most recent post… I was in a hurry at the end of the day. It’s been a pleasure dialoguing with you, Andrew. I pray our common Lord continues to guide you in your search to be faithful to His Word. Blessings!

  • Father,I grew up in a small, rather Low Church Episcopal parish. Yet, low as it was, it was there that I developed a love for traditional liturgical practices and solemn, beautiful music, thanks to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and to a wonderful choir director/organist who directed the junior choir for a few years. Also, when the sermon was dull (as it often was) I pored over the words of traditional hymns (where the theology was usually better). I agree with you that the central issue here is the inappropriateness of the folky music and liturgical dance and other such stuff to liturgy, which is supposed to be about worshipping God, not about “celebrating” ourselves.When I began attending evangelical churches as an adult (including evangelical Episcopal churches), I accepted that “happy-clappy” praise music was the price I had to pay to hear orthodox preaching from the pulpit. When I became a Catholic last year I thought I would have to continue making that trade-off. Instead, we have a Pastor who is taking steps to introduce more traditional practices. Our choir director is teaching us chant, and we have a hymnal (The St. Michael Hymnal) that reminds me in many ways of the old Episcopal hymnal I learned to love as a child – with even better theology, of course.One thing that has surprised me is the number elderly Catholics I have talked with who say they miss the 70’s-style guitar masses and the music they “performed.” I try my best to explain that the mass is not a performance, etc. Mostly I get blank looks. I agree with you that this may indeed be a generational thing, like a lot of other unfortunate 20th century developments in the Catholic Church. Younger Catholics seem to understand the value of traditional worship practices better than many in their grandparents’ generation.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to see the people complaining so loudly about the ‘awful’ music and tasteless liturgy get off their backsides and do something about it rather than make nasty comments on a blog based on their interpretation of what’s going on in a couple of photos dragged up from who knows where. Music and liturgy don’t just happen by themselves, if you don’t like what is there then volunteer to play, serve or lead singing yourselves. You may have to put in some time at practices and meetings, rather than just show up on Sundays then go home and complain.Angela

  • I agree with you Angela, but many people are simply not musical themselves, but still know what is awful. I have also met good folks who are knowledgeable about church music and are talented musicians who try to change things and are effectively excluded by those who have a different understanding of liturgy and music. I think they call it ‘culture wars.’

  • Angela:We do. However, as Father has alluded to, we sometimes get told to politely/impolitely go away. Quite frankly, I am tired of poor musical taste and improper musical education ruling our Churches. Put them through normal musical education, and we might see something better. I know it sounds petty of me, but really I am tired of the excuse for music we have in many Churches, my own Parish included.

  • Brian

    Orthodox Observer, Please don’t tell us Catholics what unifies us because it is obvious that you do not know. Our unity cannot be reduced to juridical unity under the Pope.

  • brian

    Angela (and Fr. Dwight), It is not so simple as people getting off their backsides. I tried to do just that, am still trying, but have been pushed away by people who do the “praise and worship” music. It is rather easy for people to say that our challenge is to sit through irreverent liturgy and simply see Jesus as what is important. However, for those of us who see liturgical abuse go on day in and day out, it becomes rather like sitting in a classroom where the teacher is teaching all the while his assistant is behind him digging his nails into the chalkboard very loudly. At some point it becomes so distracting that you cannot help but complain. And when we do happen to come across a liturgy which is well done, as I did a few weeks ago while attending the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama, it is so moving that you get choked up.

  • Orthodox Observer- I deeply respect the Orthodox faith and practice. I know an Orthodox priest and when I see I grant him the same respect as our own priests. Our traditional liturgies are about the same word for word–only in different languages. However, the different rites are very culturally tied to their countries of origin, and there is the problem of primacy. Because of this I have no intention of converting.While it is true that there is a liturgical and disciplinary crisis in the Church, it does not invalidate Catholic teaching. Rather the Church is in the midst of recovering from a major social upheaval which has impacted every branch of western culture. Thoughout this period, the teachings of the Catechism have remained the same, despite the injury to the teaching and practice of them.It is important to note that the teachings of Vatican II are consistent with Catholic teaching. However, the Council documents were often misinterpreted and outright lied about by subversive members of the community (the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” crowd). At that time, few had access to the original documents. Now, in this age of internet, you can find the Vatican II documents on the Vatican website and read them yourself.The institutional Church, like its people, is in a constant state of reform in response to the attacks of the world. With time, the current problems will be a memory, to be replaced with the challenges of that future age. Some say that the way in which the Church purifies itself, despite the all too human people running it, is one sign of a divine hand at work.May the blessing of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you through the intercession of His Blessed Mother, the Theotokos.

  • Carolina Catholic

    I recently ran across this quote from John Cardinal Heenan:During the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 1967, after seeing a demonstration of the proposed new Mass, Cardinal Heenan told the Synod: “At home it is not only women and children, but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday in the Sistine Chapel we would soon be left with a congregation mostly of women and children.” True to the good cardinal’s prediction, we now suffer from a liturgy that is effeminate and childish.Personally, I seek a deeper spirituality. I should be able to find this at Mass, but sadly the Novus Ordo does not supply any semblance of a deep spirituality. Even at a so-called “reverently-done Novus Ordo,” it’s just an environment of hymn singing and hand shaking triviality. There is no chance to enter into a deep spirituality because the Mass is structured to not allow any contemplative prayer time. If prayer is supposed to be communication with God, how can one pray when one is not allowed to listen to what God has to say amid the clutter and the clatter?I wish to be a spiritual leader for my family, but the Church does not afford me the resources to become a real man in a spiritual sense. This was foretold back in 1967 by the good cardinal referenced above, but nobody listened. The Church should not be surprised to find a vocations crisis if she can’t provide an environment for men to find their spirituality.

  • Anonymous

    It’s all President Bush’s fault.– Mack

  • Carolina: I agree with you in principle, however this statement does not universally hold:’Even at a so-called “reverently-done Novus Ordo,” it’s just an environment of hymn singing and hand shaking triviality.’

  • Carolina Catholic

    Mark: My point was that the Novus Ordo is structured so that there’s no chance for contemplative prayer or any introspection. I would challenge anyone to find a single continuous minute of silence during any Novus Ordo Mass, when somebody isn’t busy-bodying in some way, shape, or form. There is either a priest praying out loud, or music happening, or SOMEthing that distracts one from praying.Consider the Canon of the Mass (oops – the “Eucharistic Prayer”). For millenia it was prayed silently. I say millenia because even in the Old Testament times the priest went into the Holy of Holies alone; there was no congregation to speak to. Now any kind of contemplation is interrupted by the droning of the priest.Immediately after the consecration, when we should be contemplating the great mystery that has just taken place, we are asked to break our own silence with the so-called “mystery of faith.”Then when we are preparing for Communion, when we should be most especially focused in prayer, and focused on the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, our focus is turned inward to the community with everyone and their cousin reaching over the pew and shaking your hand. This is not just liturgical abuse run amok, this is an inherent flaw in the nature of the Novus Ordo liturgy: it detracts a person’s focus from where it should be, which is the sacrifice of the Lord. How much delight the devil must gain when he knows how distracted we become with our own selves!Anyway, my point is that you can’t find any time to contemplate the sacramental mysteries taking place, because there’s always people singing, people talking, people pawing you, etc.(I realize that my descriptions are somewhat diminishing of the Novus Ordo, and I apologize for that. I’m just a bit persnickety today)

  • Carolina: I see your point entirely; I will not hide that I am a ‘fan’ of the TLM for all those reasons.

  • I’m not even totally against rock music at Mass.With respect, Father, the Church for which you are a priest is against it.

  • “Please don’t tell us Catholics what unifies us because it is obvious that you do not know.” Brian,This isn’t a schoolyard spat, it’s a theological discussion. Rather than lashing out at me with an emotional outburst, why don’t you provide a reasoned explanation of what unifies Roman Catholics. I raised concerns about some aspects of RC life, and you never really address those issues. As I mentioned before, I don’t raise these concerns to spite you; rather, I raise them b/c the most common objection I hear to Orthodoxy is related to questions of unity. What I tried to argue in my post is that there is a deeper unity (liturgically, theologically, and in terms of spirituality) within the Orthodox communion than there is (on the ground) in the RCC. The only defense that I’ve heard from Catholics is, “Well, the Pope unifies us.” It seems to me, that this response operates as a kind of excuse that alllows the endless diversity and liturgical disarray on the ground to persist. I know we probably won’t settle this disagreement on the blog, but I’d be interested to hear a reasoned defense of this matter, as oppossed to an incoherent outburst about how I’m obviously just ignorant.

  • Brian

    Orthodox Observer. It wasn’t incoherent or lashing out. I simply get tired of Orthodox posters telling me as a Catholic what makes me a Catholic. You really don’t know. It would be akin to me saying that the Orthodox are theologically stuck in the 11th century much like a fossilized fly in amber. I am not Orthodox, so who am I to comment on the workings of their churches? Catholics are unified theologically, liturgically, ecclesiologically, and most importantly through the Eucharist. I think perhaps your concept of unity is what we Catholics would refer to as uniformity. That is the beauty of the Catholic Church. There is true unity without uniformity, just as in a family there is unity but not everyone is exactly the same. Catholics have a multiplicity of Rites which all bear witness to a common faith in the Lord Jesus.

  • Brian:I’m sorry that you perceived me as telling you what makes you a Catholic. That actually wasn’t my intent at all. I was simply pointing out areas of concern that I have witnessed within Roman Catholic contexts. I have a number of RC friends who are traditional in their approach, who are quite concerned about the matters I drew attention to, so I didn’t feel like I was being grossly unfair in my analysis (In fact, my traditionalist RC friends, though faithful to the Holy See, are much harsher in their critiques than what you heard from me.). Again, I’m sorry that you perceived me as tellling you what makes you Catholic. By the way, it’s fine if you want to offer critiques about my own tradition. I field them all the time, so I’m usually ready with an informed explanation of the beauty and splendor of the ancient faith as embodied in the ongoing life of the Orthodox Church. More than that, however, I encourage you to experience the Divine Liturgy for yourself and to come into direct contact with the living Lord. Come, taste and see that God is good!

  • Brian

    Orthodox Observer,I have tremendous respect for the theology and tradition of the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. I find that when I complain about the liturgical free-for-all that you find in some Catholic Parishes I will often draw attention to the fact that the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics would not dare toy with the liturgy to make it more modern or “relevant” to this group or that. The Eastern perspective of the liturgy is the same as the official perspective that Catholics have, i.e. that it is timeless. Unfortunately many Catholics see the liturgy as a personal expression rather than the worship of the Almighty through the Eucharistic sacrifice and so they feel the need to tailor the liturgy to their own tastes rather than tailoring themselves to the liturgy handed to them by Holy Church. A friend of mine who is a Catholic Priest just got back from the Holy Land, and he said that when he entered Catholic Churches he was inspired by their beauty, but when he entered the Greek Orthodox Church he was in awe. I wish that we in the Catholic Church would recapture that aspect of our tradition. I will not critique your tradition simply because the only theological disagreement I have with the Orthodox is the role of the Bishop of Rome in the Universal Church, hence the reason I am Catholic and not Orthodox. 🙂 (I am a convert from Anglicanism.) Otherwise, I find the Eastern Orthodox Churches are a wonderful and legitimate expression of Apostolic Christianity. I have not attended a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, but when I do, I think that rather than going to one of the Orthodox Churches, I will attend a Melkite Greek Catholic Parish so that I can participate in the Holy Mysteries.

  • Thank you, Brian.

  • Orthodox Observer – if you would like we can set up a post to have this conversation over at Per Christum… Comboxes are tough to discuss these things as is, more so when it takes place in a the combox of a topic not exactly related to Catholic-Orthodox discussion.Just curious, how recently did you convert?

  • One of the things that enthusaistic converts to Byzantine Christianity sometimes fail to realize is that the “Greekness” of the liturgy should not be taken for or assumed to equal antiquity. Episcopal crown mitres, floor to ceiling iconostas, and a number of other things found therein have their origins in the period immediately following the fall of Constantinople… Honestly if one is looking for antiquity as a sign of authenticity, going further East than the Eastern half of the Roman empire might be warranted…But the funny thing is, when looking at the Early Eucharistic liturgy found in the Didache – loathe as some may be to admit it – a litrugy amazingly similar to a Pauline Mass (that is to say one where the rubrics are followed) is found.(Deacon Alex Jones a convert from Pentecostalism had started to read the Fathers and had based his sunday worship on the Didache… The more he tried to follow that, the more his congregation accused him of trying to make them Catholic… He insisted he was just being authentic. Lo and behold, 6 one way, half a dozen the other!)

  • I agree; my local church has what can be loosely described as a ‘folk band’ and I think it detracts from the Mass not enhances it. The last couple of weeks it has been absent and the Mass has been marginally better but still there is nothing like a good traditional service at our main parish, which I hope to be able to get to this Sunday.

  • Stu

    Some find the “traditional” music reverent, while others find contemporary music equally as reverent. I suppose that is why God made us all unique. What is sad is when we start to shut out one group or the other by saying that the form of musical worship in the liturgy you prefer is the only acceptable one. I’m having a hard time accepting that was the direction that Jesus gave to Peter when he established his church.

  • Some find the “traditional” music reverent, while others find contemporary music equally as reverent. I suppose that is why God made us all unique.Stu – when I was a boy back in the 1950s, the very idea of playing music similar to “Splish Splash” or “Sweet Nothings” at Mass wd have been unthinkable. The problem is that they don’t know what reverent is – we have had the meaning of the word ‘reverent’ changed – and we sat in the pews and let it happen.The idea that we sing about ourselves and not about God is the new reverence. The denigration of the Blessed Sacrament to side chapels and the lack of sermons about sin in favor of “let’s all get along together” homilies is seen as mainline Catholicism.50 years ago we sang Gregorian chant from the St Gregory Hymnal along with Latin motets and suitable English hymns in a reverent yet joyful manner.10 years later we were singing,”They will know we are Christians by our Love,” among other mediocre tunes devised in the era, played on a guitar while the organ in the choir loft was left to moulder away. We will probably be stuck with them and with the music of the St Louis Jesuits until the last ageing hippy pastor or nun has slipped off this mortal coil.We have had some 40 years of this baloney and it is time to scrap it. To do so will take a truly authoritative degree from the Pope – who will just have to stop deferring to wealthy bishops and cardinals who threaten to hold back their proper sums should they be made anything they don’t wish to. That’s why Mahony engineered the deal with Ratzinger, not to prolong the conclave, if Lavada, one of Mahony’s sycophants, was plucked out of Sodom-by-the-Sea in Northern California to head the Holy Office and take the heat off the bishops guilty of irregularities. At least, that is all I can think of for an answer to why the head of the most unChristian city in the Western US, and an American at that, was raised to the spot in the Curia so unbefitting his past but which has been such a thorn in the side of the US bishops.As usual US and European bishops are following the advice of that theologian, whose name escapes me, who told them that, unless it is a firm order, the bishops are perfectly free to ignore the pope’s wishes, such as the most recent regarding the restoration of the 1962 Mass.The way I see it, should the Pope issue such a decree we will see half the bishops of the West in schism. Of course then they cd all become Episcopalians and join up with Gene Robinson and all of them rent a few houses by the sea together.only then will the Church be purified of the devil within.Sean

  • “We will probably be stuck with them and with the music of the St Louis Jesuits until the last ageing hippy pastor or nun has slipped off this mortal coil.”tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…Closer than you think… A couple decades go by swiftly…

  • Yes, a couple of decades goes by pretty quickly – but I would like to still be around to see the Church’s reconquest of reverence and jettison the relevance (so-called).

  • Stu

    Sean – I respect your opinion that you and many others find sacred music played on an organ as a reverent form of worship. Please remember that there are many others in the Catholic church that have different thoughts on this…thoughts you may categorize as “baloney” but that are not out of line with what the church teaches. For some, it is possible to play reverent sacred music on instruments other than an organ…a guitar being one possibility. As for me personally, an organ does more to distract my attention away from the solemnity of the mass and my ability to focus on the presence of Jesus Christ in the blessed sacrament. If anything, being subjected to only an organ playing hymns from the likes of the Collegeville Hymnal in my parish every week has had some positive benefits for me. While I struggle to block out the annoying sounds coming from the pipes, it does help me to realize that no matter how bad that late 19th/early 20th century music is, it cannot replace the fact that I’m humbled to participate in the great celebration of the mass and to be able to receive our Lord in the blessed sacrament.

  • Hi Stu – I’m very glad we share similar thoughts and love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. While I appreciate your comment, methinks by the time you got to the end of my rather lengthy post, you forgot the first paragraph, which I will reproduce for you…Some find the “traditional” music reverent, while others find good contemporary music equally as reverent. I suppose that is why God made us all unique.So, you see Stu, I’m afraid you missed the point of my post. I believe ALL good music that glorifies God is Catholic, be it played on an organ, a guitar, an ochrrina, a kazoo or a comb wrapped in tissue paper.My complaint is about the near-canonization of so much mediocre, saccherine, bland, biased, moldy, cutesy, derivative, agenda-driven, and, yes, heretical tunes being published and snapped up by lazy, good-for-nothing music directors who lack a good sense of musical taste and do whatever the idiot who writes the planner thinks is appropriate for any particular Sunday.It is the lack of taste, not the kind of instruments, I lament, Stu. Thank you very much for your input. I’m glad for the opportunity to make myself better understood. God bless -Sean

  • Stu

    Sean – thank you for your clarification. And yes, we do share a common focus on “good taste” in sacred music that glorifies God in the celebration of the mass.