The rather prissy and disapproving tone of this article aside, one can only leap for joy to read that the pope has finally spoken out about the travesty that is Catholic Music in the 21st century. I am not kidding when I said that this past weekend I listened to a guitarist and a barely-competant keyboardist plunk away and howl and I prayed, “please, God in heaven, make it stop, make it stop!”
Bad contemporary music was one of the spoiled fruits of the Second Vatican Council. Told by the council to intersperse more modern sounds into the mass while maintaining traditional chant and polyphony, boomer liturgists threw out every great piece of music and brought in the dreck. I recall those days. I remember what it was like to go from singing a great hymn of adoration one week to singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” the next. These days, most modern Catholic music is all about us, us, us and how great we are because we worship God (God is allowed to get mentioned now and then, but no illusions to gender must prevail…).
The Second Vatican Council was not a bad thing in and of itself, but my goodness, it was implimented so poorly, taught so badly, that Catholics heads began to spin and forty years later some of us are still trying to explain that “meatless Fridays” were always about sacrifice, not hot dogs, and that VCII, while instructing us to move away from the exclusive fixation on meat, did not well explain its meaning. The church wanted us to remain mindful, to continue to commemorate the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday by performing our own willing sacrifice on Fridays…riding a bike instead of driving, not eating chocolate, fasting completely, doing someone a good turn. That got lost in the “bologna on Friday” headlines and the George Carlin routines about “some guy doing eternity in hell on a meat rap!” Not the media’s fault, either. It’s the fault of the church that so much was lost, so much was so poorly communicated. And we’re going to pay for the horrendous catechesis of our kids for many decades to come, too.
But Cardinal Carlo Furno, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, said it was “better to have guitars on the altar and rock and roll Masses than empty churches”. The use of modern music was a “sign of the vitality of the faith”.
The suggestion is that because Benedict is a classical music lover, he’s insisting on better music for church. Maybe it has nothing to do with that. Maybe he simply realizes that – naysayers aside – guitars and drums and cringe-inducing music have not “filled the pews” or created a better, more fruitful and holy worship. The faith is plenty vital in those places where 2000 years of tradition are allowed have some breathing room with all of these gosh-golly-so-great innovations of the last 40 years.
Now if we can get the pope to say something about liturgists who think the Palm Sunday liturgy – exquisite for all of these years – is better served by an amaturish pantomime troupe wearing red turtlenecks and greasepaint.