Posted at 5:22 PM on June 28, 2006
by Don Lee
Again today I'm indebted to John Birge for pointing out an interesting news item: Pope Benedict XVI, a classical music lover, has spoken out against contemporary, popularized liturgical music. Quoted in London's Telegraph, the pope says he prefers church music that follows "the traditional path of Gregorian chants or sacred polyphonic choral music."
I'm a big fan of pop and rock, electric guitars and amplified sound. I understand why it's been brought into church: newer-sounding music can make the worship experience more vital and appealing to some churchgoers…if it's well done.
But often, it isn't well done. And there's a larger reason for coming down on the traditional side: Worship in the Catholic Church, especially, is built on ritual that connects back to the foundations of the faith. Music that does not reinforce the ritual is at odds with the entire experience.
I am so disheartened by the distracting and utterly trivial music that nearly every Catholc parish now uses at masses. This is especially sad when one thinks of the incredible treasury of sacred music that was expressly created for the mass, and that has stool the test of time. It is extremely arrogant that we adopt this new music and jettison the old, as if the newer were somehow better, more appropriate, more sacred. What are our leading liturgists thinking, and what are our parishes doing by adopting the trivial music fed to us by the publishing houses of these "disposable misalettes," complete with equally bad artwork on the cover?
I have attempted to participate and pray reverently at mass. I find that I am instead so strongly diatracted that I can no longer focus on the prayers of the mass. Cantors and choirs have become so pop-influenced that they bump into notes and belt as if on Broadway, not even aware, presumably, of how much their actions have become a distracting performance that takes away from the whole point of the mass.
I have also attempted to understand the argument that adopting newer pop-influenced music helps to increase participation by the congregation. But have you ever looked around to see what our young people (and the not-so-young) are actually doing during these songs at mass? If they are singing, it is not wholeheartedly. Mostly they are rolling their eyes at how lame the music is, and how it fails to enhance the liturgy at all. They know it as the bad music that it is. Young people will not be drawn in by a lack of authenticity, whether it be in our music, or in anything else that we do.
Pope Benedict's recent comments are right on the mark (quoted in London's Telegraph). Now what we need is real leadership by the bishops, and especially by our priests at the parish level, to step up and demand a higher standard in our liturgies.
Instead, what I have witnessed in my own former parish is the systematic dismantling of a music and liturgy program that was among the best in the country. The argument that we need to increase the participation by our congregations at mass does not hold water, as mentioned above.
Priests that are truly interested in increasing participation and prayerfulness at mass can begin by throwing out the musical garbage that we are subjected to in most parishes, and by letting cantors and choirs know that they are not participating in a Broadway musical or nightclub act, and by a return to the hymns and masses that evoke a prayerful, respectful and humble attitude that enhances the mass, and not one that distracts worshippers and detracts from the mass.