Lent, and Music, and Liturgy, and Stuff

Last year I made the decision to get serious about not being an Episcopalian anymore, and [extensive edits for length] decided to become a Roman Catholic, which will finally happen in a couple of weeks.  Anyway, in the process of educating myself about the Church I’ve come across the answer to a burning question: why does the music that is sung in mass suck really big eggs?  Those of us who have been/are Prots are used to great hymns (Philo- am I right?)  but the hymns in RC churches just stink.  Oh, and a lot of RC types think so, too, although the vast majority of the hoy poloy are so music-numbed at this point, they don’t know what I’m talking about.  Of course, I say that I now know the answer, but I bet nearly everyone I know already knew the answer and will say, “Yeah, duh!” but here goes:  When Vatican II ‘modernized’ the mass by allowing it to be said in the vernacular, it also allowed for hymns to be sung, in the vernacular.  Just one problem: there were no Catholic hymns in the vernacular.  It was the Katrina of church music: suddenly, at what could arguably be described as the nadir of popular culture for religious music, there was great demand for hymns that could pass muster theology-wise in the Roman Catholic Church.  Result: lotsa strummy strummy guitar, key of C namby-pamby music with alarmingly stupid/insipid/self-involved lyrics.

So what did the RC’s do before?  They didn’t have HYMNS.  They had liturgical music.  To this day, most RC’s really are not comfortable really singing out, like you’d hear their Prot brethren do.  I’m invariably the most enthusiastic hymn singer, when there’s a decent one on offer (there are some familiar tunes in the hymnal, although the arrangements are lowest common denominator.)  I pieced this together by avidly reading a blog that has become my guilty pious pleasure.  It’s called The New Liturgical Movement. I don’t know how much of a movement they are, but they are hell-bent, so to speak, on bringing back THE OLD WAYS, which are always in Latin.  Yes, you really have to develop a taste for this blog and being a glutton for punishment helps.  There is no aspect of the liturgy, the architecture, the vestments, the music that is too arcane for this site.  And they are unsparing in their criticism of modern “accomodationist” practices.  Christmas hymns? Big, big no-no.  And this is what they call “pop music” (in a post entitled “Limited Praise for Pop Music”):

I’ll say this, if you want to increase your Scrabble score, this is the site for you.  What is an “almuce,” you ask?  It’s this furry little capelet, complete with the tails of the critter [content warning: PETA folks, don’t go here.]

OK, there’s a lot of really obscure stuff here, but there is some rather inspiring stuff, too.  Like this church that is being moved (as in transported) from Buffalo, New York to the ‘burbs of Atlanta, Georgia.  Go to the links- you have to see the pictures.

And the world’s largest hanging organ– in Regensburg, B16’s stomping grounds.  Awesome, huh?

Speaking of inspiring…

10 thoughts on “Lent, and Music, and Liturgy, and Stuff

  1. Are you in Austin? If so, try St. Mary Cathedral downtown. Their Latin Mass is at 3:30 on Sundays, and it’s done right with the best liturgical music.

    If you’re not in Austin, most any major city in the US has a Latin Mass (although you should check to make sure it’s the real, officially-approved one and not the schismatic Society of St. Pius X folks doing their own thing).

    I find it very difficult to go to anything other than a Latin Mass. I’m not one of those people who thinks the Novus Ordo is invalid. I just think it’s rarely done well, and, frankly, I prefer the old Mass.

    And I just want to say: welcome!

  2. I have never been to a Latin mass. This is one of those things: there are some things that are so culturally unique to Catholicism that they are not really selling points to Protestants. One of them is the Latin Mass. I will go to a Latin Mass just to understand it and satisfy my curiosity, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope that I will connect with it because I don’t understand Latin and I wasn’t brought up with it, although I can follow it because I come from a liturgical Protestant denomination. My husband is RC and doesn’t remember Latin Mass, so he’s fine with Novus Ordo and thinks that the Protestant hymnody is “funeral music” (it’s actually a wonderful repertoire of poetry, theology, and choral music but if you think “On Eagles Wings” is great music, you’re going to hate “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.”)

    I’ve been to St. Mary’s for regular mass and they do a very good job with the Novus Ordo- they have a great music director and manage to do a fine job even with the modern music.

  3. I wasn’t brought up with it either, but I do find that I really appreciate it now. Of course, it might not be your thing, but do give it a try. Understanding the Latin really isn’t a problem because they have a booklet with both the Latin and English translations of the ordinary (the stuff that doesn’t change from day to day) running in parallel columns. And there’s a smaller leaflet for the propers (the stuff that does change from day to day, like the readings and the Gospel) in the same format. The priest repeats the readings and the Gospel in English, and then gives his sermon in English.

    The biggest difference, to me, is how much of the Latin Mass is actually silent. Once the priest gets to the Cannon, no one really hears much of what he’s saying, except for maybe the altar boys standing nearby. Nonetheless, you can learn to follow in the missalette exactly where he is at any given time with practice. There are bells, and gestures he makes, and some audible prayers, that clue you in.

    All in all, there is a learning curve, but to me, there is a quiet intensity to all this that is very compelling.

  4. I agree, Barb; this is one thing that keeps me from converting to Catholicism. In a way, it’s minor; but music, for me, is a primary spiritual vehicle.

    I love all sorts of Christian music, except that 1960s stuff. More contemporary music can be great. If you want to hear something by the band I play in, listen to http://bonevac.info/MyRedeemerLives.mp3. That’s me on bass.

  5. For some people, Mary is the sticking point. Then there’s transubstantiation. The Pope. Reconciliation. All that is small potatoes compared to the music. If you come from a tradition that has very good music, it’s painful. I am leaving a church that has an extremely fine music program, with full-on classical masses recorded 2x a year and a choir that is peppered with professional singers from UT. But the divergence of the national church’s positions on various issues from traditional, orthodox Christianity was insupportable, even with beautiful music. In fact, the wonderful music seemed to heighten the feeling of deep hypocrisy. These people who fight tooth and claw on a weekly basis to preserve the formality and the outward appearance, the elegance, of the liturgy but are just fine with a Muslim taking communion. Priests who announce during a sermon that they aren’t quite sure if they believe in the Resurrection. It all adds up- even the music can’t keep me.

  6. Well, it’s really just a matter of finding the right parish. I will concede that you can’t just walk into any Catholic church and find good music (and in fact, by default, you will get appalling 60s re-treads).

    But much more importantly, you can’t do that and get good theology. The Church in the U.S. has been in an intellectual crisis for decades, and savvy catholics have had to learn how to find the right parish to get good liturgy and solid teaching.

    I think things are getting noticeably better in terms of teaching (the seeds planted by the last two Popes, inclusive, have begun to bear fruit), but not so much in terms of liturgy.
    So I continue to be very judicious in my choice of parish.

  7. @Chris: my “irreverence” is a problem. Nevertheless, even the most devout RC is impressed when I tell them I have his email address. It’s not private information, but they are intrigued by the idea that I may actually have sent an email to the Pope**, so they are temporarily diverted from my flippancy.

    ** I have, too. I think I said something like, “Yeah, I agree. The dehellenization of Christianity is a bad thing. And thanks for saving Western Civilization.”

  8. I misunderstood the reference. I thought you were referring to B17s, which visited Regensburg during WWII. My bad.

  9. The Mass requires no more music than a chant and then only in certain small parts. I worry there is a tendency among some of my fellow Catholics to consider any sung-by-specialists music in the Mass as a performance by others for them to enjoy rather than as a part of their own participation in worship.

    By the way, the only ‘Roman’ Catholics are the Catholics who reside in the diocese of Rome (and not all of them are Western rite Catholics).

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