Mediocre Liturgy: It’s Getting Old


Mark Shea does it again (from InsideCatholic):

Some time ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a wonderful bit of parody that begins:


Awake from your slumber!
Arise from your sleep!
The homily’s over!
It wasn’t too deep!


It brings to mind the old joke that the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist is that you can reason with a terrorist. Jokes are one of the last refuges of a people who have little power over The System. The Soviet Union was a wellspring of this sort of humor, as were, of course, the Jews of the Borscht Belt era. People who can’t do a lot about the Powers That Be can still laugh at them.


So I thought it was a healthy sign when the mysterious domination of our hymnals by third-rate drivel was lampooned by the late, lamented Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas. I neither know nor care who decides what twaddle we have to murmur through Mass, but I did appreciate the bleat of satire while it lasted.


There are a few things I find vile, loathsome, and dreadful in contemporary liturgy. I think much of the Glory and Praise drivel is essentially ordered toward encouraging what Amy Welborn calls the “Church of Aren’t We Fabulous” to worship itself.


The apotheosis of this is The Worst Hymn Ever Written — Anthem:


We are called, we are chosen.

We are Christ for one another.

We are promise to tomorrow,
while we are for him today.
We are sign, we are wonder,
we are sower, we are seed.
We are harvest, we are hunger.
We are question, we are creed.


Words can barely express the awfulness: cringeworthy lyrics, atrocious theology, and hootenanny music Like a Mighty Breaking Wind. What’s not to hate?


Other hymns do this, too.


Gather Us In, for example, is basically a hymn wherein the congregation reminds God to Respect Our Diversity as it catalogs the glories of our Gorgeous Mosaic of a Community.

Sing a New Church is yet another anthem of the Triumph of AmChurch over the False Consciousness of the Bad Old Days Before the Spirit of Vatican II.

In Ashes, we learn the important falsehood that we “create ourselves anew.”

In City of God, we again celebrate ourselves and cheer on the construction of Babel, apparently oblivious to the fact that “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain.”


I’m not as persnickety as some about tunes like Eagles Wings or One Bread, One Body. I think almost all modern hymnody is dull. But it’s only when it passes from being boring to being narcissistic that I draw the line. I prefer hymnody that directs our minds to God, not to contemplation of How Truly Wonderful We Are.


For the same reason, I dislike the tendency of modern hymnals to expunge the Pronoun Formerly Known as He. Sometime in the 1980s, some sort of revolt was attempted in which somebody had the bright idea of castrating God in deference to bitter nuns with short-cropped, iron-gray hair, bland wardrobes, and sensible shoes, who attended conferences on liturgy featuring undersexed men with scraggly beards and guitars who mewled on about subverting the dominant paradigm.


Judging simply from the results, some Task Force on the Elimination of Sexism evidently decided that the thing to do was start by getting rid of the masculine pronoun. And so, like a rising tide, more and more parishioners were instructed/influenced/miscatechized to say things like “Glory to God in the highest and peace to (delete: “His”/insert “God’s”) people on earth,” or “It is right to give (delete: “Him”/insert: “God”) thanks and praise,” and so forth. The OCP Hymnal was sanitized for your protection, so we could learn that Charles Wesley wrote Hark, the Herald Angels Sing to read that Jesus was “born to raise the (delete: “sons”/insert: “ones”) of earth.” Some improvers even got as far as getting a few ninnies to change the sign of the cross to “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier.”


But then, somehow, the enthusiasm waned. The tide rolled back. The sign of the cross reverted to normal. Most linguistic victimology withered on the vine. And so, each Sunday in the liturgy, we now have a congregation in which everybody refers to God as “Father” (like our ignorant sexist Lord did) and not “Parent.” We also, of course, call Jesus “Lord,” not “Lady,” and “Son,” not “Child,” of God. But about 1/25 of the congregation has this strange lingering terror of the masculine pronoun and can’t bring itself to say “He,” “Him,” or “His” while the rest of us do. So we are left with this linguistic fossil remnant of the revolution that failed. When I encounter it, I offer it up in imitation of St. Thérèse, who was irritated by a fellow nun who rattled her rosary beads at evening prayer. Not very heroic of me, but better than nothing.


Beyond that, however, I don’t have passionate issues with liturgical stuff. That’s because I don’t have a passionate interest in liturgy, and the fruit that I see among those who do have such passionate issues persuades me to never develop a passionate interest in liturgy.


On that matter, more next week.


2 Responses to Mediocre Liturgy: It’s Getting Old

  1. Richard McKellar says:

    I agree with the assesment of our liturgical music which could be improved in its content as well as its musical style. Music has always been a major part of my life and formation both inside the liturgy as well as outside. I play guitar and write songs that help me keep my focus where it ought to be spiritually.

    I love many forms of music including Gregorian chant although many if not most of people my age and younger (I am 42) struggle with the culture for a sense of Christian Catholic identity today. Not all of the more “modern music” is bad and it has its place.

    Young people have been looking for a more powerful experience of God through music in their faith in particular through the more modern musical styles. Gregorian chant seems foreign to them because they have not been exposed to and do not understand Latin.

    What concerns me the most about the music of today is that it falls short of the ultimate goal we have is to worship God. What I see in my own life is a growth toward an understanding of what really worship ought to be in my life as well as in the life of the church. We all know that worshipping God also is expressed through how we live each day. It takes time and effort with desire and prayerful hard work in how we live out the Liturgy 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

    No matter what form of music we use to celebrate our faith, I have found that there are many who believe that music itself is the sum total of genuine worship as well as receiving the sacraments. The mass is central and essential as well as the music but our worship of God can become very superficial or shallow if we do not adequately prepare ourselves for mass, before mass and take what we learn out of the mass and share it with the rest of the world.

    Many people do not understand the Liturgy and its rich history which can create a lack of interest and fulfillment. The formal means of worshipping God in the mass is a challenge to reap all of the benefits God offers us. The greatest reason many find mass “boring” or “ritualistic” even in its music is because we do not have a grasp on what we are celebrating in the mass.
    This lack of understanding of the Layity is its greatest obstacle toward participation in the Liturgy.

    What I guess I am trying to say is that our worshipping God as well as its fulfillment in our lives requires not only meaningful music and prayers but a catechesis on how to prepare ourselves before mass and applying what we learn after mass. We only receive back as much as we have put in to our spiritual lives. What we need in addition to the mass is the understanding of the Liturgy itself. When we are properly catechised we and combine that with a life of consistant prayer the rest will fall into place.

    I am somewhat impartial to some of the more “modern” worship music but often I have to remind myself that there is so much more to worshipping God than the music.

  2. Amy Croft says:

    I am only 25 and the “modern music” i have found in many of our churches has left me… gasping for air! Of course some my age, older, and younger prefer this style of music. But i would argue(speaking for my age group) that this music has left the majority of us younger folks uncomfortable and/or trying to feel something.

    I did start to feel for awhile that music just took away from my experience at Mass so i would find ones with as little music as possible…. That is not to say that i didn’t like any of the music or that none of it aided in my spiritual life. Some of the older hymns like How Great Tho Art can move me to tears… But overall the “modern music”, took me away from the idea of the Church being full of Tradition, Wisdom, the Infinite. And toward a feeling that it was just another fad that would be swept away by the winds of time.
    I think many High School age, young adults, only get into it when an older cohort who leads a youth group they are in, is into it. Maybe this leads some in the right direction and they genuinely like the music, then good. I would stress that it should not be the focus at Mass but rather a gentle aid that has historically shown to be pleasing to God. If we are to learn from history than looking at what music aided the Saints would be a good lesson.

    The first time i experienced Gregorian chants was at St.Mary’s with DTS….I don’t think i will ever forget it.

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