Friday, April 25, 2008

Neuhaus on the Nationals Park Mass: "For Benedict, aesthetics is never mere aesthetics"

Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus caused quite a ruckus with his "somewhat critical" remarks about the way Mass was celebrated at Washington National's Park on EWTN. In "Benedict and Beauty" (First Things' "On the Square" April 25, 2008) he responds to his critics:

Where to begin? The matter of taste—or, if you will, aesthetics—enters into it, no doubt. But the problem with the way the liturgy and music was handled is that it focused attention on the gathered people and the performers rather than on what Christ is doing in the Eucharist. It was a display of preening multiculturalism that proclaimed, “Look at us wonderfully diverse people exhibiting our wonderfully diverse talents!” I should add that this was the impression more powerfully conveyed on television, which was what I saw from the broadcast studio. Some people who were in the stadium and participating in the Mass tell me they hardly noticed the sundry musical performances, except as a vague background noise. They were the fortunate ones.

No doubt there are many parishes where people regularly suffer worse than what was perpetrated at Nationals Park. For the most part it was bad music competently performed. But one expects better, one expects much better, at a papal Mass. Especially when the pope is one who has been so very explicit in his views on liturgical and musical practices. ...

To those who dismiss his remarks as a merely aesthetic dispute, Neuhaus cites a strikingly applicable excerpt from Ratzinger's Feast of Faith. He concludes:
I do not wish to be too hard on those who planned the celebration at Nationals Park. It was, sad to say, not unrepresentative of much Catholic worship in our time. The planners and the performers no doubt meant well, but it is worthy of remark that at a papal Mass there was so much that reflected an ignorance of, or defiance of, the very considered views of the pope.