Thursday, April 17, 2008

Well -- apart from the music, how was the Mass?

The brief glimpses I had of the Washington Nationals Mass on television before embarking for work didn't offer much in the way of music, but according to Catholic News Service, those who arranged it had the very best of intentions:

The liturgical celebration of Pope Benedict XVI's April 17 Mass in Nationals Park reflected the diversity of Catholic heritages and sensibilities reflected in the Archdiocese of Washington, where the Mass was held.

It acknowledged both the roots of tradition and the branches that have sprouted from those roots

However, I quickly gathered something was wrong when the comments started to pour in on an earlier post from February entitled "Meet Thomas Stehle", music director for the papal mass in Washington:
Shame on you...
Chironomo | 04.17.08 - 11:50 am | #

The sensibilities of the Holy Father are no secret regarding music. Did you purposely attempt to insult him? If so shame on you indeed!
Fr. John | 04.17.08 - 11:56 am | #

The Holy Father's views on sacred music and the liturgy are well-known. I am deeply disappointed that he was subjected to such banal music.
Luke | 04.17.08 - 12:13 pm | #

I feel ill after listening to that travesty that was the music.
Demo | 04.17.08 - 12:48 pm | #

... and so on and so forth. Well, it appears that the worst fears of The New Liturgical Movement were confirmed today. Amy Welborn describes the experience thus in her Open Nationals Stadium Liturgy Thread:
The core problem with this liturgy was that it had such a heavy performance vibe to it. Commenters have called it a “review” and I think that’s apt. I don’t want to make the multiculturalism the center of any critique myself. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that, for example, after the Holy Father intoned the Doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, what happened next? A solemnly chanted “Amen” fitting in with what he had just done?

No - we get freakin’ trumpets - the same trumpets that preceded all three of the Mass parts used from the Mass of Creation.

There was a bombastic, almost frenzied sensibility, as various musical styles were pulled in, Cantor A was replaced by Cantor B and every Mass part had to be introduced by overwhelming musical stylings of someone.

I am not sure how, exactly, one could pull of a Mass in a stadium with 50,000 or so people without making it big in this sense. I don’t know if there is a bigness possible that would pull everyone present into the ritual while at the same time respecting the fact that this is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not Talent Night At St. Hippodrome’s. Someone can, perhaps enlighten me on that score.

(As a Hispanic Catholic added from her combox: "I’m frankly rather tired of finding that everywhere in the US, the only music in Spanish used during Mass sounds like it belongs in a salsa club").

Blogging at The New Liturgical Movement", Jeffrey Tucker described the music as "the end of an era" and pulled no punches in their remarks:

It was to the grave embarrassment of all American Catholics that the music employed at the papal Mass at the Nationals stadium in Washington, D.C., not only represented a repudiation of everything that this pope has written on music appropriate to Mass. We can go further to say that there is no robust tradition of liturgical scholarship that is capable of defending what happened, and that is because it is indefensible. ...

In the name of "multiculturalism," the Pope was subjected to music more suitable to dingy dance halls than Churches. The Psalms of David were distorted to the point of ear-splitting dissonance. The congos, pan flutes, meringue rhythms, the jazz and blues and rock, the swaggering vocals, the puffed-up soloing, went beyond even the most pessimistic predictions.

Indeed, when Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation finally came on at the Sanctus, it was a moment of dignity—so much so that I want to take back all my negative comments back when I thought that this Mass setting was unsuitable for a Papal Mass. I don't think anyone knew before this what the phrase "unsuitable" could really mean.

I personally feel the greatest hurt toward American Catholics of diverse races and ethnicities, who have been quite viciously caricatured here. How wounded they must personally feel by this presentation done in their name.

If anything, today's experience was a vindication of Cardinal Ratzinger's call for "a new Liturgical Movement." The post -- worth reading in full -- concludes with a "call to arms" from Pope Benedict XVI himself:
When the community of faith, the world-wide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless. And, because the ecclesial community cannot have its origin from itself but emerges as a unity only from the Lord, through faith, such circumstances will inexorably result in a disintegration into sectarian parties of all kinds - partisan opposition within a Church tearing herself apart. This is why we need a new Liturgical Movement, which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council.
More from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf; Fr. Ray Blake ("How blessed one is being a priest, I would be tempted to lapse inside a year if I had to endure this stuff week after week, how the laity are tortured by the clergy!"); Carl Olson (who adds: "Yet another reason I am thankful to be able to attend a Byzantine Catholic parish. We don't have fights about who plays guitar, or how many people should be in the orchestra. There are no instruments").

Catholic Conservation invites his readers to express their sentiments to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (via their own blog) concerning the music selections for the Papal Mass in Washington, DC -- but it may be in vain:

There is no question that anger, even fury, is palpable. The USCCB has been deleting comments from its own website. Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, in his running commentary on EWTN, expressed astonishment. The blogs are overflowing with bitter comments...

Not everybody's complaining, however:

what a splendid event this was — great music, faultless presentation. Fabulous, cool weather and sunny skies didn't hurt, either.

And in the midst of a baseball field at that. The pitcher's mound was demurely enclosed by a white fence; home plate was covered by the archdiocesan shield.

The one blot: Coffee was either not ready at the concession stands or they ran out early.

* * *

Amy Welborn reigns in the combox critics with some sage advice:

1) We should, as much as we can, drawing on the Holy Spirit, resist the temptation to view the Mass from a critic’s standpoint. It is destructive. No one knows this better than those involved in Church ministry, and not only liturgical ministers. It is a temptation for anyone whose relationship with the Church, the parish or the diocese is that of employee or professional volunteer. We evaluate, we judge, we have meetings afterwards in which we assess. ...

2) HOWEVER. Despite that - and with that constantly in mind, it is fine to spend time evaluating a liturgy. To do so in charity, respectful of persons and the work they put into the event, to be sure. But the Mass is not anything. It is Something. And the form of the Mass should express that Something as much as humanly possible. There is a degree of subjectivity involved, but actually not as much as we might think. Particularly in this case, when we have a pope who has written extensively on liturgy, whose views are well-known, and whose liturgical priorities as pope are also no secret. It is fair to compare what happened today with the principles of Catholic liturgy as well as the Pope’s own writing. That’s fair. ...

So keeping all of those realities in balance, I think it is fine to discuss a liturgy like this as long as we don’t let it dominate our sense of the event, overwhelming the Pope’s own call to unity in the Church for the sake of a more powerful, Christ-centered presence in the world.