Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Heresies of Bad Liturgy and Ultramontaninism

I refer the reader to two posts on the heresies of bad liturgy and ultramontaninism from one of the more promising new blogs out there.


rick allen said...

I am sometimes disturbed by the common tendency--exaggerated, perhaps, by the existence of blogs on every possible subject--to critique liturgy to the most exquisite lengths.

I certainly care about the beauty of the liturgy, and I don't doubt that I could re-write the current Catholic liturgy to better express my devotional participation in the mass. The trouble is, most everyone else could, too, and we'd all go different directions.

I became Catholic in 1983, in a parish with an organist who trained under Karl Richter, whose choir was made up of semi-prefessional singers, with full polyphonic masses of Palestrina, Buxehude, Hayden, or Mozart, among others, every week. It was quite glorious.

After a few years I got a new job, in a county which had only one Catholic church, whose liturgical music was provided by a very devout young woman with a guitar and a voice that almost stayed on key.

My guess was that God was just trying to make sure that I didn't join the Catholic Church for the music.

My point is that what I find sappy and embarrassing others will experience as making the prayers of the Church accessible. What I find majestic and profound, others will find boring. off-putting and elitist.

I think we are too little aware of the enormous differences that exist and the enormous significance attributed, in our culture, to music, and musical styles. It requires some adjusting. I can put up with folk masses. Thank God nobody's yet (so far as I know) proposed a country-western mass. And I wish that Catholic liturgists could take seriously that bit in Vatican II about Gregorian Chant have "pride of place" in the Church.

But overall, I will love and pray the liturgy because it is the prayer of the Church. I may have my opinions, but it's not my place to dictate, and I think it's terribly sad that some have made the horrendous decision to leave the Church because they couldn't put up with a few sappy songs. What a witness to our steadfastness!

As noted below, I attended an Orthodox liturgy two weeks ago and found the people welcoming and the liturgy positively celestial. I have to admit being envious of your own steadfastness in not monkeying with the liturgy. But my role in the liturgy, in the Church I believe is the Church founded by Christ, is not that of critic, but of supplicant of the Most High God. If I spend my time carping at the music, the innovations, the poor intonation of the priest, the bad translations, I am probably not praying, and it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to blame that on others.

Ed said...

Well said, Mr. Allen. I struggled quite a lot in seminary (as a United Methodist seminarian) with the things that went on in the chapel services. (The services ranged from quasi-Anglican liturgical services to black Baptist fare to "emergent church" services to services where someone "liturgically painted" on a canvass whilst the service was going on.) I stopped going to chapel about halfway through seminary. It was probably the right decision. I struggled with a harsh and judgmental anger toward the things that were going on around me and towards the people that were doing them. Sometimes I'm sure it was my fault, sometimes no doubt heaven knows my issues were founded in just objections. But the point of what I'm trying to say is, whenever I went to chapel and was gripped with feelings of judgmentalism, superiority, or hatred, I certainly was not worshiping, and I knew it.

In the end, it proved impossible for me to reconcile myself to the seminary chapel. I think I won the battle of judging people individually there, but I could never deal with the pretensiousness of the atmosphere, nor with the horrors of "liturgical dancing" and the like. Honestly, there are just some forms (okay, a whole lot of forms) that are inappropriate to Christian worship. The question is where do we draw the line.

I don't know the hearts of the people who left your church because of "sappy songs," but maybe their response was one of revulsion at seeing something that they were sure was sacred made common, desecrated by triviality or some such thing. This was, probably, in the end, the reason I stopped going to chapel (and attended an Anglican Church for "rehab"). ;-)