Tuesday, June 18, 2013


With apologies to Jeffrey Tucker, how can the liturgy go out to the lost and bring them back? Did Whoopee Goldberg in 1991's Sister Act give us the way? Is it a precursor to Pope Francis taking risks to go out and bring them back.

Remember Sister Act was about a faux nun who saw a declining Catholic Church in a particular neighborhood which needed to be revitalized and this non-religious character found the way to do it through music. Was Sister Act onto something? Is this part of the new evangelization, leaving the one person in the traditional pew and seeking the 99 lost? Just wondering!

Watch the miracle of how a new beat in Catholic music brings the lost back to Church and packs it!

Even the Bishop of Rome is impressed:

Of course the traditional habits help too! Could you imagine this movie with nuns in frumpy street dress and even more frumpy chopped off hair? It just wouldn't work in this precursor of the new evangelization!


Gene said...

When you say "take the liturgy to the periphery," do you mean screw it up even more?

Gene said...

Sister Act was disgusting nonsense and Goldberg is a racist twit. Please...

ytc said...

Sure, have all that you want at parish picnics, fish frys. I promote it! As long as you keep it out of Mass.

rcg said...

FrAJM, Who is your confessor!?!?!? LOL!!! You have incited Gene to sin, and made my blood pressure rise, and that is no small feat.

YTC is spot on, I tried in my last parish to get them to have real music in Mass under the NO guidelines and have the Singing Nones in the parish hall after Mass. No dice. I no longer think it is a good idea to have this sort of 'religious' music on the Parish property, but would be a great idea down at a coffee shop sponsored by the parish. People will ask for a inch and take a mile.

Henry said...

But isn't it a fallacy all too prevalent in the Church now to assume that the same thing that drew (or drove) the lost 99 out to the periphery is what will bring them back? Is this mere fallacy, or is it sheer idiocy?

Carol H. said...

A concert is a concert no matter the venue.

This kind of thing might win dollars, but it won't win souls.

rcg said...

Henry, this is all ignorance. If these people really knew what that altar holds they would be afraid to raise their eyes without being in total silent adoration.

WSquared said...

I dunno, Father McDonald. I think it's more what the liturgy teaches us that we take out to the peripheries to bring back the lost. It nourishes us so that we can nourish them in other ways if they don't yet see immediately how the liturgy can nourish them.

Re ytc, part of the problem is cramming anything and everything into the Mass, creating mass confusion. It may also encourage people to squish being Catholic into One Hour A Week of Doing Your Jesus Thing. People chatting before and after Mass when other folks want to pray is part of the same problem: there is no sense of place or time, because there is a diminished sense of the Real Presence. There's a time and a place for everything.

Sister Act portrays a common "Spirit of Vatican II" fantasy: "tradition bad, novelty good/ out with the stodge, let's make Mass 'fun'!" and it's repeated often enough in pop culture-- like in the "Folk Mass" episode of the popular Irish series Ballykissangel to Elvis playing rock 'n' roll in a Catholic church, supposedly during Mass.

It might be that the pop and rock music stuff should be used to build bridges to Mass and tradition without saying that any of it belongs at Mass or supercedes tradition. The "stodge" involves attitudes, not the musical tradition of the Church.

What might really make an impact in terms of illustrating that difference would be a rock concert for any Catholic youth so inclined, followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction at the end. Complete with chant. That would say, "yes, we can rock for Jesus, but now we actually bow down before Jesus, Who is right here. We are silent when He has something to say to us. The concert is rock-for-Jesus time. But Adoration is Jesus Time. Period." It would be wild, say, for someone to use spoken-word poetry to convey what the Mass actually is-- Christ's Sacrifice re-presented-- before commencing Adoration. Why should we sing about how Jesus "comes to us in the silence" a la David Haas when we can actually do it instead of just singing about it? In the almost rock-concert atmosphere of World Youth Day, the kids had Adoration. And despite wind and rain, Pope Benedict stayed with the kids. One youngster even chanted the Gospel for Mass at WYD.

Likewise, one can write rock music or bluegrass about the human condition, where joy and suffering aren't necessarily separate-- that's a way of singing about Jesus and Christian witness without writing songs where the name "Jesus" is replaceable with "baby" or some girl's name. Who we understand Jesus to be makes a difference. It also makes clear that there can be some good rock music with Catholic themes, if anyone wants to take up the challenge of writing it. But that still doesn't mean it belongs at Mass, because the mode of composition is still secular. But it would be a way of witnessing to the Source and Summit of the Christian life, and then letting Him speak for Himself at Mass or in Adoration. For the record, I've also heard someone sing "Adoro te Devote"-- simply, and in Latin -- accompanied by classical guitar. So it would seem that one can use tradition to reach people even in a concert setting if one knows how, and is respectful. This entire question may have something to do with knowing how music relates to form, function, time, and space, and using that knowledge to evangelize.

WSquared said...

Also, say you're a priest who rocks for Jesus: you can challenge the perceptions of the youth of your parish by wearing your cassock at Mass, and certainly use it to mess with any "liberal = cool and caring, traditional & orthodox = clericalist meanie" presumptions. That's similar to Fr. McDonald's observation that the traditional habits help, only that it flips it on its head.

I think the trick with tradition is knowing how to share it. It can be easy to hide behind, especially when there are expectations that you will and do. But sharing how and why you love it and how it nourishes the heart and reorients all of you can certainly give the lie to presumptions that anyone who loves the Church's musical tradition is necessarily an elitist Pharisee who cares only about appearances, and who wants to put stumbling blocks before others.

Fr. Pontifex, who writes Catholic-themed rap and spoken-word poetry, actually wore his cassock for one of his videos illustrating the false dichotomy of "Jesus is a relationship, not a religion." Depending on how you catechize people about it, slowly introduce ad orientem: if we say we want a relationship with Jesus, shouldn't we at least face Him? We also grow closer together the more we are conformed to Jesus.

Jeffrey Tucker recently introduced Gregorian Chant to LifeTeen. It was a success. They could've refused, but they took him on and gave it a chance, probably because he lovingly showed them it had something to offer them. Likewise, many young Catholics love Benedict XVI. Not just because he was the Pope, but them because of what he actually bothered to say to them. Being authentic counts. So does love.

rcg said...

WSquared, I hear you completely, I love rock almost as much as I love Banjo and Baroque music.

We help young people when teach them how to discriminate how to act and when to do it. They are lost in themselves with their music. They have to grow up and look outward.

Think about this: they might think it was cool for the priest to rap and to have cool music in Mass. But would they have the strength to walk into a coffee shop downtown with Fr Anybody if he was dressed in a cassock? What if Fr got up to sing? FWIW, I have posted here a positively gorgeous version of 'Ubi Caritas' sung in pop Celtic style. But I would discourage it in Mass.

WSquared said...

We help young people when teach them how to discriminate how to act and when to do it. They are lost in themselves with their music. They have to grow up and look outward.

This is also true of some adults, not just young people. It's a common tendency, regardless of age, to not understand the form and function of music, but to boil it down to how it makes one "feel." If beauty is subjective, and if worship of God is primarily emotional, and if love is primarily an emotion (supposedly), then worship becomes subjective, also. It becomes primarily about "what makes my heart soar upward toward God."

Yeah, but what do we mean by "God"? Some forms of music emphasize what Catholics understand by "God" far more effectively than others. That Gregorian chant seems both Bigger Than You and yet very intimate, that's precisely how God builds a relationship with us. It's how the Eucharist works-- it's the Someone Bigger Than Us And All of Creation that is nonetheless capable of getting into every nook and cranny and fiber of our being. And the Church does not teach that love is an emotion.

Seeing music at Mass as primarily subjective is yet another variation on the "spiritual, but not religious" and "God cares only about what's in my heart" arguments. Thing is, we know from the way we worship at Mass and every time there's a debate over abortion, contraception, and Humanae Vitae, that that's not true: He cares about what's in our hearts, and He cares also what we do with our bodies and our brains, too. All of those things are connected. Where they are oriented will either increase or diminish our capacity to love.

And going back to the way we think about and consume music, it doesn't help sometimes that we tend to think primarily in "songs" and "tracks," which is fine for pop music albums where tracks are usually consumed separately as singles and receive tons of overplay on the radio, but there's nothing like hearing one "Sanctus" or "Agnus Dei" on the likes of Pandora, knowing that it's not a "song" or a "track," but part of a larger, integral form and structure-- a Mass.

We've also lost a lot of our sense of wonder, not just regarding the Sacred Mysteries, period, but the way in which certain buildings make or don't make sound. A schola of only about four voices can fill a church that conducts sound in a certain way. Building with materials that resound create a certain kind of sound, which is lost amid all that horrid wall-to-wall carpet. There's also good reason why the schola or choir is meant to be at the back of the church: they serve the liturgy; they're not "performing." And boy, when there isn't a ton of people looking at you, knowing that it's not All About You takes a ton of pressure off.

But would they have the strength to walk into a coffee shop downtown with Fr Anybody if he was dressed in a cassock?

That's a really good point.

WSquared said...

The catch regarding using pop and rock to build bridges to the Mass, of course, is that we can't unless we actually know what the Mass is. That has a very real impact on outreach methodology, and the difference between the Church as the Body of Christ, and is truly alive, and the Church as "a benevolent NGO." We also have to keep in mind that both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI read Vatican II with a very Christocentric focus. The thing about peripheries is that they exist on all fronts.

I would suggest that if we don't know what the Mass is, and therefore don't know Who Jesus is, that's a recipe for going out to the peripheries empty handed. Regarding one of Fr. McDonald's earlier posts quoting Pope Francis on Matteo Ricci and being able to meet people where they are, knowing that they have something to say worth listening to while not slipping into relativism, we can't do that unless we know how and why Catholics understand that Jesus is just bigger. It's all the more reason why we shouldn't be creating confusion regarding what we believe in church, before and after Mass, and certainly during Mass.

Carl Olson at Catholic World Report charitably warned young people on fire for the Catholic faith that they need to be careful of Who Jesus is when they evangelize: if they put sneakers on Him and call Him "the first hipster," they risk leading people to a Christ Who is not worth following. The way Fr. Robert Barron refers to "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" as "the strangest way" is far more spot on: being counter-cultural will involve thinking in a way that is counter-intuitive.

That much-needed note of caution applies to the likes of "WWJD?" which is well-meaning at best but is ultimately the wrong question. The real question is "What DID Jesus Do (and What Is Jesus DOING Right Now)?" Belief in the Incarnation and also the Real Presence matters.

rcg said...

W2: I think the word 'Love' has been misused and abused until it is nearly meaningless. I am afraid that using it in an evangelical situation is more confusing than helpful. Devout Jews will often refrain from speaking the word 'God' or write it 'G-d'. I think we should contemplate that with regard to the word 'Love'.

WSquared said...

"W2: I think the word 'Love' has been misused and abused until it is nearly meaningless"

Oh, I agree.

...I wouldn't be surprised if the next most misused and abused words are "Vatican II."

But unless we find another word for "love," we're stuck with it, I'm afraid. If anything, the confusion presents an opportunity for a challenge, anyway, and a conversation we need to have.