I’ve already talked quite extensively on why the music we hear at Mass is more than a matter of personal taste. I’ve already explained why the “art for art’s sake” at the Mass is just as much a problem as the former, just in the opposite direction. I’ve also taken the time to address why the obligatory pre-Mass Rosary can be abused, and why things that clutter up the end of Mass, like announcements, “children’s bulletins,” and so on, are just as dangerous to our souls as bad music.
I gave good reasons for all of those things, and I think I made fairly convincing arguments, but there’s so much more to it than people just not knowing the proper forms.
I may have been addressing the wrong problem all this time, and now it’s well past time to fix that.
I saw this on Fox News’s website a few days ago, and was worried after one glance at the picture that this was a Catholic Church. After a quick read, I was relieved to discover that it was not (I’m not even sure what a Zion Church is, but that’s neither here nor there), but it got me thinking about the source of all the other problems with the Liturgy.
Time to pull the weed up by the root, not just hack at endlessly-regrowing leaves.
On the surface, this Star Wars church service seems like a good joke, a cute way for these crazy Christians to use a pop culture icon as a way to talk to people about God. Even Christians are allowed a sense of humor, right? We can joke about Star Wars, proclaim our geekyness, and still be good Christians, right? There’s no harm in such a thing. Come on, that’s why this blog exists! Who knows, maybe someone who isn’t very impressed with Christians in general, might stop thinking that Christians are holier-than-thou, funless, Puritan-style, uptight jerks, and come inside to God if they learn that those Christians are actually joking about Star Wars during a service!
And thus begins the slippery slope. Next thing we know, we have hoverboarding priests.
Now, this did not happen in a Catholic Church, so I’m not going to condemn this German Zion Church for what they did, mostly because it’s not really my business. I can’t go down the street to the nearest Baptist church and criticize them for their style of worship, now can I? That would be a) stupid, b) contrary to Christian charity, and c) brazenly officious, because I’m not a part of their church and have no business telling them what to do. The comparison I’m trying to make isn’t exact, but it still applies to us, because we’re guilty of this exact same thing.
We’re bringing our popular culture into the Church, and it has no business there.
I don’t know if a Catholic Church in this country has tried something so brazen as holding a “Star Wars mass,” but I have heard of a “clown mass,” a “Halloween mass,” and innumerable incarnations of the dreaded “children’s mass,” where it’s not just the music that is objectionable (anyone who has examples from personal experience, please comment below).
The Mass is not something that should be changed at the whim of popular culture. We don’t allow popular culture to change the Mass; we allow the Mass to change popular culture.
It’s not that the Mass is unchangeable. Sometimes, the Rad Trads will come out of the woodwork and insist that the ONLY Mass that we’re allowed to say is the OLD Mass, the Tridentine Rite, the one that we’ve been doing for THOUSANDS of years.
Unfortunately, they’re wrong, too. Do you know why it’s called the “Tridentine” rite? Because of the Council of Trent. That Mass is less than 500 years old, no matter what the Rad Trads say. No, the early Christians in the catacombs were not celebrating the Liturgy in the same way. After the Reformation, the Council of Trent decreed that every region that did not already have a well-established local rite for the Mass was to follow the Tridentine Rite rubrics (which makes sense, given the divisions that were sweeping through the Church at the time; thank you, Martin Luther). The Melkite Rite, the Mennonite Rite, the Byzantine Rite, and the Ruthenian Rite are all “well established local” rites (for more details on this, read The Organic Development of the Liturgy). They’re all Catholics; they just have a different set of Traditions, most of which are based in their native culture. The only reason the Roman Rite is so widespread is because of that mandate after the Council of Trent, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
One of Holy Mother Church’s most wonderful accomplishments is how She can take the good parts of a culture and use them for God. Anyone who lives down South knows about the (to us) strange piety of the Hispanic Catholic Church. They do things differently from their German-, Polish-, and Irish-Catholic brethren. The Church reached into that culture, told them “actually, you’re partially right; let me show you how to be completely right,” and allowed them to keep who they were in tact when they turned to Her. We have ethnic parishes for a very good reason. The Irish have their special traditions and feast days and saints; the Italians have others; the Germans have others; the Polish have theirs, and so on and so on. We’re all still Catholics; we just have slightly different ways.
The Marian apparitions are different, too. Holy Mary appears European in Fatima and Lourdes; she appears Hispanic in Guadalupe, and so on and so on.
But there is so much difference between bringing a culture to the Church, and bringing popular culture into the church.
I’m sure most of you have seen Sister Act. It’s a funny movie, and I really enjoy it, mostly because the Catholics who can’t sing discover that with a little direction, they actually can sing, and that’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. What I hate, though, is how they go about accomplishing it.
Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s just a movie. I can enjoy the movie and still pray that the contents of the movie never actually happen. Just take a look at what happens when “Sister Mary Clarence” gets the choir to sing a modern “Hail Holy Queen.”
They start out great, and then go completely Fluffy Horde. What’s sad is that at 1:49, people outside start coming in when they hear the music. They’re curious, and come to see what in the world is going on in that usually empty Catholic church.
Of course, in the scene immediately after that, the Monsignor was so thrilled to see people coming into the church that he gave the choir his permission and backing in their new musical endeavors.
See how dangerous it is?
We want people to come to our churches. We want to help them. Like Saint Therese, we “want to save souls!” So therefore, isn’t it a good thing to change our ways and bring those people into the church where they belong?
Actually, no. For the very simple reason that those changes aren’t true. Those changes aren’t who we really are. It would be like slapping a Star Wars label on It’s A Wonderful Life, just to get all those fans to come to the theater. It’s a lie.
Holy Mother Church changes, but She does it very slowly. She knows that keeping the truth in tact in the midst of the changeable nature of human society is more important than making people “feel welcome.” Change itself is not a bad thing, and don’t let the Rad Trads tell you differently. But not all change is good.
In the case of the Star Wars invasion of a church, or the clowns invading the Mass, or Halloween costumed individuals taking over the Mass, or the hoverboarding priest, anything else that might be found in there, those aren’t good changes. What is popular isn’t always good.
But we still haven’t reached the root of the problem — that root is the selfishness that allows such things to happen.
The Mass is NOT about us.
There is nothing wrong with being a Star Wars fan. I like it myself (at least, I love the originals). I enjoy listening to the soundtracks, and I even went through all the trouble to learn to play Across the Stars on the piano. Judged objectively, Star Wars (and any other geeky thing you can think of) is a good. What some people don’t seem to realize is that it is a lesser good.
When we bring things like clowns or costumes or Star Wars to the Mass, we’re not making those things holy; we’re polluting the Mass.
Think about it this way: “For the liturgy, ‘through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,’ most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium).
So, why do we try to change it? It is supposed to change us, and help us change the world. When we make it less than what it is, we put the cart before the horse and somehow expect that cart to pull the horse up the hill. It’s backwards.
If we dilute the amazing power of the Mass with the trappings of a transitory culture, we not only make it as changeable and contemptible as that culture, we destroy the power it has to change that culture. Take those people coming into the church in Sister Act, for example. They’re curious. They heard something interesting, and went to see what it was. What happens when the choir is no longer interesting? What happens when they get bored with the things that choir is doing? Then they have no reason to stay.
Their presence is as transitory as the popularity of the culture the choir was imitating to draw them in.
The only way to bring people in and convince them to stay is to be what we are. We tell them the truth. We show them what we truly possess — the Real Presence of Christ; the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord, who never changes. We have Him, and we should be proud of Him, and treat Him with the respect He deserves, and that means telling the “popular culture” to:
Because it’s not about us; it’s about HIM, and He never changes. We don’t go to Mass to be entertained. If we go, and we don’t “get anything out of it,” the usual objection that people make to traditional practices, that’s our problem, not the Mass’s problem.
If we destroy what we have in order to put butts in the pews, we’ve sold out. We’ve done exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be keeping our traditions, our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, our music, our art, and bringing them out of the Church. We should be like little kids on show-and-tell day. “Hey! Look over here! Look at all the great things I have in my house! Come and see!”
We bring Him out to them, and He can change them; but the moment we try to change Him, we have failed. We’ve denied him, and unlike Peter, we didn’t “go forth and weep bitterly” (Matthew 26:75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:62) as we recognized the horrible thing we’d just done.
We’ve been denying Him, and by extension, ourselves, for too long. We need to get over ourselves, stop catering to the needs of a culture that despises us, and be who we are. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem. Changing us won’t change them, not really. It just keeps us and those who are silly enough to follow our corrupted ways from really finding Christ.
“These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions” (full Prayer to St. Michael). And we let them do it. Even worse, most of us don’t know we’ve done it.
While we’re making New Year’s resolutions, we should include this among them: that we will get over our selfishness, and no longer deny who we are.
This is how we look:
This is what we sing:
This is what we do:
This is who we are:
We are Catholics; we look like Catholics, we sing like Catholics, we act like Catholics. We need to get over ourselves and remember that we’re part of something bigger than us, and infinitely better than us. If we do that, there is nothing that a transitory and corrupt culture can do to harm our souls. And even better, we can bring that transitory and corrupt culture out of its wickedness and back to God, where it belongs.
Follow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.