Skip to content

Made for Beauty: Liturgy and Music

By Deal W. Hudson
4/24/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

How do we inform and reshape the Catholic culture in a way that consistently acknowledges that we were made for beauty?

Some might flinch at my use of the word "satisfying" to describe a liturgy, but I used it deliberately because I want to think aloud about the fact that we were made for beauty as much as we were made for goodness and truth.  To be satisfied by the shape, form, and celebration of the liturgy is precisely what we should feel as we worship. To bask in the real presence of Christ should not require closing your eyes and ears but rather to have both fully engaged. 

Highlights

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Every Easter my family travels to downtown DC to attend Mass at Immaculate Conception Church - not the Basilica - located in what is called the Shaw neighborhood just behind the Convention Center.  Msgr. James Watkins has, perhaps, no peer as a homilist, and from the decoration of the altar laden with flowers, to magnificent music, and full-throated liturgy responses, Mass at Immaculate Conception is invariably moving and satisfying.

Some might flinch at my use of the word "satisfying" to describe a liturgy, but I used it deliberately because I want to think aloud about the fact that we were made for beauty as much as we were made for goodness and truth.  To be satisfied by the shape, form, and celebration of the liturgy is precisely what we should feel as we worship. To bask in the real presence of Christ should not require closing your eyes and ears but rather to have both fully engaged. 

That evening, my wife Theresa read me an email exchange with a longtime friend who has been involved in liturgical music for over 20 years.  Her friend was lamenting the ugliness and banality of the music that morning at her parish.  (This is a theme that I have addressed regularly in the past 30 years of writing for Catholic audiences, and the situation, as far as I can tell, is not improving.)

Only an hour before Theresa read me the email exchange, I had noticed a lively exchange on the Facebook page of Barbara Nicolosi, well-known Catholic screenwriter and film critic.  Barbara, who I have known for many years, had started the thread with a delicately phrased complaint about the music at her parish on Sunday morning.

"It grieves me more than I can say, but the music at our Easter Mass could only be described in a charitable way as the exaltation of ugliness."

Much of the reaction to Barbara's initial comment criticized her for saying anything negative about her Easter Mass. Barbara unfortunately, but understandably, deleted those comments. But there was also a consistent theme of support, suggesting this complaint is more widely held than imagined.  Such as:

"Ours sounded like the sound track to a 70's movie."

"I will rejoice in the fact we did NOT have Liturgical Dancers."

At least the priest didn't do a Jazz Hands Jesus dance."

"The Novus Ordo Mass reflects a new theology. The music is just a side effect."

"When the music and responses sound horrific, it's a mockery...especially when people around you are trying to stifle a cry, laugh, or a snort laugh! The focus and reverence to the Mass is lost for all those sitting around the giggles!"

"A charitable way to describe the music at your Mass was that it significantly reduced your time in purgatory as well as dramatically enhancing your self control while demonstrating your love of Jesus--by not plugging your ears."

"Ours was... unusual. It began (pre-Mass) with a strange rumba version of a hymn I couldn't place played on the organ with some of the fancy electric stuff going on -- the Latin beat, and some tinkling bells. Like Mass with the Mighty Wurlitzer. After that it was a mishmash, some good and some bad,  but very cheerful."

But here is the best one, in my opinion:

"Thank goodness the Mass isn't only about the music. Or we Catholics would be atheists by now."

Theresa gave me permission to publish an edited version of the exchange with her friend. She had written a note about our wonderful experience at Immaculate Conception Church that morning.

Her friend wrote back:

"I'm jealous of your lovely Immaculate Conception Easter experience. I sang at my parish, where the music and the music direction ranged from banal to downright awful."

Note to the reader from Theresa:

"In case the reader is wondering, I've known this friend for nearly 20 years, and she is far from crabby, but extremely patient and non-judgmental."

Theresa responded:

"We have parish hopped quite a bit the last few years, and a lot of it has to do with music. We are just tired of having to give up a part of the worship experience that for us is so vital."

Her friend wrote:

"Agreed! I am SO, SO SICK of 'checking the box.' The priests here are far more dogmatic than pastoral. I don't WANT to get used to this or think it is normal, or worse, acceptable. The music directors are just awful, and all of them think their "Music Ministry" is vital and flourishing. I have sympathy for anyone with the music director gig, having done it myself, but I find them to be unprofessional and lazy, and I'm tired of holding my nose for the Sake Of The Faith. I think I'd rather just go to a weekday Mass that has no music at all."

To which, Theresa responded:

"The dogmatic outweighs pastoral here as well. It's amazing to me that music means nothing to most pastors. The congregation gets nothing and expects nothing. Poor Jesus. God created us for music. It's why we crave it. Shame on the seminaries for not teaching young priests the importance of it. If people hear the beauty of joyful music they will pack the pews AND the offering plate. The clergy don't get it."

"The clergy don't get it,"  but, and Theresa would agree, some do get it, and it is immediately apparent in their liturgies. Here is the challenge, as I see it, how do we inform and reshape the Catholic culture in a way that consistently acknowledges that we were made for beauty?

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


'Help give every student and teacher Free resources for a world-class moral Catholic education'


Copyright 2017 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for APRIL 2017
Young People.
That young people may respond generously to their vocations and seriously consider offering themselves to God in the priesthood or consecrated life.


Comments


More U.S.

Michigan doctors charged in America's first genital mutilation case - Child told they would 'get the germs out' Watch

Image of FGM is happening in the U.S.

A Michigan doctor and his wife were arrested Friday for conspiracy, female genital mutilation (FGM) and aiding and abetting. LOS ANGELES, ... continue reading


Feast of Divine Mercy: Doubting Thomas and the Wounds that Heal Our Disbelief Watch

Image of Divine Mercy

His doubts healed the wounds of our own disbelief. They also open up -  for all who look with the eyes of faith - a deeper ... continue reading


NYC Catholics accuse Cardinal Dolan for 'playing both sides' as shuttered churches open doors to illegal immigrants Watch

Image of Will shuttered churches be used to house immigrants (WikiWand)?

A group of activists stood outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan every Lenten Friday with a large banner reading, "When did we see ... continue reading


Corrupt lab worker is free after costing $50m and destroying 24,000 lives Watch

Image of Annie Dookhan is free following her conviction despite impacting 24,000 lives and costing the state $47 million to date.

Some criminals work for law enforcement. This is the case of "Little Annie," a crooked lab chemist whose personal effort to make herself ... continue reading


Central Americans died to be seen by the Supreme Court - Asylum-seekers continue to be deported Watch

Image of Supreme Court denies hearings for Central American asylum seekers.

A group of women and children from Central America who have been prioritized for deportation lost a legal battle Monday, when the U.S. ... continue reading


Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.