Monday, June 11, 2012

What Protestant Musicians Can Learn from the Mass

A Protestant Face Book friend posted this “status”:

Just wondering, when worshipping in a corporate setting, where is the line between letting go and worshipping freely, and self-indulgence that causes distraction and becomes a stumbling block?

Ah yes. I was a Pentecostal Christian for a number of years. The music was important. The music was "uplifting", I thought. As I was being drawn to the Catholic Church, I still held out for the music – with electric guitars, drums, keyboard – of the Pentecostal church I attended. The music at the Catholic church – with acoustic guitars, drums, and piano – sucked. I said I’d go to Mass to receive Jesus, but I’d still go to the Pentecostal church for the music…but only as long as I was enjoying the music, of course.

At some point, I came to wonder if we were worshiping the music instead of the Lord.

And that, my friends, is why liturgical worship is so liberating.

Well…let me qualify that: I’m talking about liturgical worship that follows the rubrics, and liturgical music that follows the mind of the Church rather than the mind of the choir director or the liturgy committee or the “worship team”.

“Letting go and worshipping freely” in the sense my Face Book friend is using that phrase, is, I believe, something you do in the privacy of your own room. Public worship – liturgy – is not the place for individualized expressions of praise. Neither is it the place for debates within the "music ministry" about which hymns or songs to sing.

The liturgy mandated by the Church takes away the petty arguments about style and particular songs. Gregorian chant has pride of place; the proper chants of the Mass are determined from ages ago and have evolved out of the wisdom of the Church. The liturgy becomes what it is meant to be – a public expression of worship – by unifying all of the faithful as they use the same words and worship in a universal way. 

So where’s the freedom, then? Well, the freedom is in following the mind of the Church. Non-Catholic Christians can generally agree that following Jesus is liberating – there is absolute freedom in following Truth. Non-Christians will argue that Christianity puts all kinds of constraints on human behavior, so we are not “free”. They don’t understand that we are bound by sin when we follow our own fallen, sinful nature.

In the same way, our fallen human nature makes itself known in the “freedom” of style of worship in non-Catholic Christian services. My Face Book friend mentions the fine line between “letting go and worshipping freely” and “self-indulgence that causes distraction”. Been there, done that! When there are no rules, human concupiscence can run wild, and individuals can justify their behavior on the grounds that “the Spirit led me” – even, and maybe especially, in the context of the very worship of God. We end up having music for its entertainment value, and when we do that, we have debates, because not everyone is “entertained” in the same way by particular types of music.

The Mass, though – especially the “old” Mass, the “traditional Latin Mass”, the “extraordinary form” of the Mass – allows for “actual” participation of the faithful. That participation is internal, in the depths of one’s soul, rather than the external manifestation of singing, dancing, waving of hands, falling to the floor, etc. The priest leads us in prayer to God, and we are united behind him. The music – Gregorian chant in particular – carries our minds upward to God, rather than centering our thoughts on ourselves. Truly liturgical, sacred music does not mimic the popular music of the time. It must itself be timeless, objectively beautiful, and “traditional” rather than “contemporary”. Contemporary quickly becomes trite.

This video from Corpus Christi Watershed, created a few years ago, is an excellent explanation of the difference between sacred liturgical music and “contemporary” music that is inappropriate for Mass. Even if you've seen it before, it's a good review.

Can you tell the difference?? from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

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