"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Monday, March 24, 2014

Feely-Goody Feeliness: Sacred Liturgy, Music, and the Youth

I recently saw this little video.

It's really rather hilarious and includes some memorable lines.

After watching, I immediately had some thoughts, some of which may be obvious (or not-so-obvious) to some readers of this blog.

See what you think. Watch the video yourself first:



Before I go on, I should warn you: if you're easily offended, just stop reading now. There are comments below that could be taken as harsh, hateful, uncharitable, or just generally non-feely-goody. I'm going to discuss aspects of modern Catholicism, namely sacred music, in such a way that I might be labeled a *gasp* "traditionalist." Please don't take offense. Do take the opportunity to comment below if you feel the need. But, I digress...

Personally, I would have to agree with the underlying notion of the video: I'm not a fan of "modern" music during Mass.

I have many reasons why, not the least of which is because if Mass is supposed to give us a glimpse of heaven, then it should be in many ways "otherworldly." If we bring in secular-sounding music, then Mass loses much of that otherworldliness.

The video makes a separate but related point in a comical fashion:

Perhaps it's not the music that attracts the youth (or any demographic for that matter), but instead the content of the faith, and how well they know it.


Maybe, just maybe, young people go to church because of the example they get from their parents AND due to their level of catechesis. Parents are the first teachers. If the parents aren't teaching the faith, do you really think the music will?

Maybe you can't teach a teenager to appreciate the depths of Catholic theology with "Our God is Greater." But, good catechesis can.

Maybe we shouldn't be trying to attract the youth with the latest selections from Matt Maher, Chris Tomlin, and Audrey Assad. We already have the greatest "rock" star of history in St. Peter (see what I did there?). Oh, and don't forget his boss, Jesus Christ fully present in the Eucharist. What more could you ask for? What could be more attractive?

I know, I know. You say "Some people do come because they like that sort of music," and you're right. Some people do. But with shrinking churches, a steadily greying crop of parishioners, and more and more young people rejecting church and not coming back, we should ask ourselves: is this a successful strategy? Is what we've done to sacred liturgy with the music really working? By watering it down and making it sound just like anything else, have we succeeded in filling pews?

I contend that it is not working, or at the very least, that it is not working very well.

Now, I'm not against certain modern Christian/Catholic music. Definitely not. In fact, I find some of the new stuff is quite good, inspirational, and uplifting. I truly do enjoy some of it... outside of Mass.

And that's where it should stay.

One of the biggest problems in the world today is a lack of delineation between the sacred and the profane; between what should be revered and what is part of everyday life.

Take marriage for example. Once thought of as the pinnacle of human interaction and devotion, it has become watered down to nothing more than a social contract due to easy divorce, contraception, pornography, and all other sorts of sexual deviancy. Is the Mass any different?

Once you make Mass less sacred, once you elevate the secular and de-value the divine, when you say "this isn't all that different", then what is important? Next time you're in church, I challenge you to ask a young person or teen (14-30 year old) whether or not they believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And if they do believe, ask them to explain it. If the numbers I have are correct, 70% of all U.S. Catholics do not believe in the real presence of the Eucharist.

Shocking statistics to be sure. Is the music entirely to blame? Absolutely not. Catechesis in general is desperately needed.

But forget catechesis for a moment; is music at least a part of the problem? I contend it is.

When the musical selections for Mass are no different than what's on your radio dial, then going to Mass doesn't seem all that different. And if going to Mass isn't that different (i.e., otherworldly), then why is it important? If Mass isn't important, then what's so special about the Eucharist? And if the the Eucharist isn't special, then what do you believe in as a Catholic?

There's no denying it's a subtle process. But Satan works in subtlety. He's the father of lies for a reason. He doesn't get you to believe one of his lies immediately; he plants a seed and lets you draw the conclusion.

We know that teens and young people are especially receptive to subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages. That's part of the reason why they want the coolest shoes, the latest phones, and the hippest clothes. Messages are sent and received constantly, subtle or not. So, are we sending the right message through our worship as Catholics?

Next time you go to Mass, ask yourself this: is the message sent by the liturgy at this parish one that emanates holiness, devoutness, and a sense of the divine in our midst, and does the music have anything to do with it? If you're honest with yourself, the answer may surprise you.

If you want the youth to come to church, and a community of faithful that are on fire for Christ, it starts with liturgy that puts on display something not found anywhere else on earth. For that to happen effectively, music is so, so important. Then, once you have truly sacred liturgy, the catechesis to properly explain it will must naturally follow.

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