I have often been told by fellow-Catholics that I am too rigidly traditional, demanding staunch formality and intolerant of the Church’s diversity. Let me dispel this right now.
If by “traditional” you mean desiring reverence in the Mass which is the source and summit of Christian life, the unbloody representation of Calvary and the sacred medicine of souls, then yes, I am guilty. If “traditional” means desiring continuity, preserving Latin in the liturgy- as stipulated by the Second Vatican Council, desiring prayerful music, postures and adherence to the rubrics, then I am traditional as they come.
However “traditional” doesn’t mean I hate Mass in vernacular, regard the Novus Ordo as inferior and expect our worship to be solemn and depressing. I am not stuck in the Middle Ages and I appreciate lay participation in Mass. Vatican II did open up alot of great things, such as more Scripture readings, basic prayers in vernacular, ability for composers to draw up beautiful Mass pieces and most of all RCIA. I don’t hate Vatican II. What I do hate is people introducing irreverent improvisations, tearing everything down and allowing frankly, crappy music to be played at Mass in the name of Vatican II.
My ideal Mass is actually the Novus Ordo. It is the form I attended when coming into the Catholic Church. The Novus Ordo has a certain crispness and clarity that is not to be taken for granted. Modern-day hymns have a soul that shines when done right. I am okay with “Shepherd me O God”, “On Eagle’s Wings” and “I Have Loved You” but I am NOT for their incessant overuse. The problem occurs when these newer hymns dominate and completely replace the old goodies. Vatican II specifically places chant as first priority. There is no sound more beautiful than the sweet strains of “Salve Regina” filling up a big cathedral! What angers me is not so much the variety of modern hymns as the average parish’s insistence on forgetting about ancient ones. Ironically, I ask why doesn’t the parish Church try something new? Why not try chanting the Mass ordinaries in Latin- at least for solemn feast days? The Vatican does it. Maybe just the “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” if all at once is too much? Why not throw in an “Adoro Te devote” during communion? Maye around Advent try doing “Creator of the Stars of Night” accapella? Try mixing in the soulful, “Were You There” with a fluid “Ave Verum” on Goood Friday. I don’t hate diversity, actually my preference for combining old and new is the height of diversity!!
Growing up Protestant, I was used to guitars and drums in our worship. Now, I don’t believe these are proper for the Holy Mass. Yet, I’m not some meanie who despises talented guitarists and drummers because we can use them in a praise & worship service. Maybe Catholic churches should try that on a Wednesday night? You can have dancing and everything! -Just not at Mass. I don’t understand why people get such a bad rap for wanting to distinguish the secular and sacred. Mass is sacred time, where heaven and earth meet and Christ becomes present in His body and blood. This is not an ordinary occasion so we shouldn’t treat it like one!
I’d like to change it up a bit. Maybe try a Byzantine version of the “Kyrie”, during Lent just having silence at communion, at Advent celebrating Mass in candlelight. The power of the human voice as an instrument is seriously underestimated. There is no reason why a well-developed choir can’t take advantage of plainchant, polyphony and classical pieces. When is the last time you heard Bach in church? The moving nature of accapella is also neglected. I remember one time when my church choir sang “Amazing Grace” as the recessional hymn without any accompaniment. The stong but gentle melody nearly made me weep. Hymns don’t have to be sappy in order to be moving. Too much sap does the opposite. People cringe from obviously phony lyrics. Young people hate it. If teenagers come looking for authentic, hard-core faith and instead encounter wimpy “love songs” it’s guaranteed, you’ll lose them.
Sometimes the problem is that too much diversity can actually cancel out the Church’s universal character. Our Masses become segregated: Spanish Mass, Creole Mass and English Mass are separated thus, we cannot worship with our ethnic brothers and sisters. Now if the Mass settings were the universal chants used by the Vatican, we could all learn them and worship together. Even better, when you go to another country, visit another state or a new parish, those lyrics will match. Learn how to sing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and you can sing it anywhere! Bilingual Masses are confusing and uncomfortable whereas a Latin Mass can bring unity. I often hear the complaint “Then no one will understand it!” Good then, at least we’ll all not understand it together!
It’s not rigid or overly traditional to want these things in our liturgy- it is Catholic and what Vatican II intended. It is time to rediscover old beauty, to unveil hidden treasure. Our venerable church has such a rich history and we should utilize it. We shouldn’t be afraid to resurrect a hymn from Renaissance times, to intone a Medieval introit, raise up a Negro spiritual or belt out “Crown Him With Many Crowns”. Just remember- all in moderation- and keep it reverent. We should never hesitate to sing in Latin, because it is the language of the Church. It was the tongue used by St Francis, Joan of Arc, Augustine, and Theresa of Avila. I think the time is nigh, that we tap into our vast treasury, that we truly sing a new song to the Lord.