Tag Archive: worship


Sing a New Song

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.

 

 

 

 

         “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.”

–  St Augustine, Confessions.

 

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Every person in the world can recall a moment in their life when they looked upon something utterly beautiful, a painting, a landscape, ornate building, thread of cloth, graceful animal or blooming flower. Maybe it was a multi-hued sunset or a sky full of stars that dazzled like diamonds. I’m also sure everyone can recall a song or piece of music that captured the soul. Still in these modern days of drum & base and synthesizers, the emotive strains of Mozart, Palestrina or Bach cause one to pause in amazement. Why do these things affect us so? Because, beauty is a testimony to divinity, it places us in the presence of God.

I have heard a many atheists affirm this. The austerity of an old cathedral, the poetic meter of a sacred text or the lofty tones of Gregorian chant speak to something deep inside of them. Everything beautiful or awesome in this world bespeaks an ultimate Beauty and Awesomeness. We love beauty because God, who is beauty Himself, created it. We crave beauty because we hunger for God.

Lately, I’ve noticed that people have been talking a lot about the beauty, ritual and “pomp” of Catholicism, how much it ought to be peeled back to reveal a more simple Gospel. Truly, extravagance and luxury in the Church can take grievous heights, becoming a worldly sort of splendor and causing scandal to the outside world. We only need to look far as the excesses of the Renaissance popes only 600 years ago. Easily, we can regard the ecclesiastical affluence that fanned the flames of the Protestant Reformation. Even today, a bishop who drives a fancy car and lives in a spacious mansion causes scandal- and rightly so. There is a such thing as improper extravagance, which makes the church appear like an elitist club, which damages the soul. However, allow me to distinguish this from the proper “extravagance” belonging to our faith and due to God.

Read details of the Jewish Temple described in the Old Testament book of Kings. How it was framed in fine wood, gold and bronze, how purest incense burned there night and day. This was regarded as the place of God, where His Holiness dwelled, a place betwixt heaven and earth- and it was adorned so. Now, we all know Christ gave us a Temple of His body, made not with human hands, a real and true presence of God with us. No one would argue against that. Yet, I think few make the connections here between Jewish worship and Christian liturgy. When Jews worshiped in the Temple, they believed they were imitating the goings on in heaven. And when Christians gathered for liturgy, they believed they were participating in heaven! Man would no longer just imitate God; no, he would become part of God, become one flesh with Him in the Eucharist. What was once a dim shadow has been seen in clear light- Christ, who was crucified and resurrected, calling each one of us to be His flesh, to be His body! I don’t know about you, but this calls for some celebration.

Contrary to popular belief, a priest’s ornate vestments aren’t for his own glory. They instead represent putting on Christ, entering into His heavenly glory, a glory in which we are greatly unworthy to participate! But see how much Christ loves us. He dons His prodigal children in robes, welcomes them into new life and gives us the feast of Himself! While we may deem it rather boring to hear monks chanting for hours on end, consider that all the hymns in the world, sung ceaselessly cannot describe the depths of God’s love!

Splendor in liturgy isn’t something that should be condemned. After all, the priest only wears those gilded vestments once a day at most. He doesn’t wear them when greeting his friends or when preaching on the street. He wears them, as is proper, to partake in the wedding feast of the Lamb Most-High. At Mass, the person and personality of a priest disappears, subsumed in the vesture of Christ. Yes, we could go on over and over about how many unworthy priests stand at the altar but such critique misses the point. Consider us all sinful, stained and unworthy who stand at the altar. Our God is a God of forgiveness, second-chances and decadent love. He gives to us out of gratuitous generosity. Should we not render praise to him gratuitously?

Beauty can be simple, it can be poor and mean just like the stable at Bethlehem. No one is required to adorn their church with materials they cannot afford. No one is exempt from relieving the poor. This is why, the Catholic Church, despite its historical glories, is still the world’s leading charitable organization. With beauty comes responsibility.  To whom much is given, much is expected. A priest who dons splendid vestments while turning blind eye to the poor and suffering, commits insult against Christ. As he is dressed in Christ, so should he act as Christ. Splendor needs to speak of something higher than ourselves, needs to be an unspoken prayer to God and a token of his gratuitous love for us. It must have meaning. Splendor for splendor’s sake is never good.

I firmly believe in a simpler Church that is also a beautiful Church. Mary, Mother of Christ, in all her poverty, radiated pure, godly beauty.  Thus, so should the Church, the Bride of Christ. She should be bedecked as for a wedding-feast, a bride blushing timidly yet fearlessly carrying high the bejeweled cross.

So I say, let her priests wear the spotless, vestments of Christ while at the same time, running to spread His Gospel, to uplift the fallen and impoverished. Let his fluid chant sing a love-song to Christ and His people. Let the vast, stained-glass windows of cathedrals teach a parable, gilded altars declare thanksgiving and clouds of incense herald holy paths. Where there is love, there is an unspoken beauty; ever ancient, ever new but never meaningless.

 

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Preparing for Mass is a wonderful thing, full of anticipation. I look forward to walking beneath dawn’s pinkish light, feeling the chill morning air and hearing bells announce the beginning of yet another day. However, some things I do not look forward to. There comes a time when the teacher must rebuke, when the shepherd must goad his sheep…better now than too late it seems.

When I arrive, rapt in silent reverence to pray the holy liturgy, I notice some others do not share the same view. Some talk loudly on the steps, waiting till the last minute to come worship, others wander the transept as if having nothing else to do, and yet others arrive at holy Mass dressed more fitly for the taverns!

Holy as I strive to be, I am still a man and not immune to carnal distraction. I will without fail notice when a woman approaches with her shoulders and neck exposed. At times, I feel glad that I face away during the most-holy consecration, that I cannot see bands of pale flesh when my mind should be on hallowed things! Shame on you who consider not clothing your daughters in modesty! And shame too, on you young men who present yourselves with wrinkled cuffs, messed hair, smelling of cigar smoke! It is not my duty to lay your dress out for you but if it were, I would teach a lesson in appropriate reverence!

Elder ladies, I look upon you with dignity and respect. Your hair, greyed with wisdom, is a token for us all. But, some of you too have acted shamefully, gathering before the sanctuary after Mass to chatter and improvise daily plans. Have you no parlor or den to gather in? The sacred place isn’t for gathering but for adoration. You rich, you sneer at the poor who behave crudely then proceed to discuss hunting and cards in front of the altar rail! Go elsewhere with it all!

Oh you florists and craftsmen, I admire your works but please do not sell them here! You eloquent speakers and idealists are dear to my heart but find a more suitable place to reveal your dreams. You gentlemen, who wear long coats, feathered hats and medals, can you cross the threshold before donning this finery?

Thus it is written: “You shall worship God with reverence and godly fear for he is a consuming fire.” Even Moses, the greatest forefather, needed to remove his shoes when approaching hallowed ground.

When you gather, be ever mindful that this place is unearthly, be mindful of the lamp of God’s presence, keep prayerful; stay silent. Sing with the harp of your voices at the entering antiphon, speak solely pure words here and only embrace your neighbor at the sign of peace.

“We will go into his tabernacle: We will adore in the place where his feet stood.” (Psalm 132:7) Amen.

Attention Pastors, Youth Pastors, Music Directors, Deacons and Catechists:

 

I have oft heard the complaint from you that “The young people aren’t interested in Catholic faith, they don’t come to Mass and they don’t volunteer to sing, lector or help with ministries…it seems there is little hope these days!”

I’ve come to tell you, there is hope! The young people can be drawn to Catholic faith, Mass, choir and any church-related ministry. You can get them interested!

 

The Problem:

Frequently, young Catholics feel ignored, not that they aren’t being pampered or praised or given special attention, I mean they are trying to tell you exactly what they like, what they expect from the Church, what they are yearning for deep in their souls… but you simply aren’t listening.

I am in my twenties, part of the tail end of what they call “the John Paul II generation” I came into the Catholic Church just as John Paul II went out. My RCIA class was on fire for faith, for learning and for yearning. We did homework, read our catechism, got on the internet, immersed ourselves in it all! The parish that nurtured this crop of oncoming-converts was steeped in reverence and awe for tradition. Not just going through motions and singing empty songs. On Ash-Wednesday, we proudly explained the odd mark on our heads, we debated Protestants on the Bible, we learned basic prayers- in Latin AND English. Sunday night Mass ensued in candlelit splendor, amidst clouds of incense and to the tune of Laudate Dominum. You could never look at these young people and say “They just don’t care”.

After RCIA and graduation, I returned home and attended what you’d call your average parish church. I descended from a world of splendor to bare walls, hurried Masses and barebones hymns. Still fervent in the sacraments, the Eucharist and the Early Church Fathers, I lived on. Come 2012, I attend a parish in central Florida. Art covered the walls, thank God, but it was rather bare art. Mass was still hurried and hymns still barebones. Something however was very familiar: no Latin during Ordinary time, nor during Advent, nor during Lent, no incense, no Laudate Dominum.

I spoke up once during choir practice (I’d since then joined the choir because I enjoyed singing and praising the Lord). I said “You know, I’d really like some Latin hymns…Maybe we can have some silence after Mass during Lent- you know for reverence…”

I suggested to our priest once: “I think a Eucharistic procession around Christmas to celebrate the incarnation would be cool…” Deaf ears in reply. I was told by the music director: “We don’t do Latin anymore…Silence bores the congregation…” The priest said a procession would be “too inconvenient”. What I gave was the opinion of a young Catholic- a real, live young Catholic. They didn’t want it.

The problem is all these people keep telling us young folk what bores us, what we really like, what we find interesting. And guess what, THEY’RE WRONG! If one listens to the young Catholic voice, one would find we are yearning for beauty, for tradition and for truth. Traditional Catholicism honestly fascinates us! We go all week hearing perky pop-songs, jumping techno and chatter that doesn’t leave a minute of silence. We go to church and we get exposed to the same exact things. Thus, of course we find it boring! Why should we go to Mass when we can stay home and sing “Gather us in”, listen to a preacher on tv and fill our rooms with noise? Young people are sick of the world. We long for a safe habitat where we can bow before God and think. We crave contact with ancientness, with a strong grounding, with strong Catholic identity. God’s people are chosen out of the world, set apart, destined for a heavenly home. We want a taste of that!!

 

What young Catholics want:

First, we wouldn’t mind if you listened… Stop telling us what we think and what we like.  Look at traditional Catholic parishes, they are overflowing with young people and traditional seminaries are crowded with young aspirants. The next generation wants precisely what your generation has put away and tried to hide from us. There’s a proverb: “The son longs to remember what the father longs to forget!” We long to revisit the Latin oldies, incense, kneeling and chapel veils. We hate guitar Masses. We hate sappy hymns, watered-down teachings and Masses that must be kept minimal. We want the red meat that is the 2,000 year old Catholic faith and not only that, we want to sink out teeth into it!

When young people see that Mass is not like the rest of the week, that it’s not like the world, that it requires us to think and act differently- as if we’re present when heaven touches earth, we will be interested. We will wander in with curiosity, saying “what glorious thing is this?” and we will stay there.

And this is not a dilemma that has gone unnoticed either.  An article on Catholicculture.org states: “The Roman rite was always different from all of the eastern rites, of course, but the sense of the transcendence of God, which once marked our liturgy strongly, seems rarely to find expression in our worship today. And we trashed, just trashed, a glorious tradition of liturgical music which the council fathers at Vatican II explicitly commanded be fostered. ” I can tell you that many of our young people agree with this! Our generation is immensely attracted to the statements of Pope Benedict XVI that ask for a return to tradition in liturgy.  I hear countless, young Catholic college students and bloggers begging: “Please, give this back to us.”

People can pretend that worship is a strictly spiritual matter, pretend that it does not involve shallow, physical things but the Mass is precisely opposite. It is very physical just like the union of two lovers is very physical. No sane person declares love is just a spiritual thing, that saying “My dear” doesn’t matter, that singing a serenade or reciting a sonnet doesn’t matter or that a candlelit banquet makes no difference. Our worship became VERY physical the moment Christ assumed human flesh. Catholics are people of the incarnation. We don’t go to Mass to philosophize and have Bible study- no, we go to Mass to taste and see the goodness of the Lord! Mass isn’t about social gathering- no, it’s about each soul receiving perfect union with God! Shouldn’t our pastors and music directors be showing us that? Shouldn’t our priests be saying with their actions and words and prayers: “Hey, this isn’t part of the world that bombards you with noise and ugliness, that constantly seeks to entertain you, this is heaven!”

Jesus Christ came to give the hungry world that which they were so long deprived of. He came to give meaning, to give mystery, to give us the awesome presence and tender love which is God. Jesus didn’t say “Let’s get the young people interested.” He said “Feed my Lambs.” So, I sincerely ask our pastors, youth pastors, deacons and music directors to give young Catholics a taste of heaven, give us mystery, give us that presence and awesome love of God. Hit us with a meaty Catholicism that makes us stop and think, that makes us truly perceive the miraculous thing that is happening at every Eucharist, and causes us to bow down and say “Truly this is the Son of God” “Truly this is the New Covenant” “Truly this is the Promised Land- our heavenly home”!

 

“O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusts in him.”

-Psalm 34:8