Saturday, October 01, 2005

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Drove down to Haverstraw, NY, where, M performed at the Rockland County Storytelling Festival. Last year the festival was in a library, this year in the middle school. I still wasn’t feeling well, so instead of blowing my nose in the auditorium during the performances, I sat in the school library and read the rest of Thomas Day’s Where Have You Gone, Michelangelo? Here are more excerpts:

The bigger their ego, the more they hate the Latin Mass (p. 82).

If you are going to devote time and energy to the cause of “good taste” in the Catholic church (for sacred art or music or anything else), be prepared for grief
(p. 102).

Centuries ago, the Catholic church realized that [most Roman Catholics don’t think like theologians]. The faithful see a beautiful procession or the position of the altar or the letters IHS and they make up their own explanations. They deal in emotional and aesthetic intuitions, not theologically correct formulas. God understands. Some of the liturgical theoreticians do not (p. 139).

Think of a place in our society where our participation can be vividly full, conscious, and active: a dentist’s chair—with the drill going and no pain-killer. Think of a church building designed so that the worshiper will never be distracted by a moment of meditation, private thought, or the “aesthetic experience.” Think of the postconciliar liturgy that uses a steady drilling of words spoken or sung into a microphone in order to silence any deep thought or emotion. This may be somebody’s idea of correct participatory “understanding,” but it is also workship as dentist’s chair (ibid.).

. . . it is not the revised rites but their implementation that is so often a mess; the liturgical life of the Catholic parish too frequently, but not always, can indeed be a depressing experience for anybody who has more than three grams of sensitivity in him or her and has seen better (p. 144).

So many of the church’s avid promoters of inculturation and multiculturalism are really tourists who want “other” Catholics to remain picturesque and contented peasants. When they get their hands on an “inculturated liturgy,” the result is sometimes a tourist’s or Hollywood producer’s idea of “local color,” but far removed form the type of music that the local population actually respects. Catholicsm’s inculturating multiculturalists come across as such lofty-minded heroes of equality, such democratic chums, but look closely at what they are saying. Behind the facade, you will find the worst form of aristocratic condescension—that patronizing attitude which sees the “others,” as limited little children who shall content themselves with the weaving of baskets, the wearing of gaudy costumes on feast days, and the singing of their own inculturated music in church, because the poor dear things are capable of so little. Multicultural inculturation is frequently a form of racism, with a smile (p. 186).

The bishops have virtually “deregulated” liturgical music, something intimately associated with everything they are trying to teach; they have allowed it to be controlled almost totally by commercial interests. Parishes and chapels are trying to express their prayer and their religious convictions in musical sounds, they seek guidance—and who provides most of it? The publishers, who are in a feeding frenzy for customers. The bishops, powerless, watch from the sidelines. Maybe this has frequently been the case throughout history. It would be so useful if one brave bishop could say out loud, “Let the buyer beware” (p. 198).

Certain Catholic individuals (in positions of power) are determined to prove that they have arrived at the moment of true spiritual perfection; they have nothing to learn from the past, from a church that had worshiped in a way that was wrong, from top to bottom (p. 210).

I love the old Bible songs and I never pass up an opportunity to sing them, but I also know that they can create confusion at a Catholic Mass. Their topic is “me” and what God does for “me.” (“I” or “me” occurs in almost every line of “In the Garden.”) At Catholic liturgy, “we” come together to be part of a tremendous event, the music is part of our job (pp. 211–212).

. . . I happened to attend Mass in a wealthy suburban Catholic parish outside Philadelphia and, instead of praying, I kept thinking: What are they trying to prove? What does it all mean?

For at least one quarter of this liturgy the congregation sang, with support from a choir of about twenty-five and a fine pipe organ. But during every single moment of singing, what you really heard was the voice of a soprano soloist (behind a microphone) floating on top of everything. The congregation, choir, and organ were her accompaniment.

For perhaps another five percent of the liturgy we heard the voice of readers (also behind a microphone). For the rest of the Mass (maybe as much as forty minutes) what we heard, heavily amplified, was the booming voice of the priest: during his prayers and the homily, of course, but also during assembly prayers, such as the Creed and Our Father. I should add that his homily was excellent and he seemed like a perfectly fine fello, but the cumulative effect of hearing one amplified voide after another—his, the lead singer’s, the reader’s—was deadening.

And then everything made sense. I saw what it all meant: . . . the constant emphasis on one amplified voice at a time. Everything made sense (p. 214).

The story of how Roman Catholicsm in the United States grew as an institution is a complicated one, but a large part of it can be simplified in one phrase: the concentration of ecclesiastical power in the hands of bishops. . . . In the new Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983 . . . there are provisions for committees, consultors, and even a senate of priests in each diocese, but their role is strictly advisory; moreover, these advisors will be men who are dependent on the bishop for their next assignment and perhaps their next meal. To put it simply, the Canon Law of 1983 makes the American system the model for the entire church. . . . Although the American System of governing the Catholic church may be a model of corporate efficiency, it is a catastrophe as a role model. With the bishop seting the example, each Catholic priest and each member of the laity now acts like a corporation of one, a religious enterprise owned by one person, who is a genius. The past0r, parish musician, liturgist, parishioner—they are all CEOs, independent bosses, freed at last from outmoded medieval traditions that restrict one’s direct authority. Indeed the influence of the American System is so pervasive in the Catholic church today that it could be called the new “Catholic style,” which replaces the militant, defensive “style” of the recent past. . . . When we pick up the newspaper and come across yet another report on the latest Catholic sex scandal (pedophile priests, bishops having affairs), we are actually reading about the American System badly out of control. Again and again, in every one of these sordid stories, we find the same pattern: A culprit, who (1) never had to worry about anybody evaluating his ministry, (2) was allowed to work with absolutely no effective supervision (pp. 215–217).

Everything is structured so that the “spiritual experience” has to come from one person at the top: the priest. What the worshipers will “see,” normally, is not the banners or the simplified postconciliar architecture or their [own] important role, but one man talking at them for the better part of an hour. In many cases he is not “part of the scenery”—just one more “item” (albeit the most important one) in a complicated collection of human symbols of worship. He is not even a sign of Christ’s presence. No, the priest, as a corporation of one and as an individual person, becomes the principal “item” to which all the arts point—the human figure in the center of an elaborate cameo setting . . . unless, of course, there are some postconciliar musicians nearby (p. 218).

What does it mean [after a report of Protestant liturgical lunacy]? First of all it means that Roman Cathoics are not the only ones capable of liturgical nuttiness. Secondly, it means prepare for the worst. We must surely be living in a dangerous era when any religion begins to treat human beings as if they were little kitsch toys—without yearnings, without imperfections, without imagination, without the gift of a soul, without art. We would expect dictators, radical political theorists, and others who have a low opinion of people to indulge in amusing games with symbols, as a sign of their contempt for the idiots called human beings, but in religion this sort of thing is bad news. It means the end of that idea of a special, creating human “soul,” and the beginning of an age when people in churches will be manipulated as if they were stupid machines—easily turned on or off (with a gimmick) by smart machines. It means head for the hills (p. 226).



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