Friday, August 25, 2006

More on church music

I read the significant portions of the Directory for Masses with Children, and I thought I would add some remarks on it.

Lately, I have begun to develop a strong conviction that one of the greatest reasons college-aged adults--especially men--leave the faith is because they feel they have outgrown it. This is partially because secular culture has purged religiousity from its adult life. But it is also because the Catholic churches have purged adulthood from from their religious life. The last forty years of Catholic worship have completely turned worship into a project of "meeting people where they're at"--and people have become culturally less and less receptive to classical beauty and artistic representations of transcendent truth, especially in music. Strong relativistic ideologies in pop media emit a weaker relativist sense in Catholics that interprets human beings as closed systems, resistant to or incapable of growth (since "growth" implies that one transition to a state which is better than before--taboo for the relativist). Thus the exposure of a person to an artform that he or she has not yet been trained to appreciate is considered, at best, a mere invitation to boredom; at worst, a cruel imposition.

This concept of the human person as a closed system, combined with a desire for instant results, is what creates organizations like Life Teen and the more superficial corners of the Charistmatic Renewal, which have obvious numerical successes in attracting people to the Mass. But they also have the effect of turning their 'clients' into eternal cultural children for whom objectively more sophisticated, beautiful, and ancient artforms remain opaque. People get locked into an excessively narrow, 21st century popular notion of music, which calls frivolous songs "reverent" and self-centered anthems "holy" either because they have heard nothing else, or because their soft-relativism will not allow them to believe that the more beautiful music has any objective advantages to worship..

Meanwhile, the secular culture has an adult sophistication which far surpasses anything the Catholic parish-culture can hope to achieve. The energy generated by market forces produces extremely clever and intricate artforms, proclaiming the values of secularism more eloquently than OCP could ever hope to match. It is not classical--taste for classical has died everywhere--but it is overwhelmingly attractive, and driven by hotter-burning energies with more adult expressions than our prosaic church songs. College-aged women and (especially) men who are immersed in the stuff will inevitably--as I understand it--feel patronized and insulted by the kiddie, simplistic diddies found in Glory and Praise and Gather. The glazed-eye'd optimism of those songs directly contradicts the gritty "real world" of young adults, composed of equal parts their real tragic experiences and the popular interpretations inculcated by the media.

Ironically, the overemphasis in the last 40 years on "meeting people where they're at" has created an incredible misjudgement of where people are at. The church-wide forgetfulness of the fact that "taste" is a long-developed skill and not a mere mysterious opinion, has produced three generations of cultural retards (myself included) who are, however, starved for artistic expressions that are authentic and mature--both qualities which most modern church music lacks.

Secularist-minded young adults walk into a college Newman Center and see people holding hands and swaying back and forth to a schmaltzy rendition of the Our Father, and they would rather keep their keen instincts for the "hard truth" of the world than lose them in some kind of sunshine-happy cult. They don't need organized religion to know that kindness and friendship are important values--and church no longer has anything else to offer (certainly not mystery and transcendence)! Who can blame a guy for preferring a combination of KFMA (a 'new rock' station in Tucson) and clubbing, which more closely satiate his need for real, spontaneous friendship, and a gritty realistic worldview, than church?

But it was "church" which created that guy in the first place: "church" that refused--in view of children's (and adults'!) diminished "spiritual capacity"--to use anything but the most anemic, unchallenging, and unspiritual music and art. And still refuses.

1 comment:

Jacob said...


A well articulated and satisfying read; its good to 'see' you again. It is nice to have thoughts very similar to my own put into words so well. The lack of adult worship (so to speak) is something that even the most well intentioned parishes risk falling into in favor of the idea of 'meeting people where they're at' and then underestimating where people are (also well intentioned).

Assuming that liturgy and music are restored to an authentic celebration of faith - faith that genuinely challenges even as it supports its believers - how do we reach the masses of former Catholics that are now convinced that the Church is nothing but a 'sunshine-happy cult'? Especially when this conviction is not only suggested by the world, but apparently confirmed by their experiences?

Obviously the much of the answer lies in simple evangelization and education, but I'd be interested in your thoughts and reflections on the question (an exercise from the other end of the issue, since you've done well to point out the issue rather clearly).

- Jacob Maurer

P.S. I returned to the seminary this Wednesday and met one of your diocesan brothers. I'm sorry that we're not going to be able to hang out at the seminary for a couple of years (first your one-year internship while I'm here, then my one-year internship while you're here), but come out and visit sometime - therwise we're coming to you! Already missing the JZ.