Ecumenism: Why I attend Protestant praise and Worship concerts

blue and pink lights shine as people perform on stage. The word Jesus is in the background. The crowd has hands lifted up

# Introduction

What Is Ecumenism

Ecumenism promotes the idea that Jesus calls all Christian denominations to unity. Jesus speaks of this in John 17:20-21

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Vatican II stressed that a valid baptism makes our Protestants one in the Catholic faith. The question remains, what does that look like practically speaking? I have encountered fruitful ecumenical relationships by attending praise and worship events.

Bridge Live Worship Night

I was on the outreach team for New Creation Charismatic fraternity. We had decided to host a praise and worship concert. After reaching out numerous bands, we booked Bridge Live. Ryan Knight is the lead singer and worship pastor. I heard about the night of worship because Ryan and I had become Facebook friends. I decided to attend to support him since his band had supported us.
Unlike most Catholics, I have no problem attending protestant nights of worship. As a convert, I have experience with raising hands, dancing, praying over people, and speaking in tongues. None of those activities freak me out or make me uncomfortable. Thus it is easier for me to blend in and go with the flow

Radical Encounter or Emotionalism

A lot of potential ecumenicalism gets lost due to skepticism. Catholics are skeptical about the advert emotionalism on display at these events. St. Teresa of Avila once said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” God gave us emotions and joy is one of the fruits of the spirit. Thus I would rather believe the joy I receive from these events is authentic. I receive the same joy from adoration of the blessed sacrament.

When I attended the night of worship on July 22nd, I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. The pastor had prayed from an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to fall upon us. He prayed that we would bring renewal to our churches. Afterward, the band just played instrumental music while others continued to invite the Holy Spirit into their lives. Most Catholics never have such an encounter. A consequence of making confirmation into an educational program rather than a relationship. Most Catholic apologetics dismiss these encounters as illegitimate. We are better off helping fit such encounters into sacramental theology. Thus, I appreciate and support the efforts of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Being Unapologetically Catholic

I have learned that I must maintain my Catholic identity in order to not lose myself too deeply. When asked, I always insist that I am Catholic. This leads to some surprised looks. When the associate pastor introduced me to his wife and kids, he said, “this is Sarah and she’s Catholic.” The wife was instantly curious. She asked a lot of questions. She was curious about the Mass. She wanted to know how I could enjoy both when the Mass is so different. I explained that I was a convert so that I was used to this worship style. Rather I had to get used to the Mass, but there were other avenues in the Church for Charismatic expression. She asked me why I had converted. I shared my love for The Eucharist and how I believed it was the real body and blood of Christ.

Conclusion

Dialogue like the one above I believe is important for bridging the gap. I believe they respected me more because I participated in praising and worshiping Jesus. I prayed for them and with them and they also prayed for me. In the midst of supporting one another, we were able to discuss key differences. I’m aware that it does not always work out this way. I had a friend, who had attended a Protestant service. While there, a member had accused her of not being Christian or reading the Bible. Ignorance does exist. If they never see us or interact with us will it ever be corrected? We need more ecumenical worship events.

Conflict between heart and head

This is probably the hardest post to write; perhaps because it is the most honest. Let me start by saying what I  believe:

  1. I believe that the Catholic church is the only church that has its foundation in Jesus Christ. I believe Matthew 16:18 is literal, which means that I believe that Christ founded the church upon Peter and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
  2. I believe that Christ fulfilled his teaching in John 6:55 during the last supper when he said take and eat this is my body and take and drink this is my blood. Thus I believe that the bread during the last supper was transformed into Jesus’ body and the wine was transformed into his blood. The apostles were instructed by Jesus to continue this miracle in remembrance. The priest at Mass are fulfilling this duty during the consecration, by becoming Christ in persona and thus the bread becomes Christ’s body as an unbloody sacrifice for us and represents Christ’s Sacrifice on the cross.
  3. I believe that Jesus gave the church the ability to bind and loose and thus when it comes to faith and morals the church is infallible.
  4. I believe that the liturgy developed as public service of the church to serve the faithful in partaking in the Eucharistic mystery.

Having gotten that out of the way, I will admit that I do have a hard time accepting liturgical traditions.
Here is what I know regarding the liturgy:

  1. In the 1st and 2nd centuries there was a uniform nucleus that formed around the eucharistic meal
    1. there also were two additional elements not present in modern liturgy
      1. love feast
      2. spiritual exercises
  2. In the 4th century, the liturgy began to be more formalized
    1. there were four parent rites that began to develop along cultural lines
      1. Antioch
      2. Roman
      3. Alexandria
      4. Gaul
    2. The Gallican rite would disappear during the 7th and 8th centuries
  3. From these four parent rites, the modern liturgy was born.

This very brief history lesson shows that 1. the liturgy will having a biblical basis, is not a biblical norm, but was derived to facilitate the Eucharistic celebration; 2. the liturgy celebrated by the early church is not the same one we have now, and 3. cultural norms influenced the liturgical rites. Hence we can conclude that the liturgy should facilitate the celebration of Eucharistic meal.
Because the liturgy serves to facilitate the eucharist meal, the church has enacted guidelines for how the Roman rite is to be celebrated. My dilemma has to do with how these guidelines are to be interpreted especially when it comes to sacred music.
Continue reading

Solutions to the Catholic music problem

In my blog thus far, I’ve attempted to show that there is a Catholic music scene; however, the artists in the scene are relatively unknown due to the Catholic church’s liturgical structure, Western European cultural influence, and tradition. Now I will be outlining ways the Catholic Church can support these artist.
1. An argument for contemporary music a Mass
Obviously the best way for Catholic artists to gain exposure is by showcasing their music at Mass. This is the most effective way because a good majority of Catholics only come to Mass and thus Mass is their only exposure to Christian music. The use of contemporary music at Mass is very controversial.
If you recall in my last post, I linked to an article by Peter A. Kwasniewski. He argues against contemporary music at Mass. His main thesis is that using music with secular origins conforms the mind to the world instead of to the divine mysteries and does not foster a contemplative atmosphere. Furthermore, he argues that the instrumentality of the music is what lingers in the soul, not the lyrics. He states,  “A piece of music carries with it and conveys not only what its maker may be thinking and feeling, but in a deeper way, the thoughts and feelings of the context and culture out of which the musical style or its elements emerged.” (1). He proclaims that, “our calling as Christians is to bring holiness from the altar into the world, and, as much as we can, to transform the world, renew it, sanctify it by the power of the sacred mysteries. Christians have never seen it as their job to bring elements of the fallen world from the outside into the temple, remaking liturgy, preaching, and art forms into reflections of that world.”(1) I’d like to respond to this argument.
First, I would like to ask, isn’t all music inherently secular? Music, in my opinion, has always found its origin in human society and culture. Perhaps the only exception would be Plainsong or Chant since this style directly relates to the Hebrew chanting of the Psalms. As time went on, this chants would become more elaborate. In fact, Gregorian chant is derived from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican chants.(2) It would go on to replace the local chant tradition of Rome. According to David Wilson, Gregorian chant was promoted, not by the church, but by Charlemagne, who ordered it performed by the priests upon pain of death.(3) This brief history summary serves to  showcase that even music written for the church and by the church had cultural influences. If culture can influence the early church’s music choices, then it can continue to influence the music of the church today.
Furthermore, Kwasniewski doesn’t just support plainsong, but also Renaissance polyphony. He states, “Traditional Church music is derived from sacred precedents: Christian plainchant from Hebrew chanting of the psalms, Renaissance polyphony from plainchant (when singing a motet by Palestrina you can feel the Gregorian influence upon every line), Baroque styles from Renaissance ones;”(1) This is hypocritical when one considers the origins of Renaissance polyphony. According to Msgr. Charles Pope, Renaissance polyphony emerged as harmony was introduced into Church music. (4)  He describes that harmony entered into church music as a culture shift occurred due to the reintroduction of Greek Philosophy, “Several factors influenced the introduction of harmony. First, there was the reintroduction of Greek philosophy and some of its views back into the Western world through scholasticism.” (4). Likewise Msgr. Pope points out that,
” the music was not without controversy. There were two main problems with this new style called polyphony. The first problem was the intelligibility of the text. With multiple harmonies being sung, the Latin text, often staggered across many parts and voices, became harder and harder to understand. Clergy in particular complained of this, arguing that the sacred text was taking a backseat to musical flourishes. In addition, the “theatrical showiness” seemed secular to many. The second troubling issue was that many of the composers of the day drew from secular melodies that were often heard in taverns, in theaters, and on the streets. They would often take these recognizable melodies and set them as a cantus firmus (musical theme or foundation) of sacred compositions, including the parts of the Mass.” (4).
Hence it seems hypocritical of Kwasniewski to promote polyphony when he accuses contemporary music of have the same problems that originated with Polyphony. I believe he can be criticized for having a slanted view of the history of sacred music. I also believe he misunderstands the nature of contemporary worship music. Kwasniewski seems to think that contemporary worship music involves slapping Christian lyrics onto secular music. The reality is that Contemporary worship music and gospel music arose as spiritual hymns for the 21st century church. It arose to sanctify the secular, to take what was secular and make it holy. Contemporary worship music especially gospel music was not an attempt to secularize the sacred like Kwasniewski believes. However, since contemporary worship music at mass remains controversial, I have a few  guidelines.
`1. Whenever possible use Catholic sources and Catholic artists
This avoids two criticisms. First, it avoids the criticism that this music is not sacred because it did not originate in the church. Second, it avoids the criticism that funding contemporary music funds protestant artists, which in turn promotes heresy. The vigil project is a good example. It is a group of Catholic artists, who currently have written 7 songs for the Lent liturgical year and they are working on Advent as well.
2. Save the upbeat song for the recessional.
This allows the church to be mindful of the sacredness of the mass and allows room for contemplation.
3. Absolutely no secular music
If it is not written by a Christian or Catholic artist and is not in a hymn book, don’t use it.
4. Avoid theatrics, Mass is about contemplation, not entertainment.
5. Coordinate the music to the Gospel message
This makes the use of Contemporary worship music less like a gimmick and more like it is relevant
There are less controversial ways to allow artists to promote their music.
2. Adoration with live music
Here in the Virginia Beach area, we have a ministry called Catholic Underground in which there is adoration accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a singer. Afterwards there is a free concert featuring a Catholic artist. Unfortunately, this only happens twice a year.
3. More Diocese should host and sponsor Catholic music festivals.
So far the only dioceses that I know that sponsors an annual concert are the Toledo Diocese and Diocese of Cleveland. They sponsor Exclaim and the Fest respectively. One criticism I have of these festivals especially the Fest is that they fail to invite Catholic artists. If you are going to have a Catholic festival make sure you have at least two Catholic artists; otherwise, you become indistinguishable from other protestant sponsored festivals and promote the belief that there are no good Catholic artists.
4. More Catholic conferences like Steubenville and market the conferences as open to all ages.
Maybe I’m bitter since I wasn’t Catholic in middle school and high school, but why is every single conference geared towards youth or college individuals? There is very little for older Young Adults or even adults. Likewise this is a great way to get Catholic Artists on board. In fact The Josh Blakesley band recently gained popularity from touring with Steubenville youth conferences.
5. Parishes should allow more room for Charismatic prayer groups.
Worship in the Holy Spirit by its very nature is improvisational and therefore offers a great way to incorporate Catholic contemporary worship.  I would also like to see more Charismatic Masses offered by individual parishes.
The main point is that Catholics deserve to have opportunities to express themselves through contemporary praise and worship. If not at Mass, then the Church should find other avenues to offer these opportunities. While silent contemplation should reign supreme, people also crave worship music that is relevant and allows them worship with their whole body and allows improvisational prayer expression. A balance of both modes of expression is what is needed in today’s church.

Catholic music scene part 2

So when I last wrote, I attempted to refute the claim that that there is no contemporary Catholic music scene. However, I would agree that Catholic artists have more of an uphill battle than protestant contemporary artists for very specific reasons related to Catholic worship liturgical structure and culture, plus tradition.
1. Mass
So the first thing we have to understand is the difference between Mass and other Christian services. The Catechism of the Catholic church defines Mass as, “at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood.” Hence when we speak of Mass, there is the notion of sacrifice that simply isn’t present in other Christian services. Because of the sacrificial nature of Mass, there is a great desire among Catholics to keep the Mass holy, pure, and undefiled by worldly conveniences.This desire has led the Church to define certain aspects as appropriate and not appropriate to be used at Mass. These guidelines insure unity in the liturgy and help to mitigate abuses. Protestant evangelical services have no such restraint placed on them and freely utilize worldly conveniences in order to be relevant, modern, and attractive.  This relates to music in so far as the Catholic church has attempted to define the music that is appropriate for Mass as Sacred Music, but as this blog post points out that definition has changed through out the history of the Church and what was once thought not sacred has now become sacred. It remains to be seen whether the use of contemporary instruments will remain controversial or whether the ideal of sacred will yet again evolve. The point I wish to make is that contemporary musicians find greater acceptance in protestant circles when they do not have to adhere to the notion of sacred and thus have a wider performance space. I am not advocating that this is ideal in that I feel that the notion of sacredness is important to the Catholic church identity and need not be sacrificed. I do; however, often question the premise that using a guitar impedes on sacredness. For an argument that it does see this post.
2. Class room of silence verses body movement
As a revert from nondenominationism and Pentecostalism, this was a distinction that I pick up on right away and it took a while to adjust.   In the Pentecostal tradition, worship is a sensory experience in which the whole body is involved in worship. Hence during a pentecostal service, you will see people dancing, jumping up and down, falling on the floor, hands lifted high, shouting, crying, and kneeling. I don’t think there is a name for this style of worship, but I call it body movement. I define body movement as the belief that one can hear from God when one has relinquished control of one’s body and is free to express oneself in worshiping of God.
The Catholic Church has subscribed to the belief that, instead of worship being a sensory experience, it should be a contemplative one. However, there still are sensory elements in the Catholic church such as incense, but these elements are designed to foster contemplation. Mathew Kelly coined the term, “classroom of silence” to describe the idea that through silence we can hear the voice of God. I believe that this emphasis on silence is largely a western European cultural phenomenon and a traditional consequence. Before Vatican II, the laity were not encouraged to be active participants in the liturgy. Instead, they were encouraged to pray contemplatively about the mystery that was unfolding before them and to contemplate on the scripture reading. Hence, before Vatican II silence was the ideal. The laity were spectators. Vatican II sought, among other things, to give the laity a more active role in the Mass. Hence, the Mass was now offered in the vernacular instead of the traditional Latin; the priest faced the people; and the laity were allowed to serve as Eucharistic ministers. However, despite these changes, the idea that the laity are spectators still lingers. This is why, despite the changes, most Catholics still remain relatively disengaged at Mass.
I also believe that silence as an ideal may be somewhat cultural. I base this conclusion on my limited experience in African American Catholic churches. These churches tend to be much more lively. The laity tend to actively participate in the singing and evidence of body movement can be seen. Often times a select few will raise their hands and sway. However, when it is time to be silent, they are respectful and reverent. I’ve heard similar things about Latin American Catholic churches. Interestedly enough, the Boisi center published a paper stating that a preference for improvisational worship may be due to the incorporation of American values such as innovation, individualism, and volunteerism. (Cite: http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/boisi/pdf/bc_papers/BCP-Practice.pdf).
Most contemporary worship styles cater to the body worship movement as opposed to contemplative since contemporary worship relies on improvisation. Hence, In a strict liturgical style, it can be hard to incorporate contemporary music especially upbeat style songs. Vatican II has left some room for incorporating improvisational worship. For example, a Catholic Church may  cater to a particular culture by incorporating that culture’s music and self-expression into the liturgy. The debate remains how much incorporation should take place before it tarnishes the sacredness of liturgical worship especially the Mass.
I do not know the answer to the question of how much incorporation is too much; however, I do feel that there is room for compromise and utilizing new ways to offer contemporary worship to balance out the overemphasis of silence. It is these solutions that I’d like to talk about in my next post.

Catholic music scene?

In my first blog post, I mentioned how I love Contemporary Christian music or CCM. I do tend to appreciate more the edgier side of CCM mainly that of rock and metal. As a new Catholic, I often found myself wishing and longing for music that reflected my theological beliefs a little more closely. However, as a new Catholic, I simply assumed that such a thing did not exist after all I didn’t hear contemporary music at Mass and if I did hear it at all it was always at adoration and always Protestant songs. The only exception was Matt Maher. If you’ve been in the Catholic Church awhile, I can guarantee that you either love Matt Maher or are sick of hearing his music everywhere lol. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter camp. So when I was suddenly thrust with the responsibility to pick the music for Adoration ministry, I found myself frustrated with the lack of options. On one hand, I found it a little disingenuous to use Protestant songs during adoration, yet on the other hand, those were the most requested other than, you guessed it, Matt Maher. Hence, I was on what seemed like an impossible quest to discover contemporary Catholic Artists. I wish I could take credit for all the wonderful artists I have discovered; most of the credit goes to the Catholicplaylistshow.com. The question is what does the Catholic music scene look like if there is one; why is it so hidden: and what can the Church do about it?
I believe that, in contrast to this article, there is a Catholic music scene. This scene comes in a variety of different sounds.
1. Folk mass artists
You have artists, who are clearly classically trained or at the very least have served as the cantor of his/her church. These people have beautiful voices and usually do traditionally sounding songs in a modern way. One such example is Tom Booth. Most of these types of artists I found, not on Catholicplaylistshow.com, but on http://www.spiritandsong.com. Most of these artists became popular during a time when there was a large demand for Folk masses usually around the 70’s and 80’s. Thus the music associated with Spirit and Song has a dated feel. There are a few exceptions such as Matt Maher, Jackie Francois, Ike Ndolo, and Josh Blakesley.
2. Proudly Catholic
In this category, you have artists that are Catholic and definitely want that to come across in their lyrics. A particularly bad example of this is the band The Thirsting  (see below)
Anyone else getting a POD vibe up in here? As a Christian rock lover, I want to like The Thirsting, but it’s hard to listen to music when the lyrics just make you laugh. I have to give them credit for incorporating the term Sacrament into a song that couldn’t have been easy. Better examples exist including Father Kevin Mcgoldrick’s Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue, which is a devotion song to Mary. Christian rock bands had to come to the realization that overemphasizing Christ can come across as silly sometimes; anyone remembers Skillet’s Forgive or Comatose? Likewise, bands like the Thirsting must also come to realize that overemphasizing Catholic theology can also be silly. I believe The Thirsting learned their lesson as their second album is better. Case in point The Road by The Thirsting(see below )
It is my hope that the Thirsting will find a balance between promoting Catholic ideas and their hard rock song so that they can move into the 3rd and my favorite category.
3. Alternative rock music
These are artists that have managed to find the balance between authentic lyrics, rock music, and message. It is not obvious on first listen that these artists are Catholic; however, a brief look at their bio page will reveal that they are indeed Catholic. You don’t normally associate Alternative music with the Catholic church, but there is a surprisingly large number of artists. In fact, there used to be an annual concert series called Rocking Romans, sadly it appears that the last one was in 2012. Some of the cool artists featured were Milo and Pointe Blank. Recently there has been a renewal of this style of music in artists such as Cody Roth and Donny Todd.
4. Worship music 
This probably makes up the majority of the Catholic music scene. Most recently the Vigil Project set out to pair solo artist together to create 7 songs for the church that spanned significant events between Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. It culminated in a Pentecost vigil. There are other worship bands too such as the Josh Blakesley band, Out of Darkness, and NOVUM. These worship bands are trying to be like the Catholic Hillsong or Jesus Culture. They mainly play at Catholic conferences and praise and worship events. Finally, you have the worship solo artist such as Dee Simone, Sarah Heart, Tori Harris, and John Finch.
5. Worship pop artist
These artists try to blend catchy pop tunes with worship lyrics. Think of Audrey Assad’s first 3 albums and you have the idea. These kind of songs are sometimes vague about their subject matter in that the songs are more like love songs. Examples include Alverlis, Andrea Thomas, Jamie Thietten, Connor Flanagan, Aly Aleigha and Landers.
So this concludes my brief survey of Catholic Artists and there are so many more artists! If interested in learning more, you should subscribe to the Catholic playlist podcast. In my next post, I’ll tackle why these artists are so hidden and what the Church could do about it.