Why Mass under 40 Min?

Why Mass under 40 Min, Pope Francis’ unusual request

Introduction

I attend the 9am Sunday mass on 9/16/18. I got out at 10:05am. I guess I should alert my bishop. My parish is refusing to adhere to Pope Francis’ guidelines about the Mass. Cindy Wood, Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau Chief, tweeted out the following:

#PopeFrancis in Sicily garners big applause when he says a homily shouldn’t last more than 8 minutes. “A 40-minute homily? NO. The whole Mass should last about 40 minutes!

When I saw this, my blood began to boil. This tweet gave me the inspiration to address the elephant in the room. Why is there a pervasive apathy in Catholic culture to the Mass?

This apathy stems from two intertwined issues. First, the Mass as an obligation and second a lack of understanding about the point behind Mass.

Mass as Obligation

I must admit there are days, where I do not want to attend Sunday Mass. I find it especially hard when I have not slept well or I do not feel well. Yet I choose to still attend, why? Sometimes I feel guilty. However, the guilt is not because I would be neglecting an obligation imposed on me by the church. Rather my guilt is the same response I would have if I neglected a friend. Mass is one of the only times Jesus gets to feed me through his word and body. Just like you wouldn’t want to rush time spent with a friend, why do you want to rush spending time with Jesus.

Yet so many Catholics attend Mass out of obligation. They attend because it is something they’ve always done or because they are afraid of sinning. Now fear of hell is not necessarily a bad reason. After all, fear of hell is an important motivator for imperfect contrition. Yet we should strive for perfect contrition or the idea that we can motivate ourselves out of pure love for God. We should strive to attend Mass out of pure love for God. If that is our motivation then we should be able to spend at least an hour with God.

Protestant Experience

As a convert, I attended Protestant worship services. The top criticisms I heard about those services from Catholics is that 1. They express interest in entertainment only and 2. The attitude of the people are fake. In response to the latter, I know from my own personal experience that I did not fake my attitude. I was genuinely happy to be there. I think a major difference was that I actively chose to be there. I didn’t need it. Most Protestant churches either live stream their services or record it. One does not need to attend to hear the message. If so, then why do so many people attend. I know for myself I attended for the community; I felt like the church wanted me.

Shortening the Mass to 40 minutes is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Catholics need to reclaim a desire for the liturgy and community. Shortening the Mass may make it more convenient, but it will not change hearts. Catholics need to feel like they’re wanted at church. They need to feel like Church is feeding them.

The dual purpose of Mass

The church divides Mass into two parts: The Liturgy of The Word, and The Liturgy of The Eucharist. During the Liturgy of the Word, The lector reads scripture and the priest gives the homily. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist one brings up the gifts. Then, the priest consecrates the host. Finally The extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist distribute the host to the faithful. The priest gives the homily from the ambo and consecrates from the altar. The ambo and the altar represent the two tables by which the church feeds faithful. Hence the point of mass is to feed on the word of God and the Eucharist

The Homily

The Homily assists in the overarching goal of Mass. According to the General Instructions on the Roman Missal,

“Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.”

Thus the homily offers a living commentary. This commentary includes a reflection on all the readings, not just the gospels. Priests have the responsibility to present us with this commentary regardless of time-constants. I would rather hear a well-researched well-articulated- passionate long homily, than a short 8-minute reflection. We, as Catholics, should not concern ourselves with the length of the homily. Rather, we should ask does it speak the truth, does it help me understand the scriptures, and does it convict.

Conclusion

The tweet reminded me of the story in Acts 20:9-10

“And a certain young man named Eutychus, seated by the window, was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell from the third story and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, threw himself on the young man, and embraced him. “Do not be alarmed!” he said. “He is still alive!”…”

I wonder if Pope Francis would criticize St. Paul. His homilies were so long that a parishioner fainted out a window and died. We need to have a hunger and desire for the word of God. We need to demand living commentary regardless of how long they take.

Liturgy: How to restore Balance:

Last week I attended a potluck with New Creation Charismatic Fraternity.  While at the potluck I struck up an interesting conversation with a fellow convert to the Catholic faith. He, being much older than I, shared with me some insightful commentary on the liturgy. He made the statement that as a high Episcopalian he feels he has downgraded in terms of liturgical quality. This statement comes as no surprise to me; however, it makes me sad. How is it that the Catholic Church known for its beautiful art and music produce such mediocre liturgies; the likes of which causes my friend to feel as if he has downgraded? 

Liturgy as a play

We can imagine the liturgy as like a play. If we went to a play with ugly props, and a bad score,  you would either leave or demand a refund. Yet so many people attend parishes that either have tacky decorations from the 70’s (felt banners anyone?) or no decorations at all. We attend parishes, where the music is bad and uninspired.  If the liturgy were a play, we should demand our money back. Luckily for parishes, the liturgy is not on equal footing with a play. One does not attend for entertainment value, but to receive the nourishment that comes from partaking in the Eucharist. However, even though entertainment is not our ultimate goal, reverence does demand a certain quality to the liturgy that I feel is lacking from today’s parishes. For that reason, I seek to address two questions: why should we care about the liturgy and what would my ideal liturgy look like?

What is the liturgy and why is it important?

Introduction

One of my blog readers wrote in the comments, “as long as Christ and unamended Scripture are at the center, I’m less concerned if the music comes from a little blue-haired lady at an organ or a bearded dude playing an electric guitar wearing skinny jeans.” This begs the question, aren’t certain aspects of the liturgy culturally subjective? Why should we care what the music sounds like or what the sanctuary looks like as long as the Mass is valid?

Licit verse valid: what is the difference.

I’ve gone over valid and licit in the past, but I will provide a brief recap. A valid Mass is one in which the priest says the words necessary for the bread and the wine to be consecrated. These words are: this is my body…this is my blood. A licit mass is one in which none of the rules outlined in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal are violated. These rules allow the liturgy to be uniformly celebrated. A uniformed liturgy separates Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism. Hence as Catholics, we have a right to demand a universal experience not depended on the whims of the congregation or the preferences of the priests. 

Liturgy and our Christian call

Not only is the liturgy defined by the church, but it also encompasses our call as Christians.

Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer. (The Catechism of the Catholic church, “prologue” section I paragraph 4 pg. 8)  

The Catechism cites Acts 2:42 as a reference. This scripture states that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to prayer.” The Catholic Church seeks to retain the practice of the early church through its liturgy. Every liturgy contains the reading of scripture, including a reading from the apostles typically Paul. Every liturgy includes prayer; those said by the priest and those recited by the faithful. Every liturgy contains the breaking of the bread through the shared eucharistic meal.

Christian Liturgy has dual dimensions 

The Catechism describes the tension present in the liturgy.

On the one hand, the Church, united with her Lord and “in the Holy Spirit,”5 blesses the Father “for his inexpressible gift in her adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. On the other hand, until the consummation of God’s plan, the Church never ceases to present to the Father the offering of his own gifts and to beg him to send the Holy Spirit upon that offering, upon herself, upon the faithful, and upon the whole world, so that through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, and by the power of the Spirit, these divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of life “to the praise of his glorious grace.. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacramental economy,” part two section one paragraph 1083, pg 281.) 

One one hand the liturgy is meant to be a joyous occasion where we give adoration, thanksgiving, and praise to God. On the other hand, it is meant to be a sacrifice in which we offer ourselves to God. Thus the liturgy should be a balance of both exuberance and solemness. It is this balance that seems missing in today’s liturgies.

Restoring balance: my ideal Liturgy

Sacred Art

 First thing I would do is restore the use of sacred art. The Catechism defines sacred art as being true and beautiful when,

its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God.

The current trend to remove art means that our churches no longer testify to the mysteries of God. I would like to note two things: depictions are not idolatry and art can’t replace evangelization.

Depictions of Jesus are not Idolatry

It is a common misconception that depictions of the divine constitute idolatry. We as Catholics understand that Christ’s incarnation means that we are free to detect God through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus alluded to this himself when he declared, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of man must be lifted up.”John 3:14 For those not familiar with the Old Testament story Jesus references, the Israelites were suffering from snake bites due to their disobedience. God took pity on them and instructed Moses to build a bronze serpent. The Israelites were instructed to look at the serpent to be healed. This story shows that statues and icons are not idolatry in themselves, but only when they take the place of worship owed to God. 

Sacred Art Doesn’t Equal Evangelization

I disagree with those who claim that fallen away Catholics will return by the revitalization of beautiful churches or that the dwindling church attendance correlates to a lack of art. If this were the case, the cathedrals in Europe would be full and the warehouse churches would be empty. I do not think art should be used as an evangelization tool, rather I believe good art sets the tone and brings people to the truth.

Embrace digital art

I also think that the church needs to expand its definition of art to encompass web design and communications and multimedia. This would include print media. Church lobbies should not look like a bad kid’s craft project nor should bulletins contain clip art instead of pictures. Free software such as Canva can help design beautiful bulletins.   

Sacred music

Next, I would work with the music director to focus on quality music. The next time you go to Mass, I want you to focus on the date of every song used. Depending on your parish, you may get songs from the 1800’s or earlier or every song will be from the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve always wondered why.  It seems that there has been no innovation in Catholic music since the 70’s. If you do get more current songs, it is usually from Protestant composers or Matt Maher. We need more innovation. 

Not only do we need more innovation, but we need to stop focussing on the type and style of music and focus on intent. The Catechism states that,

Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are “more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action,”22 according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration. In this way, they participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.

Contrary to popular opinion, the church does not require a specific form of music. The church does hold chant and polyphony in high esteem; however, it’s much more important that,

      1. the song fosters participation
      2. It expresses prayer
      3.  fits what is occurring in the liturgy
        1. As much as you may like an upbeat song, it is not appropriate for the moment of consecration 

For example, you may have a beautiful latin polyphony song, but if no one is singing then it fails on equal merits as a loud contemporary worship song that everyone knows.

Bring latin back

Lastly, I would bring back latin chanting for the following songs,\

      1. Kyrie
      2. Gloria 
      3. Santus
      4. Angus dei

We need to blend traditional music from our Catholic heritage with newer styles when appropriate, to invest in musical innovation and to compose hymns for this generation. 

Fellowship

I’ve been to parishes that make fellowship a priority. They are exuberant, loud, and noisy. Everyone greets each other, and they know when you are missing. Conversely, I’ve been to a church that prioritized silence. Nobody greats you, or knows your name; however, there are plenty of opportunities for contemplation and prayer. I personally think both are out of balance. Catholics seem to think that sacred silence means no fellowship. It’s a me and Jesus mentally. For these Catholics, the needs of the community are not important. I think if not kept in check this attitude can overvalue ritualistic formality over the messiness of community. For example, An elderly women consumed by praying her rosary fails to acknowledge the new person besides her. Now praying the rosary before mass is a good thing; however, loving your neighbor is the higher good. I purpose the following to achieve balance:

I would like to see the sanctuary become a silent zone. Having ushers stand outside the sanctuary door could achieve the establishment of a silent zone. They could politely tell people to please enter respectfully. On the flip side, I want to transform Catholic Narthex to look more like Protestant church’s lobbies. There should be a maned welcome desk, where newcomers can get information. There should be lounge spaces for Catholics to fellowship and a coffee bar available after mass. Parish staff should have name tags. Greeters should be at the front door of the church, welcoming everyone. Catholic parishioners should not be afraid to greet new people. 

Conclusion

I was inspired to write this post due to a series of tweets posted by Katie Prejean McGrady: https://twitter.com/KatiePrejean/status/10239663298025144320 

In this conversation, she describes how “we could argue that we don’t go to Mass to just build community but to receive the Eucharist. But the community is important too.” I think American parishes are in desperate need of balance.

What is worship?

I attended David’s tent, which is a 24-hour worship event. They have many different acts from many different Christian faith traditions performing worship songs. It provides people with an opportunity to worship and pray. There are different stations such as the dancing station, the Bible reading station, or the art station. One can choose to visit one of these stations or sit quietly soaking in God’s presence through the music. I decided to do the latter for the 8 hours I was there. For the record, I didn’t do 8 hours straight, I did 4 hours Saturday night and 4 hours Sunday afternoon. Saturday night was an interesting experience. They had scheduled a Christian music DJ to come in. A lot of people were turned off by the loudness of the music. Others questioned the talent behind it by remarking, “is he singing or just playing music?” Meanwhile, I stayed just to try it out. To me, DJing is an art, just like any other art. You have to feel the music and make sure it is in the right order. Yes, a good chunk of the songs were played straight, but some of them were mashups. The most notable was Hillsong’s Ocean and a rap song I’ve never heard before. Midway through people had started playing the bongo drums. It was a cool effect in that it sounded like thunder. It made me think about heaven and how our praise will be a mishmash of sound from all different sources.
Sometimes I wonder how will I experience heaven? Will I experience it as somber, peaceful, or serene like the Liturgy? Will I experience it as a loud joyous dance party?  Regardless of what the experience is like, I know I will experience the fullness of Jesus’ love unhindered by sin or my own unwillingness. I think experiencing different worship styles can help us focus on what truly matters, Jesus. I think exubrierent loud joyous noise can co-exist with the liturgy.  Catholic churches should offer both if for no other reason then the universal nature of music. Catholic’s fear that such praise overlies on emotions and entertainment; however, God created both as a vehicle to experience his glory. David’s tent made me realize the importance of praise and I hope that one day more Catholics learn to appreciate the benefits of such pursuits.

Is liturgy worship?

When I first became Catholic, one of the hardest things to understand was the uproar over liturgy. I had seen an ad in the bulletin for Catholic match. I had decided to try my luck. I never did have any luck romantically (online dating is hard), I did make a couple of friends. I still remember staying up to 3 am arguing with my friend about liturgy. See, my friend had a very narrow view of the liturgy. For example, he was adamant that hand-holding during  Our Father is wrong; you should wear suits to church, you should kneel during the consecration. He was always complaining that Catholics were driving miles away to other liturgically incorrect churches. Looking back I can see that he was correct about everything, but at the time all I could picture was a somber unloving church. My basic response at the time was that aren’t those a matter of worship preferences. His response was the fact that you call it worship means you understand nothing. As a baby Catholic enjoying the milk of her vibrant but liturgical irreverent parish, I was thoroughly confused. However, I have graduated to solid food and am ready to settle the debate once and for all, what is liturgy and is it worship?
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Why do we worship?

So here I am again on my podium sending my thoughts through the internet hoping that it will connect with someone. The reality is that I don’t know any more than you; in fact I probably know quite less. Yet despite my somewhat lack of inexperience, I still feel the need for my voice to be heard. You might be asking yourself, “after months of silence, why speak now?” If I’m honest, I’m asking myself the same thing. I sometimes think that my voice cannot make a difference, it doesn’t matter what I think or feel. However, I was reminded quite recently that, “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21). Thus the words I speak and write are important. I want to take the time to address a question that has been muling in my mind; what is worship and why do we worship?
This question first came to me in the middle of Lent through Redeemed online. On March     20th, the devotion challenged the reader to consider why do you go to church? The answer is obvious; as Catholics we go to church to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist; right? Apparently not, for as Father Dave explains, “we go to church to encounter Jesus.” Now I am not saying that one can’t encounter Jesus in the Eucharist or that one shouldn’t strive to encounter Jesus there, but what is more important is that there is an encounter.
If I am being honest, I have not encountered Christ in the Eucharist. I partake because I believe what Jesus said is true, which is that, “my body is real food and my blood is real drink and whoever eats from me shall have eternal life.” (John 6:55). However, I tend to personally encounter Jesus through music, message, and community. I know that I am not alone in this.
I think that as Catholics we forget this. I think that we expect people to walk in and get it and if they don’t “get it” then they shouldn’t be Catholic. However, even the I believe in every teaching of the church and I will defend her at every turn, I don’t want Mass to be a Eucharistic obligation, where I attend just to adhere to Jesus’s words,. Instead, I want to attend a Mass service, where I encounter Christ. I know that one day maybe the Eucharist will be enough for me, but until that day the church needs to make sure I have other avenue’s to encounter Christ. It reminds me of 1st Corinthians 3:2, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready” Some of us need the milk of the gospel and yet the church tries to give us solid food straight away.
I would like to know:

  1. why do you attend Mass?
  2. How do you encounter Christ and does Mass help you to encounter him?

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.
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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.

Catholic revert goes to Outcry Tour

What I learned about Ecumenism

So I have a confession to make; I love contemporary praise and worship music and I hate the organ and gregorian chant. I know that saying this makes me sound pretty anti-catholic, but you will not find a stronger defender of the faith. That being said, music is a big part of my spirituality. When I first encountered Christ, it wasn’t through gregorian chant, old school hymns, or organ, but it was through Christian rock music and eventually Christian contemporary music. So despite all my misgivings, when I heard about a concert with Hillsong, Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture, and Elevation worship, I knew I wanted to go.  These are my insights about the night and what it means for ecumenism.
1. People crave authentic worship.
During the concert, we watched a video where they interviewed each artist and got their insight on what church means to them. I don’t remember who said it, but one quote that stood out to me was, “I believe God gave us music so that we could have the ability to move and touch the human heart.”  I firmly agree with this quote. When it comes to it, sacred music should touch and move the human heart. It doesn’t matter the style or setting. The question you should be asking yourself, does the music at my church/parish move me into a closer encounter with Christ? What makes bands like Hillsong so popular is that you can  feel their passion for the Lord in every song. Can the Catholic church ever have this authenticity? I believe so, but it begins by putting away our legalist attitudes about what worship is supposed to sound like and start embracing all forms of music.
2. Music can unify.
The major theme of the Outcry tour is unity. The whole night they talked about how they wanted to focus on worshiping Jesus without focusing on denominational differences. How were they able to do this? They did it through music, which glorified Christ. The didn’t preach or debate or lecture. Instead they just played music and called out to Jesus. They explain how Jesus calls all to be one; how the church is stronger together then divided. If they Catholic Church truly wants all to be one, then the Church needs to support Catholic contemporary artist, who are able to bridge the gap. I remember that the Richmond diocese sponsored a concert with both protestant and Catholic artist and opened it up to the public. I wasn’t Catholic at the time, but I attended as well as my non-Catholic church. I listen to Ike Ndolo sing about the importance of the real presence in the Eucharist.  Imagine if some of my protestant friends heard the message and were moved to investigate. Maybe that planted the seed in me. Music unifies in ways that nothing else can.
3. There are points of dialogue that develop when people come together.
One of the best speakers of the night was the representative from World Vision. He was trying to get people to sponsor a child, but what he said was striking. He said that Jesus did a great miracle when he took the bread and wine and transformed the molecules to do something great, and Jesus can take earthly substances and do the impossible. I don’t know about you, but that sounds awfully Catholic to me and dangerously close to transubstantiation. I remember turning my friend and saying, “he is half way Catholic.” Now imagine if I had been able to engage him further or engage my protestant brothers and sisters further, what would happen? Maybe they’d come to see the sacramental outlook isn’t crazy at all, but that it is God choosing to do impossible things with  earthly elements.
4. Humor makes the message easier to swallow.
Once again the World vision minister stole the show and his message is still very much in my head. Why? Because he was funny and when you are funny, you are engaging. He made jokes about eating at McDonalds or taking bibles from Hotel rooms, or only wearing a light jacket because he is from Minnesota and should be able to handle a little 60 degree weather. Yet when it came time to be serious, he was serious, and I was moved because I was engaged. When is the last time you heard your Catholic priest crack a joke on Sunday during his homily? I’m not saying that I want my priest to be stand up comedian, but somehow we gotten so lost in the amount of honor and respect due that we forget that we can have joy. 
5. Protestants are desperate to hear about the real presence; they just don’t know it. 
When listening to the worship songs, one central theme that stood out to me is wanting to be in God’s presence. I recognized it in the song, Show me your Glory by Jesus Culture. The lyrics state, “I long to look on the face of the One that I love. Long to stay in Your presence, it’s where I belong.” Note the longing mentioned in the song. I remember thinking how sad is it that they have lost the doctrine of the Real Presence, and how lucky I am as a Catholic that I have a 24 hour adoration chapel, where I can be in the real presence of Jesus when ever I want. I can look upon his body made manifest in bread and at Mass I can touch the body with my hands. I don’t need to imagine some incomprehensible spiritual reality, but instead God loves me so much that he comes down to meet me by the power of the Holy Spirit and when I consume him, he and I become one.
6. Commercialize Christianity is alive and thriving and it sickens me.
Come on people, wake up! The whole concert was a walking advertisement for Christianity and we ate it up. I know that hosting concerts is not a cheap affair, and for that reason I will gladly pay a ticket price. However, what sickens me is that they then try to sell t-shirts, hats, books, and whatever merchandise. I would like to know where the money and the merchandise goes. Does any of the money go to charitable organizations or does it go to pay the so called Christian entertainers? If they really wanted to preach the gospel, why not play for free and take a love offering. Invite the homeless and give them the left over hoodies and jackets. This leads me to my next point.
7. Hillsong senior pastor, Brian Houston, has become arrogant. 
While I hate to talk bad about someone I don’t know, I know that first impressions mean a lot. So right off the bat, I walk into the place and they are passing out free books, written by Brian  Houston. Secondly, the first 5 minutes of Hillsong’s introduction is spent talking about their movie set to come out this year (oh goodie). Finally after playing merely two songs, Brian comes out to preach. He decides to do a word study sermon, focusing on the word, “unusual” as it appears in the bible. He first focuses on unusual miracles as found in some translations of Acts 19:11. This would be alright, except for the fact that he spent the first 5 minutes talking about how his church is an unusual miracle. He brags about how his church was not afraid to pursue contemporary music instead of hymns and how they were the only church to have a movie made about them. He even bragged that they reinvented the podium to make room for the worship band. The next 10 minutes were a little better. He talked about Hebrews 11:23, which in some translations, describes Moses as an unusual child. He then brags about how his niece is an unusual child and proves it by showing her dancing (while this is cute and funny, I’m not sure how it is relevant other than giving him another opportunity to brag). Lastly, he talks about how unusual children should be fostered, because God has place a calling on them to do great things and God needs more people to paint outside of the lines. I must admit that this was my favorite part of his whole sermon. He offers to pray for those that feel unusual so that they may discover their God given calling (this spoke to me specifically).
Next came the altar call and this is where I really began questioning Brian Houston’s motives. I generally hate altar calls, and no it isn’t just because I’m Catholic. I see that if they are not done correctly, they can make grace and salvation cheap. An altar call is where one pledges their life to Jesus. By committing their life to Jesus, one is told that they are now saved, their sins are forgiven and they are now a new creation. When done correctly, it can be a powerful experience. Everyone needs to have that conversion experience, where they come to know the Lord personally. The Catholic church recognizes this especially in programs like discovering Christ. The major and important difference is that the Catholic church rightly recognizes that this is not the end; that the journey is not over and one conversion experience is not enough to save you or to keep you from sin.
Anyway back to Brian, so he goes through the standard altar call procedure. He asks those, who haven’t made a personal commitment to Jesus, to raise their hand. Now normally, the people, who raised the hand, would be either be invited down to the front or to a booth, where there are people waiting to mentor them; to help them in their walk and usually give them a free bible. None of that happened. Instead, Brian tells the people that they should: 1.tell someone about their commitment so that they can be held accountable, 2. get a bible, and 3. become a member of the local church. So you mean to tell me that one of the largest and richest churches in the world cannot even be bothered to have a booth with a prayer team, or give out free bibles, or connect people to local churches? Instead the money was spent passing out free copies of his book, Live, Love, Lead. Why? Does Brian Houston really think that his book will have a greater impact than the bible? I hope not, but that my friends is the impression that I’m left with.
conclusion:
I don’t mean to end on a negative note. I also believe a lot more could be said especially about the false dichotomies between body movement and the class room of silence as well as between welcoming the sinner and holiness. However, I did learn the in order to have true ecumenism, we Catholics must put aside our legalism and worship wars and recognized that ultimately what is important  is encountering Christ, whether that be in the extraordinary form Mass, nous ordo Mass, gregorian chant, organ, piano, guitar, drums, violins, Choir, or praise singers. We can learn from our protestant brothers and sisters and they can learn from us. In the end, we all give praise and honor to Jesus, who is king.