N MORE THAN ONE occasion, I’ve come across books dealing with “liturgical abuses.” Often, they’re formatted as lists … for example, they go down a list of the Top Ten Abuses at Mass. As far as I’m concerned, these books often miss the mark. They tend to focus on abuses which, quite frankly, do not have a tremendous impact on the faithful. Off the top of my head, I remember one dealing with “Self-Communication from the Chalice” (forbidden). Another talked about sacred vessels made from the wrong materials (also forbidden).
Please notice: I am not implying that such abuses are OK. They’re not, and the people responsible will answer for them before Almighty God. But it seems to me that one of the most deplorable liturgical abuses at Mass has to do with the musical styles. Often, the styles are secular, trite, uninspired, and (to be frank) goofy. At Mass, we’re supposed to use music written in a sacred style. Pope Pius XII said it should be “lofty.” Such music ought to remind us of the holiness of God. Secular styles do just the opposite.
Secular styles in no way “fit” the Mass. For example, the Mass is 2,000 years old. We have manuscripts of the Roman Rite Mass prayers (almost verbatim the same as our current Mass) going all the way back to the 7th century. Even somebody without any knowledge of Theology — even an atheist — would know that secular “tunes” currently considered as “hits” aren’t appropriate for such an action. I hope to write more about this topic at a later date.
Using secular music at Mass is incredibly harmful, but in an insidious way. As each year passes, I become more and more aware of the terrible impact such music has on souls. Again, the music itself is not necessarily bad (some is), but using it during Mass is harmful. The music has an effect on every single member of the congregation. You can’t escape it. You can put your hands over your ears, but you’ll still hear it, and it will have an influence on your ability to properly assist at Mass. Whether we like it or not, music does have an effect on us. After all, man is composed of body and soul. He is not pure spirit.
THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE to consider about “liturgical abuses.” Unfortunately, good Catholics sometimes make fools of themselves trying to “correct” liturgical abuses. The reality is, ever since the Second Vatican Council, liturgical law has been changing so rapidly, staying “current” is difficult. For example, on 17 April 1980, Pope John Paul II approved and confirmed a document which said:
Women are not permitted to act as altar servers. (Inaestimabile Donum, §18)
On 15 March 1994, however, the Pope changed his ruling, saying that individual bishops can allow female altar servers in their dioceses. Since the 1960s, literally thousands of pages have been printed by the Vatican treating liturgical subjects. That’s why I say lay folk (sometimes) get it wrong … but it’s not really their fault! The laws ought not be changed so frequently, and we’ll be discussing the consequences more on this blog. (I’ve already briefly touched on this subject here.)
DID YOU EVER NOTICE Rex Harrison can’t sing? It’s true … he “sings by speaking” (but in a much more pleasant way than that dreadful sprechstimme). The songs had to be composed in an ingenious way for Harrison. Now that we have two young children, I often hear songs on the kids’ shows … and they’re terrible! What’s really awful is the lack of melody. The characters “sing by speaking,” just like Rex Harrison. It grates on one’s ears, and I fear it’s teaching our kids how NOT to sing! Hopefully they don’t grow up and get married six (6) times, like Rex Harrison did.
Many of today’s Mass songs (written in a secular style) employ this same speech song. It represents a type of “lowest common denominator” approach to Church music. Now, I’m not saying each one of us has to be a great singer. Of course not everyone can be. But is it too much to ask that we attempt to sing melodies?