FORMER STUDENT of mine recently attended a liturgical conference at the University of Notre Dame. One of the speakers was a well known “progressive” liturgist, Rev. Anthony Ruff, who has referred to plainsong as a “weapon.” She was troubled by the following public statement by Fr. Ruff (22 June 2016):
“I would hope there is a place for the avant-garde in the same way I think there has to be a place—and we have to be careful with this—a place for Jazz and place for Evangelical and all of that. […] On theological grounds, I do think we need interaction with the culture at the level of high art or at the level of more commercial pop culture.”
I told my student she should have asked: “Why stop at Jazz? Why not Heavy Metal? Why not Rap? Why not Grunge?” Indeed, many churches have already tried mixing pop culture with sacred music—as if we Americans have been deprived of that. The following was filmed at an Episcopalian church in 2013. Sadly, I’ve seen similar videos filmed in Catholic churches. Observe how they applaud the musicians:
It would be difficult for me to imagine anything more antithetical to what I consider authentic, reverent, and holy Catholic worship. At FSSP.la, our musicians hope never to be seen—and we would feel humiliated if anyone clapped for us. We sing at the back of the church (up in the choir loft) and our parishioners are taught the same thing I was: face forward in your pew! Growing up, we would have been severely reprimanded if we turned around in our pew. We were taught to kept the eyes forward, focused on the Tabernacle and Eucharistic Sacrifice, where Christ is made present on the Altar. I realize some no longer believe the SANCTISSIMUM to be the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Savior—but we do. And we try to act accordingly, with St. John Vianney as our model.
All of us, myself included, should watch the organist at 1:50, asking ourselves if we are guilty of acting inappropriately in the house of God.
Having watched that video, let’s renew our good resolution never to be disrespectful in church.
GETTING BACK TO THE ISSUE of mixing in commercial pop culture, as Fr. Ruff advocates, we must exercise caution. Those who lack musical training might get confused when the issue of (for example) Renaissance adoption of secular tunes is broached. But this was covered in my article, Palestrina uses the Dragnet Theme, specifically in the context of Missa My Little Pony. In essence, using a secular tune in diminution, augmentation, or as a CANTUS FIRMUS—“elevating it,” as Dr. Mahrt says—is quite different from what’s shown in that Episcopalian video.