“This experiment we’ve been on for the last half-century has been one in which we’ve been chasing cultural relevance only to drive our Church into a deeper state of cultural irrelevance.”
Watch Brian Holdsworth’s video commentary on why need better music at Mass.
It’s an amazing fact that we can carry on with the day to day affairs of our lives without giving a second thought to the immensity of our universe and the incomprehensible forces that explode and contract within it.
The known universe is characterized by neutron stars, black holes, supernovas, rogue asteroids, and even within our own solar system, there are forces that produce a sense of terror and awe just to think about: like the fact that there is a cyclone on Jupiter bigger than our planet.
Carl Sagan famously described our planet as a pale blue dot based on the photo of the same name taken from deep space which provides a sense of the scale of our own world which consumes all of our attention, but in the grand scheme appears to be floating helplessly in the vastness of space.
As a Catholic Christian, I’m someone who believes that this immense, awe-inspiring system of systems with forces that can produce existential dread in the most resolute members of our species was created by a mind – the source and ground of all being, who is the logos, who is God.
But it doesn’t stop there. The one who spoke all that in to existence also invaded creation through the incarnation of Jesus Christ – a human person who said and did things that have an unmistakable confounding but simultaneously beautiful quality.
He is the focal point at which the transcendent eternal source of everything that is became available to our senses. He is the moment at which heaven collides with that pale blue dot.
And just before he was arrested and crucified, he gave us a formula and a format that would provide for the continual manifestation of this collision of heaven and earth. He gave us his body, blood, soul, and divinity; his incarnation, in the form of bread and wine consecrated on the altar of every mass celebrated every day throughout the world.
And if you had never been to a Catholic Mass, with all of that context in mind, you might think, if that’s true, it must be an incredibly powerful and epic moment to witness and the Church expects us to believe that it is true, while simultaneously garnishing that moment with music like The King of Glory.
Why do we do this? Think about what we’re asking people to believe and then consider how we present it to them and then we ask ourselves why people don’t believe and why the faith is in such dramatic decline in regions where this is common practice.
And of course, this hasn’t always been the case. There have been profound periods where artistic and cultural expression found their stride in the context of the mass and we can still get glimpses of it, especially in the way our Eastern Orthodox brother and sisters practice their liturgy. You can’t watch or participate in that without thinking that the gravity of this moment is significant.
Where I live, most Catholic masses seem to be doing everything they can to diminish and trivialize the gravity of that moment. To be totally honest, I’d rather there be silence rather than some of the attempts we make to improve upon the profound way that Jesus appears to us.
I don’t blame musicians and worship leaders because the problem is a lot bigger than that. I myself have been tapped to lead music at mass and if I had to do it tomorrow, I’d be playing my guitar singing the only songs that are recognized and available in the hymnals in our pews.
The solution to this problem needs to come from the top down. We need our bishops and priests to lead us into a better understanding of what is appropriate for our liturgy. We need to stop supporting publishers who push this kind of thing, exclusively.
The Church needs to reclaim a sense of patronage of good music and art made by sincere, faithful, Catholics who appreciate the subject matter that they are communicating. And I’m not trying to say, we need to go back to the way things were or only use a particular style or particular instrument. This isn’t about liberals vs. conservatives. This is about good and appropriate art and liturgy vs. bad art and liturgy.
This experiment we’ve been on for the last half-century has been one in which we’ve been chasing cultural relevance only to drive our Church into a deeper state of cultural irrelevance. Trying to fit in isn’t the way to be cool. Doing something entirely unique and set apart from everything else is how you capture people’s interest. It seems like the Church used to understand that and has forgotten it. Let’s do what we can now, to reclaim it.