TV Mass and Music – O Lord Deliver Us
I can’t wait to get back in a church building for a Mass of my choosing – or even the parking lot Mass of a church of my choosing. Now we are limited to what we can get online and some of us are more technically challenged than others. Since I cannot get the smart TV to go where I want it to, our family is limited to what is offered on a local channel. That’s what happens when the kids move out and Mom and Dad are left with a remote and no instructions.
The TV Brings out the Worst “Performances”; Makes Bad Liturgical Music Worse
Why must the TV parish have a High Mass every week? Vatican II said the Low –non-singing – Mass was to continue. In the real world, we attend a Low Mass each week. But in reality TV, we are treated to an overly loud male cantor, a piercing soprano, and a videographer who concentrated more on the violinist, not the priest at the altar during the Offertory.
These irritations are small, however, when compared to the paucity of music. That’s the problem: It’s just music, not sacred music befitting the Sacred Mysteries. This has been going on a long time, decades in fact. It is as if music directors look in the Gather Book, see a song marked “Easter” (or Lent or Funeral) and use it. What happened to the “Regina Coeli”? “O Sons and Daughters of the Lord” (O Filii et Filiae)? And the “Vidi Aquam,” the Paschaltide song for the blessing/sprinkling of the congregation with Holy Water before Mass? The solemn hymn has been replaced more often than not by Marty Haugen’s rollicking “Springs of Water.” More on that later.
First though, the sprinkling ritual. The Asperges, according to my trusty St. Andrew Daily Missal,
“…takes place before the main Sunday Mass. The celebrant intones the Asperges me, or Vidi Aquam. He then sprinkles the altar, the clergy, and people to prepare them by this purification to take part worthily in the Holy Sacrifice. [emphasis added] Holy water is a sacramental the devout use of which is able to remit temporal punishment.”
During Eastertide, the antiphon reads:
I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, alleluia; and all to whom that water came were saved and sang: alleluia, alleluia. Praise the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.
How “I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple” got morphed into “Springs of water give Him glory and praise,” I don’t know. The song goes on to address the oceans of the earth, rivers and lakes, ponds rich with life, hills, all dancing with joy from peak to valley and giving glory to God.
This is a nice spring song maybe for a frolic through the woods, a ditty for Earth Day for sure, but not for Paschaltide. It doesn’t even come close to reflecting what should be praise for the salvation and mercy we have been given by the Blood and Water of Jesus Christ flowing from His pierced side. And as a sign of purification before Mass? Not.
But “Springs of Water” is merely a sign of the times in extremis, and certainly not what the Council meant by those words. It is a sign of our times, however, complete with electric guitars and songs recruited from Protestant archives, like the use of “Lonesome Valley” (Elvis Presley version) during Lent. A look at the publishing companies of the tunes we are served up at Mass – Southern Faith Songs, Raucous Ruckus, United Pursuit, Full Armor – should prove the point. Music at Mass continues to offend, relying on the emotional content of words and the crescendo of music by whatever instruments in use rather than expressing truths with solemn dignity that reflects the sacred. “Panis Angelicus” (referring to the Bread of Angels) is not the same as “Let us Break Bread Together” or “Now in This Banquet” or even “Reckless Love,” which isn’t a bad song, but still not sacred and Mass-worthy.
Nobody’s Likes It, Especially Not the Youth
“They think this stuff appeals to teenagers,” my 16-year-old granddaughter told me at a Confirmation retreat we were required to attend. “It doesn’t.” She begged me to take her to the Low Mass at our downtown church.
Why? Why is music in church an occasion of despair? For one thing, because it isn’t improving after so many years and for another, those in charge – liturgists, music directors, catechists, pastors – don’t know any better, having been fed in their own education 40 years of “new” insipid church songs bereft of sacred music and good theology. When 60% of Catholics polled are clueless about the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, you ask why? Perhaps the answer is 40 years of “bread” songs. If you say and sing “bread” enough times, pretty soon you see bread – just plain bread. Big deal. A sin to miss this?
An upcoming book, Sacred Music and Liturgy After Vatican II, by Virginia Schubert, gives a glimmer of hope to the church-song-weary. The book highlights the writings of Msgr. Richard Schuler over the several years he served as editor of Sacred Music magazine in the heat of the uncalled for liturgical detours after Vatican II. Msgr. Schuler, by the way, was pastor of the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota, a world-renowned parish with a weekly Solemn Latin High Mass with orchestra, according to the real directives of the Second Vatican Council. One chapter in the book details an interview the Monsignor gave with Thomas Woods and published in Christi Fidelis (March, 1997).
Schuler: I don’t think that the text is going to baptize what is bad. There are some who would like or say that you can Christianize rock music. I don’t think that you can. Music can’t become holy because it’s tacked onto a sacred text.
Woods: What about the use of hymns in the Liturgy?
Schuler: The hymn has not been a part of the Mass Liturgy. You don’t find hymns in the Missal. There are hymns in the breviary, the part of the Liturgy of the Office of the Hours, but the use of hymns in Mass is tacked on.
Woods: What happened to Gregorian chant? I know Vatican II said it should be given pride of place, but this has been ignored.
Schuler: It seems to be a dislike of Latin. You chant in Latin, you can’t put Gregorian chant in the vernacular. They outlawed the Latin, therefore they lost the Gregorian chant. We do Gregorian chant [at St. Agnes] for all the Latin Masses we celebrate.
Woods: As editor of Sacred Music, where do you see church music headed? Do you see signs of a revival in chant, for example?
Schuler: Well, it can’t be much worse, so it must go the other way. The young will eventually discover there is something they have been deprived of, and they’re going to say, where is all this? And come back to it. There was a Gregorian chant congress in Paris about five years ago, and a young fellow came up and said, “We discovered this, we’ve been deprived of what is a thousand years of our country’s musical history and we want it back; we want to know why we weren’t told about it.”
The Internet Might Be Able to Reverse the Television Performances
Can the young discover what has been hidden from them all their lives? For a long time I have had my doubts. But thanks to the technology I cannot master, I would say yes.
Part of our family lives in western Minnesota, truly “out there” in the prairie land. They, too, are stuck at home during the covid crisis. On Easter, they tuned in to Mass on Facebook from Ghent, Minnesota (population 370) at the Church of St. Eloi, now the chapel for a new order of contemplative nuns. They sang Gregorian chant throughout the service. The kids, 6 and 9, loved it. They want it every week because it is so beautiful.
There is hope. Perhaps the technology never dreamed of by the Council Fathers may actually bring about the changes they desired because what eyes have not seen nor ears have heard for decades can now be discovered by itchy fingers surfing the ’net. As for myself, I found the mute button on the remote, and if I remember to use it, I, too, will have peace. Meanwhile I hope for the end of the America’s Got Talent church performances and the time when Mass is before us again.
This article, TV Mass and Music – O Lord Deliver Us is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.