In the early 80’s, with a group of musicians I had formed, we recorded a cassette production designed to demonstrate what was available and appropriate for liturgical services. The album had hymns, a Hispanic style Gospel acclamation, a polyphonic motet, a Brazilian Batucada, and a charismatic praise song. There was even a ballad style psalm and five-tone Asian experience thrown in. The collection was published by a small local Catholic Publishing house that was a promoter of modern liturgy.
That small Catholic Publishing house was part of the problem. I belonged to a national association of church musicians where all these Catholic publishing houses flocked to sell their music. The music that had the most sales was the newest music that was chosen for the liturgies of the annual convention. We all gathered there, and sang the music, clapped our hands and took the best music home to try on our unsuspecting congregations. This was liturgy as a commercial operation.
What we had to say about this music was how it made us feel. We felt important; we were worth something. It felt like prayer. For the moment, we were deeply devoted, caught up in the mystery and the energy of the faith. It was a great feeling but it was gone by morning.
What we had to say about this music is that it made us feel at home. One heterodox DRE was heard to exclaim: "Lady of Spain"....one of my favorites! Also, you know, I can just see the Entrance Procession done to a well-rendered Polka! The costumes, the make-up, the flags...!” Whether Polish, Hispanic, Asian or white American, all this music affected us where we live. The faith had visited us and made it part of our experience. That is when I saw the danger of this approach. Our experience was what mattered.
So whatever you brought to the liturgy was acceptable. It could be enfolded in this mystery. There was never any mention of sin. No one spoke of confession. Indeed, with these national conventions on liturgy, with dozens of priests attending, no one mentioned confession, and no one was made available for confession.
And indeed, if the liturgical experience could change from generation to generation, from culture to culture, what was to prevent the faith from changing? Also, have not other authors spoken of the loss of asceticism in modern religious life in giving rise to all sorts of abuses.
The turning point came for me around the turn of the century (2001). It was an argument and the argument centered on a particular text from the Great Vigil at Easter, the Exultet. He insisted that he had the right to use this cool new text and tune from this famous composer. (By the way, the composer was not a Catholic.) I took the side that we did not have the ability to alter the text of the Mass. The problem was that the cool new text and tune resonated with the hearer, it better represented his prayer. He had determined that the ancient text was inappropriate for modern people, and that he was responsible for creating the experience for these people. Our experience was what mattered.
So when you see a contemporary liturgy, do you see there the rise of same-sex relationships, the increased use of contraception and abortion, the proliferation of marriage without sacrament, and indeed, second marriages without annulment or sacrament? Why would we be faithful to the tradition or the sacraments, if whenever we go to church no one is being faithful to liturgy or church or sacrament? There was a time when a catechist was heard saying it was fine if you did not believe in Jesus. When I questioned that catechist’s fitness for the ministry, I became the mean one. And don’t check on whether your catechist or religious educator was married in church. You might have no volunteers. Any attempt at purity will be rejected by the semi-Arian church. Our experience was what mattered.
There are two different churches living side by side. One is concerned for itself. The liturgy must make me feel good. Our experience is what matters. Father is turned toward the people and we are centered on ourselves and our experiences. If I do not have a good experience, then I must complain and withdraw my funds of support. When you mention to them that they are using 19th century styles and protestant forms, they tell you to go read Acts 2, about the birth of the Catholic Church. The problem is that there are no videos from the first century, and the hard evidence is of a completely different experience. I remember a charismatic Christian referring to the Propers we sang as lacking the Spirit of God. He did not realize that what he just said was that the Word of God lacked the Spirit of God. What he counted as evidence of the Spirit was the guitars and the drums and the highly emotional content of the music. He said, “The Holy Spirit is alive today... in ways not limited to, but certainly such as this.” I am sorry, but the only time you may be absolutely convinced of the Spirit of God is when you have fallen into total silence and opened yourself to the Word you have heard.
The other church is centered on Christ. It is turned toward Christ, and it is so immersed in the great mystery of the Incarnation that we might be converted to Christ and even transformed by Him. When I approach the liturgy, it is not to change it or alter it in any way to suit my preferences. I am there to be transformed by Him, to be changed into His likeness. My experience is that I do not belong here. I am a sinner and I should not even be allowed to approach. It is only by His mercy that I am enfolded in this mystery and given the opportunity to change myself into His likeness.