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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Friday, January 17, 2003  
Yeh, baby! The Austin Powers phenomenon in liturgical pop

If ever I open a carnival, the barker's job goes to Dajjal, whose re-post of the St. Louis Jesuits item below has sparked an interesting and entertaining exchange at Free Republic.

There Dajjal writes:

The creepy thing is that the style of V-2 Catholic liturgical music has not been "pop" for over thirty years! It's another V-2 fly in amber, stuck in the '60s.

Much like the way Catholic philosophy and theology (and all Church pronouncements) are couched in the language of '60s existentialism and phenomenology.

(Let's go down to the coffee house and dig the happening.)

There is an Austin-Powers-like quality to much in the Church, where time is frozen to the era around 1963-69.

Which draws this reply from Howlingly Mind-Bending Absurdity:

Yes. It's been "out of style" for quite a while. I started kindergarten in the late '60s so I remember the authentic "folk" gnosticism in liturgies well. A little too well maybe. You remember the version of the Lord's Prayer sung to the Maryanne Faithfull/Rolling Stones "As Tears Go By" melody? How about the Byrds' "To everything, turn, turn, turn..." at Mass? Or (horrors!)...the Godspell Masses? It's sad but occasionally some idiots still stage Godspell at Catholic colleges and high schools. Apparently completely oblivious of the outrageous bad taste and silliness of a clown mime Jesus in denim overalls.

...There is a STRONG need to teach Catholic sacred music, sacred art and architecture properly to the clergy and laity. How such monstrosities of bad taste, such as the ones exhibited over the last 35 years or so, are ever approved by pastors and bishops is a disturbing question. Liturgical gnosticism, wreckovation, minimalism, radical modernism in stained glass and cathedral architecture...all of these banalities are funded with the tacit approval of bishops and their staff. It's sad because the Catholic tradition offers such wonderful music and art to choose from.

If those who directed and funded the erection of that monstrosity parody of modernist kitsch in LA were unaware that minimalist modernism had been satirized long ago as the epitome of bad taste, one wonders what the clergy read or studied in college.

The latter also writes:

There is certainly a need, in addition to courses in theology, philosophy, and church history, to add some basic and formal instruction on style and taste. One of the unfortunate consequences of the "spirit of Vatican II" has been modelling church forms on modern American counter-culture. The idea that the folksy, New Agey, hand-clapping style in popular music is appropriate for Catholic worship has been part of this post-Vatican II circus. It may sound condescending, but some of these types really don't know any better. They....uh....they think it's good. The Sesame Street approach to Catholic liturgical life is one of the ultimate expressions of neo-modernism in American Catholicism. It achieves the goal of making Catholic worship just as silly and goofy as certain trends in secular culture.

What has happened is that this Sesame Street approach merely transfers one form of communication style from the secular pop arena to the sacramental life of worship where it doesn't belong. It is part of a larger drama of therapeutic touchy-feelyism in clerical culture, an exotic topic in itself which would require multiple levels of psychological and sociological explanation. What really needs to happen is that no one should be allowed in "music ministry" work who has not received formal (and orthodox) Catholic training in the history of Catholic sacred music. The mischief of the music ministry mafia can be curtailed when enough people stand up and protest the silliness of this. Will we have Eminem-inspired "Rap" Masses next? The basic problem is the relativistic idea that the Church needs to follow the forms of contemporary culture in order to be relevant to this or that culturally challenged victim group in our midst. The other problem, of course, is the self-appointed nature of the minority faction (the music ministry mafia) who impose these forms on the rest of us. As with other and more unsavory problems, many bishops turn a blind eye to such matters. It is also a racket. Someone is SELLING the music books for this goofy style. As with so many other banalities and asburdities of the post-Vatican II landscape which have contributed to the current wasteland, the conservative critics can be dismissed as narrow, mean-spirited, and not up to date enough, etc. ...

You almost feel sorry for future church historians who will have to wade through this mess trying to make sense out of what exactly happened to the church in the U.S. during this period. In many cases, "the lunatics were running the asylum..."


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