We have discussed before many of the trends of modern liturgy and how the focus has shifted from God to the “assembly.” Too much of modern liturgy today is anthropocentric (focused on man).
Back in the 1990’s, Thomas Day observed in the book Why Catholics Can’t Sing, that liturgy today often comes down to “the aware, gathered community, celebrating itself.” Many modern songs go on at great length about how we are the gathered, we are the flock, we have been sung throughout all of history, we are God’s song, etc. When God is mentioned it is more in relation to us, rather than us being in relation to Him. He is all about us, and this seems to please us greatly.
The emphasis has shifted too far. If in the past the people were something of an afterthought or reduced to mere spectators (as some detractors of the older forms say), now it seems we are the excessive focus. And if something doesn’t speak to the people it should either be ditched or dumbed-down.
Even our architecture has given God the boot, so to speak. Circular and fan shaped churches dominated after 1950. The tabernacle was relegated to the side, altars became largely devoid of candles or a cross, and it became almost “immoral” for the priest-celebrant not to “face the people.” Seeing and interacting with each other became the goal. God was invited, too, but His role seemed more to affirm what we were doing and to be pleased with us; or so we sang, on and on and on. Surely God was happy when we were happy!
Well, I exaggerate, but just a little.
I was fascinated to read similar concerns in an unlikely place. I was sent a link from baptistnews.com wherein a Baptist minister raises similar concerns with Protestant worship. In effect, he argues that it is barely worship at all. The minister is J. Daniel Day, retired senior professor of Christian preaching and worship at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C., and he has authored a book Seeking the Face of God: Evangelical Worship Reconceived. Here are excerpts from his remarks in the article at Baptist News, in bold, black italics. The Full Article is here: Reviving Worship. As usual, my own remarks are in red text.
“Worship can be facilitated and used around any kind of style,” says Day, a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. The music and sanctuary decorations can be tailored to fit the tastes of the congregation. “But the question becomes … ‘where’s the beef?’” By that, Day says he means the object of worship, which should be God. But over the centuries, the purpose of worship in many evangelical churches has been to attract and evangelize new members.
Perfectly and simply stated. The worship of God has become the secondary focus. To be sure, people are important. Evangelization is important. But worship is more important and is the first and chief work of the Church. And the worship of God does not demote man; it elevates him. Scripture says we have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory (Eph 1:12). In other words, we were made to praise God, and in this worship, we are fulfilled, reach our highest dignity, and discover our true self in God. So God is not our competitor; He does not steal the stage, and the worship of Him is not a distraction or in opposition to the assembly.
Further, making the liturgy more about evangelization than worship (where it too easily devolves into a sort of entertainment in order to “draw” numbers) belies the experience of the early Church when one did not gain admittance into the liturgy, into the celebration of the mysteries, until after baptism. In those early days, evangelization was accomplished through the witness of changed and holy lives in combination with preaching and witness. The goal was to gain admittance to the sacred liturgy so as to worship and encounter God and be transformed by that encounter. If worship “evangelized,” it was instead a deepening of faith already confessed. The deal had already been sealed and the liturgy served to deepen and further immerse a person into the life of God and His Body, the Church.
Another major shift away from historic Christian worship came even earlier, he added. “The whole emphasis coming out of the Reformation was to convert worship into an educational experience,” Day said. “So you had these didactic, Calvinist lectures that became the models for today’s teaching sermons that go on for 45 minutes to an hour.” At that point, churches ceased being places of worship. “The sanctuary becomes a lecture hall.”
Indeed. And while I support Catholics learning to give a little more time to the sermon, here again we ought not lose our way. Homilies in Catholic parishes should teach more than they do, especially with the demise of Catholic Schools and family life.
However, the Mass is fundamentally an act of worship directed to the Father. Christ, the head of the Body and high priest, and we, the members of His body, turn to the Father at the high point of the Mass, the Eucharistic prayer, and we worship the Father. Head and members together.
This is why the stance of the priest during the Eucharistic prayer (facing the people) is misleading. Too often the impression is that the prayer is being read to the people. Not only is the priest facing them, but often priests, by their tone of voice and eye contact, give the impression that they are talking to the people. Heaven forfend if the priest were to lower his voice so Ms. Jones in the back pew could not hear, or that he pray the canon in Latin. But of course the “outrage” would, to a large extent, seem beside the point if we remember that the prayer is being directed to God the Father who is neither deaf nor ignorant of Latin. And while the vernacular has its advantages and helps the faithful to heartfully unite to the action, it is not a disaster if the priest is less-than-fully audible or prays in a language other than that which the faithful understand well.
Surely the Liturgy of the Word is rightly directed toward the people. And yet that aspect of the Liturgy is also marked with worship; it is not just readings and instruction. The singing of the psalm or gradual, and the alleluia or tract, are worshipful responses to what has been proclaimed. And after the homily, the creed and/or prayers also invite the worship of prayer.
So yes, amen. The liturgy is more than a bible study or a lecture.
Or [beyond a lecture hall, churches] become entertainment centers, Day says, where worship is about “being impressed by the magnificence of the place, the costumes and the jumbo screens.”
Yes! When keeping people happy and coming becomes the main goal, things really start to go off the chain. Frankly, we people are fickle, our culture is ephemeral and trendy (especially in America), and we tend to need more and more exotic things in order to be impressed. A lot of megachurches note that although people come, they don’t often stay for long. There is really only so much you can do in a church surrounded by an entertainment culture.
Eventually, those who are indulged in merely trendy notions get bored and say, “Peel me another grape.” When ideas run short, the bored move on to the next phenomenon or star preacher. And eventually many of them end up out of the Church altogether or back in the Catholic parishes they left for greener pastures.
Entertainment-based churches eventually either run out of ideas or lose out to glitzier, better-funded churches. Most of the megachurches of the 1990s here in D.C. are closed now and newer, bigger “centers” and campuses have opened to cater to the latest trends. But soon enough, even they, so financially difficult to maintain, will likely close as well.
Again, the central point of liturgy is not to impress or entertain human beings. It is to worship God. And even the “praise songs” of many such churches look and sound more like entertainment. Some songs are actually not bad in terms of content. But many are riddled with catch-phrases stitched together.
In the Catholic Church, too, a lot of contemporary liturgical trends seem to have “the people” in mind more so than God. He’s invited too, but pleasing the folks is more the point. Otherwise, why is trendy, ephemeral liturgy (especially the music) such an issue? Does God change and need new forms? Does He get bored with the older hymns and chants? No! So all the trendy stuff is more about us.
To be fair, this problem is not new. The big orchestral masses of the Baroque period were quite the item back then. Eventually, they were criticized for trying to be more like opera, trying to impress donors rather than be suitable for the worship of God. Even early polyphony got so artsy that the Church had to warn composers that the text being sung was more important than the musical artistry designed to impress and “wow” the people.
Every now and again, the Church needs to throw a penalty flag on the field and say “Back to God!” Now is surely one of those times in both Catholic and Protestant settings so powerfully influenced by the anthropocentric, consumer-focused culture.
A growing number of scholars from a variety of traditions are exploring the value ancient approaches to worship can have in modern times, he adds. One is to provide a sense of authenticity and rootedness in the history and practice of the ancient church.
Sadly, I doubt our Baptist brethren will look to Catholic antiquity. But hey, this is a start! It never hurts to value ancient approaches. Inevitably, those who look to these sources may well discover how Catholic the early Church was. Let’s pray. God bless the good Reverend J. Daniel Day in his search and for his admonitions to us all!
I have some more things to present on Liturgy tomorrow, more from a Catholic setting.
Again, not all Contemporary Christian music is bad. I like a lot of it (e.g., “Still,” “You Never Let Go,” “Shout to the Lord”). But a good bit of it is also very poor. Here’s an amusing video that pokes fun at the poorer stuff: