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:
43 Replies to “Don’t Forget to Worship God! A Call to Better Liturgy from an Unlikely Source”
There was also a day when priests were obedient and said nothing to disagree with God’s will. Let us pray to St. Benedict for greater humility in our own limitations.
Msgr Pope stated: 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.
In my parish, the music director has a professional choir who sometimes sing the Gloria, Kyrie Eleison, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei in ways that completely disallow the participation of the lay faithful in the chants of worship. We are relegated to being observers only or some of us try to keep up, but when they do it in their Enlightenment Era operatic way, there is no music reference for us to use. While the choir is certainly VERY good, it becomes a spectacle where our attention is diverted fro worship in my opinion. It is done for the sake of the utility of the choir, and not for the good of the lay faithful who should desire to engage their minds and bodies in worship, not in entertainment or any other activity which distracts.
It is a marvelous choir, but let them sell us tickets to hear them in a show or opera instead. Know what I mean?
Your situation sounds like an excess in the opposite direction. That is, the emphasis is too much on masterful performance, which indeed can detract from the primary purpose of worship. However, it seems like a rare problem as what I will bet 98% of parishes in America have the problem of slothful liturgy and music.
I agree. I appreciate it, but it gets too fancy The times.
When I was growing up in St. Paul, Mn., St. Anges RC Church did at their 11:00 Sunday mass a mass setting by Schubert, Mozart, or one of the Haydn Brothers.
Yes, I have been celebrant there. It is lovely. I do not say agree with the titian of Pius X, just that such was the claim. Some of the really long masses, with glorias lasting more than 20 minutes and Credos even longer, lost their way however. The length was really too out of proportion to the overall liturgy making it seem that the mass existed as a platform for long opera like masses, rather than the music truly support the liturgical action. So there is a truth to be preserved, but I do not dislike orchestral masses as a rule, but some limits are crossed if we are not careful
I really think the term “active participation” can include actively entering into the worship of God without a word being expressed out loud. I believe that that some little old lady off to the side, who may not be singing with the choir, may be more actively participating, or what I prefer, “entering into” the sacred mysteries of the Mass, than people of action. Active Participation is not always action, movement, sound, etc… It is not a pep rally. It is not a concert. People need to read and learn what liturgy is about. Read Pope Benedict! Please read what he wrote on liturgy. Be informed. Don’t just leave it up to Father, or “the committee”! God forbid, liturgy by a committee who have really no idea what liturgy is!
Have YOU tried thinking about the words and joining with the beauty of the singing. You must know what the words mean by now and your meditation upon them is more than worth the time. I just wish I had that quality in my choir. Why do we always want the best for ourselves and our loved ones but care little for the glory of God.
Amen. That is a beautiful way to participate, pondering the beauty and meaning of the words being sung. How they glorify and pay homage to our God. We have lost reverence, a thing owed to the Lord of all creation. This is a very hurtful thing to witness.
“Why do we always want the best for ourselves and our loved ones but care little for the glory of God”
My husband works for the NPS and we move about every two years, so I have been to many parishes.
Some have terrible but God glorifying music, as in “everyone sings from the heart even though it sounds terrible”, and some have beautiful but self glorifying music, as in “there is a band on the altar, pay attention to it”.
Only one Mass have I witnessed that had both beautiful and God glorifying music, and it was a Latin Mass.
I really love hearing the Mass in my own language, but I would sacrifice it in a heartbeat if I could hear that beautiful music again. It truly felt like a Mass worthy of God and most of the time I do not feel that way.
I prefer to loudly, clearly and slowly articulate the Eucharistic prayer, not do that the assembly is being “read to” (as the author suggests) but so that the beautiful construct of the prayers might elevate and inform the faithful leading them to a deeper sense of worship and active participation. We’re the prayers mumbled or uttered in a hushed tone most of the people would check out mentally (and spiritually) or allow their focus to shift elsewhere.
Fair enough. And to be clear, I do not argue that the Canon should be mumbled or whispered. Only that we remember that it is fundamentally directed to God, it’s a prayer of adoration on Thanksgiving, it’s purpose is not, per se, to edify the people though I do think it is helpful to articulated in a way that they can spiritually be joined to the action of the whole body of Christ united to its head. Who are you occasionally say the old mass, about once a month, I’ve not of been a fan of the whispered canon we can use the usual practice in the TLM.
“Who are you occasionally say the old mass, about once a month, I’ve not of been a fan of the whispered canon we can use the usual practice in the TLM.”
Monsignor, I think your spellcheck may have misfired. What were you trying to say?
“While I occasionally say the old mass, about once a month, I’ve not of been a fan of the whispered canon which is the usual practice in the TLM.” The spellcheck autoreplace thing is miserable. How do I turn it off?
The canon need not be whispered in the TLM – that was made optional in the explanation of the decree.
Glad to know. If you get a chance could you cite the reference? I get a lot of push back that sometimes I say the Canon “too loud” in the TLM. I don’t whisper but neither do I “proclaim” I use a kind of middle voice that at least those in the Sanctuary can hear. This also helps me be “honest” and not rush or mumble the Latin.
I learned to enjoy reading the Eucharistic prayer while the priest prays it in the TLM, and now I do the same in the Novus Ordo, but it takes longer to figure out which Eucharistic prayer the priest is using and get to the appropriate place in the missal. In the TLM, I have the opportunity to go at my own pace, and there are certain gestures and an audible to let me know where the priest is in his recitation of the prayer. The TLM really taught me how to pray the Mass.
There is difference between between Christian music and sacred music. Both are good; the former, however, serves to lift up the person, the latter serves to worship the Lord. Sacred music belongs at Mass. “Christian music”, albeit good, does not.
While much modern liturgy has the look and feel of entertainment, it’s actually worse because it covers up that it is therapeutic in the modern, secular sense of therapy. You can hear it in the sappy hymns where when it isn’t talking about me, me, me and my feelings about God, it’s putting fanciful and saccharine words in God’s mouth.
We can actually see and feel and even ‘touch’ GOD in the manner of celebrating The Holy Mass through the priest, sacristans, lectors, cantors, choirs, ministers of the Holy Eucharists and even greeters when GOD is placed above and remembered in all our actions. I remember when we were given the word ‘perfection’ during our meditations as praise singers. Indeed, we sang our best and sounded good, in fact ‘perfect’ but we felt no spirit in our songs because we forgot to worship GOD as the primal essence of our singing which is indeed the truest of ‘perfection’. One can feel if the lector only reads and not proclaim the scripture, so with the priest that say and not deeply pray, sacristans who parade and not march proudly and with gusto that they will serve the LORD, the greeter who sees through you and greets you blandly and the congregation
And the congregation that only goes through the motion just to pass away the time and suffice their obligation. Oh, how Our GOD must be either discouraged, after all HIS dying on the Cross or laughing out loud, forgive them for they know not what they do, with the manner we celebrate the one we call “the source and summit of our faith”.
LORD be patient with me, I am still too slow to comprehend how grandiose is YOUR Love for us in This Holy Sacrifice of The Mass. YHWH SHEKINAH, YHWH EL GIBOR.
I have attended large megachurches with friends and it is clear that they engage in a lot of “how to improve your life” sermons that are supported by biblical verses. So God is actually sort of in the background, and the bulk of it is self-help stuff. I suppose this is the criticism of people like Joel Osteen.
It is also clear that the over 10,000 people attending this megachurch do so because of the preaching skills of one man. As soon as he is no longer able to preach, the church will dissolve.So it is focused on one man as well. So I asked my friend. “Well, it’s not really a church, is it? You can’t get married there, or buried there. You can get baptized in one of those large full emersion ceremonies. They have no recognizable doctrine to guide people except read the bible and listen to what the preacher says. He avoids all controversial topics, because that would lessen the number of people coming to hear him.
While older music and chants are quite lovely, i believe the newer (trendy) songs
are more contemporary with how people speak, think, feel, or pray. I am able to praise
Him equally as well. And perhaps the newer songs speak differently to God. The HEART is
the one that sings…and feels. Only God sees the heart.
Blessings to all.
But is that the purpose of liturgy? What you say is not untrue, but at some point the line gets crossed wherein the purpose is too focused on appealing to people and their taste. Further there is lost the opportunity to be more deeply formed by the liturgy, rather than having the be conformed to us. Again there is a balance, and I’m not sure we have it right today.
Indeed. This is what I was getting at when I talked about liturgy being therapy rather than worship. Cardinal Ratzinger goes even further:
“On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. ‘Rock’, on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit’s sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments.”
If it’s not too off topic, could you explain the traditional seating arrangement in monastery chapels with each half of the community facing one another directly? Such chapels make it impossible to see the altar without turning your head 90 degrees. Thank you.
Chapels such as that are designed with the idea in mind that the Divine office is what is more commonly celebrated in them. The office is chanted and recited back and forth between two groups, antiphonally. But for Mass, as you point out, it is a problem.
The monastic layout makes a procession much more natural and logical. Additionally, it provides a neat solution to the ‘problem’ how people sat in those ancient churches where the architecture of the building does not tally with geograpical East, i.e., where the altar is not at the Eastern end of the building. Given a wide enough nave, it is possible to ‘turn toward the Lord’ [symbolised in the rising Sun on a Sunday morning without turning one’s back on the altar where His sacrifice is re-presented.
As I tell my CCD class:
1) If it’s not about God, then what in the Ham & Cheese is it all about?
2) It’s not what you get out of the mass, it’s what you put in to it!
God Bless, you Msgr. Pope!
I’ve thought that the reading of the Scriptures ad orientem makes sense historically speaking. This is the offering of the Word to the Father, but in the Mass of the Catechumens, and so they may remain. The Word Himself is then offered to the Father in the Mass of the Faithful, and only the baptized may participate in the Sacrifice by virtue of their priestly character. But Gamber and Davies agree with you, Msgr. Pope. Best wishes.
I’ve said this before. Growing up attending full Latin Rite Masses, straight through my late 20’s early 30’s, i find the New Mass very spiritual disquieting. When the priest faces the altar, he is speaking for us directly to God. Both Churches i attended had very large and faithful congregations spanning from birth to at one point, 99. Not one complaint was ever voiced about being shut out because our priests faced the altar.
Our sermons were at times almost 30 minutes long, depending on the topic. None of them included pop psychology with Scripture backing it up. Our choirs at certain points, sang almost invisibly, very softly, for instance Communion was being distributed. The reverence was church wide during the entire Mass.
We appear to have lost our true reverence for our God the King and Lord of all He surveys. If you doubt this, ask yourself, when was the last time you truly bowed before our God in complete and humble obeisance. Not just in Church, but at home too. Whenever i used to read or hear this Scripture read, i’d think yeah! “For every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”? Until one morning i heard within me “And what about you Candida?” I began that day, 3 times a day, giving our God the courtesy of bowing to the ground to Him. We forget, we owe Him this.
One of these days I will work up the nerve to tell my Lutheran minister that I really, really, hate it when she skips over the Sanctus to “save time.”
That’s why there are the “health and wealth” preachers whose focus is on earthly gain.
But with Jesus the focus is on eternal life:
“He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.” – John 6:54
A bit of liturgical temperance as well as comment temperance would be beautiful.
One of the neglected lessons of today that contributes to people mistakenly yielding to going where they feel entertained, is that of mortification of the will. So many people today will ditch anything that doesn’t hold their attention. This is why attempts to lure people by such means ends up failing in the long run.
When people act on their own will instead of on the will of God, their worship becomes a passing fad along with the thing that attracted them. Those whose priests teach them about mortification of the will learn to persevere through the dry spells of worship, when we feel nothing.
I know people who won’t go to Mass unless their is something in it for them. What they don’t know is that by giving themselves to God and making Him the center, they will be showered with many graces that will enable them to go forth and witness the faith better.
So true, Msgr. Pope, so true.
In my profession as a sound recordist, I have, in the past, worked closely with many churches, including a ‘mega-church’ back when it was ‘pre-mega’ or before it reached ‘mega’ status (whatever that means).
Well… there I was in the midst of the crashing guitars, crashing drums, bass and keyboards –
and the whole congregation had their arms up in the air, waving them around like there was no tomorrow.
(One could easily lose one’s hearing if exposed to this for too long)…
And I asked myself, “Where is God in all of this?”
Contrast this with mass in Latin at St. Joseph’s church way back when I was a little boy.
I couldn’t understand most of the words (mea culpa somehow stays stuck in my mind; I can’t imagine why),
but there was a palpable air of power and majesty that permeated the whole church.
Maybe it was just because I was so little, and everything else seemed so large.
Or maybe it was the church building itself, so ornate and timeless in its architecture.
(No doubt a few of my choir-member uncles and aunts would say it was because they sang so beautifully).
But this to me, was another world. Maybe even another time.
Perhaps it’s supposed to be like that; because we were made, ultimately, for a place far, far better than what we now inhabit.
Thank you again, for another inspired piece of writing, I will share this with all my friends. God bless you.
When the priest says the words of consecration and Jesus Christ becomes present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the midst of His people, I don’t understand how anyone can have any other focus than Jesus present on the altar. The priest brings Him to us so that we can praise Him, adore Him, love Him, and spend the rest of the Mass in worship of Him right there in front of us where we can see Him. It’s more difficult to see the species now that the Church no longer uses crystal chalices, and I certainly understand why they are no longer used. Still, if one looks at the paten one can sometimes see the hosts lying there. That is really Jesus in the flesh and blood. That is awesome. There is nothing greater in this world. I know this by faith; my sight allows me to experience what I know despite my senses to the contrary. And it is such a blessing for us to be able to look and see Jesus there on the altar.
Granted that we now focus our response on what we proclaim and profess rather than on Him dying to destroy death and rising to restore life, still in the changed liturgy we must accept what we don’t like as well along with what we like better (and with your spirit).
I tend to judge music by the words they use rather than the melodies, provided the music doesn’t interfere with hearing the words clearly. Forever Grateful is modern and beautiful. So is Our God Reigns. I’m sure there are many more beautiful new songs out there that praise God.
Yes you have written elsewhere that don’t “understand” eastward orientation. Yet when it is explained to you you still dont understand. Why not just say what mean, that you dont like it? Own your own view and say why but say others cant be understood. I personally think you set up a false dichotmy between seei g and having the priest turned toward you. But thats what you like or prefer. Same with music. You like modern some dont i happen to like some modern to include more gospel and some Christian contemporary and a lot of polyphony and chant. Call me a polyglot
The choice is not between God-centred and people-centred worship, but between different perceptions of God. For many centuries worship has been directed towards the transcendent glorious imperialist deity, but today we want to know that this God is also immanent, with us, in us, much more a loving presence than a stern authoritarian demanding our obeisance – the God of Christ and the prophets in fact. It is a difference of emphasis, but since the previous long-running emphasis has skewed so much of Christian faith and practice redirection is badly needed. The unrest and dissatisfaction of our transitional time may be a good thing, showing that we need to come to a fuller, more rounded perception of God.
Now it is you who are exaggerating your opponents’ notions.
CHRIST THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Jesus the world’s only true Light
is almost completely rejected
they keep Him out of sight
instead of Him satan is erected
what is this world becoming
we’re really in apocalyptic times
the Bible is read thumbing
skyrocketing are the crimes
locked is every room in the inn
for the Savior of men
no need for remission of sin
to that we all say “AMEN”
Jesus is betrayed
even by His own disciples
they say “enough” they prayed
only, to their own idols
they see themselves so illuminated
while the True Light is extinguished
the whole world they contaminated
and the Truth they relinquished
They reject the Christ in Christmas
worshipping a lighted tree instead
even the real Saint Nicholas
has been left behind for dead
We call on You, O Lord and Master
help us to stop this abomination
to reinstall You as our Pastor
and as King of Your Creation
May the time be coming soon
that You will reign over a New World
announce it with a Heavenly tune
when all devils are safely furled.
Emmanuel, God with us, who then can be against us
Let Your Light shine on us, especially this Christmas
We love You Jesus
Rita Biesemans, Christmas 2014
I am proud of O.L.O.G.Church in Romney, WVA Our Tabernacle is in the altar where it belongs and we have a large statue of the Blessed Mother next to the altar.
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