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The Priest was too humble and the Music too good

This was first published last March on my previous blog site. I have had to reference it a couple of times lately so I thought I would move it to my current site.

We were traveling again this past weekend so it meant another visit to a parish in the diocese next door. I’ve written about this diocese before. It is home to the “Yee-Haw Mass" and the “Mass as a PowerPoint presentation" parishes. At this point I am not surprised by anything I see. This weekend’s adventure, however, left me feeling a bit conflicted.

The Church was obviously being built in stages. The current structure looks like it will be the parish hall when a new sanctuary is built. For now, Mass is celebrated in this large open room circular room filled with folding chairs. The altar sits on a raised platform. There is a large wooden cross but no crucifix. Behind the altar is a stage that seats the musicians. The priest sits with the congregation in the first row of chairs facing the altar. He even offers the rubrics of the Mass from this position, though he does go to the Altar for the Eucharistic prayer. He makes it clear he does not want to be elevated above the laity. While humility is noble, in my opinion, he is undermining his priestly vocation with this approach. The priest is different from the laity with a completely different role to fulfill during the Mass.

My feeling of conflict, however, did not stem from this egalitarian priest. It was the music that left me questioning. There was a small ensemble consisting of a vocalist, a saxophone player, a trumpet player, and a pianist playing a baby grand piano. These were all accomplished musicians. The music had a very smooth jazzy feel. The vocals were mostly simple refrains but were sung in perfect pitch with an almost haunting lilt to her sultry voice. The instrumentalists offered impressive improvisational riffs. So here is my dilemma: I love the jazz genre. I was listening to a notable presentation of religiously themed jazz. Yet I felt uncomfortable. Am I just such a traditionalist when it comes to the Mass that I can’t accept and enjoy anything a little new and different in the liturgy?

After much reflection, I realized my discomfort was because the music drew my attention from the Mass and focused it on the musicians. I was almost expecting the soloists to stand and take a bow after a particularly showy segment. This repertoire would be perfect for an evening of praise and worship music. However, during the Mass, nothing should upstage the Eucharist. Perhaps the musicians could adopt the priest’s humility and become one with the congregation rather than the center of attention.


Rosemary Bogdan said…
I think your assessment is correct. My understanding of liturgical music is that it should always enhance the worship of the congregation and not draw attention to itself. The musicians and the congregation together all focused vertiaclly.
Barb, sfo said…
I also agree. The last thing I as a musician want to hear from someone is that the music was so good, they had to just sit and listen. That's not what liturgical music is for.
When I was a student at Notre Dame, they had a very accomplished choir (I'm sure they still do). I will generally sing at Mass regardless of whether "most" of the rest of the assembly is doing so, but at ND, the choir was SO good that everyone, myself included, felt that it was their performance and we should not join in. I finally gave up on Masses in the big church and attended dorm Masses instead. Less refined, but the participation was terrific.
Tony said…
He makes it clear he does not want to be elevated above the laity.

This badly catechized priest does not seem to understand that he is in persona Christi when he celebrates the mass. Does he believe Christ should be elevated above the laity, or is the only elevation allowed is when our Savior is hanging on the cross?
Catholic Mom said…
Since this church doesn't display a crucifix I am not sure we can even say Christ is elevated on the cross. Pray for them. This diocese is recovering from 30 years of liturgical wackiness under the last bishop. The new bishop has his hands full.
Michelle said…
Several years ago while traveling we attended a Mass where the priest sat in the front row much as you described. Bill and I rolled our eyes and made a mental note to avoid the church the next time...

...humility is one thing. Lack of leadership and responsibility is quite another.

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