Mediocre Masses Strike Again!
I recently attended a "young adult Mass" at a Catholic parish in an affluent Chicago neighborhood.
The church must be doing something right, because the Mass was full of the young adults and its outside engagement efforts seemed to be on-target as well.
Unfortunately, the Mass itself was mediocre in its execution, and as a young adult myself, left me feeling unfulfilled. A few issues with the Mass can be applied to a number of Masses in American Catholic parishes -- especially those in larger metropolitan areas.
First, the music selection was worse than mediocre and may have crossed into "bad liturgical music" territory. Songs were campy, incorporated only broad Biblical themes, and could have been used in a Protestant service. The parish I was raised in, for example, uses GIA Publication's Gather hymnal, which contains such artists as David Haas, William Schoenfield, and Fr. Michael Joncas, who is probably best known for his song On Eagle's Wings.
The theological themes of uninspired music common in Catholic parishes today are flat. They are so broad as to be almost irrelevant to the celebration of the Mass. Here is a sample of David Haas's We Are Called:
Come! live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom,
to live in the freedom of the city of God!
We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
Of course Christians are supposed to act "justly," "love tenderly," and "serve one another." But there is nothing distinctly Catholic about these lyrics. This song could be used in almost any setting by any Christian group. Such campy-ness doesn't do justice to the solemn sacrifice that is re-presented at each and every Mass. Other bad liturgical songs follow suit.
Earlier this year Anthony Esolen wrote a scathing piece in Crisis Magazine titled "How to Kill Vocations in Your Diocese." In it he laid out the most common ways that the Mass can be a turnoff to the faithful, and males in particular. Two of his items dealt with over-feminization:
Be effeminate. Get rid of every single hymn that has anything to do with Christian soldiership. Castrate the rest of the hymns. Or, better, favor hymns that make Jesus into a kind of safe sweet Boyfriend, with whom you can make out on the couch now and in heaven later. Let the music be led by women, especially women who like to be seen and heard performing it. Put the hand-raising cantor up front, to upstage the priest and Christ...Never suggest that the Church needs men for anything. Make "man" into an obscenity. Never suggest that fathers and mothers play complementary roles in the family. Never suggest that Jesus had something important in mind when He chose twelve men as his brothers. Suggest instead that to be a genuine Christian, a man has to stop being a man.
Esolen touches on something important here. When the Mass is feminized it becomes a turn-off to men because Christianity is about being militant in one's beliefs. Catholicism even has a name for this in the "Church Militant," which is distinct from the "Church Suffering" and the "Church Triumphant." This isn't to say that women have no place within the Church -- they certainly do -- but to emphasize women at the expense of men (and vice versa) will serve neither well.
Ultimately, mediocre Masses serve no one well. They undermine the faith they promote, hemorrhage church goers, and are counterproductive to the mission they try to advance.