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Monday, December 25, 2006

Life Teen Christmas? Lord, Have Mercy!

"One Word the Father spoke (Which is His Son) and this Word He speaks in eternal silence, and It is in silence It is heard by the soul." - St. John of the Cross

Silence, reverence, and beauty...the hallmarks of the Church. How I wish people understood this before the baby boomers had decided to take their previously unexpressed teenage angst and inflict it upon the Church of today.

There is a fine line between performance and worship...or maybe the line really isn’t so fine. It tends to be more of a chasm than a line, really, and thus, can’t be blurred.

But that doesn’t stop rock bands from performing at what is still the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Yup. “Performing”. Because they are NOT leading music…they are performing. Loudly. With much gusto, many drums, much bass, and hopping around, dancing, and jamming. I only wish I was kidding.

I had a wonderful Advent, even including the trials of my last week. I have noticed that a time of darkness is often followed by a great blessing, and yesterday morning, I received that blessing at a beautiful Advent Mass. I had such a sense of peacefulness as I went through my day, looking forward to the 4:00 pm Christmas Vigil at my parish.

I really wanted to go to Midnight Mass, but family obligations dictated otherwise, thus I was limited in what I could do. I considered it to be a worthy sacrifice, to place my family above my Mass preference. I had gone to the 4:00 pm Christmas Eve Mass last year, and it was fine; bare bones, but a nice, reverent, joyful Mass.

But yesterday afternoon, when I arrived at my parish an hour in advance, hoping for some time for quiet prayer before the Christmas-and-Easter-Catholics emerged from the woodwork with the regular attendees, I nearly turned around and left when I heard the rock band practicing on the stage which is normally where the choir stands.

I hadn’t realized the LifeTeen band was performing at that Mass. I hadn’t realized that I was attending a rock concert with the trappings of a Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! I nearly turned around and went home to call my family and report I would be 2 hours later than originally planned. I did NOT want to stay for the circus usually referred to as "Mass." But really, I had no choice.

And so I headed for the Perpetual Adoration Chapel in hopes of spending some time in prayer and reflection. But I had forgotten that every Sunday at 3 a group prays Divine Mercy and teh full 20 decade Rosary. So much for quiet reflection. Even the chanting of the prayers was interrupted by the irregular drum beats of the band in the sanctuary.

I left the chapel at 3:30 in order to find a place in the main sanctuary, wishing that I had ear plugs. The Church became more and more crowded, as expected, and it was wonderful to see so many people there. But my enjoyment in seeing so many attending Mass was ruined by the band blasting my eardrums, the bass guitar and drums resonating in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t prepare my heart because it was so LOUD! I even preferred the noise of the crowds because that I could block out to a certain degree. But not the thumping drums or the bass guitars, or the loud, sometimes piercing singing.

I am not an old, grumpy woman...I still qualify as a "young adult", and the guitars, drums, singing...all that is good stuff...on the car radio. On my stereo at home. On my walkman, the ipod, or what-have-you. NOT at Mass.

My sense of peace was Advent preparations seemed for naught because I couldn’t honestly PRAY the Mass. I found myself flinching every time the music began, and nearly died when the guritar riffs that began the GLORIA were the same that begin a Bryan Adam's song which was popular in the 80's.

There was no reverence. There was only the band, jamming away at their own private concert there in the front of the sanctuary.

I am a musician, and I used to be a cantor, a songleader, and a flautist at my parish while I was in high school. Music has always been a huge part of my life, and having studied it so long and hard, having developed an appreciation for what is proper and when and where, changed me forever. Bad music, or inappropriate music actually pierces my soul to a degree most people probably can't understand. But I do believe anyone with any musical taste would agree.

As an adult member at my current parish, I have not gotten involved in music ministry, although I fondly recall the days of attending 3 Masses per weekend in order to fulfill a need. Yet I have directly avoided this ministry as an adult. Why?

Because when I sang before, and when I played the flute, sang in choir or as a soloist with the choir, it was a performance. I had to be good. I had to ‘perform”, and in a sense, it became about me and what I could do, rather than about Jesus, about leading worship in song, or about bringing others into participation in the Mass.

No one likely knew that I saw it this way, and thank God no one at my current parish has tried to induct me into the choir. I no longer play the flute...I CAN, but I don’t play well anymore due to years of, well, nothing. If I were to take it up again, I would find a private teacher to help me get the rust out of my fingers and find the intonation and clear vibrato which used to be so effortless. I used to be really good, thanks to hours and hours of practice, private lessons on occasion, etc. But since I’ve been out of college, there has been no practice for me, and no singing. I am content to sing with the congregation, to raise my voice in worship with those around me, because when the attention is not focused on me, I do not have to worry if I miss a note or begin singing the wrong verse. I do not have to worry about “my part”, looking for cues from the priest...I can be completely focused on Jesus, about worship with my parish community. That is enough.

And so I no longer lead singing...because even though I have undergone some spiritual formation, I fear, well, first of all that the gift God gave me when I was younger has been taken back (I don’t think I have the same singing voice I once had), and I also fear that if I do step into the role as cantor or songleader once again, I may return to the temptation of “performance” versus “worship”.

Do not take that to mean that the mark left on my soul through hours and hours of practice and musical education has been erased; rather it has been honed by the maturity that tends to happen with age, whether we want it or realize it or not.

Last night at Mass, I saw the gray-haired LifeTeen guitar player jumping around, dancing, while playing the music, some of it even the regular music for the Mass set to a rock band arrangement.

I had to keep checking to be sure I hadn’t wandered into the local “feel good - Got Saved?” church, with all the jumping, banging, and clapping. This should NEVER happen in a Catholic church!

During Advent, I read St. Francis de Sales, and he referred to that quiet interior place where God remains with us, going to that place in at time of adversity, noise, etc. I desperately looked to find that inner quiet, begging St. Francis for his assistance...but every time I began to find the quiet, the cymbals clashed, the drum roared to life and a singer hit a note that should not be hit...EVER.

I could not even focus during and after communion, and found myself apologizing to Jesus rather than thanking him for coming to us as a little child. I was begging for mercy, begging for it all to end, flinching and cringing every time the band found it necessary to start up, once again.

Ironically, during the Eucharistic prayers, part of which Father sang a capella, his microphone failed. (Not due to his singing voice; the man can carry a tune just fine).

I commented to God, “Lord - you switched off the wrong mike!”

I prayed that the band would lose their electrical power, the amps would be silenced and the singers forced to do away with the electronics in favor of the piano or organ. That prayer was not answered.

Finally Mass was over, and I was anything but joyful, really just apologetic, wondering if I should go to Confession for my aggravated feelings during Mass, or just go to Mass again? But the Mass was valid, and I think at this point I just have to accept the fact that Mass was not the one I prefer. I have had to offer it up for the salvation of souls.

So to all of you who were able to attend a beautiful, reverent, Holy Christmas Mass, sans drums and guitars, remember that you are so blessed, and please pray for peace for those of us who suffered at the only Mass our family obligations allowed us to attend. Had I realized this was going to happen I would have changed my obligations prior to be able to attend the reverent Mass we should always have.

Thankfully, the Mass itself was valid and Holy, the priests are solid - only the music was bad. Last night, in the end, was just another reminder that God conveys Grace through the actual Sacraments, whether we "feel" anything holy about it or not. I thank God from the depths of my imperfect soul for that reality.

A continued Merry Christmas to you all!


Anonymous said...

Adoro - sorry to hear about your Mass experience. As I read the parts about trying to find a quiet place in the din I could only think of the Blessed Mother perched on the back of a donkey as St. Joseph struggled to find a place for them.

Good news from Chris - check my blog!

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I'm alternately crying for you and laughing. I'm with you NOW. But, for many years I went to a church where that kind of "Mass" was the norm. I can't stand it now.

I went to my parish early today to pray a Rosary and there was a fair amount of talking from the Easter and Christmas Catholics. I decided to be glad they were there. Father was clearly delighted at the mulitude especially since we are a small parish and this was Christmas Mass #3.

I claim the protection of the Blood of the Lamb.

Love and Peace,

Adoro said...

Thank you, ladies. If I had been able to think over the noise, maybe I would have recognized the grace of the hardship the Lord was allowing me to take. Is it possible to offer things up after the situation happened? I've often wondered this but as that image hadn't come to me (no surprise!), but seems so perfect now, well....

Maybe I should take your idea and blog about it. Thank you Angela, you are a blessing and a half!

Great news about Chris...I did check it out and respond earlier today.

Cathy ~ I actually didn't mind the crowds because it is wonderful to see the church so full. It should ALWAYS be that way, and if everyone would realize that, how blessed! Yeah, it's noisy before mass, but it's something that can be addressed easily in prayer and offered in joy...which I did. But then the band started.

Who knows? Maybe if the sound system were at least turned DOWN it wouldn't have been so bad...

You, also, are a blessing!

Merry Christmas to both of you!

Anonymous said...

Adoro - thanks!

It was a post of YOURS recently that brought the fact of the second coming home to me. This is something I have never given thought to and I would think about Christmas and preparing for the Christ child's birth but then I would think - NO, this has happened already and it only happens once. BUT - something your wrote twigged with me which is that we must prepare for His second coming...and then it all began to fall into place!

Christmas blessings to you!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry your Mass experience was not what you were hoping to have. As a person who is often moved by more contemporary songs, I am saddened that a misplaced focus and poor leadership has turned a very valid part of the Mass into a distraction when done poorly. Our church does have a LifeTeen Mass and there was a time when it was more performance than worship. I think that that is an ongoing struggle for a music ministry trying to reach out to everyone. Thankfully, things seem to have shifted back to the right place. Perhaps the people leading this part of the music ministry haven't been made aware of how they could better serve the parish. I think it is possible to have that style of music and have it done well so that it contributes to the Holy Mass, rather than detracts. But it is difficult and not everyone gets it right. Instead, rejoice in the fact that you don't have to be a part of that Mass all the time and pray that they can find direction and still minister to the people seeking their kind of worship music.

owenswain said...

I love our local church but I admit to having been very disappointed with our Christmas Eve Mass. I was left with the question, "Where is the holy?" We had contemporary style choruses and hymns, liturgical dance {a first for our church} done by a team of about 20 children and youth which while not distasteful left me feeling I was attending a concert or one of the services held in my place of former employment, a Protestant, Willow Creek style church. Speaking of that, there was also a video clip of a skit about Sparky the angel assigned to the star of Bethlehem given in the middle of the homily.