I assisted at or parish Teen Mass, yesterday, during which something occurred to me. I have struggled for a while with my dislike for contemporary music in church. I can ignore it a lot of the time, but some days it just grates on me in a way that is distracting and doesn't honor God, I'm afraid.
Even our more traditional Masses are flavored with contemporary music, though there is no Jazz Combo leading the tunes, as there is for the teen worship (drums, electric guitars, etc...).
Last night it finally hit me why this bothers me like it does.
It's because it adds to and amplifies the sense that there is simply no escape from Pop Culture. It will find you, hunt you down... in an elevator, in a restaurant, on the bus, at work - the unceasing static of a frenetic, restless world. I desperately need a break from this, at times, which is one reason I love to go camping. No radio, no cable, no internet... I can re-orient my head to the sound of rustling leaves and the songs of birds.
You would think that taking part in the ancient rite of the Mass would be one of those occasions when you could count on a bit of a respite from pop culture. There stands the holy altar of stone. Beyond that, the tabernacle sits behind massive wooden doors. The smell of incense hangs in the air, while the robed priests and acolytes make their way in solemn procession... how did Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band get in here? (If you don't get the reference, Google it. Please keep in mind that I was born in 1960).
I'm really not a musical prude, I love all kinds of music (... well, almost all kinds). But it seems to me that we should try hard to make the Mass feel more like the timeless sacrament that it is. The Mass should smell of eternity. We should leave carrying this sense of the eternal with us out into the world. Instead, it seems we carry the noise of the world wherever we go, even into the Mass.
It's like wearing an i-pod on a date.
I know this gets people all riled up on both sides, and I don't really fall into that camp that is positively offended at non-Gregorian music for Mass. Mostly I just go along and get along like everyone, and I'm grateful for every Mass I can make it to. But... music for the Mass was once composed by people like Mozart and Beethoven. Why must ours sound like something from Barney, The Musical or American Top Forty?
Okay. Rant over.
Addendum: In a humorous way, it occurs to me that the blank, featureless buildings and trite music may be all part of a grand scheme, a conscious attempt (by some committee at the USCCB, probably) to make penance an integral part of the modern Mass... to make it so bland and unappealing as to be a purely spiritual exercise, holding no reward for the flesh... like monks who used to wear hair shirts or eat nothing but gruel. Anyone who can, for years, drag themselves to a typical, contemporary American Mass can only be driven by some unseen force beyond human comprehension. It could even be seen as proof - hard evidence - of the supernatural. ;-)