Monthly Archives: February 2018

Baby Boomer Mass

baby-boomers

original image found here

I gripe. I’m a griper.

One thing that is glaringly apparent to a former outsider of the Catholic Church (I was a trained anti-Catholic Baptist/neo-Calvinist/almost Evangelical — good people, btw) who has recently come into the Church (that would be me in 2013) is that the Novus Ordo Mass is, among other things, a reflection of the values and stylistic preferences of the 1960’s baby boomers. I know this because I grew up in a baby boomer era west coast version of Christianity so prevalent in the 1970s — a version that even outdoes the Catholics in sentimentality — and I know this kind of Christianity intimately. I saw how our Baptist church changed from the somewhat stodgy Christianity of my grandparents to that of my parents. (Oh, I’ve got stories.) In fact, I thought some of the changes were for the better. But for the sometimes nostalgic feelings I have for my past, I don’t think that version of Christianity is particularly good. (Well, it’s probably heretical at some level) And I certainly don’t think it’s good for Catholics.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Vatican II, and a leaning towards pre-Vatican II Catholicism is on the rise (and so is the resistance to that rise), but we still have the spirit of the 1960’s (the spirit of the baby boomers) with us today — some of that spirit is good, but a lot is not. Perhaps the evidence is most apparent in the music sung at so many Masses today.

Let me pause a moment and say that I still mostly attend the Novus Ordo Mass, but have been going to Traditional Latin Mass when it’s available in my area and I can make it. Lately I’ve been calling them the Greater Mass and the Lesser Mass. I think you can guess which is which. And I know some will want to chastise me for straddling the fence too much, but there’s a story to everyone’s life and I’ve got one too. So, here I am, for now.

Frequently at the NO Mass we sing (well… not everyone sings) songs that are clearly poor shadows of the 1960’s folk-style oeuvre. I love that oeuvre, but not sung at Mass, and certainly not poor shadows as some kind of praise or prayer to our King. Honestly, I’m not sure what we are doing sometimes. Is this a prayer? Is this about God or about me?? But I see the baby boomers happily singing these songs without even having to look at the “hymnal.” Hymnal is in quotes because a lot of these are songs barely resembling hymns, and the “hymnal” is really a cheap and disposable “mass market” (pun intended) paperback — which itself is a message counter to the gravity, substantiality, beauty, and truth of the faith and Catholic worship — but that’s another topic.

I can’t even…

My apologies for that nausea inducing surypy sentimental moment.

It was the boomers that welcomed the new Mass, just as they welcomed “sit ins” and Peter, Paul and Mary, welcomed bell bottom jeans and antiestablishmentarianism, and rejected nearly all traditions and the voices of anyone over thirty.¹ It was the boomers who felt strongly that their parents didn’t and couldn’t understand how the world had changed.² Their parents voted for Eisenhower, supported Vietnam, questioned the civil rights movement, covered their couches in clear plastic, and would later vote for Nixon. Squaresville.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

Catholicism was obviously even more entrenched deep within a stale and rigid tradition. Right? Think of that silly sedia gestatoria and all that turgid pomp. The very opposite of hip and cool. Right? It had to change. It had to get with it. The Church needed a new bag. It had to serve the Me Generation — a generation unable to accept anything other than what it could invent itself. Otherwise the churches would soon empty out, the seminaries would close, the faithful would get their entertainment elsewhere, the world would cease to take the Church seriously, and priests, if not giving in to the the sexual revolution and its perversions, would leave the priesthood, get married to nuns, and become positive thinking gurus. (oops) The traditional had to go and the contemporary had to come in. Open the Church’s windows and doors and let the winds of the zeitgeist blow through, clearing out the cobwebs and stale air. Finally!!

What was not anticipated was just how stale the winds of fashion would become from one day to the next. Quickly the Church began to stink with the foul air of the age.

Winds-of-God-Front

Who could have know where this would lead?

An aside: I love Peter, Paul and Mary, but just not at Mass and certainly not poor shadows of that trio. On Eagles Wings?! I Am the Bread of Life??! Wut? And heck, even though I love that now everyday is “casual day” at work, wearing a t-shirt branded Lou’s Shake-Shack and flip flops before the Real Presence? Really? This is not merely a matter of taste, or class distinctions, nor is it an “ageist” argument. Rather it’s theological and liturgical. If we truly have the Real Presence before us, then…?? then…?? Come on folks.

What does worship and true reverence demand? What has God made us for?

A confession: I am a Generation X guy, but only just under the wire. Some might even say I was born in the last year of the boomer generation — but I refuse to agree. I refuse *stomping feet* to be in that mad camp. But I still have a lot of the Jesus movement coursing through my veins. I was weaned on Larry Norman. I’ve sang my fair share of folk/rock/pop “worship” hymns/songs/whatever and, I have to say, I loved a lot of that, and still do. Back “in the day” I even (poorly) lead my Protestant youth group in worship, playing my guitar like some who desperately needed lessons. And I still love the music of that Catholic-hating Protestant Jesus freak, the late great Keith Green. (Has anyone written a more beautiful modern hymn as good as Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful or as sublime as My Eyes are Dry? God rest his soul.) But we don’t even get Green’s quality of songs at Mass — unless we go way way back and sing great works from the past which ultimately put his songs to shame. Just what are we offering to God with these new songs? Any why are we singing anyway if not to pray? yada yada yada

A little slice of Christianity from 1972:

Youth synod?

Anyway, the boomers³ at the contemporary Novus Ordo Mass of today, who sing from memory those mediocre “hymns” with a smile on their faces, are probably the less than five percent (maybe it’s ten percent? I’m making this up) of their generation that remained in the church once the liturgical turmoil and confusion of the 1970’s and 80’s drove most Catholics away. In other words, it seems most of the boomer Catholics back in the day got what they wanted (change, revolution, freedom, folk music, bongos, and modernism-inspired teaching) and then left Catholicism for other things (Evangelical Protestantism, New Age spirituality, free market capitalism, pastel cashmere sweaters, etc.). Only a few remained. And many of those that stayed (including the Holy Father, who is a bit older than a baby boomer btw) often seem utterly perplexed as to why it’s the Catholic youth and Protestant converts who are leading the charge for the Church to re-embrace the Traditional Latin Mass and other traditional & ancient forms of Catholic worship and devotion. They see it as a return to a rigid⁴ faith. Perhaps for a few it is, but in general I think it is something entirely different, something more profound. Perhaps far less rigid, actually.

In fact, the great traditions of the Church, including the Mass of the ages (The Greater Mass — you know that’s what I meant), is the least rigid aspect of Catholicism I can think of. Sadly, it seems to me the Pope and “his men” are some of the most rigid Catholics I’ve witnessed. This grieves me, but I am not surprised for I know human nature. Pray for the Pope. I think he was hurt by someone or something many years ago. I think he carries that hurt with him today. I don’t mean to sound trite. Pray.

Okay, okay… I also have to say the boomers who have remained faithful to the Church through it all are also often examples of love for Christ, service to others, and active participants in church. Who am I to judge, right? It’s mostly boomers who run and manage my parish, and they are great. The doors would shut without them. They run the local Catholic Community Services organization, St. Vincent de Paul, and other social programs. They do a great deal of service and are devoted to the parish. They put me to shame. I’m probably a terrible person.

AND… many, many boomers are leading the charge towards the Traditional Latin Mass. Some bearing deep scars from past battles and beatings. They must be given more credit than they often receive. The Spirit of Vatican II has been quite a terror.

The key reason to call the Novus Ordo Mass the Baby Boomer Mass is not to denigrate the Baby Boomers, at least not any more than any other generation, but merely to recognize that the Novus Ordo is a Mass beholden to the fashions and proclivities of a particular generation or two, rather than the Mass that arose from across the centuries, beholden to no generation, and expressing an almost ineffable timelessness and more heavenly characteristics.

Thus, to sum up, unlike the timelessness and substantial beauty of the Traditional Catholic Mass, the Baby Boomer Mass is looking old and tired, like pet rocks and yesterday’s hairstyles. (Not to speak of deeper liturgical and theological tragedy that is the NO Mass.) Strangely, so often the Novus Ordo Mass looks more and more like a time capsule and, perhaps surprisingly, the Mass of the ages looks like the best choice for the contemporary Church. And isn’t that almost always the case? What is trendy looks old so quickly, and what is ancient is timeless. Fashions come and go. We ought not let the form follow fashion. We really shouldn’t be about fashion at all.

Perhaps the greatest gift the Novus Ordo has given the Church is the opportunity for comparison and reflection. Because of the NO we can see better the profound greatness of the Traditional Latin Mass and much of traditional Catholic culture, perhaps in a way past generations couldn’t see or had grown blind to.

Of course all of this is a gross oversimplification, and not necessarily (or mostly, or merely) a generational divide. It’s not about boomers getting old or, heaven forbid, the youth once again leading the way. God save us! But it’s also not merely a matter of “updating” the Mass to a more contemporary fashion. (Some are saying we haven’t gone far enough with V2.) Nor is it about going back to some “golden age.” There’s a lot more to be said. A lot more.

Anyway… I gripe. I’m a griper.


  1. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was a phrase spoken by Jack Weinberg, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s.
  2. “Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.” (Bob Dylan, 1963)
  3. Frankly, it’s not just the boomers. I do see some younger folks–in their thirties and forties–singing these songs without needing the hymnal. Why why why? Who are these people?
  4. As said by Pope Francis himself: “[M]any young people in the church today who have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.” Found here and many other reports.

 

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Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris needs some serious TLC

A view shows a damaged gargoyle at the Notre Dame Cathedral in ParisThe cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris is slowly crumbling. It’s expensive to repair. Since the French Revolution churches in France are owned by the state. So the state has the responsibility to keep the churches standing, or decide some other fate, which could mean demolition. The cathedral of Notre-Dame needs $70 million dollars. Here’s a story about that:

Perhaps the French state should give the catherdral back to the Church. No?

Story found here.

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The Altar as the Center of the Church

For some time now I’ve been fascinated by Church architecture and how it works. In my parish there is a small movement to re-establish the original high altar and tabernacle at the center of the sanctuary. It was moved to the right of the sanctuary sometime in the 1970’s I would guess. I wrote about it here.

My argument for moving the altar back to the center is based a lot on what a church is, and the overall design of churches, essentially starting with the structure and moving in towards the altar. What I like about the following lecture by architect Duncan Stroik is that he starts with the altar and “builds” out from there.

Of course, to understand the altar we should understand what takes place there. Do we truly have the body and blood of Christ? If yes, then that is huge. If no, then none of this really matters. Right? Sometimes I think that most Catholics today see the Eucharist as a symbol, not believing in the Real Presence, not believing in transubstantiation. I think churches in the round reflect that.

How we design and build our churches expresses what we believe to be true — and how we rank truths. A church in the round reflects some truth — that we are all fellowshiping around a shared table. But does it reflect the proper hierarchy of truths? Have more important truths been reduced in rank (as expressed by the design) and lesser, though important, truths been elevated? Has Jesus my friend been elevated over Christ our King?

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Catholic Monuments, Tradition, and Liturgy

This is a great lecture by Fr. Chad Ripperger via Sensus Fidelium. I was not previously familiar with how the term “monument” is being used here, but I find the message excellent. [Look up “Catholic monument” online and you get a bunch of headstone and funeral services companies.] I have become increasingly interested in how traditional forms of and within Catholic liturgy and worship were handed down to us from Christ, through the apostles, and developed through history. There’s a lot of good stuff in this talk, but it’s basic message is that the collapse of the use and preservation of Catholic monuments & traditions (arguably an act of deconstruction) has led to the collapse of Catholicism in many parts of the world, been disrespectful of past generations, and sabotaged the fatih. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

An interesting quote: “Different liturgy beget different church structures.”

Lately I’ve asked if different liturgies, such as the TLM and the NO, actually require different architecture. This makes sense when one feels as though the Novus Ordo being celebrated in a very traditional Catholic church is, in some fundamental but hard to express way, out of place in that space. Or why modernist style church buildings fit okay (arguably) with the NO but not with the TLM. This also raises questions about how to bring back, as it were, the TLM when the available church building is modernist and not traditional. Is it possible? I think so, but certainly not ideal.

I also find his point about Catholics treating sacred things, and especially the Eucharist, in a casual way because the mystery has been removed. This makes me wonder if the act of removing the mystery is, in fact, some version of transgression against the second commandment. I’m not sure of the connection, but I think lessening the idea of God being “I AM” is actually built into the structure of certain modern practices, like receiving Christ in the hand rather than on the tongue. Perhaps this makes God seem more accessible, but I think we are confused about what accessible means, how it’s supposed to “feel,” or why we think it’s important.

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Restoring the ambulatory at Chartres Cathedral

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The vaults before restoration. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert (source)

This video below speaks to my soul. Having been an art history major as an undergrad, and loving medieval architecture, and loving documentary film that just shows you the “thing itself” without commentary, videos like this one are wonderful. Full screen, turn up the volume.

Notes on the production:
“Ce documentaire vous plonge au cœur du chantier de restauration du déambulatoire de la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) et permet de découvrir les gestes des restaurateurs de l’entreprise Lithos, filmés par Anne Savalli. Il décline les principales étapes de la restauration et le savoir-faire unique des artisans opérant sur les échafaudages inaccessibles au regard du public.”

More on this project here.

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Traditional Latin Mass at Notre-Dame de Paris to commemorate Summorum Pontificum

July 7, 2017 was the ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio (Apostolic Letter) Summorum Pontificum. Those of you who love the traditional Latin Mass know the importance of this letter.

On that anniversary a traditional Latin Mass was celebrated as a commemoration and celebration at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. Here it is. It’s worth watching full screen with the audio up.

Things I observe:

  • The Mass is not stuffy or old feeling. It is certainly traditional, but does not seem at all out of date. The word is “timeless.”
  • A traditional Latin Mass seems more appropriate in Notre-Dame de Paris than does a Novus Ordo Mass (which one can find on the Notre-Dame website linked above). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. That is, the “fittingness” of the form of the Mass (NO or TLM) and the church setting.
  • The Mass is beautiful. I am not against the Novus Ordo Mass. I have experienced some beautiful ones. I also participated in the choir at a Latin Novus Ordo Mass recently celebrated in my parish. However, this Mass above is truly beautiful and feels appropriate when one thinks that the King is present in their midst.
  • They have someone to direct the singing of the congregation. We could use that in the TLM I go to once a month in a nearby parish. It can get confusing without someone directing for those of us who are still learning the TLM (which is most of us).
  • The church is full. Maybe this is always true for this famous and grand cathedral, but on a hot and humid July day in Paris (many of the congregation fan themselves) this church is packed. Apparently not a few folks in France like the old ways.
  • At times I wonder if they are used to celebrating the TLM at Notre-Dame. I see little moments that seem to indicate not everything is going 100% smooth, that they are trying hard to make it work — and they do. I could be reading into it as well.
  • There is a mix of old chant and more “recent” polyphony (18th century, etc.). At least one of the polyphonic songs (really a prayer) I sang in the choir at our Latin Novus Ordo Mass.
  • I have never been to France, but I love this church. I studied it in art history class. What beauty and grandeur. A church truly appropriate to celebrate Mass in. Someday I may get there.
  • I love the moments of silence. This is one more reason the TLM is an antidote to our modern world. Silence is necessary for our humanity and our worship of God.
  • Latin! I love that I can follow the Mass even though they are French and I am not. We have a shared faith, and shared language, and a shared worship. This is true in many ways with the Novus Ordo Mass, but Latin brings us all together.
  • There is no altar rail. I don’t know if there never was, or if it was removed at some point (French Revolution? Post Vatican II?). I see some people having trouble kneeling to receive communion — bad knees, age, etc. I can relate. But kneeling is appropriate.
  • I love the humanity. Parisians dress better than where I’m from, but I see all kinds — well dressed, casual, sloppy, women with veils, most without, some folks with praying hands, some with arms crossed, some confused, some seeming to know exactly what is going on, etc., etc. All very human.
  • Excellent video coverage. Beautiful.
  • I must be strange to enjoy watching a complete Mass, but I did.

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Star Wars, Pageantry, and the Mass

In the summer of 1977 I was a boy of eleven looking for things to do with my friends. So, when a sci-fi samurai western fantasy movie, panned by critics and expected to fail big, came to an old single-screen theater without any air conditioning in my hometown, I and a friend just had to check it out. I loved the movie so much I saw it six times that week, and twelve times that year. Of course the movie was Star Wars.

To say the film was immensely popular is an understatement. Why it was such a hit and spawned perhaps the greatest movie franchise in history seems obvious now. The film had great characters, sets, costumes, action sequences, soundtrack, and it followed the classic hero’s journey, which meant the story had deep and broad timeless appeal. But I would also argue that its pageantry played a big role in the film’s success. In particular, the final scene before the credits, in which the principal characters get their recognition and rewards, is a scene of formal, royal, and solemn pageantry. It ties up the story in a perfect bow.

In case you need to be reminded:

I want to posit the need for this scene to exist in order for Star Wars to have succeeded. You see, human beings are designed in such a manner that proper pageantry feeds our souls, clarifies the world, and focuses our passions towards nobility — and our souls are designed to love nobility. Think of an Olympic Games medal ceremony. Is it needed? Absolutely. Does it determine who won? No. But it is the most proper action for the sport at that moment, in that setting — it is about the glory of sport. In Star Wars this final ceremony casts the rest of the story in the right light. Theses characters are not merely winners, they are glorious. And the audience is ennobled as they carry some of that nobility, now in their hearts, beyond the closing credits and into their daily lives. In short, that final scene is what the movie is all about.

I want to argue that something like that final scene in Star Wars, something like that kind of pageantry, is both proper and necessary to the Mass.

A Mass can be very simple and humble. Even the hood of a jeep on the battlefield can serve as a makeshift altar.

Robert Capa 937

Using the hood of a jeep as an altar, a Roman Catholic chaplain saying mass at the inauguration of an American cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy. Photo by Robert Capa, 1944.

A Mass can also have all the royal pageantry of a coronation. Think of the coronation of a Medieval king. There is pageantry, awe, solemnity, beauty, and reverence. There is also appropriate action: kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a crowning — which requires the physical object of a crown.

charlemagne

The coronation of Charlemagne, Christmas day, 800 A.D. Painting by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1861

And with a coronation there is also a change in ontology. In others words, a man actually becomes a king. The pageantry is not merely symbolic. In some very real way a man has actually changed — a man made king, king made flesh. This sort of understanding is something that was lost on the way to modernity. This is something we moderns do not understand well in an overt sense.

But we still act sometimes as though it is, in fact, true. In other words we believe it, though we might want to admit it for what it is. Our actions give us away. Watching the Olympics I am struck by how many times it’s mentioned that once an athlete has become a medal winner they will always be one, and that cannot be take away from them. They have changed from a non-Olympic medalist to an Olympic medalist. They are set apart. They are now an Olympian. They walk the earth as a different creature.

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1980 Winter Olympics Hockey Medal Ceremony

There is another activity we do that speaks volumes to this reality, and that is with our liturgical action in the Mass. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Knowing what we know, the Mass becomes a pageant of Christ the King. We celebrate His death and resurrection with kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a sacrifice. It has all the solemnity and reverence of temple worship, of a wedding, and of a coronation.

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A Traditional Latin Mass properly celebrated

Catholics are always faced with the questions of 1) do you truly believe in the Real Presence and, if so, 2) how should behave when in the presence of your king and savior and your God? Treating the Mass for what it is obligates Catholics to certain behaviors. We may not want to be overly prescriptive and proscriptive, but it’s fair to say that we all can figure out basic ideas of of action, dress, and other factors based on our culture, history, and humanness.

God does not need our worship. We don’t go to Mass because God needs us to go. Rather, God gave us the Mass so that we might draw closer to Him, and that we might be fortified against the pressures of the world. The Mass is a gift, and worship is like a healthy diet and exercise. The closer our worship is to what is most proper, the better it is for us.

A truly solemn Novus Ordo Mass can provide this fairly well, but nothing compares to the beautiful and appropriate action of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, a.k.a. the Traditional Latin Mass. Here is an example* from a parish in Paris:

Notice how this Mass has a kind of similarity to the pageantry of the Star Wars scene above, especially once the organ begins (okay, I know it’s no John Williams score) and the procession enters the nave and sanctuary. People only do these kinds of things in the presence of royalty. A Mass like this is one of the most human activities any of us can experience. It is strangely foreign to our daily experience, but then again it is Heaven on Earth, and thus not quotidien. Still, we are made for this. God created us to need this kind of liturgy (the work of the people) and to be fed by such appropriate pageantry.

To not see this truth is to be broken in some substantial way. Modernity breaks people. The Devil breaks people. Sin does too, but modernity, as a tool of the Devil, has a special desire to rid humanity of right praise towards God. Evangelical Protestant attempts at worship recognize the need at some level, but fail because of some fundamental theological flaws, namely the disbelief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. This disbelief has many consequences, including the development of a non-sacramental view of creation and our faith, and this leads to a false anthropology to such a degree that true Christian pageantry is lost and even disdained. Without the Real Presence there is no King in the building and thus no worship except, perhaps, our own vanity. Poor theology breaks people too.

*This example is of a SSPX Mass. I’m not including it to promote the SSPX, but they do know how to celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass, and I truly love the inclusion of the very human life that infuses the Mass — people arriving, families, sounds and textures, etc.

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