Below is an excellent lecture on the history, characteristics, qualities, and purpose of Gregorian Chant. I too have a love for Gregorian Chant and I sing it as part of a men’s Latin Schola in my parish for the 7:30 AM Sunday Mass, which is Novus Ordo, but is more solemn and traditional. I view it as a step to help our parish move towards traditional Catholicism — or just Catholicism. However, although my love for chant continues to grow, I am rather ignorant of its true riches.
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.
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:
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.
“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
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.” (Bob Dylan, 1963)
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?
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.
On the first Friday of February of this year my parish celebrated our church’s feast day (Our Lady of the Presentation) with a Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I already wrote about how I decided to join the choir. We, the choir, were not perfect by any means, and it was really a lot of hard work, but it was still beautiful and deeply rewarding. Interestingly, I had a small Twitter exchange tangentially related to this Mass.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker had posted the following tweet:
I have a gut feeling that many, many grass roots Catholics are longing for more traditional liturgy, and its my opinion that this need is best met by the Ordinary Form being celebrated in a traditional manner. This is what B16 wanted–for the two forms to influence each other.
His tweet caught my eye, especially in light of just having participated in such a Mass as he mentions. I cannot say that I want this kind of Mass over a Traditional Latin Mass. For me the jury is out. I love both. I am regularly attending a TLM at a nearby parish once a month, and I hope my parish does more of the Latin Novus Ordo Mass as well. I also hope we have the TLM in our parish again someday.
Anyway, I replied:
My parish just celebrated our parish’s feast day with a beautiful Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I volunteered for the choir. First time for me. Very solemn and beautiful. After recessional folks waited for the choir to finish Cantate Domino. Then applauded. Folks are longing for beauty.
Someone replied to my tweet:
“Then applauded.” Says all about the NO.
[“NO” meaning the Novus Ordo.] I should have expected this response. For man TLMers such things as applause at Mass is a sign of the “Spirit of Vatican II” times, which they despise. I get it. I’m mostly on their “team,” up to a point. But I thought about it and it occurred to me that the negative response was premature. For the applause, though perhaps not entirely appropriate (I don’t really know), did not actually happen at Mass, but after Mass had ended. Plus, applause can be a “thank you,” not only praise.
So I replied:
It was not praise for a good “performance,” but a thanks for what had been done (very hard work to bring a difficult Latin Missa Cantata to our parish). Mass was over. Priests had exited. Would have been appropriate at a TLM in a similar context. Says more about people than NO.
Parishioners also thanked the priests on the way out of church for bringing these “lost” riches back to our parish. Similar gesture as thanking the choir.
Baby steps in light of the damage done. It’s not yet TLM, but a step towards it.
Recognizing that, with charity, is good.
I believe I am right about this, but am willing to be corrected — though I might put up a fight. Anyway, another person also replied to my first tweet:
Yes. Mass was over & the priests and servers had left the building, the people were standing & looking to the choir loft enraptured like they hadn’t seen/heard something like this for a long time (which they hadn’t) or ever. The applause says a lot about what people are craving.
Fr. Longenecker did not respond to either mine or the others’ tweets.
I know many who are ardent supporters of the TLM (as against the Novus Ordo) believe a Latin Novus Ordo Mass, though certainly more beautiful and solemn than the all too familiar happy-clappy Novus Ordo Masses common since the late 1960s, is still a kind of bastardized Mass, finally ill suited to proper worship. I don’t expect them to agree with my statements above. Perhaps I might not even agree in a few years either (though I doubt it). But for now I’m on a journey of faith and learning, and I have to say I loved our beautiful Mass on that first Friday in February.
Several evenings ago I walked into my parish church to do something I’ve never done before. Probably out of ignorance and hubris, and not a little blind hopefulness, I decided to lend my voice to our parish choir. But not for the normal Sunday choir, which supports our regular Novus Ordo Mass. This time I joined in because I had heard at Sunday Mass the announcement that coming up in about four weeks was going to be a special Novus Ordo Mass (feast day at St. Mary, Our Lady of the Presentation) that would be entirely in Latin along with Latin (and Greek) chant, and that if anyone wanted to join in the choir they would be welcome, and that our choir director would be offering a chant schola in preparation for the Mass.
So I reached out via email and was invited to join.
As I walked in to the church I heard beautiful music resounding throughout the nave and sanctuary from the regular choir rehearsal as they were finishing up. After blessing myself and genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, I turned, looked up, and saw this.
With not a little panic mixed with excitement I realized I would be going up to the choir loft. What had I decided to do? Reality was setting in. I had never been up there, but have wanted to. I had not sung in a choir since, probably, about 4th grade for some silly event. As I worked my way towards my destination I was asked a couple of times if I was a tenor or bass. I could only shrug. I had no idea. Oh no, I thought to myself. I’m an idiot. I’m a fool. At my answer a look of slight worry crossed the faces of my questioners. Had I made a huge mistake?
On the back bench lay items of sheet music and a binder. I picked up my copies and went to my place. Everything was new to me. I did not know these people. I had never been in the choir loft, I was an imposter. Perhaps I didn’t even know how to sing. However I was welcomed warmly. Okay, at least they’re nice.
Then I looked down at the sheet music. Oh no. This was not the medieval square note sheet music. Not that I know that ancient form well, but because of my curiosity about historical Christianity I know a little. And it’s rather simple to follow if you know the basic format. Rather, this was the Missa Secunda by Hans Leo Hassler, and it looked like this:
If you want to know how it’s supposed to sound, here’s a recording from another choir:
Okay. For those of you who can read music easily, have sung in adult choirs, know that you are a tenor or bass or whatever, then you might be curious at the sudden and profound panic I felt. (Perhaps you are merely laughing at my foolishness.) I realized I would have to reach deep into my past, to those few piano lessons of many decades ago and remember foggy snipits about breathing at the right time, etc. 4/4 time. 3/4 time. Half notes. Whole notes. God help me, and God save this choir from me.
The choir director, a very kind and super encouraging man (fortunately for me), brought me to a side room and had me sing Mary had a little lamb, just to determine there my voice might fit. He said I could be a tenor or bass, so he put me with the tenors. And there I was.
We began with the traditional chant Salve Regina to warm up. That helped. I know that one, and it’s not too difficult. Then we dove into the Missa Secunda. Another great blessing for me, I was next to a woman who knows the music very well, has a great ear to be able to listen to me while she sings herself, and a kind and generous spirit to guide me through my stumblings. If she had not been there I might have completely failed and not come back. Later others told me, yeah she’s great.
So, rehearsal one is over. Three more to go. Will I be able to do this. I asked several, including the choir director, after that first rehearsal if they think I can contribute. They were all very encouraging. I also found online resources to help me do “homework” between rehearsals.