I gripe. I’m a griper.
One thing that is glaringly apparent to a former outsider of the Catholic Church (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 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. I saw how our Baptist church changed from the 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. 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), 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.
Frequently at 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 (honestly, I’m not sure what we are doing sometimes) to our King. 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 that, at best, loosely resemble hymns, and the hymnal is really a cheap and disposable 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…
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 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, 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 stale and rigid tradition. The very opposite of hip and cool. Right? It had to change. It had to get with it. It had to serve the Me Generation. Otherwise the churches would soon empty out, seminaries close, and priests leave the priesthood and become positive thinking gurus. (oops) The traditional had to go and the contemporary 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 become from one day to the next.
[An aside: I love Peter, Paul and Mary, but just not at Mass and certainly not poor shadows of that trio. On Eagles Wings?! Wat? And heck, I love that now everyday is “casual day” at work, but 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…??]
[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 I tell you. So 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. I even lead youth group worship. I still love the music of that Catholic-hating Jesus freak, the late great Keith Green. (Has anyone written a more beautiful modern hymn Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful or My Eyes are Dry?) But we don’t even get his quality of songs at Mass — unless we go way way back and sing great works from the past which ultimate put his songs to shame. Any why are we singing anyway if not to pray?]
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 since the liturgical turmoil and confusion of the 1970’s and 80’s. In other words, it seems most of the boomer Catholics back in the day got what they wanted (change, revolution, freedom) and then left Catholicism for other things (Evangelical Protestantism, New Age spirituality, free market capitalism, pastel cashmere sweaters, etc.). And many of those that remain (including the Holy Father, who is a bit older than a baby boomer) are 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 worship and devotion. They see it as a return to a rigid⁴ faith. Perhaps for some it is, but in general I think it is something entirely different, something more profound. Perhaps less rigid, in fact.
Okay, okay… I also have to say the boomers who have remained faithful to the Church are also often examples of love for Christ, service to others, and active participants in church. Who am I to judge, right? They put me to shame, in fact. I’m probably a terrible person.
But to sum up, unlike the timelessness and substantial beauty of the Traditional Catholic Mass, the Baby Boomer Mass is looking old and tired, like yesterday’s styles. Strangely, to often the Novus Ordo Mass looks more and more like a time capsule and the TLM looks like the best choice for today. And isn’t that the case? What is trendy looks old so quickly, and what is ancient is timeless. Fashions come and go. We should not let the Form follow fashion.
Of course all of this is a gross oversimplification, and not necessarily (or merely) a generational divide. It’s not about boomers getting old. And it’s not merely a matter of “updating” the Mass to a more contemporary fashion or “going back” to some gold age. There’s a lot more to be said.
Anyway… I gripe. I’m a griper.
- “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.
- “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?
- According to Pope Francis: “[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.