Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicago, Loyola University

Michael Odom, our organist-choirmaster, and I are at the 18th annual Sacred Music Colloquium, held this year at Loyola U., Chicago. The campus is on the lake shore of Lake Michigan. The beautifully renovated Madonna de la Strada Chapel is the scene of our liturgies. This beautiful chapel opens right onto Lake Michigan. It is as if one is looking out to see as the lake falls below the eastern horizon.

This is the colloquium of the Church Music Association of America. They are the opposite of the spectrum of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Here, chant and polyphony, and the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman Liturgy in Latin and Latin/English reign supreme. When I concelebrated Tuesday and Wednesday, I realized that I was the oldest priest in the sanctuary. This gave me pause, not because of my realization of my aging (I could still give most of those that were there a run for their money!) but that I was probably the only one in the sanctuary who actually remembered the old Latin Mass as a part of my life experience---when it was still the only form of liturgy in the Church! The others were celebrating it and promoting it, but it was that they did not grow up with. This led me to opine that there is a difference of approach between me and them. If push came to shove, I believe that these younger priests in their lace surplices and birettas are really play-acting, although they are doing so with great seriousness and piety.

All of this lead me to describe this event as a kind of liturgical "Jurassic Park." By that I mean that, just as in the movie, people have re-created things from a distant past THAT THEY HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED! In the movie, ancient life forms were re-created, without regard for the fact that the world has moved on, and that a T-rex running around in the jungle is probably a bad thing for folks. Here, an ancient liturgy has been re-created, but without an appreciation that Catholic life, for better or worse, has radically changed since the '50's. You can tell that they are on a certain level play acting since their presentation of the liturgy is so rigid that you can see them mentally trying to remember what is to come next. There is a stiffness to their presentation and, occasionally, some gross fumbles.

The impression I'm getting is that the proponents of this are seeing the ancient liturgy as something to which every liturgy should aspire. The mutual influence of the ordinary and extraordinary forms then becomes rather one-sided. It is not what we can learn from BOTH liturgies, but how can we make the ordinary form more like the extraordinary form. This leads to the ultimate position that we might just otta jettison the new form and go back to the old.

Now they would deny this, and I believe sincerely, but I still have a sneaking suspicion that clericalism is lurking around here, and a kind of piety that is cut off from a vibrant Catholic life. These are just my impressions, and I am willing to be corrected.

At the same time, there is much beauty laid out for us, and as an artist I'm quite enjoying the musical banquet that we are having. There are some practical liturgical things that we're picking up, but they will all have to be critiqued and digested when we get back home. Is this conference worth it? By all means. Oh, and for those of you who thing that I'm on vacation, please understand that we have not left the university campus during our entire time here. There's been no sight-seeing (but much sight-singing), or restaurants or anything like that. Michael and I are planning to take a visit to a church, tomorrow, though. That still doesn't count for a vacation.


Anonymous said...

Your experience of the events at the Colloquium was strikingly different from mine.
I realize that you were not speaking of the laity, but I, (a lay person,) didn't feel that I was "play-acting" when I was momentarily bewildered about what to do next any more than I have felt I was play acting when through circumstances I found myself attending Mass in a modern vernacular language not my own, or when one of the umpteen legitimate, (or illegitimate,) options in the Missal (OF) of which I was previously unaware was exercised by whoever planned a Mass.
And I would think, however well prepared and trained, a relatively recently ordained priest involved exclusively with the OF in the vernacular would also still have moments of "mentally trying to remember what is to come next... stiffness to their presentation ...and [perhaps even] gross fumbles."
We musicians, lay readers and extraordinary ministers certainly do.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Dad29 said...

Very interesting observation--particularly the 'clericalism' monitum.

I'm a switch-hitter, having grown up with the EF (until ~age 15) and now having returned.

IMHO, a big part of the 'stiffness' and 'fumbling' is precisely because for most of the younger priests, this IS new--like joining an NFL team after college and finding that while the goalposts are in the same place, getting there is a much different experience. So, personally, I'm not concerned about that, too much.

However, I have noticed a tendency to 'clericalism' which may be a bit disturbing in the future; it's perhaps partially the formality required in the EF celebration--but then, 'clericalism' is a personal thing, not a liturgy-thing.

And there are some very interesting 'personalities' involved in the Old Rite. I hasten to add that Fr. Phillips (StJ Cantius) is NOT, seemingly, a 'clericalist.' I met him a couple of times and he is a genuine Midwestern-kinda guy...