At Mass this weekend, something went dreadfully wrong. After the consecration, the music minister announced: “Please join us for our communion hymn, number something-something-something in your music issue, ‘Companions on the Journey.'” The title alone alarmed me, and I felt a growing tightness in my colon. It sounded… gross. Sure enough, she began to play a jazzy and upbeat tune on the piano. Then the guitarist started happily strumming along, a cheesy grin on his face. A middle-aged woman with tight brown curls stepped up to the mic, slightly hunched over, leg bouncing and foot tapping; then, it happened:
The tambourine came out.
It’s a horrible little instrument, plastic and translucent, with LEDs that light up and flash neon blue and pink when struck. Like the eyes of some Animatronic homunculus winking malevolently at me through space and time. The three music ministers earnestly jammed along, and slowly, the faithful began to sway and clap in rhythm as the line for communion formed (thank God for small miracles, this didn’t last long, though I suspect only because it’s difficult not to look like an idiot swaying and clapping while standing in line). Had this been the sending forth hymn, I wouldn’t have been surprised to watch the priest boogey his way down the aisle and out of the nave. Somewhere in Hell, the homunculus cackled at the utter, unapologetic banality of it all.
Through a Herculean exertion of will and, I suspect, a double-strength suffusion of divine grace, I managed to keep my skin from leaping off my body and running away. But my soul screamed out in reactive horror against the revoltingly profane lounge Muzak with which the real presence of Our Lord was being greeted. Who is enriched by this irredeemable swill? I thought. What must go wrong for someone to genuinely prefer hippy garbage like “Companions on the Journey” to something like Casciolini’s arrangement of “Panis Angelicus”?
Part of the reason I became a Catholic was because my soul was positively thirsting for transcendental experience. But everywhere I go to Mass I am greeted with this boring, gray, puerile crap. I cannot escape it; now I dread even the sparsely-attended daily Mass. I think there is nothing more symbolic of the spiritual sickness now festering in the Church than this: if not for this, all the pained jokes during the homily, unceremonious plopping of the Eucharist into cupped hands as if it were nothing more than Skittles, and irritating, laity-led liturgical innovations like hand-holding during the Our Father, would be endurable. And even if every other irreverence and abuse in the Mass should vanish and every priest should be struck with transcendent awe and love for the liturgy of the Church, yet if this nauseating liturgical elevator music should persist, I would still mourn the Church’s descent into cultural poverty.
All this, in the name of “active participation,” something no one seemed to think was important for the entire history of the Church until about half a century ago, a thing purchased at the wholesale expense of the Church’s aesthetic and liturgical tradition. Maybe, maybe, in 1970, it was minimally plausible to think that an increase in “active participation” in the liturgy (that is, the abandonment of prayerful interiority and sacred silence) would renew the Church. 42 years later, its ruinous consequences laid bare before us, what still commends this view to people’s hearts?
What can be done? One despairs of resenting the Mass that nourishes his soul even as it torments his ears (and his heart). I can only thank God that this cross is so light, and so easily borne.