One really doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to discover the liberal and modernist slant in many Catholic parishes throughout the United States, especially in parishes that have been built fairly recently. In the old days, one would walk into a Catholic Church and be amazed at the splendor of the beauty present there – the Tabernacle, the altar, the statues, the candles, and so forth. All around the holiness of the temple was indicated through the use of stained glass windows and an atmosphere of total silence. Every step a person took could be heard throughout the entire building. In short, it was a given that the Temple of God should be kept reverently silent and untainted, and that it should be the most beautiful edifice in the entire city – and, indeed, it was.
Let’s compare this unforgettable experience with late 20th century Catholic "churches" – hardly worthy of the name. We enter what is often merely a "multi-purpose building," and what we see is clearly the replica of a conference hall. What used to be the sanctuary has now, as the modernists would say, "evolved" into a sterile stage. If you thought you could kneel down in a pew to adore the Blessed Sacrament, you are immediately woken up to reality because you realize that, at best, you could get comfortable in a chair and look at all the great banners that are attached to the walls of the building, often only repeating typically Protestant slogans. Kneelers are long history, and if you look closely, there’s nothing you could actually kneel before. You won’t find a Tabernacle, at least not a recognizable one, and definitely not one in the center of the building. Instead, you’ll see a huge "Presider’s Chair" and a small pitiful table that now serves as the, well, what some older folks would rigidly call the "altar."
But the worst is yet to come. As your eyes stream with tears when they must behold the sacrilege that has been done to the most sacred space of Catholics, you notice something completely foreign and alien to the spirit of Catholic worship. Left and right to the center, where one would normally expect the statues of Mary and Joseph or the Patron Saint of the Church, there are now two white screens on which slides are shown during Mass – sorry, during the "celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy" – in order to "enhance the presence of Christ" [sic]. As if Christ weren’t already present enough in the Tabernacle! But wait – what Tabernacle anyway? In the center of the multi-purpose building we now see a Crucifix (if even that), but the Protestant version, of course: instead of a tortured Jesus hanging on the Cross, we now have a resurrected Jesus hovering in front of it somehow. You wonder what has happened to the Bride of Christ!
At this point, we remember the scarily exact warnings of the Venerable Pope Pius XII in 1947: "One would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings…" (Encyclical Mediator Dei, #62).
Yet this is exactly what we see today. And, lo and behold, the saintly pope prophesied yet another disastrous state of affairs. Commenting on the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, he said, "This persistence of Mary [at Fatima] about the dangers which menace the Church is a divine warning against the suicide of altering the Faith in her liturgy.... In our [future] churches, Christians will search in vain for the red lamp where God awaits them." This hits the nail on the head! How lamentable it is that Pope Paul VI didn’t seem to attach any importance to this message, however well-intentioned he may have been.
So, in summary, what do we have? A sterile conference building with chairs, a table, and two screens. Beautiful. Just what the Catholic ordered. In short, there’s nothing left that in any way expresses what Catholics actually – or at least supposedly – believe about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (please excuse this rigid terminology). What is the "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass" anyway? Well, most fundamentally, Catholics believe that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice. Yes, propitiatory – that’s a word most Catholics can’t even pronounce, not because it’s spelt so hard, but because they’ve never heard it before; of course not – where could they? In a sterile multi-purpose building, where they "celebrate the Eucharistic Meal together" with a "Presider" who "breaks bread" on a "table"? No, because there you hear only of a "meal of peace," the "bread of the Word" and a "cup of salvation" of which the "Eucharistic assembly" partakes. Besides, most people there receive the Eucharist standing, in their hands, and have never heard of a "state of grace" in the first place. All of this is, to an extent, supported and encouraged, sad to say, by the new Missal of 1970 itself, when compared with the Missal of St. Pius V.
Having taken a look at the architecture (or lack thereof) in modern(ist) Catholic churches – I mean, communities –, let us peek into what kind of hymns are played at the "celebration," and what kind of instruments are used.
The average Catholic parish has abandoned the organ in favor of bongos, drums, flutes, and, most of all, guitars. The post-conciliar instruction on music in the Sacred Liturgy, Musicam Sacram (1967), however, expressly says, "The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church" and that the use of other instruments is permitted only "provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use…[and] in keeping with the dignity of the temple" (#62). Can this be said of the instruments used in many parishes of today? At a recent Novus Ordo Confirmation which I attended, the Mass began with the peppy introductory song "Come, Holy Spirit, let the fire fall." I felt like at a rock concert. Are people forgetting that we don’t have to have loud extravagant music in order for the Holy Ghost to come down upon His people? Isn’t the Spirit rather gentle as a dove and deserves corresponding music? It is not an accident that when the sacrament of Holy Orders is administered, the soft hymn Veni, Sancti Spiritus is sung. Gentleness is what represents the Holy Spirit best.
So, what used to be the glorious chants and organ music of immemorial tradition, which conveyed a sense of heavenliness to the Holy Sacrifice and to the liturgy celebrated, especially at High Mass, has now been turned into peppy guitar folk music, often even accompanied by drums and other completely secular instruments, so that one wonders whether this is the Hard Rock Café or the Temple of the Lord. Oh, how beautiful is it to resemble evangelical Protestants, who deny the Real Presence as a dogma of their faith! We must remember that, as Jesus said, "My Father’s house is a house of prayer," and not a discotheque.
As if this weren’t enough yet, the crisis of liturgical music these days is a lot deeper. We have many songs and hymns that are used in Catholic parishes throughout the country that actually border on heresy. As I was looking through the latest issue of a very popular Catholic hymnal published by a well-known Catholic company, I examined the Communion songs. There were 46 hymns, but only a single one whose title even vaguely referred to the sacrificial nature of the Mass—the song See Us, Lord, About Your Altar—and that one was from 1934! What happened? Have we stopped believing in the sacrificial nature of the Mass? Is someone attempting to make us stop believing in it? How come hardly any Eucharistic hymns use traditional terms such as "altar," "sacrifice," "chalice," "host," "victim," or "spotless Lamb"? Why is all we hear these days talking about "bread," "wine," "cup," "meal," "banquet," "supper," and "table"? What’s going on? Even a recent convert to the faith who has just finished a decent introduction to real Catholicism notices that something’s wrong.
When I looked more closely at the "Eucharistic" songs found in the hymnal, I, sadly, detected some very interesting vocabulary in almost every single song; on an almost exclusive basis I found such terminology as "feast of justice, "bread and wine of Easter," "bread that was sown," "bread of love," "table of hope," "gift of finest wheat," "wine for all," "symbol of your love," "bread of peace," "wine of joy," and "banquet of eternal life."
Is this as good as it gets? Sigh.
Next Friday: Part Two Lex orandi, lex credendi - How we pray is how we believe!
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Mario Derksen, see Archives