Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The dark teatime of the soul

I don't think that I'm spiritually advanced enough to have a dark night of the soul, but lately the most dispiriting hour of the week is the time I spend at Sunday mass. The almost oppressive lack of beauty in our liturgical music, especially, is wearing me down week after week. Recently our choir introduced a new Holy Holy Holy that just makes me twitch everytime I hear it, and even when I try to concentrate on the words we're singing I can't block out the ridiculous melody, irrational phrasing, and excessive length. (Fortunately, the last piece of liturgical music that made me feel this way -- an appalling saccharine "Our Father" -- was phased out a year ago in favor of a much more dignified and shorter chanted version.)

I'm about to start a petition calling for the abolition of seventh chords in liturgical music.

I loathe the thought of shopping around for a new parish. We've attended the same parish ever since we moved here almost four years ago, and we have many friends here. Our regular mass is the parish's musical best, and I know that the choir director and members are genuinely devoted to singing beautiful music to glorify God. Still, it's been weighing upon me how responsive humans are to their physical surroundings. I know that Christ is present in the Eucharist regardless of the aesthetic quality of the liturgy, but His presence commands a level of dignity and beauty sorely lacking in most liturgical music.

I've been pondering something Scott Carson wrote about beauty and the Mass:
Having said all of that, I must now point out that mere conformity with doctrinal purity is not the same thing as perfect goodness, because just as true beauty cannot exist without true goodness, so, too, true goodness cannot exist independently of true beauty, since The Good and The Beautiful always go together, like the convex and the concave. So when a liturgy is celebrated that is objectively ugly, it is not as fully good as it could be, any more than a beautiful Episcopalian liturgy celebrated around an empty altar is as good as it could be. Truth and Beauty are both of them necessary conditions on Goodness. In many Episcopalian churches you often have Beauty, but you never have Truth; in Roman Churches you always have Truth but you rarely have Beauty. This is a problem.
Increasingly, it's becoming my problem.

*Addendum* I should clarify that (as Tex noted in the comments) the choir quite often tries to include traditional hymns and some quite lovely choral pieces. It's just that lately the Glory and Praise stuff has been predominating, and the latest round of service music is a few steps down from the previous fare (of which I wasn't too fond in the first place). During Advent and Easter, we use Latin for the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, and a more restrained style predominates. But that's like eating nourishing food twice a year and subsisting on Wonder Bread the rest of the time.

9 comments:

Big Tex said...

I remember that "Our Father." I just couldn't bring myself to sing it. *shudder* I would agree that said choir and choir director are devoted to the glorification of God through song. I imagine the choir director tries to mix it up a little.

Up here in the NW, we went back to our normal mass time yesterday. I gotta say the musical selections in some cases really tested my patience. (We have a tambourine.) We had enjoyed a nice respite at another mass time for several weeks do to various reasons. After a somewhat traditional choir for three weeks, the folk choir was a bit of a shock to my system.

Jennifer F. said...

So what you're trying to say is, you wish there were more guitars and tambourines, right?

I'd recommend that you come to our parish but I'm afraid we only have the physical beauty part nailed down. Sometimes I catch myself looking around at the other parishioners, silently thinking, "Do you guys HEAR this?!"

Amber said...

The liturgy was the hardest part to leave behind when I left the Episcopal church - although they were good at banal music and butchering the more traditional hymns too. I just could go to the earlier service and avoid all that. :-) Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be an option in the Catholic Church, or at least so far as I've experienced it. I actually really like the music at my current parish - it is somewhat contemporary, but they really do a good job with it. We do not use the Gather songbook (or whatever that thing is called) and I think that helps a lot. The whole congregation joins in too, and we definitely are making a joyful noise to the Lord! *grin* The parish I'm going to be moving to in about a month is ok (and certainly much better than my other option in the area!) but all the music just sort of sounds the same and it is all rather banal and uninspiring. I still try to do my best with it though, but I know it is something that is going to grate on me from time to time.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I've been to two Spanish masses in our city where the Our Father was sung (in Spanish) to the melody of "Sound of Silence." Horrifying. These were at different churches, too, so I assume it's a common choice of music.

Aren't you anywhere near St. William's? I hear good things about Mass there. Of course I'm spoiled here at the Cathedral--beautiful, reverent, orthodox, and we just got the Latin Mass folks joining us, raising the bar even further. My only issue is that you frequently can't get in to confession, even on a weekday, because the lines are so long. You know, some people commute here from Pflugerville and Buda....

mrsdarwin said...

We are near St. W, but as Jennifer notes above, their music is less than stellar. I've been seriously considering heading down the the Cathedral once a month, though it's a good half-hour jaunt for us, even with light Sunday traffic.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Ah--I didn't realize St. W.'s was the parish referred to above. Darn.

St. L.'s near us on N. Burnet looks absolutely beautiful, and I'm told it's very orthodox, but I've hated every Mass I've been to there. Admittedly one was a TeenLife Mass (even Offspring #1 was scandalized); one was a Spanish Mass, where the usher wouldn't let me in the building until I uncovered my head (!), while teen girls went in with bare bellies; one had the priest cracking jokes throughout the liturgy, including the Eucharistic prayer. I gave up--back to the Cathedral for me. If you do come visit, let us know which Mass; I'll look for you.

mrsdarwin said...

I will indeed; you may see us there soon.

Theocoid said...

Our choir (which is quite good) has a perfectly ludicrous calypso Alleluia (played on a pipe organ, no less). I don't think anyone can follow the lyrics...

yes, that's what I said—lyrics in an Allelulia.

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I have an alternative solution to the problem... somewhat off the edges and out the door... enough said.... it is not one you would choose I know MrsD;-)