Jeffrey Tucker writes an interesting piece for Crisis Magazine concerning music used in liturgical worship in the Roman Catholic Church. His point is that the tail is wagging the dog, and that services are often being directed by parish “music directors” rather than the clergy. The result has been services that use music to entertain rather than to support worship which leads to abuses and a watering down of the message that should be delivered in the course of the Mass. Although I didn’t think of it in exactly the same terms, this loss of reverence played a large part in why I drifted away from the Catholic Church nearly 40-years ago. Perhaps it was also the “felt banners” and guitars in the choir loft. Receiving communion in the hand didn’t sit well with me either, but I digress. We don’t have this problem in the Orthodox Church, where I eventually found a home, and that is due to several reasons.
In Eastern Orthodox worship, the entire liturgy is chanted or sung. Consequently there are no hymns or “songs” in the same sense as our Christian brothers and sisters have become accustomed to in the Western tradition. There is only the Liturgy, the Matins and Vespers, and a number of other services which have not changed in over 1,000 years although they may reflect certain local customs. As with the Roman Catholic Church, our services follow an annual liturgical cycle with the relevant readings from the Holy Gospels, but Orthodox choir directors find themselves in no quandary over selecting “music” to keep the faithful “engaged”.
For Orthodox Christians, our music is simply an accessory to prayer, and it adds solemnity to the words of the liturgy. In this we are reminded that church music itself is a form of prayer and are warned against the temptation to turn prayer into entertainment. This is not only because of the distration, but also because it is irreverent. This problem is not limited to Catholics, and probably explains why the retention rate at many Protestant megachurches is low with members often leaving or switching churches after a few years when the novelty wears off. This tendency of the Western churches to embrace of the spirit of the age rather than striving to fill people with the Holy Spirit has proven calamitous and resulted only in decline and loss of cultural influence.
Jeffrey Tucker makes a solid point that the use of Gregorian Chant in the Catholic Mass helps to preserve an atmosphere of reverence and dignity that enhances prayer rather than compete with it. Some Catholics appears to be on a voyage of rediscovery, and hopefully will find support and guidance from their bishops to resolemify Catholic worship and shift focus back onto the words of the Holy Gospels.
Source: Crisis Magazine