Thursday 25 July 2013
Liturgy and Music at World Youth Day 2013
I am old enough to remember when my favourite singer of the day (the barefoot Sandie Shaw) won the Eurovision Song Contest singing “Puppet On A String”. I turned on the TV the other night and thought my receiver had somehow switched itself from EWTN to the BBC, since I was confronted by a re-run of the Eurovision Song Contest: the singer was an attractive young lady with a good voice on a stage with a nice colourful haze that I presumed had something to do with her song. Then I noticed that he was assisted by an altar server, and I was captured: had heaven decided to enter the Eurovision Song Contest? It was then that I realised this was not Eurovision, but a World Youth Day presentation of the Holy sacrifice of the Mass. It was truly hard to tell the difference between Eurovision and Catholic worship: as with Eurovision, the worship offered that night seemed focused on pleasing the crowd; on being ‘grounded’ or (as some would say) “incarnational”. I would say “earthbound; anthropocentric”. Liturgy ought to lift us from earth to heaven; it should bring us to meet the Risen and Ascended Lord; it should have a music which is clearly not contemporary to time and place. In short, it requires Gregorian Chant -which is not bound by time or place- if it is to achieve its aim of lifting us toward that which is beyond time and place: Heaven.
Though the liturgy does form man by grace through the worship of God (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10) and does allow us to gain sense of common identity and community adhesion (which we badly need today) it exists primarily for the worship of God, uniting us to the heavenly Jerusalem and to all who inhabit the Holy City of heaven, thereby enabling us to sing “with all angels and all the saints... Holy, Holy, Holy”. As Vatican II stated:
In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory (Sacrosanctum Concilium 8).
Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful . For in the liturgy God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer. (ibid, 33)
Thus, in that the liturgy of World Youth Day I saw was hardly distinguishable from the Eurovision Song Contest, the liturgy of World Youth day is failing, and failing badly. If souls are not lifted up toward heaven by the liturgy but are kept grounded in their contemporary world, their souls are kept earthbound; detached from heaven.
Yes there is a need to grasp the attention of the young and to engage with them in a style they can understand, which is why I have often argued for the use of paraliturgies during the week. But let us keep contemporary music and dancing puppets etc for such paraliturgies and for prayer meetings of all kinds; in that way we can give the youth (and all Catholics) a wide experience of prayer situations while highlighting for everyone of us the absolutely transcendent nature of the Mass. You never know, it might also help everyone to see why paraliturgies are a devotional option and the Adoration of Mass an obligation: “Do this as a memorial of Me”.