The Honky-Tonk Mass


I have been reading another Merton book, No Man is an Island. In this book, Merton discusses various aspects of the interior life. One such area that he briefly addresses is that of liturgy and art.

Merton writes:

“If the Church has emphasized the function of art in her public prayer, it has been because she knew that a true and valid aesthetic formation was necessary for the wholeness of Christian living and worship. The liturgy and chant and Church art are all supposed to form and spiritualize man’s consciousness, to give him a tone and a maturity without which his prayer cannot normally be either very deep or very wide or very wide or very pure.”

After reading this, I immediately thought of the music so prevalent in most parishes today, that of the ilk published by OCP. I’ve been kind of vaguely aware lately that I was missing something at Mass, I had the uneasy feeling that something was not quite right. I realized the problem might lie in the lack of true artistic expression in our worship. The problem is that with this type of music is not just that it is bad in itself, although most of it truly is, but that it, in fact, detracts from the “valid aesthetic formation” that is necessary for us to experience true Christian living and worship. It trivializes everything about the Mass and therefore about our daily lives as Christians. This trivialization affects every aspect of our prayer life. If the Mass is made to sound little different from what we might hear on any oldies station playing the likes of Teen Angel, what are to take away from that experience? That what we have experienced is no different from what we go through in our every day lives.

No wonder then, that people show up for Mass looking like they just came from the gym, or worse. No wonder that people show up for Mass late and leave early to make up for it. No wonder that we have so little respect for the Eucharist.

In one short paragraph, Merton helped me see that the problem with the lack of real art present in our worship, especially in the music, is not only the discomfort of listening to banal music, but that it is truly a hindrance to deepening my relationship with my Lord at Mass.

I guess I get a little worked up about the topic of liturgical music because I'm a convert. In a way, I feel cheated. There is only one time in my life, prior to just ten years ago, that I attended Mass, it was in the '60s. It was in a small town in Canada. A friend of mine and I drove my mother up to Mt. Forest to visit my elderly aunt who had retired up there. My friend was Catholic, and since it was the weekend, he wanted to attend Mass. There was a Catholic parish in that little town, and so he and I went. The only thing I remember about it was that I was impressed, I sensed that it was a very solemn, otherworldly experience. Since I converted, I have not often felt that way attending Mass. I think I'm missing something that was very precious that went out with Vatican II.

I'd like to have it back.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on February 28, 2005 6:29 AM.

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