Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Teen Mass Must Die

I walked out of Mass on last Sunday evening, a minute before the Mass was set to begin. It was not at my home parish, but at another local parish, one that has an early evening Sunday Mass, which it dubs "the Teen Mass." It is worse than you can imagine. It is an event at which an ancient rite of profound import--one in which the sacred ought to be encountered--is transformed into a profane stage on which well-meaning adolescents, poorly dressed and poorly catechized,  perform bad songs with bad lyrics and diminish the power of Christianity's most ancient creeds and prayers just by adding pop music to their recitation.  It's like sowing a tattoo on the Mona Lisa.

Five minutes before Mass was to begin, the "band," which was situated to the right of the altar, and consisted of a lead singer accompanied by drummer, bassist, and two electric guitar players, sought to warm us up with, what the singer called, "an old hymn." I thought, "This is going to be nice. Perhaps they will perform something like, `A Mighty Fortress is Our God.'"  But before I could complete my contemplation, the guitarist broke into a riff,  emanating from the poorly-engineered sound system.  The song--melodically based on The Troggs' "Wild Thing"--was the "old hymn," "Every Move I Make," which was composed in the early 1990s, the golden age of hymnology. (It was not the Police song, "Every Breath You Take," thank God [which would have actually been better], but some strange song that had "Hannah Montana" written all over it).  I felt so embarrassed and out of place, as well as offended and scandalized, that I got up, genuflected, and walked out before the Mass had begun. It was that bad.

Pastors, why do you permit this abomination in your parishes? The Mass is sacred.  It is not merely an occasion for your youngsters to showboat their pop skills as if you were hosting something called "American Eucharist."


Muscovite said...

... and it can't die soon enough to suit me. Hope it takes the Hippy Mass with it.

James H said...

Do Eastern Catholics and Eastern ORthodox have "Teen Divine Service"

Steven P. Barrett said...

I loved this, absolutely loved this, "It's like sowing a tattoo on the Mona Lisa." Hope the "'too" wasn't Goth! My wife and I endured far too many rock n' roll'd versions of brays and wor(k)ship services back when we attended an evangelical church. But one morning stood out like two sore thumbs when the pastor let the kiddos run the service and play all their electric guitars, e-pianos and drums loud enough to wake the dead and scare off the spirits. This took place in staid New England, too! When they got around to playing (what they said was "Amazing Grace,")in the parking lot afterwards during the post-service BBQ the rest of the congregation should've been amazed that I didn't lose it entirely and called for an inquisition followed by an immediate auto da fe! (Not for the kids, but their "instruments" of musical deconstructionism. Great Post Dr. Beckwith! Loved it!

Steven P. Barrett said...

An auto da fe would be more suitable, especially for all the electronic guitars, etc. used during that abomination. Doesn't the pastor of that parish know who's Pope these days? Or did he allow to show his disapproval of "Pope Ratzinger der Reacktionary"? I just loved your comparison of this erzatz "mass" to the Mona Lisa with a tatoo. Now THAT's creative critical analysis!

kkollwitz said...

We call it the Bongo Mass.

"It is worse than you can imagine." Unfortunately, like you, I don't have to imagine it.

Think like the Church: patience.

Trevor said...

If Plato was right, and "music is most sovereign" because "rhythm and harmony most insinuate themselves into the innermost parts of the soul and most vigorously lay hold of it," then many Catholic parishes are in serious need of some reflection on the kind of philosophy and theology they are promoting with the music they incorporate into the Mass.

Charles Kinnaird said...

I am going to step put with a differing opinion on this one. I can understand Mr. Beckwith's aversion to the music he heard and his reverence for the Mass. But I also understand that he was influenced by the Charismatic Movement and The Jesus Movement (as was I) and that he has songs by Keith Green on his Ipod even now. I know Keith Green's music is deeper than "Every Move I Make," but it was also his music and other contemporary music that was disdained by many of the old folks I knew back in the day. Yet it spoke to many of us teenagers, and it drew us in. Not all of us stayed, but many of us stayed and dug deeper into the faith.

At our Catholic Church, we had a Teen Mass which was abruptly halted by a nun who complained that it sounded like music you would hear in a bar (I don't know, maybe she had been to more bars than I have). What she did not realize, however, was the hurt it inflicted upon some of those teens. Their offering was not not everyone's cup of tea, but it was a sincere attempt before they were banished by the old folks.

For myself as a Catholic convert, I love what the Mass has to offer and I could not go back to the songs of contemporary "lite" music and "lite" theology in so much of the evangelical churches today, but I can never forget the early appeal of the songs of the Jesus Movement (the guitars and the clothes, the beards and the hair were just as reviled by some then as is the Teen Mass by Mr. Beckwith now). It was a sincere part of my faith at that point in my journey. Neither can I forget the hurt inflicted on our youth just recently when their sincere offering was rejected out of hand by those with "religious authority."

kkollwitz said...

"Do Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have "Teen Divine Service?"

My guess is no. I imagine they are attuned to the connection of the Liturgy to the Heavenly Worship. If an angel isn't likely to do X in Heaven, then they probably won't do X on Earth.

Scooter said...

My Italian grandmother for over 80 years celebrated the mass until the day God graciously opened her eyes to this egregious error of interpretation and she bowed her knee to Christ for the complete and finished work he had accomplished at Calvary. She was aghast at the teachings of Rome that she had followed for so many years. Even recall as a young child seeing her toss the statue of Mary she had prayed to into the garbage. I'm thinking that there may be a deeper irony with this harsh music in our ears. Could the heresy of the mass ring similarly in the sensibilities of God Himself?

thomas tucker said...

Scooter- if your grandmother prayed to a statue, then she was not following the teachings of the Catholic Church, regardless of what she thought. Furthermore, the Catholic Church does indeed teach that Christ completed his Sacrifice at Calvary. You need to learn what the Catholic Church actually believes, and so did your grandmother, before you start arguing with straw men.

Francis J. Beckwith said...


Scooter is no doubt familiar with the story of my return to the Catholic Church. That story included the influence of my own Italian grandmother with whom I lived during my 3 years of PhD study at Fordham University (1984-87). (Read about it here) This is why Scooter shares his "grandmother" story on this blog under an entry not relevant to his comment. His motivation, therefore, is clearly borne of meanness and a lack of Christian charity.

Apparently, being "born again" does not mean that you get to grow up.

Acolyte4236 said...

James H.,

The answer is no. Never. Not going to happen, ever, no how, noper. Nine. The Orthodox have nothing like that and no one would wanted to live more than 30 seconds would try it either. I exagerate not.

The Orthodox use the Liturgy of John Chrysostom throughout most of the year and that of Basil the Great during Lent in mosr cases (its LONGER). Liturgical variation in the sense of this exmaple is strictly prohibited.

Put it this way, we don't allow LEMs or female alter servers. No exceptions. Males only. If we don't budge there, we ain't budging on not having guitars in the liturgy either. Besides, even organs and such are prohibted unless you have special permission from your bishop.

Edward T. Babinski said...


A monk told me two years ago (and I read online) that it is a mortal sin to miss Mass knowingly (but not if one has a sufficient reason such as illness or the incapacity to get to a church).

And here you are in a post telling the world that you knowingly and deliberately walked out on Mass?

I suppose you attended a later one that day, or maybe you just stepped outside during the musical portion and walked back in during the other portions?

But if you did walk out and did not attend another mass that day, do you agree with the church's teaching that you could be in danger of eternal hellfire?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

I went to a later Mass, 9 pm at St. Peter's Catholic Center at Baylor University.

Christopher Lake said...

I have to echo kkollwitz. Patience is called for in these situations, I think. Personally speaking, I would not have walked out of the Mass. (Then again, I have a physical disability and cannot drive, so walking out to attend another Mass, later that day, would not have been an option for me.)

However, the thinking behind "rock band" Masses should be carefully examined. Charles Kinnaird, I understand what you are saying. The intentions behind "Teen Masses" might well be good. I have no doubt that the hearts of the young people at these Masses are sincere in their desire to worship God.

However, we must ask, what *kind* of worship (and larger thinking about God) is being encouraged with these Masses? Is it not a primarily emotion-driven form of worship, comparable to what one will see in many Protestant mega-churches?

I love many different forms of music, including various styles of rock. However, I am not at all convinced that rock music is appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If I want to worship God through rock music (which can be done-- certain Bob Dylan and U2 songs are quite worshipful), I will do so at home. Combining the Mass with rock seems to exhibit too much of a "marketing" sensibility towards Christian worship. That sensibility is rife in contemporary Protestantism. The Church, in many quarters, has been struggling with a similar attitude, since Vatican II, but the truth is, we really don't need it.

Time and again, young people in the Church have shown that when the Mass is truly reverent, they are truly appreciative. From what I can tell, many younger people seem to love the Latin Mass. (There are exceptions, of course, but I'm still not convinced of the need for, or more so, the *appropriateness* of, "rock band" Masses.)

godescalc said...

Chris, why should it be an either/or issue whether young people (or anyone) like evangelical-style worship or latin mass? Both can be edifying (well, I'm told latin mass can be edifying, I don't find it so myself), and I am unsure why people see a need to make different worship styles into enemies of each other when peaceful coexistence is entirely possible. Declaring war on drums and guitars in the name of the latin mass stirs up needless opposition to traditional worship. (I know opposition exists, but there's no point trying to inflame it.)

Further: people who like evangelical worship style will naturally take criticism of it as hostility to its virtues: that is, will view the enemies of teen masses as enemies of worship and rejoicing and making a joyful noise until the Lord. "The Teen Mass Must Die" reads to me as "I hate happiness, I hate rejoicing, I hate life and all good things and would extinguish the sun itself if my reach were long enough", whereas "gregorian chant is pretty awesome, we ought to have more of it" is something I totally agree with. (Yeah, I exaggerate slightly. But still.)

Further: diversity of worship styles is a strength and not a weakness. If the Church maintains a happy-clappy Catholic subculture, this signals to charismatics, evangelicals, &c. that the virtues of their own denominations and the virtues of Catholicism are not mutually exclusive, and indeed that what's good about their own church will thrive even more in the Church proper; that the Church is Catholic in fact as well as in name, able to unify diversity of practice under unity of creed. (I know this because I used to be Pentecostal and am now Catholic, and these thoughts occurred to me.) These diverse virtues are also worthwhile in themselves: if no-one desires to make a joyful noise and dance before the Lord, something is lost, just as if the knowledge of gregorian chant is lost.

"If an angel isn't likely to do X in Heaven, then they probably won't do X on Earth."

This line of reasoning tends to assume its own conclusion. Whether you can imagine angels playing guitars and feel it to be appropriate correlates with what you think of guitar-playing in church.

Christopher Lake said...


The Catholic Church has a long theological tradition of considering which forms of music, and even which instruments, are appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and which are not.

You seem to be stating, as if it is self-evident, that musical forms and instruments are of secondary consideration, compared to the message that is meant to be proclaimed via those musical forms and instruments. It can be easily demonstrated, from the Church's own documents, that the Church sees things differently. As a former Protestant and recent Catholic "revert," I have had to amend my own thinking, in certain ways, to conform to that of the Church.

Here is a link to a short video which draws upon official Church documents to explain the difference between "sacred music" (appropriate for the Mass) and "secular music" (not appropriate for the Mass). It's about much more than the lyrics.

godescalc said...

Chris, the video doesn't work for me, alas. (I'm not using an up to date browser at the moment and haven't got the permissions to fix it. These things happen.)

Point taken about the Church's attitudes. I am aware I need to reconfigure my own attitudes, and have certain issues to work through - one of which is automatically assuming bad things about anyone who disses guitars and drums in church. I try to remember that some people might genuinely find guitars and drums unedifying and I should respect their sensitivies.

That certain instruments are sacred and some are profane is a reality of sorts, but a culturally-conditioned one - the Vatican II documents I've read kinda make sense in this light, whereas insisting on some intrinsic, culturally-independent difference between sacred and profane instruments makes very little sense, or raises awkward questions: the average teen mass is probably tame compared to Old Testament worship - trumpets and "resounding cymbals" would have been less harmonious, and probably louder, than an electric guitar. So loud and brash worship styles were sacred back in the day; the obvious inference is that loud and brash worship is sacred rather than profane now (so pick up those guitars!), unless you want to claim that Christ's death somehow surrendered large swathes of musical territory to the Devil.

Contrarily, if one assumes that perceptions of sacred vs. profane music are a cultural construct, it makes sense to take the distinction into account as a matter of prudence and consideration (albeit bearing in mind that the classifications won't be universal): anyone unused to trumpets in Church, i.e. virtually everyone, will probably not respond well to their reintroduction, even if the priests and levites of old were used to them and found them greatly edifying; similarly for loud and raucous worship in general. But the sacred/profane distinction should be held in the knowledge that it is culturally-conditioned and subjective, and is therefore a matter of mutual respect and accommodation. (That the sacred/profane thing is a matter of culture and what people are used to is also shown by the V-II documents allowing for local musical traditions to be incorporated into Mass, subject to the bishop's discretion.) The Church, having existed for a while, has her own musical culture(s), specially optimised for worship: gregorian, ambrosian and byzantine chant, &c; and as these were developed over centuries for the edification of the soul, one would be foolish to despise them, and the Church naturally and properly wants to keep them alive and give them pride of place (the V-II documents mention gregorian only, IIRC; I assume this indicates that their guidance was specifically intended for the context of the Latin Rite only). Within the Church's culture there are conventions as to what's appropriate for Mass, musically and otherwise, which should be respected - that cultural conventions can be arbitrary is true but beside the point.

Such is my understanding, which doubtless needs refining. I see the point of Catholic musical culture and conventions, but it's a slightly alien culture to me still.

(I play guitar in Mass - hold the auto-da-fe! - which is why I've looked through the Vatican II documents to see what my duties were. I'm trying to learn Gregorian Chant as well, partly because V-II praises it and partly because it's also pretty awesome.)

Thom Nickels said...

The culture provides teens with enough contemporary/modern sounds, the liturgy doesn't have to dumb itself down to meet these "media" needs. I would have walked out also. This was obviously NOT a real Mass but a freak Novus Ordo show, a sacrilege, and probably NOT valid. These so called Masses need to be abolished. They are evangelical and Protestant. Pay attention to the Orthodox. They'd rather die than manufacture this crap.