July 22, 2009

Crying Shame or Evangelization Opportunity?

In mid-June the Minnesota Orchestra closed its 2008-2009 Season with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. The review in the Pioneer Press is no longer online but I recall lamenting as I read the review that the reviewer, and maybe a significant portion of the audience, seriously misses the true depth of the Beethoven by solely appreciating it only as a performance piece.

The reviewer states that Beethoven did not "go out with a bang" and the Missa Solemnis does not follow a conventional artistic arc. The "explosive moments come early, the work growing more quiet and contemplative" Those of us who know the Mass from a Faith perspective can fully understand why Beethoven followed this path. Isn't the Gloria an moment of joy that comes early on in the Mass? Can't the Kyrie be urgent and propulsive in its brevity? We know this as Catholics and we know the "why". We know why there is the stillness of the Incarnation in the Credo and why so many composers emphasized the moment of kneeling in Adoration before the expression of God becoming Man.

Furthermore, I can think of a lot worse compositions to write at the end of your life than a Mass so I quibble with the reviewer stating Beethoven did not end his career on a high note. Is Missa Solemnis as great of a piece artistically as some of his Sonatas or Symphony's? No, but Beethoven is working within an already established structure and I think he does very well. Is Missa Solemnis my favorite Mass? No, I prefer his Mass in C but then again none of Beethoven's Masses are among my favorites. However, I like it.

The reviewer made his comments on the Agnus Dei sound like it was a plea for world peace. Huh? We know it's a plea for peace within. The peace you know when you are as close to being without sin as you can be. It's a plea for mercy. It's a plea to be close to the true giver of peace-Jesus.

As there are Catholics who lament that more Masses are not orchestral, I'm irked that there are more Masses being performed at Orchestra Hall than there are in Catholic Churches. There are probably more orchestra season ticket holders who hear more Latin than Catholics in the pews every Sunday.

What if the glory of the musical Masses of the past is relegated to the concert hall? Should I be upset about that, or should I see it as a possible evangelization moment? Is it possible to reach people thru the music first and explain what it all means later?

Yes, but there are so few Catholics who seem to understand the meaning, the true meaning of the Mass, that I fear the evangelization will be along the lines of "We don't do that at Mass anymore"


Blogger Argent said...

One of my college buddies became a Christian through the music of Bach. He was Iranian and played in the national orchestra. The beauty of the compositions led him to investigate and he found Jesus at the heart of it. He was an avowed Marxist/atheist. And there were no televangelists in Tehran. That he found Jesus through counterpoint is so brilliant.

July 23, 2009 8:01 AM  
Blogger Bobby said...

"World Peace" is often codeword for much of the earth-worship and anti-war, anti-military stances we see with extremists who believe in the "Just lose, baby" attitude we see in the White House. I have friends from college serving in Afghanistan.

You are right about sacred Masses being performed more in an orchestra than in a church. As I've mentioned on Our World, the Big Six of the three major secularised publishers (EMI, Vivendi, Warner Music), Kona (formerly Integrity Music), Oregon Catholic Press, and GIA Publications now control much of the church music market.

People need not to even be Catholic to understand that it's more prevalent that we'd hear Händel's Messiah in an orchestra hall more than in a church. (I performed that with Stephen Distad's group at his church in 2006.) At a charismatic Foursquare church in Nashville, the congregation stood for two Chris Tomlin rock tune, but did not stand for "Hallelujah" from Händel's masterpiece. Eli Gold (a CBS broadcaster fired by MTV in 2001 as part of MTV's cleaning out the Charlotte offices) once referred to the crowd at a Sprint Cup race when they stand for a start like that of the congregation standing for that piece.

As for the lack of sacred music in masses today, Protestant minister John MacArthur wrote that the older sacred song was "wonderful didactic tools, filled with Scripture and sound doctrine, a medium for teaching and admonishing one another, as we are commanded in Colossians 3:16. Most hymns were written not by teenagers with guitars, but by pastors and theologians . . ."

He then noted the mid-19th century shift when musicians and singers who were not clergy dominated the writing, and choruses of lighter, simpler subject manner dominated, as personal experience and feelings became the dominant trend.

He believes today's modern rock, OCP, GIA, and major secular publishers have turned church music into emotion stimulators, forgetting the Biblically-mandated didactic role of music.

I'll leave you tonight with this from Mr. MacArthur, which is true of Mass too:

"The effect is predictable. What we have sown for several generations we are now reaping in frightening abundance. The modern church, fed on choruses with insipid lyrics, has no appetite for her own great tradition of didactic hymnody."

"We are in danger of losing a rich heritage as some of the best hymns of our faith fall into neglect and disuse, being replaced with banal lyrics set to catchy tunes."

This is exactly what OCP, GIA, and the major secular publishers have done.

July 27, 2009 11:42 PM  

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