The Dylan Mass: Why Not?

Really, why not?

Seriously, is there any norm or legislation, regularly enforced, that would keep us from following the musical direction of this Episcopal service?

Is there anything, really, that would keep us from singing The Times They Are A-Changin’ as the Communion hymn next Sunday? Are there any guidelines in place that absolutely forbid the singing of Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door to accompany the Entrance Procession?

Is there anything about these words or music that has been carefully defined as inappropriate?

Perhaps an enterprising liturgical music corporation could take up this idea and publish a series of octavo editions: The Johnny Cash Mass, The U2 Mass, The Bruce Springsteen Mass.

Why not?

Once I attended a Spanish Mass on the Vigil of Pentecost, and the Entrance Hymn was Morning Has Broken. In English. Is that ok? And if not, why not? Where is it written, where is the common understanding that makes it clear that certain things are not only inappropriate but ridiculous?

Those of us who survived the 70s and 80s realize that there has been a general elevation of sensibilities. Yet the standard remains abysmally low. How can it be that two generations have sung, at Mass, “Not in the dark of buildings confining/ not in some heaven light years away/ but here in this place, a new light is shining;/ now is the kingdom; now is the day.” How is it that the latest generation of Roman Catholic Hymnals contain the clearly egregious hymn Sing a New Church into Being?

In a perfect world, of course, none of this would have to be asked in this way. Instead of asking where the bright line is between inappropriate and appropriate, we would be asking how to make the good better and better. But frankly as a Church we are not ready for these higher-order questions.

It would be nice just to see a bright line.

34 Replies to “The Dylan Mass: Why Not?”

  1. As much as I consider myself a die hard traditionalist, I'm also a die hard Dylan fan. I actually found this Mass to be quite spiritual. Much of Dylan's music is very scripturally based.

  2. Carrying on the great late 20th century tradition of using God as an excuse to make us feel good about ourselves. A triumph! (Of what? I have no idea.)

  3. If only the Council Fathers at Vatican 2 would have recommended Chant and other sacred forms of music, especially polyphony, instead of calling for folk songs accompanied by the guitar. Oh wait a minute…

  4. Why?

    The bright line you speak of might just sink a "new evangelization" along with a "new church." After all, Jesus gave the Great Commission, and it seems a pretty clear statement of mission to me. Has it just been adulterated and made safer by confining one's outreach to the inactives?

    It's all a question of politics. When you like the people making the suggestions, anything goes. When you dislike, then everything goes.

    Two generations sing and new hymnals print because these texts remain meaningful. Unlike corporate music, these songs have staying power because people are permitted to continue to sing them. Whether the standards are high, low, or in between, nobody's come up with much better. Yet.


  5. Todd, I'm trying to make sense of your comment. It really doesn't seem in any way coherent, just disruptive, but still, I'd like to understand.

    Do you think having Elvis, oops, I mean, Bob Dylan impersonators sing at Mass is a good thing?

  6. Nathan, are you referring to an actual document of Vatican II? Because I don't know if you've heard, it's the "spirit of Vatican II" that is important. And as we know, the spirit of Vatican II is much better expressed by Puff, the Magic Dragon than by Gregorian chant.

  7. My question still stands: why?

    Why would people want to sing derivative music rather than real liturgical music?

    But also why would you bother to post something like this? It seems very far afield, unless the point is to be derisive. I can't make any sense of the post. And not too much of your commentary, either. Sorry 'bout that. Slow Thursday?


  8. Are you saying that derision has no possible uses? Because if it does, the Dylan Mass is one righteous occasion.

    At least we agree on one thing, and I plan to quote it back to you as often as the need arises, "Why would people want to sing derivative music rather than real liturgical music?"

  9. Of course, one could sing these same songs at a Low EF Mass. If the the EF were to entirely displace the OF by diktat, this might well happen, legislation to the contrary notwithstanding.

  10. This is a fair point, I think. The form of the Mass has never guaranteed a good discernment of music.

    However, I think that in general, now, EF sung Masses have better music than OF sung Masses. Speaking very generally.

  11. Please sing any music you wish at any Episcopal/Anglican service, even Heavy Metal. This church tried to be everything to everybody and now is nothing to nobody.

  12. One comes to a place of acceptance. I have sung plenty of Extraordinary Form Masses with Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony. That being said, I would find a Dylan mass interesting. Or a Springsteen Mass. Or even a John Coltrane or Miles Davis Mass. Somehow, it would be a step forward from the gridlock we are in now. Anything that breaks the current stalemate of equally opposed musical Liturgists, endlessly debating what 1962-1965 meant for all time forevermore. A step forward out of the quagmire would be most encouraging. Comments?

  13. What I meant to say in full: It's weird and fun to see my friends Kathy and Todd agreeing, but from opposite perspectives! 😉 In answer to Kathy's question, IMO, constitutionally the answer would be "no." There is nothing that absolutely would prevent (prima facie) such a travesty being done. And the history of legislative actions via synods/edicts etc. bears this reality up to this day, from parodies to U2 Masses. What needs to be refined is the definition of the fourth option for the processionals (or conceivably the responsorial, though one is clearly on thin ice trying to defend any paraphrase there.) Even in the OF, where no such "low Mass" distinction is made, an argumentative musician could defend singing Pete Seegar's TURN TURN TURN upon the grounds that MDRidge's PARABLE is conceivably no better a paraphrase of Ecclesiastes. But, dropping the fourth option puts Kathy out of one of her gigs, one which is held dear by most Catholic hearts. And, as Todd points out repeatedly, the so-called "hermeneutic of subtraction" as a sword cuts both ways, it will lose very strong vines of songs/hymns/canticles along with the chaff and dross, besides hymns and motets that aren't strictly proper-based. The priest at the altar is the Red Line ultimately.

  14. Maybe REAL concerts. Live music is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and a real musician, good enough to be popular for decades, backed up by a seasoned band and roadies, might be aesthetically better than the best a parish can muster.

    But cover jams? Impersonators?

    Isn't one of the worst excesses of the immediate reception of Vatican II the incredible amount of bad playacting?

  15. The fourth option is not wide open. Technically, there is supposed to be a safeguard. This safeguard is not currently in use.

  16. "Isn't one of the worst excesses of the immediate reception of Vatican II the incredible amount of bad playacting?"

    I think we had that before Vatican II, too. It never went away in some places. Some clergy still pretend at being Jesus, instead of being a pastor and shepherd.

    I don't care that there's no "safeguard" as Kathy puts it. Real church musicians don't need it. Real musicians who aspire to minister will keep focused on the Biblical text and getting people to sing and forego temptation. Otherwise, it's on the pastors. Music lessons, financial support, workshops, formation in ministry: these things are all needed, top to bottom. Once you get those, Bob Dylan stays in the concert hall and everything is good.


  17. And yet we know there is none, really. The music director in your church, across town, on the other side of the world, can program anything from Dylan to Devo to Dvorak to Josquin DesPrez, with or without the congregation in tow, and the pastor in charge doesn't care too much, usually, because the money's coming in or there's no money to pay someone or he doesn't care or know the difference. I long ago gave up worrying what other people were doing. Or watching them on YouTube.


  18. No thanks. I prefer Miles and Trane in modern concert interpretations, or playing with my friends. Ditto with polyphony.

    I suspect Bob Dylan's music will outlast the Traditional Latin Mass. Miles Davis certainly will.

    1962-1965 means today, Vatican II was the start, not the finish of the conciliar agenda, and I don't mind open-ended discernment.


  19. Good calls, Todd. Bird, Miles, Trane et al, mystics every one. But anyone suggesting they (and for that matter Zimmerman) have their milieux appropriated for a ritual expression is presposterous.
    Secular fanatics who wish to meld their innate spirituality to Jazz idioms should hook their wagons to Kurt Elling, who is evermost the equal of my sister Pluth and Brother Wren. But to confuse the idioms, as Dave Brubeck FAILED to do (and he was a freaking genius) is an error of the highest order.
    This is the esssence of the wisdom of linking real chant and polyphony to the worship culture of our Rites, however non exclusive. No matter what we don't know or feel, we have no doubt about these priorities.

  20. I am trained in historical theology, so my response to all the comments here is that lamenting these things is ok, however I have to say it's far better to look at WHY these things came in to being. If we know why, then we can better know how to get back on track, and educate (evangelize?) detractors.

    This is fodder for extensive books and theses. But my brief observation is that since the sixties, we have become a less formal society. Kennedy was the first president to hardly ever wear a hat like a proper gentleman. We have seen a blurred line on what is formal dress and informal dress now, the same with writing. The formal style is dead, and in fact seen as "stuffy". The colloquial, relaxed manner is the only acceptable way of speaking, writing, conversing. I get accused all the time of being pedantic because I have a broad vocabulary. This has carried over obviously to all things ecclesiastical, including music. Not that it is exlusivistic, chant is more accessible in theory than any music, but it is "perceived" as difficult, elitist, exclusivistic, formal etc… I don't think people intended to "desacralize" the liturgy so much as they intended it to make it more familiar (though desacralizing is the byproduct).

    Along with that is a self-centeredness…a selfishness. God must come to me, I refuse to go to Him, in a way I wish or desire. I can't be bothered to do any work. God must entertain me if he wants me. That is a post-war (WWII) phenomenon everywhere. Just my thoughts…

  21. The complaints I hear about chant are different. People who speak to me about it perceive it as slow, boring, unintelligible (when sing in Latin), and inferior to metered and harmonized music.

    There's just as much selfishness when people promote their own personal taste as the "best." It can happen to anyone, regardless of genre.

    As for the notion that God must come to me, I read a lot more of that into pre-conciliar Catholicism. Fulton Sheen was the rare evangelist. And certainly the Catholic laity did not (and largely still do not) regard evangelization, finding God in others, as part of their personal mission.

    Entertainment is indeed part of the human experience. But an assembly of baptized Christians embracing their active participatory role in the priesthood of Christ–that will do a good bit to counteract the tendency.


  22. Well well even the heretics kneel for their "communion"…..what to go catholics shown up by a priestess……

  23. Catholicsensibility said "The complaints I hear about chant are different. People who speak to me about it perceive it as slow, boring, unintelligible (when sing in Latin), and inferior to metered and harmonized music. ".
    Yes, presumably they say it is boring, because it does not entertain them.

  24. The banner behind the lector looks like the church is St. James in Richmond, Virginia. This may be deliberate or just coincidence, but in Hibbing, Minnesota, Bob Dlyan's hometown, there is a small congregation still worshipping in an elderly but sound Episcopal Church named St. James.
    The congregation in this video sings this service like it is not the first time. It was a bit of a shock at first, but it is fairly well done and the music does have a spiritual side to it. I'm not surprised that it is an Episcopal Church. I think a decent recording of it could be a good listen. I'm a Minnesota Episcopalian myself, not a big fan of these non-traditional inovations, but sometimes they turn into something worth doing. Now on the other hand, there are Polka Masses…..

  25. Watching this, I am ASHAMED of the celebrating prietst and other responsible for this. This is not a Mass, it is pure sacrilege. Heresy.
    The men "singing", rather, crowing, are ridiculous. I would recommend some song lessons with my cat; he sings much better!
    This is NARCISSISM on a high level.
    Where is the Bishop in this case? How can any Bishop allow such a deformation and perverse imitation of a "mass"?!
    Do you Think this will attract "Young people"? Most of them are simply finding this nonsense painfully phoney.
    People who willingly and gladly partake in such defo¡rmation and perversion are not catholics.

  26. Except in places that I know of where the new hymnals are used, the people don't sing. How are they thus considered "meaningful"?

    In order to get the Mass to where it is today, musicians and priests have ignored the directives of the Holy Church calling for the Mass (the Propers) as such to be sung with quality, in particular the chants, not just merely sing any music inserted into the Mass. Even the Ordinary of the Mass is not of very good quality. That being said, just having the dialogue sung between the priest and the faithful would be a step up to make the Roman liturgy sound more beautiful.

    The Church called for the highest art for the highest purpose, that of divine worship. What we have now misses the mark greatly. I am glad to now be at an Anglican Use parish which strives for the highest art. But I wish the whole Latin Church would do the same so that I don't have to worry about poor quality worship when I move to another town. It is hard to want to worship His Majesty our God, as opposed to merely "fullfill one's Sunday obligation", when the liturgy is terrible.

    Exquisite looking church. Unfortunately, the music (and preaching) do not seem to match the splendor of it.


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