Ring dem gongs, but don’t ring dem Sanctus bells!

In the Catholic, Liturgical Music Blogosphere there’s been a great deal of attention and amusement over a skit recently shown on the comedy show Saturday Night Live (NBC.) As it happens its satirical edge cut a little too close to the bone for many liturgy geeks on both sides of the worship wars, demonstrating that, no matter where your heart lies regarding ars celebrandi, contemporaneous Christian worship has finally devolved into literally desperate and disparate banality, hucksterism and meaningless gesticulations. And, as it seems, “our” reaction to the mockery that implies a total loss of respect, reverence and affection for centuries’ of noble and enriched rituals is an impotent resignation to the vapid, vacant mentality of “going through the motions.”

Last night I was channel surfing after a grandson’s Winter Concert, and happened upon the remaining moments of a series on PBS-

SACRED JOURNEYS WITH BRUCE FEILER takes viewers on some of the most celebrated, challenging and spectacular religious pilgrimages on earth. In this landmark six-part series, we travel with American pilgrims looking to transform their lives as they visit places deeply meaningful to their faith. And our cameras gain privileged access to places rarely seen by viewers before.

A pilgrimage at its core is a gesture of action. Pilgrims feel a deeper connection to their faith. They feel closer to God. In a world in which more and more things are digital and ephemeral, a sacred journey gives the pilgrim the chance to experience something real.
Pilgrimage today is more alive than ever before. But you can’t experience its wonders unless you go.

The profoundly striking difference between what I observed in those few moments and the SNL skit centers upon the absolutely sincere and total acceptance of virtually all aspects, great and small, of the American pilgrims for the arcane and ineffable protocols and actions of specific non-Christians religious practices, I believe in this case (Dec.15 airing) that were Buddhist. The producers ensure that the excerpts show not only the profound reverence of Buddhist believers and practicioners, but also how powerful these “other” liturgies have upon modern American pilgrims.

Hopefully (if you’ve read this far) you know where I’m going with this. I cannot compute how, on one hand, a large portion of Catholic professionals and faithful, show such disdain and revulsion for our own venerable rites to the point of mockery like SNL of the affects of the red shoes of Papa Ratzi or the Cappa Magna of Cdl. Burke (what our friend Paul Inwood recently caricatured as “prissy,”) and on the other hand, those same intellects and we ever-so-tolerant Americans practically fawn and stumble over ourselves envying and emulating the worship cultures of “others.” Those “others” often include our own: millions dedicated to devotional missions to venerate apparitions of the BVM at Gaudalupe or Lourdes, the popular sacral customs such as Dias de los Muertos which I just personally witnessed as not being confined to early November as I saw families decorating Christmas trees and holding picnics at the gravesites of relatives in a Long Beach RC cemetary.

But, if a soulful seeker delve into traditional catholic traditions to the point of arguing for the evangelical witness to Christ that is most evidently, obviously present in the Solemn High Mass or Requiem, friends who don’t share this zeal are loathe to accept its credibility, its relevance, its anachronisms as having any intrinsic value or merit in guiding the flocks to transcendent, authentic worship experiences. We are, after all, “thinking Catholics,” endowed with all the tools to set up our own alternate magisteriums and regimes that call into question any and all aspects of institutional Catholicism.
I mean to say, didn’t even a Christopher Hitchens once declare that were he a believer, he’d opt for the high church “prissiness” of Anglo/Catholic liturgy?

In this little essay, I once again reiterate calling into question the very necessity of offensively-intended criticism that wishes to literally decimate the existence of what some claim are “former” rituals, AND the offensive and reactionary claims that the TLM is the sole salvation that, like the little engine that could, re-establish authentic Christianity to its muscular prominence again in the First World and thus save civilization. If we all so concerned with the meaning and effect of our corporate worship can acknowledge the intensity of the religious devotion of other traditions, and also languish or abandon “microwave” instant liturgy in St. Suburban’s, can’t we remember that within one of our own great prayers, the Anima Christi, we beg the Lord to inebriate us within the very language and measure of our prayer and praise. There is vitality aplenty in both forms of the Roman Catholic Mass. Arguing over that reality displays not only a deeply flawed mindset, but a hypocrisy that we would never display in the presence of another worship culture. Unless, of course, we behave like Westboro Baptist parishioners, who now number about forty people.