Guitarist Turned Schola Director – FSSP Seminary Faculty Member Recounts Being Mysteriously Moved by Sacred Music

The National Catholic Register has just published an interview with Mr. Nicholas Lemme, director of the schola cantorum at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary (FSSP) in Denton, Nebraska, on his “conversion” from rock music to Gregorian chant, including the influence of the CMAA on his journey.

A few excerpts:

What courses do you teach at the seminary? 

I primarily teach how to sing Gregorian chant, which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council state is to be given “pride of place” in the Church’s worship. My classes are mainly devoted to learning the Solesmes method of interpretation, but we also take a look at the history of chant, its function in the liturgy, its spirituality and its influence on other forms of Western music. In addition to this, I’ve recently started giving a class on the power of music in general. How that class was made possible is an interesting story.

I remembered that, during my “subtle conversion,” I had gradually stopped listening to the conventional rock music produced from the ’60s to the ’90s. The lyrics in those songs were filled with promotion of vices such as pride, disobedience, vanity and lust — none of which corresponded with the virtue I was hoping to acquire. Most of the records I had in my music library were removed in a very matter-of-fact way that seemed natural to me. I didn’t need to put a lot of reflection into it.

It wasn’t until my first year at the seminary (while discerning a vocation) that I discovered there might be more to the story. I had grown accustomed to the beautifully structured seminary life. We had regular times for prayer, manual work, study and recreation. During the times of prayer, we would chant the Divine Office, and, of course, there was also chant (and some polyphony) at Masses. We were enveloped in a beautifully mysterious atmosphere, where our minds and hearts were drawn upward into the realm of the Divine.

After four months of not listening to recorded music, I decided to do some recreational listening on my iPod. A heavy-hitting, rock-influenced jazz instrumental came on the mix. I was startled out of my little piece of heaven into an atmosphere of agitation. What was previously an almost temptation-free environment had become a battleground filled with anxiety.

You had already come to dislike rock, so what was new about this experience? 

What really got me thinking was: There were no words to the song, so those were not the concern. The music itself was agitating me. Everyone, whether musically inclined or not, will agree that certain types of music tend to evoke certain emotions. The sentiments felt upon hearing Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries are assuredly not the same as those felt upon hearing Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina.

However, where the connection is often missing, as it had been for me, is from the specific emotions to specific vices or virtues. Take anger, as an example. Anger itself is not sinful, but once it has gained entrance into the soul, it is very difficult to control and can lead to sin.

So if the topic is presented, it should be done in a way that somehow engages the intellect. This is possible through Allegro of Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, but not through Metallica’s House of Puppets, which negates the intellect by its coarse, mindless grinding.
Once the emotion of anger is presented without any reference to rationality, its influence can easily lead to vice. An angry person finds it more difficult to pray and forgive or to be patient and generous. Christian living is impaired without the affected person even knowing how that came about.

This connection between emotion and virtue was a huge revelation to me, so I began reflecting on the topic and looking more deeply into it. I found that what was revealed to me was actually a concept that has been with us since antiquity.

Plato expressed the force of music in his Republic this way: “Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”

Father Basil Nortz, ORC [Canons Regular of the Holy Cross], has written and spoken of how it is essential to realize that it is not only the lyrics of a song that will affect us. The music itself enters into the deepest recesses of the soul to influence us there even more profoundly than words. The reason for this is: Words must first be understood by the mind, but music is immediately grasped by the emotions, regardless of previous training or culture.

So you disagree with adding good lyrics to rock music? 

Let me put in this way: I wouldn’t be moved in quite the same way by hearing the words of Agnus Dei set to a fast-paced, heavy-drum beat. In reality, it would obliterate any positive influence the words would have had. The words really need to match the music; that’s good art.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote before his papacy in The Spirit of the Liturgy that, “Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship.” In order to determine what kinds of music do have a place, he gave this criterion: “Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality?”

Additionally, he stated in A New Song for the Lord that rock music is “thoroughly opposed to the Christian notion of redemption and of freedom.” Therefore, he continued, “Not for aesthetic reasons, not from reactionary obstinacy, not from historical immobility, but because of its very nature, music of this type must be excluded from the Church.”

The ontology (or the very being) of music should determine where that music is found. I have yet to find a culture or religion that does not have its representative music. Early on, rock music represented and shaped my own culture, or way of life. Now, I now tend to be drawn, and to draw from, music that elevates the soul without negating the intellect. Gregorian chant seems to be the paradigm of this, but other examples can be found that encourage the pursuit of virtue as well.

This is a fascinating topic that will occupy my thoughts the rest of my life. There’s still so much for me to learn, but I’m grateful for having my eyes opened to it, and I hope to pass it along well to the seminarians.

I would consider the subject properly disseminated to them if they appreciate music’s power over their souls and live out what so many great thinkers have taught about music — not only from a liturgical standpoint, but from an ontological one as well.

There’s a mysterious and strong influence exerted through music, so we should delight in making the effort to seek out those types of music that ennoble and lift us higher. The ultimate goal is to sing the praises of almighty God in heaven, and we begin to do this on earth in a most notable way when we engage in reverent Christian worship.

Read the rest here

Registration Deadline: Sept. 13th – Excellent Line-up for CMAA in St. Paul!

The countdown to the registration deadline has begun for “The Renewal of Sacred Music and the Liturgy in the Catholic Church: Movements Old and New,” a conference hosted by the CMAA in Saint Paul October 13-15, 2013.

Familiar faces like Jeffrey Tucker, Horst Buchholz and Cecilia Nam, Bill Mahrt, Michael O’Connor, Susan Treacy, Ed Schaefer, and yours truly will be there; and many excellent performers and scholars new to the CMAA will make for a great line-up!

This conference is a great opportunity to get away before the hubbub of preparing for Advent and Christmas begins, as well as an excellent immersion in the life of St. Agnes Parish, Msgr. Schuler’s home for decades, and home to the well-known and loved Twin Cities Catholic Chorale.

In addition to all the concerts and presentations, we’ll have wonderful opportunities for fellowship over meals, as well as the chance to tour Msgr. Schuler’s personal archives, as well as the archives of St. Agnes and the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

The deadline is next Friday, September 13th!

From the website:

The conference seeks to explore, through critical analysis, former and present efforts to revive the Church’s sacred liturgy and music, particularly as exemplified by Msgr. Schuler’s work. Questions central to the conference theme include:

– Which efforts have resulted in a true restoration of the Church’s liturgy and sacred music?

– Upon which principles has authentic liturgical and musical renewal operated in the past?

– Which reform actions have had deleterious effects on sacred music and the liturgy?

Here are just some of the paper topics and recitals lined up for the conference: 

  • “The Twentieth-Century Liturgical Movement and American Church Architecture” – Matthew Alderman
  • “Louis Bouyer and the Pauline Reform: Great Expectations Dashed” – Dr. John Pepino
  • “Twentieth-Century Reform and the Transition from a ‘Parallel’ to a ‘Sequential’ Liturgical Model: Implications for the Inherited Choral Repertoire and Future Liturgical Compositions” – Dr. Jared Ostermann
  • “The Effect of 2007 Motu Proprio on Sacred Music and the Liturgy” – Dr. Edward Schaefer
  • “Singing ‘the Living Voice of the Liturgy’: The Liturgical Movement and Music in the United States, 1940–1960” – Fr. Robert Johansen
  • “Joseph Bonnet, Animateur of Gregorian Chant Congresses” – Dr. Susan Treacy
  • “Mariology and the Motet in the Early Seventeenth Century: The Marian Motet Cycle of Juan de Esquivel” – Dr. Michael O’Connor
  •  “Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, and the Reforms of the Liturgy of the Roman Rite” – Devin Jones
  •  “How Firm a Foundation: Hints from Blessed John Henry Newman and the Tractarians in Contemporary Catholic Liturgical Reform” – Dr. David Paul Deavel
  • “Reginald Mills Silby: The Westminster Connection” – Dr. Kevin Vogt
  • Cum Angelis Canere: To Sing with the Angels, or A Farm Boy Learns to Sing Mozart” – Fr. Michael Miller
  • Factum est silentium in caelo: The Silence of Sound in the Heavenly Liturgy and the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy” – Nathan Knutson
  • Cantate Domino Canticum Novum – Renewing the Faith through Devotional Music – A Recital for Organ and Voice with music by Leisentritt, Campra, Rheinberger, and Langlais” – Dr. Cecilia Nam, soprano and Dr. Horst Buchholz, organ 
  • “The Celebration of Sorrow in the Roman Rite” – Fr. Eric Andersen

  • “Chant in Children’s Education: A Means of Reform for Music in the Parish” – Scott Turkington and the Children’s Choirs of Holy Family Parish 

    • The conference will include the celebration of vespers (featuring Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore) and Missae Cantatae at the Cathedral of Saint Paul and Church of Saint Agnes, featuring an orchestral Mass (Paukenmesse by Franz Joseph Haydn), classical works for organ, chanted Gregorian propers, and a modern polyphonic setting of the Mass ordinary (Messe Salve Reginaby Yves Castagnet).

      We hope to see you there in October! 

    Dr. Mahrt Interview on October Conference in Saint Paul

    The registration deadline is drawing near for the conference “The Renewal of Sacred Music and the Liturgy in the Catholic Church: Movements Old and New” to be held in Saint Paul, Minnesota October 13-15.

    The speaker and performer line-up is fantastic, and the liturgies will be beautiful. We hope you’ll join us for what promises to be an excellent conference and immersion in the riches of the Church’s liturgy and intellectual life.

    The registration deadline is Friday, September 13th!

    Recently, Dr. Mahrt gave an interview about the conference, Msgr. Schuler, and the work of the CMAA to The Catholic Servant, an evangelization, catechetics, and apologetics newsletter based in Minneapolis. It is with their kind permission that we reprint it here.

    Dr. William Mahrt: renewal of sacred liturgy and music

    By Patrick G. Shannon

               The Catholic Music Association of America (CMAA) is planning an ambitious conference: “The Renewal of Sacred Music and Liturgy in the Catholic Church: Movements Old and New” in collaboration with the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, the Church of Saint Agnes, the Cathedral of Saint Paul, and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis this fall, October 13-15, 2013 (see for details). The conference marks the 40th anniversary of the residence of the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, founded by Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, at the Church of Saint Agnes in Saint Paul. The conference seeks to explore, through critical analysis, former and present efforts to revive the Church’s sacred liturgy and music, particularly as exemplified by Msgr. Schuler’s work. The current state of liturgical music will be examined as well as the Church’s rich musical history and how we have come to our current situation, particularly since the Second Vatican Council.
                Msgr. Schuler was among the CMAA founding officers in 1964. The current president, Dr. William Mahrt, Associate Professor of Mu-sic at Stanford University, observes that “Msgr. Schuler really held the early organization together at a time when the vernacular liturgy and folk-inspired music was emerging as the dominant genre. The annual colloquium in the early years drew as few as 30 participants, but Msgr. Schuler plugged along, maintaining the quarterly journal Sacred Music. He felt strongly that the CMAA was needed for the future.” Dr. Mahrt feels that the time is now.
    Indeed, this year’s Colloquium in June drew over 250 participants. One presenter, Archbishop Sample from Portland, strongly asserted: “The renewal and the reform of the sacred liturgy is absolutely key and essential to the work of the new evangelization.” Dr. Mahrt will be presenting one of the keynote addresses at the conference: “The Treasury of Sacred Music at Saint Agnes: From Chant to Mozart.”
    The CMAA is particularly dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Gregorian chant and early polyphonic sacred music. Dr. Mahrt was asked about the virtual absence of Latin for most Catholics, including younger priests, as being a barrier to the return of chant. “The Latin for the ordinary parts of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) is not completely foreign to most congregations, he said. “There are many simple chants available which can be learned rather easily as well. Especially with side-by-side translations, the people can become acquainted with the true beauty of Gregorian chant, which the Church has  consistently taught as being most conducive to a spiritually meaningful liturgical experience.
    “More complicated chants will be for the choir, for a while, especially for the Proper (changeable) parts of the Mass. It will take some time and effort for everyone to arrive at liturgical reform, but the people need something better than the often stale hymns we are used to now, songs which are not directly connected to the liturgy. Gather Us In is not the same as the prescribed Entrance Antiphon, whether it’s in English or Latin.”
    One problem Dr. Mahrt sees with current liturgical music is that the songs are anthropocentric, focused on the people, rather than theocentric, with the focus on our relationship with God. “The purpose of the sacred liturgy,” he maintains, “is to participate in the sacred mystery of Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father. Let There be Peace on Earth is filled with I and me and my brother—anthropocentric to be sure. Besides, that style is more like a Broadway musical, more like entertainment. Now, I like Broadway musicals, but they are not liturgies. With chant there is no question that it is sacred music in style, especially when we understand that it is tied directly to the parts of the Mass during which it is sung. So should the people be singing a song on the way up to Communion or internally preparing their hearts and minds for reception of the Eucharist? Or singing rather than making a personal thanksgiving after reception? Perhaps we could leave that singing to the choir.”
    The Church has emphasized “active participation” on the part of the people. Even before the Second Vatican Council, such liturgical reform was underway. “We must realize, however, that listening is very much a part of active participation,” Dr. Mahrt points out. “We listen to the readings and the homily. We listen to the prayers of the Offertory and Consecration. Pope John Paul II pointed out that the listening active participation makes the liturgy a countercultural activity. We can actively listen to the beauty of sophisticated Gregorian chants or sacred polyphonies in the same way. I know that some will come to an orchestrated Haydn or Mozart Mass only for the music, but just maybe the true significance of the Sacrifice of the Mass will slowly have an influence.”
    Many Catholics today are expressing a weariness with the usual hymn selection and its impact on the Sunday Mass experience. Dr. Mahrt and the CMAA hope to provide the best of the Church’s liturgical music tradition and the guidance for new music which will elevate the Mass from a routine obligation to a profound spiritual encounter with the divine.
    Patrick G. Shannon is a member of the Board of Directors for “The Catholic Servant” and a medical writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
    This article was funded by the St. Benedict Chair of Writing sponsored by an anonymous patron.
    This article reprinted with kind permission of The Catholic Servant, Minneapolis Minnesota. It was originally printed in Vol. XIX, No. VIII (August 2013) of the periodical.

    Miami International Organ Competition

     The Miami International Organ Competition is a bi-annual competition sponsored by Fratelli Ruffatti and the Church of the Epiphany, with the intention of encouraging and recognizing talented young organists from around the world. Any organist born on or after February 28, 1984, is eligible to compete in the 2014 competition. 
    The deadline for receiving all preliminary round application materials is Friday, December 6, 2013. Final round competition will take place on Friday, February 28, 2014.
    Several of the recent winners have presented or will present recitals and papers at the colloquium and other conferences, including one of the CMAA’s board members, Mr. Jonathan Ryan. The beautiful Ruffatti instrument and Epiphany church also served as the home of the February 2012 Tournemire conference which the CMAA hosted in Miami.  

    What Happened?

    I’ve had the opportunity to give some talks on fundamental principles of sacred music and an introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass over the last few weeks.  In all the sessions, the following question came up:

    “What happened?”

    It’s a question I’ve asked myself on a number of occasions.

    Reading about Mrs. Justine Ward and the 1920 Gregorian chant congress with thousands of children chanting the Mass – How did this phenomenon evaporate?

    Music in Catholic Worship by the USCCB – How did this document ever get published?

    Who ever thought the hootenanny Mass was a good idea?

    Fortunately, the CMAA’s patrimony includes the heroic efforts of Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, the longtime president of the CMAA and editor of Sacred Music, the CMAA’s journal. Msgr. Schuler saw it all, and endured it all, often standing with only a few others in the cause which the CMAA still champions. 

    One of his most significant literary contributions to the cause of sacred music is this article entitled “A Chronicle of the Reform: Catholic Music in the 20th Century.” This essay is a must-read for anyone who to avoid the mistakes of the past and move forward with prudence.  See for example this excerpt:

    Typical and perhaps most interesting of the innovations engineered through the Music Advisory Board by Father McManus, Father Diekmann and Father Weakland was the “hootenanny Mass.” The scenario began in April 1965, when Father Diekmann delivered an address entitled “Liturgical Renewal and the Student Mass” at the convention of the National Catholic Educational Association in New York. In his speech, he called for the use of the “hootenanny Mass” as a means of worship for high school students. This was the kickoff of a determined campaign on the part of the Liturgical Conference to establish the use of profane music in the liturgy celebrated in the United States. Universa Laus had already begun a similar effort in Europe. In September 1965, the Catholic press began to carry reports of the use of hootenanny music by those in charge of college and high school student worship. In February 1966, the Music Advisory Board was called to meet in Chicago, with an agendum that included a proposal for the use of guitars and so-called “folk music” in the liturgy. It was clear at the meeting that both Fr. McManus and Archabbot Weakland were most anxious to obtain the board’s approval. The Archabbot told of the success of such “experiments” at his college in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where, during Mass, the students had enthusiastically sung, “He’s got the Archabbot in the palm of His hand.” Vigorous debate considerably altered the original proposal, and a much modified statement about “music for special groups” was finally approved by a majority of one, late in the day when many members already had left. But once the rubber stamp had been applied, the intensity of the debate and the narrow margin of the vote were immediately forgotten. The Music Advisory Board had fulfilled its function; it had been used.

    The press took over. American newspapers, both secular and ecclesiastical, announced that the American bishops had approved of the use of guitars, folk music and the hootenanny Mass. Despite repeated statements from the Holy See prohibiting the use of secular music and words in the liturgy, the movement continued to be promoted in the United States and in Europe. Deception played a part, since American priests were allowed to think that the decision of the Music Advisory Board was an order from the bishops themselves. In reality, an advisory board has no legislative authority, nor does a committee of bishops have such authority. Decisions on liturgical matters need the approval of the entire body of bishops after a committee has received the report of its advisors and submitted its own recommendations to the full body. The hootenanny Mass never came to the full body of bishops; it did not have to. The intended effect had been achieved through the announcement of the action of the Music Advisory Board and the publicity given to it by the national press. It was not honest, and further, it was against the expressed wishes and legislation of the Church.

    There are other examples of the introduction of the ideas of Universa Laus and the progressive liturgists that involved confusion and even deceit. The gullibility of the American clergy and their willingness to obey was used. A confusion was fostered in the minds of priests between the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy and the Liturgical Conference, which indeed had interlocking directorates. As anticipated, most American priests failed to distinguish between the releases that came from them, taking the proclamations of both as being the will of their bishops. Meanwhile, the official directives of the post-conciliar commissions in Rome rarely reached most American priests. They knew only the commentaries on them provided by the liturgists both nationally and on the diocesan level. As a result, the altars of most American churches were turned versus populum; choirs were disbanded; Gregorian chant was prohibited; Latin was forbidden for celebration of the Mass in many dioceses; church furniture and statuary were discarded. These innovations which distressed untold numbers of Catholics were thought to be the orders of the Second Vatican Council. Rather, they were the results of a conspiracy whose foundations and intentions have yet to be completely discovered and revealed.


    And Msgr. Schuler’s solution planted the seeds which we see sprouting in some places today, and flourishing in others:

    What must be taken as the basis for putting the reform back on the track in this country? Simply, a full and impartial acceptance of all directives, conciliar, papal and curial. That means the use of Latin as well as the vernacular, the fostering of choirs as well as congregational singing, the acceptance of the distinction between sung and spoken liturgy, the creation of new serious music as -well as the use of the great works of the past. Above all it means that the distinction between sacred and profane must be held to, along with the admission that a professional judgment must be made on the artistic merit of musical composition. In a word, the reform must be put in the hands of educated, professional musicians who are dedicated to carrying out the wishes of the Church as expressed in the documents. The same malaise that afflicted, this country when the reforms of Pope Pius X were promulgated still persists. It is still a question of education, an understanding of what the Church wants and a willingness and an expertise to carry it forward.

    In the 2013-2014 season, the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, which Schuler founded and directed, will celebrate its 40th season of residency at Saint Agnes Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  The parish has served as an incubator for vocations for the Archdiocese (including a few [arch]bishops) and carried on Schuler’s legacy of commitment to the Liturgical Movement and authentic vision of actuosa participatio in the sacred liturgy and her sacred music.

    The CMAA is hosting a conference celebrating that legacy on October 13-15, 2013 at Saint Agnes and Saint Paul Cathedral.  We hope you’ll join us as we look forward to the future with profound thanksgiving for Monsignor’s work. 

    To find out more about the conference, visit the conference page here:

    Introducing Young Adults to Sacred Music

    This month, I have the joy of serving as the music director at the Ecclesia Institute, a 5-week program of formation in philosophy and theology, structured in the monastic schedule of the Community of St. John, taking place at the University of Mary in Bismarck.

    A class given by one of the priests

    The students, coming from many different backgrounds and from all around the U.S., are receiving a sort of “immersion experience” in sacred music and liturgy.  In addition to the offices being sung, we’ve had sung Masses in the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite every day of the institute. The priests sing the dialogues, collects, preface, etc. and the propers are chanted every day, sometimes in English (SEP), sometimes using the Gregorian melodies, and the singing of the Gregorian Gradual and Alleluia is often heard instead of the responsorial psalm and acclamation-style Alleluia.  The ordinary is always sung, sometimes in Gregorian melodies, sometimes in English adaptations thereof.  There are also organ improvisations and repertoire punctuating the liturgies, especially on Sundays and feasts, the readings are sung on Sundays and feasts, and sometimes hymns are used at the end of Mass. Yesterday, we went to a local parish for the celebration of a missa cantata without incense in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite, and will do so again on the feast of St. James.  For many of the participants, it was their first exposure to the Traditional Latin Mass. 


    Ordinary Form Mass in a simple country parish, following four days of intense hiking and camping

    All of these experiences have been accompanied by classes on basic principles of sacred music and sacred liturgy, giving them them the opportunity to learn about the Church’s traditions and sacred treasures in an academic style, but also giving free reign to honest questions about the experiences and ideas presented to them.

    What has been the result?  I’ve been asking around to gauge the honest reactions of people who haven’t had experiences of liturgy and sacred music like this before, and there’s an amazing docility to receiving the Church’s treasures of sacred music and sacred liturgy. Many have made comments about the positive impact the experience has had on their ability to pray and sense God’s presence in the liturgy. Most had never heard a Gregorian Gradual or Alleluia sung before, but they have found them capable of prompting the heart to contemplation of scripture. Because so much of the music is  a capella, they have really enjoyed the sound of the organ when it does make an appearance, and it really adds to the festivity of the day. Others have a preference for “praise and worship”-style music, but through the encouragement of the priests, they have cultivated an openness to something new and different, thereby receiving it with more joy than they might otherwise have done, and it does seem to be growing on them.  The overall feeling, though, is one of being excited about the opportunity to learn how to pray from a liturgy well-celebrated, as well as excitement about the authentically Catholic and sacred character of the liturgy.

    Ecclesia participants at prayer following celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite in the chapel of a local parish

    What can we draw from an experience like this?

    I think the lesson lies in allowing the liturgy to shine as it is, rather than hoping for it to be something that it’s not. 

    Directors of religious education, campus ministers, and priests are often overly-sensitive to letting the liturgy radiate through a devotion to celebrating it with a marked sense of the sacred. The result is a labored, often artificial (or even banal) feeling in the liturgy, fearful that something marked by silence, repetition, and transcendence might offend someone, or not engage them because its appeal doesn’t lie firstly in the emotions.  Convinced that the emotions are the first and most direct route to engaging young people, they opt for modes of celebrating the Mass that focus in on the excitement of the passions, relying on the energy of the human heart thereby stirred up to reach God. Resorting to the notion of self-expression, these efforts often block the full glory of God’s gift of Himself as the “prime mover” in the liturgy, and the liturgy ends up being horizontal and closed in upon itself.

    The liturgy, properly celebrated, has a distinct identity, and that identity has great currency for young people looking for their calling, hoping to identify their gifts, searching for what they have to offer to God, His Church, and the world. Why give them a liturgy that is really just trying to be like an evangelical “worship service” plus Eucharist?  That’s not terribly Catholic, and the liturgy (and by extension, the faith of young people) can’t long bear being something it is not before it disintegrates. Chant, Latin, ad orientem, beautiful vestments and vessels, meaningful and simple gestures – these are Catholic in their character, and give young people something meaty to chew on, something beyond themselves to grasp. They also offer something that recognizes that young people are looking for something substantive, something real, and that they aren’t just narcissistic, unintellectual libertines. 

    If we don’t seriously engage them in their faith with all the treasures of the Church in hand, who will?

    Beyond that, though, the notion of making the liturgy into a didactic experience through explaining everything whilst going on with the celebration of the Mass is a tired, frumpy one.  In an age when media offer a total immersion experience that relies on images, gestures, symbols (and not text alone), and end up having a formative effect as a result, why not allow the liturgy to be this way?  Liturgy is a sort of holy Gesamtkunstwerk, a total experience for the senses. We see God, the source of Beauty in the gestures, architecture, and sacred art; we hear the voice of God in scriptures, music, and prayers; we smell the rising of our prayers to Him in the incense; we feel Him in the movement of the body between different postures of prayer; and ultimately we taste Him in the reception of Holy Communion. God doesn’t only teach through explanations; He reaches hearts through the penetration of the senses with beauty, silence at key points, solemnity, and a sense of the sacred.  Why be frightened of the liturgy’s import, seeking to cover it with explanations and overly-emotional, often effeminate music?

    If the liturgy has a palpable character of sacrality, the hearts of young people are allowed to encounter the Lord rather than just the people around them.  Rather than experiences which point only to the human, the passionate, the horizontal, why not allow the liturgy to shine in its character which perfectly balances the horizontal and vertical in the Incarnation and Cross of Christ?

    Allow the liturgy to be as it is – a gift from God and vehicle of His grace to us.  Channel your efforts into celebrating the liturgy in accordance with its innate character, rather than working to explain away that character.  Don’t be afraid that doing so will drive away young people – you might very well find that the contrary is true! Prepare young people for a lifetime of faith with a liturgy that bears the weight of repetition. Don’t settle for something that just seems to fit the bill while they’re young.