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Saturday, August 22, 2020

PRAISE AND WORSHIP: The Day the Music Died

Written by  Sarah Rodeo
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I seek in this manifesto of sorts to articulate particular issues posed by what is popularly called “praise and worship.” Indeed, it is curious that this (large) wing of the CCM (Christian contemporary music) movement, often so visually and conceptually indistinguishable from Christian pop and rock concert culture, seems by its very name to claim a monopoly on the concepts of “praise” and “worship”, the highest forms of which are in actuality the Catholic Mass. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to this musical-spiritual movement as “Praise & Worship™.”

My concerns with P&W™ (and the culture surrounding it), which are generally textual, musical, emotional, spiritual, historical, cultural, theological, liturgical, economic, social and visual, are as follows:

TEXTUALLY:

  1. Many (or perhaps even most) P&W™ song lyrics, which are at best spiritually, theologically, literarily, and/or poetically deficient. At worst, they are outright heretical or otherwise somehow incompatible with Catholic dogma and/or doctrine.
  2. General absence of concern for the liturgical calendar and liturgical seasons, cycles, and themes.

MUSICALLY:

  1. Poorly-constructed, banal melodies (some, of course, more than others).
  2. Extremely limited, diatonic harmonic language, such as A) a general lack of any chords beyond I, IV, V and vi, and B) direct key changes as opposed to carefully-handled modulations. (Contrast this, for example, with Gregorian chant melodies that have lent themselves over the centuries to all kinds of different kinds of harmonization traditions.)
  3. Highly-syncopated, needlessly-difficult rhythms, often repeated inconsistently throughout the same piece without any particular reason for these slight rhythmic variations.
  4. The general lack of intentionally-constructed musical content that traditionally characterizes sacred music forms even as simple as four-part hymns, which inherently consist of rule-governing musical systems such as voice leading, typical harmonic progressions, etc.
  5. Insensitive instrumentation and/or over-production in the studio (e.g. excessive synthesizer).
  6. A culture of excessive amateurism and volunteerism that often produces a tendency for low quality of P&W™ performance.
  7. The style of singing (e.g. scooping and warbling) that derives from pop and jazz styles (designed to deliberately contrast with the “highly-trained” style of operatic singing) and contrasts with the pure, tranquil tone required for the singing of chant and polyphony, which symbolizes the unity, catholicity and universality of the Church.
  8. P&W™’s lack of grandeur, majesty, nobility, loftiness, solemnity, dignity, reverence, and ability to produce contemplation, meditation and a sense of transcendence.

EMOTIONALLY/SPIRITUALLY:

  1. The hyper-emotionalistic, trance-like state into which P&W™ intrinsically induces people (not just individually, but collectively), which can resemble a sort of mass hypnosis and/or hysteria that seems incompatible with traditional understandings of healthy Catholic spiritual experiences in, for example, its lack of restraint. (Are P&W™ participants all simply just "rocking out"? Are P&W™ bands able to be completely sure of whether they're praying or performing at any moment? Does their medium even intrinsically permit such clarity?)worship music

HISTORICALLY:

  1. The stark rupture between P&W™ and the Western Catholic sacred high/fine art musical tradition, in which we see an authentic trajectory over many centuries, from psalm tones to chant to organum to polyphony to concerted liturgical forms to orchestral Masses, etc.
  2. P&W™’s seeming inability to provide either A) room for such aforementioned authentic, organic musical development or B) material for genius composers to work with, the way that such composers were able to utilize/adapt chant melodies, etc.
  3. P&W™’s clear origination in secular, charismatic, Pentecostal, other Protestant, and other problematic contexts.
  4. The seeming lack of sanctification and transformation that P&W™ seems to exhibit, in contrast to other secular music styles that have been arguably very successfully appropriated for sacred use - think of stylistic similarities between A) 16th-century sacred motets and secular madrigals or B) Mozart Masses and operas.
  5. P&W™’s seeming desire for cultural relevance and its targeting of a specific age group and population of limited intellectual scope, as opposed to demonstrating concern for not just the past, but the future, and for the project of producing masterpieces to be enjoyed, preserved and passed on by future generations, all of which contributes to P&W™’s surely-limited staying power.

CULTURALLY/ECONOMICALLY/SOCIALLY:

  1. 17. P&W™’s clear origination in pop culture in a postmodern world practically unrecognizable from the pre-modern one - in the latter, we could point to much natural, organic infusion and integration of high art into “low”, folk art and popular culture, where secular and sacred material synergistically spoke the same artistic language.
  2. The personality cult that tends to revolve around the lead singer, as opposed to the inherently communal nature of A) chant, B) polyphony sung by a schola or choir, or C) hymns sung (especially in four parts) by a choir or congregation.
  3. The individualistic, egotistical authorship/copyright culture (what kind of person copyrights prayers?) of P&W™, as opposed to the anonymous, communal, public domain culture of Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, etc.
  4. The fashion culture of P&W™ (e.g. ripped jeans and V-neck shirts, which are an infantile contrast to proper and dignified choir dress, robes, cassocks, surplices, etc.).
  5. P&W™ culture's upholding of superficial, unrealistic, secular beauty standards (think, for example, of the stereotypically well-groomed, buff, tattooed P&W™ leader), and its participation in problematic branding, marketing and advertising.
  6. The obscene amounts of money (and power and influence) tied up in the P&W™ wing of the popular music and radio industry, particularly in regards to individual performers’ wealth.
  7. The body language into which P&W™ culture (inherently Western) socializes people (e.g. standing for extended periods of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament at Eucharistic Adoration) and this body language’s seeming intrinsic incompatibility with the physical restraints that the Western Catholic worship space (A.K.A. the church) inherently and naturally imposes upon the human body (e.g. genuflection, kneeling, sitting, and stillness).

Which is more befitting the praise and worship of the Divine Godhead? You make the call: 

THEOLOGICALLY/LITURGICALLY:

  1. The conception of P&W™ lead singers as “worship leaders”, a stark contrast to ordained clerics (priests and deacons) who more properly lead the worship of the Church.
  2. The improvisatory element of P&W™ culture that lends itself to superficial, sappy ad-libbing, in stark contrast with the highly intentionally and carefully structured, scripted, rubrical, catechetical, didactic, ancient liturgy of the Church.

VISUALLY:

  1. The physical materials that P&W™ inherently requires in order to operate optimally - namely PowerPoints, which facilitate the bodily freedom that P&W™ by its very nature requires, but which are inherently visually and physically incompatible with the Catholic church space, largely (or primarily) due to the manner in which they block the tabernacle, altar(s), statues, altar rail, etc., no matter where they are placed.
  2. The seeming incompatibility of the visual culture of P&W™ with the authentic Catholic visual tradition (e.g. fog and lights, which seem to be technological, artificial, one-step-removed imitations of “real”, natural candles and incense).
  3. P&W™’s seeming reliance on technology and media (e.g. PowerPoints, fog-makers and lights) in an already excessively-digitized world.

In short, P&W™’s general lack of sophistication on nearly every level.

If P&W™ is somehow inherently incompatible with the Catholic worship space, is it not also at least somewhat incompatible with the concept of Catholic worship (which is largely supposed to take place in Catholic worship spaces)? If Catholics hold P&W™ events in non-church spaces, such as basements or auditoriums, are they not still prone to many (or most) of the emotional, spiritual, cultural, social, physical, musical and visual issues that P&W™ poses? When a person prays in a Catholic church with the Blessed Sacrament reposed in the tabernacle or exposed in the monstrance, the object of prayer is clearly the Eucharist. At Mass, of course, the object of worship is Jesus in the consecrated host. In a basement or auditorium with a powerpoint and/or a band on stage or otherwise up front, what is the object of worship? The idea of Jesus in the mind and heart, a Protestant might answer. How typically gnostic.

As Catholics, we materially, tangibly worship Christ through receiving His body, soul, blood and divinity in the Most Holy Eucharist. When Catholics pray the Divine Office, novenas, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet or other authentically Catholic prayer forms in non-Catholic-church places such as at home, where the Eucharist is not physically present, they are not prone to the aforementioned myriad problems that P&W™ poses. This is because these authentic Catholic prayer traditions (constituted by chants, hymns and other texts that are integral to their structure) by their very nature do not pose such problems.institute of chirst king

In a Catholic church, the eye is drawn to the tabernacle that is normatively in the center of the church sanctuary. At home, Catholics are encouraged to pray with eyes focused upon the image of a crucifix, icon or other similar object. P&W™ intrinsically seems to either A) require a visual focus on the powerpoint and/or band or B) induce and/or encourage the shutting of one’s eyes, which facilitates retreat into the darkness of relativism and an even more individualistic, non-communal worship (or “worship”) experience.

We should strive to provide more answers to the question of what it is exactly about P&W that makes people feel that they are having such an intense religious and/or spiritual experience. Sociologists and researchers know a good amount about the effect that pop and rock music have on human emotions and brains, but the spiritual/religious/Christian element needs to be brought into the research - how does the emotional and psychological state that P&W induces contribute to a feeling of religious conversion or closeness with God?

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Last modified on Tuesday, August 25, 2020