Friday, April 18, 2008

Catholics, music and the Pope

All year I've wanted to post something to the effect that while us Anglo-Catholics are emulating many of the best liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church, since Vatican II that liturgy has morphed (or even disappeared) from RCC parishes, at least in the US. (I've held off, hoping to have time to do more research, but that time hasn't materialized).

The incongruity -- of Anglo-Catholics being more “Catholic” in their worship than Roman Catholics -- hit me when visiting two of the oldest Christian churches in the Western United States. Over the past year or two, our family has been visiting as many of the 21 California missions as opportunity permits. These missions -- established from 1769 to 1823 -- were established (mainly) to bring Christianity to the natives of California.

On two occasions, we went to church services. At the Carmel Mission (established 1770) we attended morning mass, while at Mission San Antonio de Padua (est. 1771) we just missed services due to out-of-date information on their service times. At Carmel, they had a great choir and a wonderful organ, but the worship (from Today's Missal) was definitely a Rite II-style contemporary hymn approach. We didn't hear the service at Mission San Antonio, but given that they were putting away the amplifiers for the electric guitar, it seems reasonable to presume that it was praise-type music.

Of course, this week Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the East Coast, including celebrating two mega-Masses. In reading Hymnography Unbound, the bloggress noted how the Pontiff and his American bishops are trying to straddle various musical traditions within the American church.

This week, the story was updated by others who had more time to pursue the details. First, on Wednesday the Washington Post wrote about the musical tensions within the American RCC and how this week's masses fit into those tensions. Then on Thursday, GetReligion (Lutheran) bloggress Mollie Ziegler made sense of the Post article by providing context around all the existing tensions in the church.

I don't know that anyone knows how the revival of interest in traditional liturgy (and music) will play out in the RCC or in the American Anglican tradition. After all, the 19th century Oxford Movement was not anticipated before it happened.

However, what is clear is that the Catholic church (with 50 million American adult members) has a lot more room for specialized tastes than do the Anglican/Episcopal churches (with 3+ million). So in terms of sheer numbers, in the US there will always be a larger pool of Catholics interested in Gregorian chant (if not Wesleyan hymns) than there will be Anglicans or even Lutherans or Presbyterians.

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