Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Plastic Fork Thing

Okay, "tv", since you commented on that last post wanting to know about the plastic fork reference, I decided just to publish the quote from Thomas Day's Why Catholics Can't Sing here: (I couldn't find my book but Neuhaus happened to quote from that section in his First Things) . . .

What does it all mean?

One telephone call I received was from a man who was both upset and amused. It seems that he happened to attend Sunday services in a Lutheran church and saw something that almost totally monopolized his attention. The minister, choir members, and a big group of young children, all in the front of the church, had strings around their necks and hanging from each piece of string was a plastic fork. Prayers were prayed, hymns were sung, and plastic forks dangled. The congregation was without a clue.

Finally, the minister talked to the children and explained the symbolism of the forks. 'Remember those times when you were eating dinner and your mother told you to save your forks?'

Continued cluelessness from the congregation.

The minister, sensing that further clarification was needed, continued: 'You know, save your forks for dessert . . . for heaven.'

What does it all mean? First of all it means that Roman Catholics are not the only ones capable of liturgical nuttiness. Secondly it means prepare for the worst. We must surely be living in a dangerous era when any religion begins to treat human beings as if they were little kitsch toys -- without yearnings, without imperfections, without imagination, without the gift of a soul, without art.

We would expect dictators, radical political theorists, and others who have a low opinion of people to indulge in amusing games with symbols, as a sign of their contempt for the idiots called human beings, but in religion this sort of thing is bad news. It means the end of that idea of a special, creating human 'soul,' and the beginning of an age when people in churches will be manipulated as if they were stupid machines-easily turned on or off (with a gimmick) by smart machines. It means head for the hills.


Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

The following paragraphs come from an online review. . .

When my brother John first told me about Why Catholics Can't Sing, I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Someone had actually written a book about this phenomena?

Ever since I started going to church again after a several year absence I have been complaining to all who would listen about the atrocious music sung in Catholic masses these days. It's not that Catholics can't sing, it's that they don't.

Who wants to sing unremarkable music? I love to sing and I rarely do in mass. The reason is that most of the music is some 70s holdover sappy pop folk stuff that hurts my ears to hear, especially when accompanied by guitar strummers. Whatever happened to the music I loved as a little girl in the early 60s? Faith of our Fathers, O Santissima, Holy God We Praise Thy Name?

When I asked my mother why our music was so bad, especially compared to that of the Episcopalians, she replied that 1) we believe that the music should not detract from the mass, and 2) that great church music sounds too much like Protestant music and we need to be different. Not that she believes either of these reasons to be sufficient justification for bad music, it's just that these are the reasons that are typically given.

Detract from the mass? What is more of a distraction than poorly sung bad music? Try to be different from the Protestants? Why? We have the most beautiful, glorious music in our Catholic heritage and no one is growing up knowing it.

Now Thomas Day has gone and written a whole book about the subject - Why Catholics Can't Sing - The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste. As the chair of the music department at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, Day delivers a well researched and scathing criticism of today's low musical standards and compelling hypotheses of how we got to this deplorable state.
Day takes his criticism a little far I think in condemning priests who say "Good Morning" to the assembled congregation. But he takes care in painting a pretty full contextual picture of how the mass and liturgy have changed since second Vatican council in the late 50s when Catholics around the world abandoned the Latin Mass and how these fundamental changes have affected the music. One trend he notes is the new music's emphasis on the individual experience and the individual singing as if she were the voice of God, rather than on the glory of God.

My mother recalled that singing in the Latin mass was always a sung prayer, not a song "about" goodness, but an actual prayer. Day draws an amusing caricature with the description of the enthusiastic music director who drowns out everyone else with his mic-ed and over amplified performances. It is a shame that our church leaders, both cleric and lay, have rejected so much of our beautiful, inspiring musical heritage in favor of pop-folk. It's as if we are catering to the lowest common denominator rather than recognizing the power of great music to lift up and inspire everyone. Well done Mr. Day.

Anonymous said...

I'm still glad I asked. I think?!?
Thanks for the answer, Pastor Brondos.

Tony Verkinnes