Psalm 149 and Freedom of Religion

Bear with me for a minute – I get someplace eventually, I hope.

The first 5 lines of Psalm 149:

Praise the Lord.[a]

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.

One notable omission from this part of this wonderful psalm is any mention of the temple. In other words, it does not say to go to the temple, march into the Holy of Holies, and cut loose with timbrel while singing praise music and gettin’ giggy wit it.

Seriously, as can be seen in the 5th verse, this joy, this singing, dancing and playing of musical instruments is meant for *life* – you are encouraged to rejoice and sing in bed, even!

Yet, today, at a beautiful Confirmation Mass celebrated with our wonderful bishop Michael Barber, we had some music that sounded a little like Pink Floyd (1) – if they had had a profound conversion experience and suffered debilitating brain damage. Pseudo power ballad without any of Floyd’s sense of humor or irony.  And it was *better* than some of the other music.

Now, the Spirit truly was present, as the music hardly dented the overall solemnity and joy of the Mass. It was beautiful and holy. The question, a question now 50 years old and running, is: How does such music get into the liturgy in the first place?

The Israelites under David, the traditional author of that psalm, clearly did not believe that such celebrations as described above could only take place within temple worship. Rather, the unspoken assumption is that the singing, dancing and music would take place in the midsts of the people’s lives – in the streets, in the home, on their beds, even.

Just as the Catholic argument for marriage was surrendered in the ’60s with no fault divorce, a situation that only now becomes obvious, perhaps the argument for freedom of worship versus freedom of religion (as explained here) was lost when it was somehow decided, in the wake of Vatican II, that whatever art or folk art that could be considered God-directed had to be included within the liturgy. Instead of maintaining a place for specific formal temple worship style ritual AND a place for other forms of worship outside the formal liturgy, we insisted on all things taking place within the liturgy – and thereby ceded the world outside the church walls to the secularists.

I’ve sometimes mused that any church musicians who think their music is more popular or accessible than traditional hymns and chants should be made to prove it – by getting paying gigs performing their music any place except within the liturgy. Does anyone imagine any Catholics would consistently show up for a dance or a drink or anything else at all if the music was praise music and Marty Haugen? Really? (2)

Be that as it may, have we not ceded the field to the freedom of worship crowd by having virtually no religious practices outside of formal worship? Are there any informal, popular public expressions of religion left in the Catholic Church in America? That would be where, if anywhere,  all the ‘contemporary’ liturgical music would have its natural home. Does any religious practice have a normal, comfortable place in public life any more?

1. Not a Floyd fan, but I can admire their ability to take a minimal musical idea and spin it out into a 6+ minute hypnotic semi-jam. And they are often witty. Praise music, not so much.

2. I’d be curious if the consumption of sacred music outside the liturgy by the culture vulture and fuddy duddy sets (sheepishly raises hand) is greater, in terms of money or participation, than what praise and folk or whatever they’re calling it nowadays music is consumed outside liturgy. If not, how about we adjust for exposure: what if kids heard chant and Victoria from the cradle, instead of St. Louis Jebbies and Cary Landry? Generally, and all anecdotal experience confirms this, kids exposed to crap alone tend to just leave the church.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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