Once in a while the liturgical incompetence or hymnic banality which one inevitably encounters in the beloved universe of modern Lutheranism causes my hope for the church of our time to wane. But then, I am reminded once again of the depths of the Novus Ordo gone awry, and I console myself with the consolation of modern liturgists everywhere, "It course be worse."
Not that I should take pleasure in listening to the awful sounds of the average modern Roman Catholic Mass, but somehow I do. I don't think of it as shodenfreud, really. I mean, it's not that I am happy that all those people must suffer such misfortune. Nevertheless, I get great amusement sometimes out of watching or listening to such liturgical train wrecks. My wife thinks it is a masochism of sorts. I just think I am easily amused. Admittedly, when I insist on listening to such things in her presence it is a bit sadistic, and I must not subject her to it for too long, for it is downright painful for a decent Lutheran girl like her. (She does not suffer foolish things as easily as I do.) At any rate, such an instance occured today, as we were driving home from Mass.
I am abundantly aware that there is rampant Protestantism alive and well in the liturgical life of too many of our Lutheran parishes; it is a sad situation, which scandalizes many, and should scandalize more. However, on a Sunday like this, coming home from Mass at my parish, a church whose liturgical worship far surpasses in true catholicity that of most Novus Ordo parishes I have seen, listening to the radio broadcast of a Catholic Mass, my mind went back with haste to the refrain that my good friend, Father Hollywood, laid on me last week, "It could be worse."
The highpoint (or should I say lowpoint?) came as we were rolling down Clinton Street. Yes, that time inevitably comes in the modern Roman Catholic Mass when, during the communion, the singing of "Gift of Finest Wheat" must take place. This fine hymn is the sort of linguistically insulting, musically atrocious, and theologically weak experience inflicted upon the modern churchgoer, which is one of the reasons why I believe that there are far fewer churchgoers today than a half century ago, especially men.
Mind you, you can find the Novus Ordo Missae celebrated with great beauty, reverence, and decorum. One example is the conventual Mass of Mother Angelica's Franciscan community in Alabama, broadcast on EWTN. There are surely also other examples, which do not draw quite as much attention. Father Joseph Fessio (founder of Ignatius Press and sometime provost of Ave Maria University), for example, has been known to celebrate Mass, according to the Novus Ordo, in Latin, while facing the altar, two things which many assume went out after Vatican II. So any assessment of any church must be fair to what is going on.
One of the persistent problems in the average modern Catholic parish, though, is that of hymnody. The lovely hymn I mention above, and others, are adeptly assessed in a piece by George Weigel, linked below. You will notice that Weigel is more than happy to praise the Lutheran tradition on this issue. He sees a common liturgical depth and sanity in traditional Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches. It is precisely this sort of reasoned discourse that truly brightens my sense of hope for the liturgical life of the church of tomorrow. Oh, and here is George Weigel. Enjoy.