This past weekend I went on vacation to Grand Haven, Michigan with my family. Grand Haven is a lovely little jewel on the coast of Lake Michigan that is well known within the state but that I'd imagine many persons outside Michigan don't really know about (click here for a pic of the lighthouse in the Grand Haven park). It was a very nice time, despite the fact that the tiny lakeside town was stuffed to the brim with teething masses of humanity there for fourth of July.
Since we were gone, we of course had to go to a parish other than the one we usually attend. I looked a few local ones up on the web, but nothing seemed appealing. One was advertising classes for guided Buddhist-influenced meditation. Finally, we settled on a pretty normal looking NO church near where we were staying.
The music was "contemporary." This parish had a big beautiful choir loft, but it was being used for storage. The "choir" sat down to the left of the altar and consisted of a keyboardist, two guitarists, a drummer and three female singers. They processional song was a cover of a song by the Protestant band Newsboys (click here to see the music video of the song they played and then try to imagine it in Mass). All the rest of the Mass music was contemporary rock as well, with drums, keyboards and everything.
Now, my intention here is not to write another horror story of abuses; we have enough of those! I want to emphasize something about the nature of "contemporary" Christian rock used in liturgical settings. The whole reason this music was introduced in the first place was to facilitate greater participation by the congregation. The idea was that this type of music was more "in touch" with what people were listening to out in the world, and so it would be more "relevant" and thus make the liturgy more meaningful. The modern Church is very sensitive about not isolating people or giving the impression that they are not inclusive enough, and this is part of the reasoning behind the use of contemporary music.
Yet in doing so, the Church is actually isolating a huge demographic of people, many of whom are some of the most faithful Mass attenders. I am speaking of course of the elderly. The elderly are horribly isolated, marginalized and ignored when parishes choose to adopt a contemporary format. I watched with discomfort as many old people stood there downcast while the rock music jammed on, not even attempting to read the lyrics from the provided "worship aids." Even had they tried, contemporary Christian rock music is usually orchestrated to that the words are forced into the music, often resulting in added verses or phrases to familiar Mass prayers, in addition to rhythms that are too complex for the uninitiated to pick up on their first hearing.
Why would the Church, who is so understanding about not being elitist or unwelcoming, persist in isolating one of its largest demographics? I argue that it is because in this manner the Church is buying in to the modernist-Americanist "cult of youth" that dominates so much of how our nation views age.
Traditionally, children were brought up to be nourished on the wisdom of their elders, to sit at their feet and imitate them. In most cultures, it was believed that the highest thing a person could do was to live up to the great deeds perfomed by ones ancestors. Youth learned at the stool of age. Now, it is turned on its head. It is the elderly and the old who are expected to conform their standards and lives to the fads of the young. The technology, music and pop-culture of the youth are put forward as role models, and everybody is supposed to adapt themselves to them.
This is, I think the fundamental error of adapting contemporary music to liturgical settings (besides all of the theological and canonical difficulties). Instead of bringing the youth to learn from those before, and thus exalting and honoring the old, the old are shoved aside with arrogance. Perhaps some think (in classic, utilitarian mindset) that the future belongs to the youth and that the elderly do not contribute anything anymore. I tell you, they pray more rosaries than the young, I guarantee! Also, we should keep in mind the words of St. Paul:
"The parts of the body which seem to be weakerare indispensable" (1 Cor. 12:22).