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A stinging indictment of Lifeteen + praise and worship June 9, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in Art and Architecture, awesomeness, Basics, Dallas Diocese, foolishness, General Catholic, Latin Mass, North Deanery, scandals.

I’ve been to a Lifeteen Mass, maybe twice.  I was not impressed.  I don’t care for ‘teen’ Mass.  That generally is a synonym for a heavily protestantized Mass and tired, so tired, dear Lord let it die it is SOOO tired praise and worship music.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Fr.Christopher Smith at Chant Cafe had a similar experience:

The first time I ever went to a Life Teen Mass I was sixteen years old. It was New Years’ Eve and I thought, instead of going downtown with my pagan friends, I should be a good Catholic boy and ring in the New Year with Jesus. The parish that had the Life Teen Mass was not mine, but I went anyway. Everyone had been telling me that there were lots of people my age, who were serious about their faith, and that it would be a Spirit-filled time. Some of my friends were going to be there, too, so what could be better?

But as soon as the Mass started, I felt like I had stepped into a no-man’s land suspended between Catholicism and some vague form of Protestantism that I as a convert had never seen before. It wasn’t that the music was strange to me. I grew up with contemporary Christian music around the house and listened to it on the radio (when I wasn’t listening to classical music or Latin dance music). So I knew the songs. The church was full of high schoolers and Baby Boomers and they all seemed to know and love each other.

But as the Mass unfolded, I kept noticing things that I knew very well were not in the rubrics, those pesky little red directions in the Missal that tell us how to celebrate the Mass properly. The Life Teen coordinators had decided that they would modify the Mass to make it fit whatever they deemed necessary to get the kids involved. And so there was dancing, hand-holding, and music that had nothing to do with the actual texts of the Mass.
But then, it was time for the Eucharistic Prayer. The celebrant invited all the kids to come around the altar. As the church was quite full, this was rather cumbersome and also pointless. But everyone stood up and made their way as through a mosh pit (I am showing my age, now!) to get closer to the altar. I stayed behind in the last pew. And of course, the celebrant thought that I was too shy to come up and so he encouraged me, from the altar, to join the kids. I had had enough, and so I yelled from the back pew, “No, sorry, Father, I’m a Catholic, I don’t do that kind of thing,” and pulled out a rosary and knelt to pray it as I watched the Eucharistic Prayer degenerate into something eerily similar to the ecstatic cults we had studied about in Ancient Greek History.

Not only did I never go back to a Life Teen Mass, I started the next Sunday to go to the Orthodox Church. There I felt like I was worshipping God and not having earnest adults try and fail to make religion relevant to me by assuming I was too young or stupid to understand real worship. It was fifteen years before I ever had to participate in anything similar ever again. By this time, I was a priest and I had been asked to preside over a Holy Hour for young people. The youth minister in this particular parish was very sensitive to the fact that Praise and Worship was not my thing, and she warned me ahead of time.

As I knelt there in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I realized something. The same people were doing the music who were doing it fifteen years before. It was the same music, the same songs that I made fun of when I was the age of the kids who were in the pews behind me. How relevant is that? But this time the kids who were there just seemed bored. I asked them afterwards what they thought of it, and one young man said, “Well, that was ok, I guess. When are we having another Latin Mass, Father?”

Of all of my friends from high school who were Life Teeners, not one of them is a practicing Catholic anymore. Will the kids today who are raised on a diet of Praise and Worship continue to practice the Faith when they are no longer of that age middle-aged people in the Church want to cater to? I don’t know. But my experience has brought me to reflect on why Praise and Worship Music is not appropriate for the liturgy:

Fr. Smith then goes on to list 10 reasons why ‘praise and worship’ music is not well ordered towards a reverent celebration of the Mass that stresses the Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication we are to offer the Lord in our ONE prime offering that is pleasing to Him.  These include: praise and worship has as its key principle it’s supposed ‘relevance,’ which is often (or almost always) false, praise and worship subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass, praise and worship consciously manipulates emotion so as to produce a ‘catharsis’ (or pseudo-catharsis) seen as necessary for spiritual conversion, and praise and worship denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favor of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship. 

But that’s not all!  In a very long and thorough takedown of ‘praise and worship, Fr. Smith also lists some helpful aspects of music and the liturgy that are often missed:

1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.

2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.

3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.

4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.

5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there

There is a great deal more.  It’s a very long post, but well worth reading all of it, for it presents a very substantial critique of both praise and worship type music and irreverent, protestant-oriented ‘praise’ Masses.  These types of P&W Mass are still somewhat popular.  It is very good to have a quite detailed list of the problems with praise and worship music from a Catholic musical authority like Fr. Smith, who has a deep knowledge of the Church’s rich musical tradition.

Lest anyone think I just have a huge thing for chant and classical music – I don’t listen to that type of music very often outside of church.  But when I go to Mass, I want it very good, very reverent, very ordered towards the offering of Sacrifice, and I want a distinctly Catholic identity in the worship.  

You should read the whole thing, including comments, but I doubt most of the commenters DID read the whole thing.


1. Mary - June 10, 2011

“Sing a New Song” is not new, I was singing it when in choir in the 80s at our church; we had several young people, led by a mom with a guitar, singing at the Saturday evening mass (we didn’t have a Sunday eve mass.

The music tends to bringing about a ‘happy clappy’ attitude, as the music gets you rockin’, but doesn’t bring you to focus on the Lord, the purpose of the Mass.

When will our leadership look back and realize this sort of thing, plus the watered down, protestant ccd, brings about a disinterest in the Mass and Christ as King of kings.

Stop with the baby food and move on to challenging the lay people, treating all as adults, so that we will all behave more like adults.

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