Sunday, February 03, 2013

Why Are Some People Offended by Guitar Music?

            Over the weekend, I was blessed to attend two sacred Masses. On the Feast of the Presentation, the monks of the nearby Benedictine Abbey lit candles and processed down the aisle, candles, incense and all.  Their solemn Gregorian chanting turned my soul to silence, the language of God. On Sunday, Mass at the Cathedral with the Bishop and all the 'habited' religious communities in attendance (Dominican sisters, Fransiscan and Benedictine monks) with a majestic organ and choir took my spirit straight out of chronos (time) to kairos (eternity).

            Yet I would be just as blessed at a Mass in my native hometown, where Filipino soloists or singers harmonize with the  piano and guitar.  The music of home always has me longing for my home in heaven and many of the lyrics in my native tongue move me, as if Jesus himself bent to my ear to hear me whisper a tender word of worship. 

In third world countries like mine, not a lot of musicians know how to play pipe organs.  (I think that generation died with the missionary nuns from Europe who used to play it.) The poor man’s instrument (the guitar) is more popular for financial reasons as well as cultural reasons.   On that note, I think many Filipino Churches are more preoccupied with the poverty of the parishioners, giving out the Sacraments to the 90% Catholic population, and catechizing vastly uneducated masses than paying for pipe organs or dwelling on Liturgical music. 

            In my opinion, if the strumming guitar and humming piano broke out into a fight, hands down, the piano would win (not because it’s stockier but because I genuinely like it).  Between the piping organ and heavenly violin, I’d root for the violin.  And between the Benedictine monks' tenor and Mother Angelica’s soprano nuns who sing like angels at her monastery, I’d say it’s almost a tie.  But thankfully, within my soul, there is no bickering about Liturgical Music.  While there may be a preference that my musical tastes lean toward, I still love receiving the Eucharist at Mass, regardless of music, no matter the instrument.  (Well, to be honest, maybe not the saxophone and tambourine.  They sound like fingernails grating chalkboard to my sensitive ears. But I’m sure that’s just me.)

To me, the argument over liturgical music was just nitpicking over what is termed in legal statutory construction principles as "form over substance".  So I couldn't understand when some commentators rabidly criticize guitar music like it was the devil himself.  I was flabbergasted at the hostility, frankly.  You would think they’d be paying attention to the Sacrifice up in the altar instead of letting music rob the peace from their souls.  Because if I was huffing and puffing over saxophones or tambourines, I can always go to a Tridentine Mass instead of thumbing my nose down at the Churches who aren’t in tune with my preferences.  (I frequent Latin Mass and hope for a Communion rail big comeback, in case you wondered.)

So why, oh why, the big fuss about guitar music? (This question is neither rhetorical nor condemning.  I really asked to know the answer.) 

            Lucky for me, I found Sarah Therese's blog  Her father is a deacon and she invites her readers to ask the deacon a question.  So I did.  And his answer just bulls-eyed the gigantic red question mark on my target board.   Here is the wise and balanced answer, if you are curious. It's worth a look.

            Please don’t hesitate to ask the good deacon your questions.  I could have asked the Benedictine monks my husband works for but I was afraid they would chant the answer (HAHA).  Besides, I needed a written answer with links for this one.   I am so glad I asked the deacon because it turned out I asked just the right person.  (Incidentally, I also read up on the link as well as Vatican document on liturgical music.)

            In the end, it was the hostility of the comments, the offended turned offensive, the sense of Pharisaism that niggled at me. Not the reason for sacred music because now I get the theology and the logic for it’s sacred place. 

                And though my husband and I will always prefer the acapella Gregorian chant, it's not to say we will throw the organ under the bus and demand every choir to learn the chants stat.  Such "judgements are best left to the Bishops of the area", as Cardinal Arinze says. To worship Jesus and receive Eucharist is the reason for Mass, nothing else. 


Nancy Shuman said...

Your last sentence sums it up. Perfectly. That's It.

Ennoh said...

We go to the 9.30am Sunday Mass and the choir is sublime. The church has a new organ although the choir master plays guitar but its all good! The voices are incredibly beautiful. Recently we went to the 6pm youth Mass - and we vowed never again! I don't like drums and bass guitar in church - it was more like a rock concert. I'm there to worship and a good choir adds to the reverence of the moment but a rock band is an unwelcome distraction. Well at least there weren't any bongo drums... a small mercy :-)