A caller to a Catholic apologetics show recently asked for some advice on how to evangelise his dear old mother who had somewhat of a checkered attitude to religion, particularly Catholicism.
The apologists reply came back swiftly and without reservation. “Why not get her watching Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series?”
The apologist had no vested personal or financial interest in Barron’s production but his follow up explained exactly why he would employ such tact. Bishop Barron has divided opinion at times but most Catholics would agree that his ground-breaking programme has done fruitful work for a Church often found wanting when it comes to inventive methods of evangelisation.
The presentation of this programme does nothing new either in its approach, but rather it unearths the hidden gems of our Church in its art, sacred music, literature, and traditions; by dusting them down and allowing them to glisten once again for all to see.
We can spend hours debating the value and necessity of such hidden gems but clearly the success of Bishop Barron’s series is proof that the Church contains a cultural content and context which has the power to inspire and to direct mankind toward the transcendent.
It is a much underused and underappreciated tool. We know that much of this cultural treasure chest was packed up and boxed away like dearly departed grannies old ornaments after the Second Vatican Council.
The ever growing movement of Traditionalists continue to unbox such wonders despite being accused of being nothing more than an ecclesial antiques roadshow in some quarters. Yet, figures show that Traditionalists continue to attract more young families then ‘modern’ parishes have been able to do.
Christmas itself is a time top heavy on tradition on both a personal and ecclesial level. Even the most aggressive progressive would harbor a few die hard habits that are rolled out at the end of each year.
Midnight Mass would certainly make the top ten lists as one of those traditions which has stood the test of time in at least some parishes and households. Shadows falling by candle light on a dark winter night and the rising fog of incense gives us some passage into what it may have been like in Bethlehem all those centuries ago.
The sudden crash of the Gloria with bells in tow has the ability to startle the congregation probably as much as it scared the daylights out the unsuspecting shepherds on that majestic night. This is what most of us who keep the vigil have come to expect and appreciate.
Sadly this was not the case for anyone who had the misfortune to tune into the annual broadcast of Midnight Mass on RTÉ this year. Led by the Primate of all Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin, one would be expecting big things. What we got was a liturgy which was bizarre at best and downright disturbing at worst.
The small Church in Grange, County Louth, was so flooded with artificial light it may well have a similar electricity bill to a cannabis grow-house come next month.
The musical arrangements sounded as though they had come straight out of Les Misérables, and the fact that the good Archbishop sung every word straight down the camera lens induced the same awkwardness of an early 80s MTV pop video.
Yet, even these entrees couldn’t have prepared the viewer for the horrors that were to come, and they did, in the nightmarish form of the infamous ‘liturgical dancers’.
Children dressed like an array of Cadburys chocolate roses waved candy colored hankies and tip toed about a crib scene so big it had swallowed up any sign of the sacred altar on which the holy sacrifice was to later take place. Some of them even shimmied behind the altar as the poppy piano and happy hip harp delivered an elevator style ensemble setting of the Gloria.
At the offertory we were again treated to some more paganesque worship all to the accompaniment of that well known Church Hymn ‘ Molly McAlpine’!
Throw in a couple of solo operatic performances as a crescendo and this mass was now a performance that could take to the road playing theatres nationwide.
Of course no modern liturgical setting is complete without the strum of a secular acoustic guitar, and just when you thought old stringy had stayed away, up he pops to see us off with silent night! At this stage one could only pray that most of the potential viewership had gone to their beds or switched over to the shopping channel at least.
Every mass is an opportunity to evangelize, but a televised mass has a particular reach and weight. Like Barron has pointed out, the beauty that has been handed down from generation to generation doesn’t stop being beautiful all of a sudden.
Much of French playwright Jean Marie Anouilh’s work dealt with maintaining integrity in a society full of moral compromises. Anouilh said that things are beautiful because you love them. How much more effective would it be if only we loved the things that have always been beautiful. Can any liturgist, cleric, parishioner, or dare I say Bishop, honestly say that what we witnessed on this holiest of nights was Beautiful?