ROME, APRIL 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: This past summer, my parish had a Polka Mass. I didn’t feel it was right to go to this Mass, since I don’t know how I would be able to associate Polka music with anything other than dancing. Isn’t the music at Mass supposed to elevate one’s spirit to God? Does a polka do that? And is that a legitimate form of liturgical music? — T.L., Johnstown, Pennsylvania
A: We have dealt previously with the general principles involved in liturgical music (see (Nov. 11 and Dec. 23). From those I believe that it is fairly clear that music usually associated with dancing or other profane activities (at least in a Western context) should not be admitted into the Mass.
I was rather surprised to hear that Polka Masses were still going on — I had thought that they had gone out in the ’70s along with a host of other similar fads.
Perhaps the principal difficulty with such things is not so much the music in itself, which like many human elements in the liturgy may have different meanings in different cultures and in different epochs, but the idea that the Mass needs some sort of a theme in order to enhance its significance or relevance.
When we label the Mass we tend to diminish rather than augment its importance. We restrict its universal meaning as Christ’s very sacrifice renewed upon the altar and the sacred banquet which forms and increases our union as part of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.
This is the Church’s greatest offering to God and any addition to the Mass itself — such as “Polka,” “Clown,” “Disco” (yes, there have been cases) or any similar extraneous element — reduces its scope and attempts to press it into service for some cause other than the worship of God.
It could be argued that this is done in order to make the Mass more attractive or welcoming to certain groups. I am certain that it is often done in good faith. Yet, I think that 40 years after the Second Vatican Council it is clear that such attempts have failed to fulfill their promises.
The best and most efficacious means of making the Mass meaningful is to teach Catholic truth as to what the Mass is.
To understand the Mass is to grasp the foundation of every other aspect of the Catholic faith as well as to find the strength to live it.
No amount of toying with externals can substitute for a lack of knowledge of the essentials although, when carried out with beauty and fidelity, these externals can prove to be a resource for teaching and confirming the faith in the essentials.
What I term labeling of the Mass, however, should not be confused with legitimate practices such as, for example, when an immigrant group celebrates Mass in their own language and using music from their religious tradition, or when different styles of liturgical music are adopted in accordance with the various congregation’s spiritual sensibilities.
Nor does it include the proper use of the many possibilities offered in the missal to adapt the Mass texts to particular situations, such as the use of votive Masses and Masses for Special Necessities such as “For Peace,” “For Christian Unity,” etc.
These texts serve to specify particular intentions and invocations which the Church, albeit in general terms, already implores from God, in every Mass.