Liberals Love Gregorian Chant Too

May 2002

“We go to proclaim ‘the mystery of faith’ at Mass, and then eradicate the very tone of mystery in gushing waves of politically correct, hand-holding perkiness.” So says Timothy Padgett, a bureau chief for Time magazine in the Jesuit weekly, America (March 4). That’s not what one expects to read in America, so we perked up.

Says Padgett: “As a liberal Catholic, I admire the progressive doctrine of Reform Judaism. Last summer, Reform Jews gave me something else to applaud. They have been open-minded enough to restore what they call the ‘affective’ side of their religion: traditions like Hebrew chant. They now acknowledge that those gestures matter — and always will as long as humans are the sensuously spiritual beings they are…. It is time for us [liberal Catholics] to ask: in our four-decade-long zeal to make the Mass modern and relevant — by burying sublime Kyries under banal ‘Kumbayas’ — have we…lost the vital ‘affective side’ of our own religion?” Padgett goes on to speak favorably of Gregorian chant and “reserving the shorter prayers, like the Sanctus or Agnus Dei, for chant in Latin.”

We were encouraged to read this in, of all places, America. And yet, we sensed something missing, not just a piece or two, but the heart of the matter.

The word “affective” stuck in our craw — Padgett used the word three times in an article that covered only one-and-a-quarter pages. So we turned to our dictionary, which defines affective as “concerned with or arousing feelings or emotions; emotional.” Yes, it’s usually a good thing when worship moves us emotionally. But emotionalism is not the essence of worship. When we worship we offer, or should want to offer, our best to God — good music and all that. But more than that, at worship God is doing something extraordinary for us, whether we feel it or not.


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New Oxford Notes: May 2002

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