Thursday, August 31, 2006

One Problem With the Roman Catholic Church

Go to a RC mass or watch EWTN some time: everything looks like "Nerds in 1987 Tuscany."

I don't know exactly what it is. It's as though the Baroque/Rococo period lives on in tacky aesthetics, combined with utterly stylishlessness. Say what you will about Anglicanism, but they've got the whole style thing down (if little else...).

Here's the thing: it's not universally like that. Look at the RCC in Ireland and rural Britain; it's not as artistically overdone.

In a way, this complaint is trivial. I've got far more substantive disagreements with the Church of Rome than aesthetics. If I were okay with them theologically, I wouldn't let art styles hold me back. At the same time, though, our art is a reflection of ourselves. Eastern Orthodox iconography is beautiful, but it doesn't really connect with me. The same goes for Roman Catholic statues and other art. I personally have a soft spot for stone Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the stained glass images that so often accompany them (I'm not a fan of patterned or painted glass).

This spills over into music, too. There aren't too many hymns that I like, and I tend to prefer them when they're set to new arrangements. I've heard two schools of thought on this: the first that we should separate our worship from our play, and the second that we should have no distinction. Each argument has merit, and it may be that both are acceptable, so long as conscience allows.

If we keep our play (and work) and our worship separate, then we accent that which we regard as holy and thus set apart. The clothes we wear, songs we sing, places we go, and such remind us that God is not like us and that we are not in "our place" but "God's place." Keeping them together acknowledges that God is always with us, and reminds us that God became a man like us, enduring the same trials and temptations and also experiencing the same joys as we humans. The danger of one is that we leave God out of the rest of our lives; the danger of the other is that we lose sight of God's holiness.

There's a fine line to be walked in all of this. What we regard as ancient and traditional was once regarded as cutting-edge and even avant-garde. Some rail about the use of guitars and drums in worship services; pipe organs were once scandalous, and some denominations today refuse to allow any instruments. At the same time, tradition is very important, as it is at least the voice of our ancestors and may even be guided by the Holy Spirit (Catholics and Charismatics, enjoy!). Of paramount importance is the question of what the art and music (yes, I know music is art) cause us to do: do they focus us on God, or distract us? In many songs, both hymns and contemporary, my thinking is basically "let this be over so we can get on with things." On one hand, I should be focusing on what I can learn or give from something outside of my comfort zone. However, doing something I don't like when I could very well be worshiping God in a way I do like doesn't seem to be a good solution. If Todd Agnew's "Grace Like Rain," Five Iron Frenzy's "Dandelions" and "Every New Day," and the old hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" help me appreciate and praise God, then shouldn't I use those?

Coming more-or-less back to the origin of this unfocused post, I hope that if there is a large-scale incorporation of Anglicanism into Roman Catholicism that there will be a distinct Anglican style available. I see no reason for things to always be late-Medieval Italian, and perhaps some modernization of the non-core areas would help reinvigorate the Body of Christ.

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