This article relates the mini-brouhaha caused by the expulsion by the priest during, and from, Mass of some schoolchildren for not singing loudly enough. My point in posting this is not to criticize or defend the actual decision of the priest, or the behavior of the students. I wanted to use it as a platform to point out certain attitudes about the Mass and the nature of actual participation.
From Omaha.com, with my emphases and comments:
Mass exodus angers some at church
By Cindy Gonzalez
Some parents with students in Nebraska’s largest Catholic grade school think their priest went too far in ordering 250 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders out of Mass because they weren’t singing loudly enough. You will experience the joys of “active participation”.
Incensed, the parents say they’re paying tuition so their kids can get Catholic instruction — not for the kids to be denied Holy Communion during Lent. Well, the liturgy is the foundation and summit of “Catholic instruction”. The key is that the liturgy reflects, and informs, the faith.
Other parents, however, back the action of the Rev. James Tiegs, pastor at St. Stephen the Martyr parish since 2004. They see him as a shepherd guiding the flock.
“If he thought that was necessary, my hat’s off for his courage,” said Bob Finger, who has a daughter in eighth grade at the southwest Omaha school. Now, will someone on the left say this is clericalism, in blindly supporting a priest who seeks to enforce his rigid views? Or is it different when they agree with the priest’s theological bent?
The Archdiocese of Omaha is reviewing the week-old incident as a “personnel issue” and declined to comment on what steps, if any, might be taken. Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese, did say, however, that archdiocesan policy does not support the lesson.
“Trying to get children, or for that matter adults, to fully participate in the Mass is a 2,000-year-old issue in the church,” he said. Here is the beginning of the issue for me. The faithful may actively participate at Mass in a number of ways. Encouraging following the action of the Mass is not a new concept, as reading Dom Gueranger or the writings of St. Pius X would show. But enforcing the novel view that speaking or singing out loud is the only way to assist and “get something” out of Mass is wrong. How about meditation? If St. Imelda were in a state of ecstasy following Holy Communion would the priest be better off tramping down from the altar to shake her vigorously, tell her to snap out of it and start belting “Table of Plenty? “We would never suggest that 250 children be dismissed in the middle of Mass for not singing a song.” A good start. How about directing that they not be?
The incident that has the 11,600-parishioner church abuzz raises broader questions, including: How best can a person of the cloth go about inspiring young people to make the most out of pew time? Oh, maybe by saying the black and doing the red.
All agree that middle school kids are a tough audience. Theirs is a generation exposed to ever-expanding entertainment forms. The bar is high in holding their attention. Boys’ voices squeak with embarrassing change. Girls may be focused on the next hour’s science test. Note the assumption underlying all of the failed liturgy we see today, especially “children’s liturgies” or LifeTeen: the Mass is just one more form of entertainment.
“So much is going on in those heads, those bodies, that church is not their first thought,” said the Rev. Damian Zuerlein of St. Columbkille parish in Papillion. It might be if they were really taught the faith. “Some of it, you just have to fall hard and say ‘They’re just junior high kids.’ ”
While the Catholic Mass isn’t known to be particularly appealing to youths whose musical whims change quicker than fish fry oil, some approaches can raise the volume. The cacophony is the key!
“The more dynamic or kinesthetic, the more involved kids will be,” said Eileen Burke-Sullivan, associate professor of theology at Creighton University. Yes, the theology departments at Catholic universities, seminaries and chanceries are behind the song and dance to make it meaningful for children movement. Just put the Catholic faith as a rather esoteric subset of modern psychology.
Zuerlein noted how St. Columbkille’s elementary students relaxed, sang and even danced when led recently by a pop singer from Los Angeles. See, the Mass, if reduced to entertainment, cannot compete with Christina Aguilera. It can’t compete with Broadway, even. It’s not even of off-Broadway quality. Yet how many music ministries comport themselves as if they are the whole show? Young people either flee in horror as sensible people do or else are given a sham version of the faith that will not take root. When can we finally declare this garbage to be a total failure? Or maybe that’s the goal? Activities outside school, such as retreats, often fire up the youthful spirit, he said.
To get the most out of Mass, Burke-Sullivan said, young and older churchgoers alike should set aside their consumer mentality. One doesn’t deposit a coin and pull out grace, she said.
“The liturgy calls for them to give themselves to the action in order to receive God in return.” It certainly calls for us to give ourselves to God and to join in with the “action.” But what is the action? It is the sacrifice of Calvary, not the waving arm of the cantor singing “Morning has Broken.”
The incident that aroused the ire of some St. Stephen the Martyr parents occurred on March 24 during the 8:15 a.m. Mass. Parents who were present said the children’s first opportunity to sing came about 10 minutes into the service. The Rev. Tiegs put his hand to his ear as if to indicate that he couldn’t hear the song. Maybe it was just the Orans position.
He stepped away from the altar and walked down the aisles. The crux of the problem in a nutshell. He stepped away from the altar. One could write a book about the truth that every element of the priestly vocation must relate to the altar. Maybe if he was facing the proper orientation, he and the faithful, ad orientem, then he wouldn’t have been troubled, wouldn’t have left the altar and the faithful wouldn’t be described as an “audience.”
Tiegs told The World-Herald he “made a judgment call that there was enough disrespect and irreverence going on to dismiss the students … as a teaching moment.” If there were really disrespect and irreverence, then his actions would be certainly justifiable. It isn’t clear from the story if there were any disrespectful behavior other than failure to sing. Maybe they took the entrance hymn seriously, when it asked the great spirit in the sky to gather in the “rich and the haughty.”
Lans Brown, whose sixth-grade daughter had just finished the first reading, recalls Tiegs crossing his arms and asking something to the effect of: “Is singing not cool?”
Tiegs told the principal that the children were dismissed and should go to their classrooms. The Mass continued with 30 or so adults in the church.
Donna Garrett, a parishioner for 21 years whose four children graduated from the school, was among those present.
“I am thinking, ‘Holy cow, open your mouth. If you don’t like the song, fake it.’ ” There you go. Just fake it. Don’t be divisive. Gather round that table of plenty!
Garrett described Tiegs as pastoral and good to kids. She supports how he carried out the “teaching moment.” Pastoral. Just let it sink in.
“Tongues have been wagging ever since,” Garrett said.
At least a few parents complained to Archbishop George Lucas.
Bridgid McCormick, who has two daughters at the 900-student, kindergarten-through-eight-grade school, said she was appalled that her daughter was denied the Mass. But she also was upset that the sixth-grader left scared, believing in her heart that she had been singing.
A week had passed, McCormick said, and her child still didn’t know what she had done wrong.
“She was confused. She was scared. There was never any closure.” Sitcoms have closure in 23 minutes. Shouldn’t the Mass? I mean, if we are going to compete for children’s short attention spans.
Finger, also a member of the Nebraska Knights of Columbus, e-mailed leaders, asking them to defend Tiegs from any attack by angry parents.
When contacted by a reporter, Finger said he planned to retract certain parts of the e-mail that had characterized the kids’ behavior and parents’ response, but said he stands by Tiegs.
Brown said he respects Tiegs but believes the pastor did not set a good example in resolving conflict. Nor did Brown see value in the action as a punishment or a lesson. Some kids, he said, might have been glad to be excused. And why would that be?
Parents interviewed could not recall the song that prompted the exodus, although Brown didn’t remember it as engaging or upbeat. That says just about everything about modern church music, especially for children’s liturgies.
Tiegs called the action an internal disciplinary matter with students and said some parents have “blown it way, way out of proportion.”
He said he preferred not to make a public spectacle of it.
But Zuerlein sees a silver lining in the discussion that has ensued. Years ago, he said, parents might not have said “boo.”
“It reflects kind of a major change in church that parents would challenge or even question the pastor,” he said. Yeah, man, the dialectic can now continue, man. Hey, what’s in these brownies?!
A goal of the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s was to empower lay people to take responsibility for their church, he said. Really? How did that work out?
“It’s a headache for us in leadership,” Zuerlein said, “but it makes us better in the end.” Priests are not leaders in a company. They are priests. This term comes from the point of view that the Church is a “power structure” that needs to me made more democratic or which needs a womyn’s touch. Bleahh.
A better case for ad orientem worship would be hard to make. Face the Lord together and focus on the Sacrifice.