I’m not sure which I love more, liturgy, or making bad analogies. Fortunately for me (maybe not as fortunately for you), I recently had an opportunity to connect these two loves! On September 21st, I was one of the lucky 60,000 or so folks who got to witness the spectacle of an AC/DC concert.
It was exactly what any AC/DC fan would expect from a concert. There were face melting guitar solos, Brian Johnson sounded… well exactly like Brian Johnson. The played thunderstruck and pretty much every other one of their classics. The cannons came out during ‘For Those About to Rock’, and you knew that was the last song. Brian Johnson was wearing his trademark wool cap, and Angus was wearing what I’m pretty sure was the exact same school uniform he’s worn at every concert and in every photo since the 6th day of creation.
Now, if you know much about the band, you’ll know one of the biggest criticisms they receive is that pretty much every song they've ever written sounds the same. This hasn't stopped them from release 17 studio albums in their career, and selling out shows around the world consistently for four decades though. You see, despite that criticism, despite the fact we all knew exactly what the show would be like, despite the fact that it pretty much felt like one song from start to finish, and despite the pouring rain, we all had a great time. It wasn't because we were treated to something new and fancy. There was no novelty really at all in fact. It was more because our expectations were pretty much perfectly fulfilled. How is this possible? Because we knew exactly who AC/DC is and what they do.
Let me put it another way… if you had only ever heard Hayseed Dixie’s ‘A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC’ (that’s a real album by the way) then went to the show, your expectations would be too mismatched with what was going on around you to really appreciate and understand the experience. You might like it, you might not, but it wouldn’t be what you came to the stadium looking for. The same goes for Mass. If we don’t have enough of the right kind of exposure and education about it, then we can get in a microcosm of our own parish experience and experience some pretty significant barriers to the presence of Christ when we’re somewhere besides our home.
This is where the bad Catholic analogy comes in (If analogetics were a thing I’d be the Scott Hahn of them!). I’m not joking when I say this, but about 2/3 of the way through the concert I started thinking about how similar this was to going to Mass, especially for me as a liturgical musician. I honestly started thinking about how if we were as good at preparing for and ministering at our Sunday celebration as these guys were at preforming their music, there’d be no more arguing about things like whether OCP is an okay resource, or why any instrument that isn’t an organ is wrong, or when we should really be standing and kneeling despite what the Bishops say. I think something that’s happened with our Liturgy is that we stopped learning enough about what it really is and what it really means, and so we all end up showing up on Sunday with a set of expectations that might conflict with our pew mates, and that can’t possibly be met. I don’t mean necessarily the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but more the subtle things about our worship. Things like the difference between communal prayer and devotional prayer, what an antiphon is, what terms like ‘solemn’ and ‘reverence’ really mean, and how they all fit in to the big picture of the way we celebrate the Eucharist and the Word of God.
I really believe as Catholics we need to re-claim Liturgy, because we’ve lost some of the richness. When someone claims we need to jazz it up to attract more young people, or that people aren’t coming to church because of _________________ (pretty much any specific tradition in the Liturgy, you’ll find people claiming them all), I get the impression they are showing up on Sunday expecting Pizza Hut, and are surprised when they get a hand tossed, thin crust, forno baked Sicilian flatbread (Yes! Two bad analogies in one article!). Now please don’t interpret this to mean that I think we need to reverse everything done in Vatican II, smash all the guitars, and say everything in Latin all the time. I love a lot of the good, contemporary liturgical music out there and will go toe to toe with anyone who says it has no place. I also appreciate the history of chanting, and am transported by the beauty of a simple antiphon, sung harmoniously and ringing out over the congregation.
I guess what I’m saying is my appreciation of liturgy, my love for it, comes from a pretty deep understanding of it, specifically because some really brilliant people have shared it with me and taught me about it in the same way a jeweler might examine every facet of a precious stone (THREE BAD ANALOGIES!!! I think that’s a new record for me). I’ve been to liturgies where the whole congregation is like-minded people, just like the fans at an AC/DC concert, and in those times, regardless of the flavor of tradition we are celebrating through, the experience of Christ’s presence is almost overwhelming. Learning, teaching and sharing more passion for it can only serve to unite us as Catholics and deepen our relationship with Christ present in the Eucharist, the Word broken open for us, the congregation gathered, and the rich tradition of the Church. I think it’s exactly what we need to be… Wonderstruck. (I’m so, so sorry for that pun).