Pope demands end to crappy church music

filled with your gloryOkay, I stole that headline. Mea culpa. Anyway, Pope Benedict XVI has harshed on guitars in Mass, according to various media reports. I don't see why you need the Pope to tell you that if you walk into a sanctuary and see a drum riser where the altar should be that you may want to get the heck out of dodge, but I guess some of us do need a bit of guidance. Not that I have any opinions on the worship wars.

I was really curious what the Pope actually said about guitars and contemporary styling in Mass. Turns out that what he said and what was reported were about as similar as the police blotter in your local fishwrapper and an episode of The Sopranos. Related, but not quite the same thing. Here's a typical media report. UPI devoted five paragraphs to the issue:

Pope Benedict XVI is calling for an end to guitars and a return to traditional choirs in the Catholic Church. . . .

The Pope's supporters say that the music played during mass is a vital part of the communion between worshippers and God, and that medieval church music creates the correct ambience for perceiving God's mystery, the newspaper said.

But Cardinal Carlo Furno, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, said it was "better to have guitars on the altar and rock and roll masses than empty churches."

Because, as we all know, bad guitar playing brings the masses into the Masses. Anyway, Catholic News Service quotes Benedict saying that he supports new liturgical music. He just thinks it should be connected to the democracy of the dead, as they say:

"The latest musical compositions of the 89-year-old former director of the Sistine Chapel Choir demonstrate how new liturgical music can be created without ignoring the centuries of church music that came before it, Pope Benedict XVI said. . .

Pope Benedict said, "An authentic updating of sacred music cannot take place except in the wake of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony."

The pope said that in music, as in art and architecture, the church promotes and supports "new expressive means without denying the past -- the history of the human spirit -- which is also the story of its dialogue with God."

I mean, I wish he would have used one of his fancy edicts to ban the guitar in Mass, but what he said was much more moderate. In general I've noticed that Benedict's statements thus far tend to focus on the rationale behind big ideas rather than condemnations or pronouncements from on high. Yes, this makes headline and story writing more difficult and less dramatic, but it's something that reporters should probably get used to.

Having said that, worship wars -- as Terry notes -- contain ginormously contentious isues. So rather than flighty stories about the Pope banning the guitar, a reporter could use the Pope's comments as a hook to discuss local church issues.

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