Those Pesky Theme Masses

Red Mass, White Mass, Blue Mass. Mass of the Angels, Mass of Creation, Mass of St John Paul the Great. They could make a Dr Seuss rhyme out of the possibilities, musical and otherwise.

I remember the parish getting a new associate pastor when I was in the parish school, 7th or 8th grade. He met with classes to prepare school Masses. These were liturgies with themes. September I remember was “Love.” October was “Peace.” Typical, I guess for the younger brothers and sisters of what passed for the counterculture in mainstream America. I don’t remember if we suggested readings or prayers. Music, probably. It was the very early 70s, so there was that. I recall five or six of my class being enthusiastic about contributing ideas to these in class time.

Fast forward decades to today: lawyers, nurses, and even the Supreme Court, mostly Catholic these days, all get their special theme Masses. You wonder why the traditionalist-leaning folks are getting twisted about this one. A few samples:

… preposterous idea … the rancid mush of this idea …

And some sense:

When we immediately shut these kinds of ideas down, it is exactly what (evil) wants from us, to exclude youth, to make no effort to bring youth into the fold, to assume everyone is where we are in our understanding of the faith and if they aren’t then we ignore them and move on … Never scoff at these ideas, it is exactly what (evil) wants us to do.

Woven into the traditional observances of the Church are celebrations of Mass for all sorts of particular and special intentions. Intention-gathering is part of any parish’s routine. Votive Masses continue, and Masses for Various Needs and Occasions when the clergy read past their ordo or the USCCB website or the missalette.

The real question for Catholics is this: how special is a special intention? The difference among believers is not solemnity or appropriateness, but a difference of opinion on important things. What’s vital for some people–like devotion to the Blessed Virgin or playing basketball–can be irrelevant to others. Among courteous folk, people don’t usually diss what is important to others. When they do, it leads to things like marital break-up, business partnerships fracturing, and non-invites to nice parties.

As for the sensible comment at the CMAA forum, at least one person recognizes that liturgy is not always the end. Sometimes it can be a means to making connections of less-churched people to God. And that’s the Gospel point of it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Those Pesky Theme Masses

  1. Liam says:

    I am unsure why you are conflating names for musical settings of the Ordinary – which is a centuries-old practice simply a way to make it easier to identify them – with themed-intention liturgies, which are a very different thing. A crabby day?

    • Feeling good, actually. They are simply musical themes. Catholics attach all sorts of labels to Masses, and traditional-leaning Catholics at that site, perhaps miss what is right in front of them, or on the pages of the Roman Missal. I didn’t mention the false presumption that a “Sports Mass” would automatically include secular music on that theme. For the cause of anti-evangelization, it’s good form. And a smidgen of hypocrisy.

      • Liam says:

        OK. You just entirely missed the distinction.

      • I hope not. I intentionally included names that many church musicians utilize. I’m aware it’s not the same thing as a Mass of the Blessed Virgin or a Mass for Vocations. But all the same, it labels “Mass” and attaches a title that may or may not fit as well. When traditional musicians use the Missa de Angelis, it’s a title that references beings in this case, that may or may not have any special mention in the actual liturgy itself. Likewise that “Sports Mass” pilloried there. If it was just a “regular” Mass for the day with child-athletes or teens specially invited, it seems to be about the same as a TLM with a sung Missa de Angelis.

        Maybe the comment is a fail. I was trying to paint the whole critique as baseless, ignorant, and gossipy. Why do those folks indulge liturgy they don’t attend, wouldn’t initiate, and have no intention of supporting? The whole thing seems so blasted silly and pointless.

  2. Liam says:

    Ah, so you did miss the distinction. It’s most definitely *not* “all the same.” Giving a setting of the Ordinary a name or dedication is very unlike a “themed” liturgy. As it happens, the Missa de Angelis is perhaps the only one of the settings of the Ordinary in the Kyriale* that has a moniker derived from a votive Mass (btw, the deeper historical reason it became well known in the first place is lost to most people nowadays, but that there were no Requiem Masses for baptized children who died before attaining the age of reason, but the votive Mass of the Angels was typically used instead), but that has long since ceased to be limited in use for votive purposes – de Angelis is also specified for feasts, but has an even more universal use. Otherwise, the names have associations from a phrase or a dedication; that’s nothing like a “themed” liturgy; the naming of a set of music is something the composer or compiler does in providing a way to identify the setting. Unless it’s named “Ordinary for a [Color/Theme] Mass”, it does not “theme” an entire liturgy.

    For example, if you penned a setting of the Ordinary and dedicated it as “Mass of St Raphael”, it would not be limited in use to September 29th nor would its use on other days convert those to votives in honor of St Raphael. Entitling a setting of the Ordinary as a “Mass in Gb minor” would not have Gb minor as the liturgical “theme”. (You could, I guess go Quaker** with a naming convention like “Flowerday’s First Mass”, “Flowerday’s Second Mass”, et cet.)

    I think your comment was a fail because you were glibly and eagerly over-broad, but you weren’t in dialogue with the targets of your complaint directly; it’s one thing to mirror in direct dialogue (it may or may not be fruitful), but it’s quite another to do it remotely/third person – that just looks like what happens when people focus too long on people they oppose … and begin to resemble them. You’re way better than that.

    * Mass I: Lux et origo
    Mass II: Kyrie fons bonitatis
    Mass III: Kyrie Deus sempiterne
    Mass IV: Cunctipotens Genitor Deus
    Mass V: Kyrie magnae Deus potentiae
    Mass VI: Kyrie Rex Genitor
    Mass VII: Kyrie Rex splendens
    Mass VIII: de Angelis
    Mass IX: Cum jubilo
    Mass X: Alme Pater
    Mass XI: Orbis factor
    Mass XII: Pater cuncta
    Mass XIII: Stelliferi Conditor orbis
    Mass XIV: Jesu Redemptor
    Mass XV: Dominator Deus
    Mass XVI (for weekdays during Ordinary Time aka ferias per annum)
    Mass XVII (for Sundays in Advent and Lent)
    Mass XVIII: Deus Genitor alme

    ** The Society of Friends in its earlier generations preferred to name streets by letter, number or natural feature or item of creation.

  3. Liam says:

    PS: The last iteration of the Agnus Dei of Mass IX (Cum Jubilo) features at the end of “Agnes Dei”:

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