Strums and Drums - 9th August 2015

I have just been reading a report of Sacra Liturgia USA, a gathering of priests and seminarians to discuss ways to restore the use of the Latin Mass and traditional music and art to Catholic worship.

The Mass that most Catholics are familiar with today is the Ordinary Form, or Novus Ordo, which reflects the liturgical principles of the Second Vatican Council. It uses the vernacular in place of Latin and gathers the presider and assembly around the altar so that the priest faces the people rather than having his back to them.

The more formal, Latin Mass of 1962 was suppressed after Vatican II,  but in 1984 Pope John Paul II decreed it could be celebrated with special permission from Rome, and in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued instructions to bishops to make this Mass, now called the Extraordinary Form, more available for Catholics who wished to worship in that style.

At a panel discussion during Sacra Liturgia USA, Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society accused Vatican II-era liturgists of trying to replace traditional Catholic smells and bells with “strums and drums” and that Pope Benedict’s decree was an opportunity to reverse course.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who wore bright red gloves and a Tridentine-era chasuble at the conference Mass, grudgingly accepted that the kind of Catholics “who prefer strums and drums” still need a home in the Church.

At that point I saw red. Why do these people insist on labeling the vast majority of liturgical celebrations conducted around the world with this demeaning put-down?

At the vast majority of Masses celebrated according to the Ordinary Form there is not a drum in sight and often no guitars. Masses I attend in my own parish and in the course of my work are celebrated in a prayerful, dignified manner, with clearly proclaimed readings, reverent presiding, times of silence, and appropriate music led by a cantor or choir and accompanied by a well-prepared organist or keyboard player.

But what is wrong with drums and guitars if they help the assembly raise their voices to God in song and send worshippers out to bring Christ to the world? Much better than “traditional” music that discourages participation and fails to inspire!

The “drums and strums” tag is like claiming that all people who no longer adhere to the meat-and-three-veg meals of 50 years ago are junk food addicts and that if people had only stuck with this diet there would be no obesity problems in the world today.

One young priest told me he likes the “sense of mystery” that Latin adds to the liturgy. The Latin Mass was so mysterious to my father-in-law that, while he followed Catholic teaching and faithfully attended Mass every Sunday, he read the Sunday paper during the service because he felt what the priest was doing way up front did not require his attention or participation.

If people prefer to celebrate Mass according to the Extraordinary Form, that is their right and choice, but it is not right, or Christian, for them to look down their noses and imply that the millions of Catholics who worship according to the current Rite are somehow less holy or inferior Catholics!


Elizabeth Harrington