He is grimacing with effort as he croons forcefully into the microphone.
He’s wearing faded blue jeans, a T-shirt and sandals revealing his hairy toes. He holds the notes a bit too long, and he is sadly off-key.
And you might wonder: Why in the world is she attending this rock concert if everything is wrong?
Answer: This is Sunday Mass at our local parish, and the man is a cantor.
This is just one more thing we have to put up with at a church that once had lovely, traditional music and even a Gregorian chant group.
This is just one more thing to offer up each week, as we sit through wretched Marty Haugen tunes (“We are many parts! We are all one body!”) – which are accompanied by the tinkling keys of what sounds like a “pie-AN-ee” you’d find in a Western-movie saloon.
It all started when a liturgist was hired about 10 years ago, and the rest has been history. In short order, he added cantors , wretched songs, and don’t forget the “Stand up and greet your neighbor before Mass starts” nonsense.
You might ask: Well, why don’t you leave, for heaven’s sake? Find something beautiful, something uplifting, something dignified.
Actually, we did just that, for about five years. My husband and I attended an Eastern Catholic church, where the liturgy was truly reverential, and the only instrument we heard on Sunday was the human voice.
But the Divine Liturgy differs significantly from the Mass, which we were both so familiar with – and the Eastern Catholic liturgical calendar is not the same as the Roman Catholic one. The result was we felt quite out of step with our familiar world.
We also tried the only church in metro-Atlanta that offers the Latin Mass, but we had to drive a long way in our quite elderly car. And since people traveled to the Latin Mass from all over metro-Atlanta, as well as neighboring states, it was hard to get a real sense of community there.
In the end, we missed the people at our beloved home parish, only a mile from our home, and so we returned.
After all, the vivid memories run so deep. This was the parish where my husband was received into the Church, where we were married as Catholics, and where we became Godparents.
Since our return, my husband has discovered that if he prays the Rosary during Mass, he can block out the soul-numbing, rinky-dink tunes. But that grace, alas, has been denied me.
Worse yet, the more heinous lyrics (“Come to me and drink!”) get lodged in my brain at Mass and repeat themselves, ad nauseam (“Rain down!”), for hours afterwards.
The solution is obvious, of course: Continue praying things will change, and continue offering up our suffering.
We remind ourselves there are much bigger crosses than this one. We also try to look on the bright side, since we are endeavoring to get souls out of Purgatory each week.
Besides, there is something quite good that has come out of all this anguish. It is the mystery that I wrote, “Death of a Liturgist.”
The book is about a layman who wreaks havoc on a traditional parish by launching cantors, piano music, and “pop goes the weasel” songs during Mass. He also gives the Stations of the Cross an ecological twist that enrages the congregation.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit how eagerly I plotted the death of my fictional liturgist –but it’s the truth and I’ll own up to it.
The cantor, however, escaped unscathed – at least for now.
Lorraine is a columnist with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and has written two mysteries – “Death in the Choir” and “Death of a Liturgist” – along with a biography of Flannery O’Connor, “The Abbess of Andalusia.” All her books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com
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