Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More On Preaching

Surveys indicate that "poor preaching" is one of Catholics' biggest complaints when it comes to their priests.

As I've discussed before, I think that the biggest problem is not even the quality of the content, but rather the manner of delivery. Surely they could learn some things about how to structure a sermon (there are a bunch of basic little techniques, like constructing parallelisms, that really spruce up a speech and make it memorable), but I think the biggest deficiency is in the performance.

It's always in this meek or patronizing tone, as if there is a lack of conviction about what is said or lack of confidence in themselves as public speakers. The delivery is so weak and effeminate that it's almost as if they don't really believe in any of it. At best the tone will be adult and natural, but still totally mundane, as if the sermon is just small-talk in the movie line.

Lay Readers don't help, especially when nasally accents make the whole thing sound just ridiculous and utterly profane.

I've recorded my own example of how the readings (when not sung, as they really should be) or the sermon could be more emotional, more charismatic, more inspiring. This was just my first attempt as an amateur with this text (John 12:44-50), so I'm sure if I practiced (or was professionally trained) it could be much better. For example, I would have liked to strengthen "life everlasting" more emphatically. And the recording has quite a lot of feedback. But still, it's better than most of what I've heard in Catholic churches all my life:



Unfortunately I think some people would mistakenly find this "racist" or treat it as a joke. Even though white preachers used to do this all the time too, and even though I'm quite serious. If some 10-year old Mexican Evangelical Creationist boy can do it, so can our priests.

Maybe people's reaction is a sign that they don't take religion seriously anymore, and thus assume that any non-defensive, non-meek, non-apologetic, non-embarrassed presentation of it must be a joke?

Or they'll say "no one talks that way" because they don't understand that oratory is a separate register of speech that of course no one uses in day to day life.

There is only one way to change this impression, and it's up to priests in the pulpit. They've got to stop hunching their shoulders, talking out their nose with their chin on their chest, speaking as if what they say is merely a long-winded suggestion for the people to "take into consideration." That is the shame posture, the affect of insecurity and learned helplessness, and it needs to be unlearned.

They need to speak with total confidence and utter conviction. They need to be emotionally stirring and charismatic. They need to lead like men.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

No thanks, the Mexican kid can keep it. There is no need to imitate the utterly ridiculous style of two-bit Protestant "preachers".

Priests have great models in the likes of Archbishop Sheen. He preached with conviction but without overdoing it and without sounding silly.

A Sinner said...

And as long as Catholics think that it sounds "silly"...they're going to keep losing members to the evangelical preachers, and I don't blame them.

That's just the way charisma works; it is the paradox of not taking yourself seriously while at the same time taking yourself utterly seriously.

The thing that attracts people to charismatic leaders is the way they seem to have no inhibitions, to take risks, to act in a way that would be, yes, "silly"...if they did it with even one ounce of self-doubt. But with total confidence, it sweeps people off their feet.

You look at speakers like Hitler (not to say he was a good leader, just a highly charismatic one), like Fr Caughlin, like William Jennings Bryan, like Martin Luther King, like our own president today (less so)...these speakers, these orators, may have been a bit "wild eyed" or "shouting" at times, but that's how you mesmerize people.

If the person speaking that way "blinks" even once...they might seem silly. But with utter conviction, it is the most moving style, that's just how charisma works. I suppose, however, not many of our priests have that sort of confidence and total conviction.

You have to rile people up to where they want to shout and cheer and clap. If priests don't want to be charismatic, they can keep putting congregations to sleep or talking to them like kindergartens.

Fulton Sheen was okay...but only compared to other Catholics. And that's not saying much.

Think of it this way: Do you think ANYONE would stop to listen to those "toned-down" sermons if you were preaching them on a street corner? No. Of course not. They wouldn't even know you were preaching, they'd think you were just talking on one of those ear-piece cell-phones.

A Sinner said...

Father Phleger is an example of a modern Catholic priest who knows how to preach:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32IvrJmgXcQ

The CONTENT of that clip is unfortunate, of course, as it is out there because Fox News jumped all over it.

But the DELIVERY is spell-binding. I'd definitely go to hear him speak over almost any other priest any day.

And that's dangerous. Because WHAT he's saying...I don't really agree with. But because of the WAY he says it, he's so much more moving.

And if the more traditionally minded, more orthodox priests...don't fight fire with fire, and don't show the same sort of emotion and conviction...then that's why people are slipping away, that's why people think they're such pathetic loafs.

It's almost like they're just too lazy to raise their heart-rate for even the 10 minutes of a sermon...

But if that pattern continues, then the crazies like Jeremiah Wright are going to keep attracting people, because (for all they're craziness) men like Jeremiah Wright and Father Phleger are SUCH better speakers. SO MUCH better.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

At Mass the other day, an elderly priest actually gave a somewhat "lively" homily. In fact, if it had not been for his inserting his own personal tastes into the prayers, it would have been one of the better, blandish NO Masses I have gone to in the last 3 years. He would vary between a soft tone with a certain louder, indignant tone. Very nice effect, I must say.

Anonymous said...

People do not know good preaching if it jumped up and bit them in the ass, they just like to be entertained. If you want priests to preach like backwoods Prots, if people are actually attracted to this (and that is not even definite) it will be because they are entertained. I doubt they'll get anything out of it besides being fired up.

We lose people to heretics because we have (in most parishes) lost any sense of being Catholic. We also lose people to the heretics because they have no sense of what worship is about. They want to be entertained, and that is what that tent-revival preaching is all about. Same with all that charismatic praise and worship crap music.

If you want to retain people based on the nonsense they supposedly want, then I suppose you are all for P&W music as well, no?

You mention Fr. Coughlin as someone with charisma. I think he does as well-and he doesn't make use of that annoying southern drawl preaching.

Anonymous said...

...also, truth will win out over tricks and we have to put our trust in grace over our own abilities.

I know everyone has their own predispositions and such, but I do not see how you think Fr. Phleger and Jeremiah Wright style preaching is "spellbinding". Its simply annoying and pedantic. Quite frankly, its offensive to the ears, let alone the intellect. When I hear that style and tone, right away I think of simpleminded heretic street preachers and the only reason to give these people the time of day is to see the freak show that grows up around them.

A Sinner said...

A Southern "drawl" is simply some of our accents, and is the form the voice takes when getting loud or emotional. It's rather discriminatory to condemn this or that accent.

But, the Mexican kid doesnt have it, but he's still able to shout and modulate his voice and jump around. Same thing with Fr Phleger.

Liturgy is, in many ways, entertainment. Hence the notion of liturgy as sacred "play". It is primarily an aesthetic experience. God is publicly worshiped primarily as the Beautiful.

People are looking for certain emotional experiences, a certain altered state of consciousness.

The highly rationalistic view of liturgy is what got us the Novus Ordo.

The sermon is an interesting part of the liturgy, some class it as an "interruption" in the liturgy, but it is not, primarily, a place for catechesis or spiritual advice, though if you can work that in there, all the better. Preaching is different than teaching or counseling.

It, like the rest of the liturgy, is part of consciousness-altering mesmerization the liturgy is supposed to accomplish. And Catholic priests aren't accomplishing it. Combine that with the Novus Ordo...and it's an unbearably weak pill.

A Sinner said...

You are, from what I can tell, a seminarian of some sort?

I'm warning you, don't be out of touch with the people want/need by dismissing them as "freaks".

The squeaky-clean, very sanitized, very rational and controlled and organized view of religious experience that has been bureaucratized by the bureaucrats...is a dead thing. And people aren't taking it anymore.

Hence my great fear of the Old Rite being presented with the spirit of Trent rather than with the spirit of the Middle Ages. If Trent and the Novus Ordo have anything in common, it is this notion that we can regulate and control the "high" people are looking for from religion by controlling the strength of the dose.

I know that if there is one thing that terrifies the clergy, it is the idea of the people accessing (gasp!) unmediated experience of the divine. But, truth be told, we don't really mind if you mediate it, channel it and focus it, as long as you don't presume to try to filter or restrain or dilute it.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

A Sinner: Ever listen do David Higbee? He's a former Prot pastor who is now Catholic, and gives Bible studies and such at St. Irenaeus Ministries in NY. He is well spoken, and knows how to pack that jolt to bring us to attention.

A Sinner said...

Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

I should have been more specific, there is nothing wrong with a Southern drawl-if that's where you're from and that's how you speak. There is something ridiculous about it if you just assume that accent but you do not actually speak in that way. Then it just seems like you are putting on a show, which goes beyond simply employing a technique.

Regardless, there is no point in getting hung up on an imagined "discrimination". There are ways to be engaging in preaching, but there is no need to pander to emotionalism. I see no need to sink to the level of tinkering with people's emotions and whipping them into frenzies in order to "win". Let the tent-revival preachers have that.

*Liturgy is, in many ways, entertainment.*

In a sense, yes...

*Hence the notion of liturgy as sacred "play".*

Sure, but I think what the likes of Guardini mean by that is something quite different than pandering to modern ideas of entertainment. A major part of what allows Catholic traditional liturgy to be "play" is the very seriousness, order and dignity that go into it. I have a hard time seeing how the glory of traditional worship is compatible with the style of preaching someone like Fr. Phleger does.

*It is primarily an aesthetic experience.*

Of course, many people accuse us of this, simply being aesthetes. I'm going to assume you mean something more substantive though. God is the Beautiful and that is one area in which liturgy should draw us in, but this is where I fail to see how adopting such an uncouth preaching style (ala Fr. Phleger) aids this in any way.

Anonymous said...

*You are, from what I can tell, a seminarian of some sort?*

Indeed.

*I'm warning you, don't be out of touch with the people want/need by dismissing them as "freaks".*

Duly noted. Now, I'll warn you to be more attentive in your reading. Were my comments generally about the people or referencing a particular situation...

*The squeaky-clean, very sanitized, very rational and controlled and organized view of religious experience that has been bureaucratized by the bureaucrats...is a dead thing. And people aren't taking it anymore.*

Neither do we. The liturgies in which I've experienced the most freedom (for clerics and people alike) have been amongst the institutional trads (i.e. FSSP and ICRSS). That said, I'd be weary about speaking for the people like that.

*Hence my great fear of the Old Rite being presented with the spirit of Trent rather than with the spirit of the Middle Ages.*

That is a nice mantra, but what does it all mean? Different people have different concepts of what the "Spirit of Trent" or the "Spirit of the Middle Ages" are. Bouyer thought that this was one of the areas in which Dom Gueranger was mistaken, by looking to the Middle Ages as the "golden years". We know what happens when people us a certain historicism to look to "golden years" they really know nothing about.

*If Trent and the Novus Ordo have anything in common, it is this notion that we can regulate and control the "high" people are looking for from religion by controlling the strength of the dose.*

How do you think the NO (or Trent for that matter) controls the dose?

*I know that if there is one thing that terrifies the clergy, it is the idea of the people accessing (gasp!) unmediated experience of the divine. But, truth be told, we don't really mind if you mediate it, channel it and focus it, as long as you don't presume to try to filter or restrain or dilute it.*

Well, all of that must be done to some degree. I would err on the side of allowing public devotion and religious experience that might seem to be superstitious because there can be a mighty fine line between superstition and devotion. That said, it cannot be an "anything goes" situation, especially not in the reality of the Church today. The diversity and richness seen in Catholic life in say, the Middle Ages is charming and beautiful but we do not have the material to work with to recreate something like this.

sortacatholic said...

Funny you should mention lectors and proclamation. I'm writing a lecture paper arguing for the institution of women as lectors. However my paper is purely an exercise in exegesis and canon law and not in the dynamics of rhetoric. Good pronounciation, diction, and rhetorical style applies to men and women equally.
What is 'good', anyway?

All of us code-switch to a great degree. I speak to my parents and relatives in idiomatic New Yorkese (think Yiddishisms and silent R's everywhere), but slip into a bland NPRish Standard American English when lecturing and meeting with superiors. I prefer lectors who proclaim scripture in SAE or Received Pronounciation. However, SAE and RP may suit certain congregations well, while others may prefer a regional dialect.
I would guess that EF/ROTR communities would gravitate towards a more formal and uniform linguistic register, but again this wholly depends on the background of the congregation.

The rhetorical style you've recorded is often identified with African American and/or generally Southern American rhetorical styles. I would not use these styles if they are not commonly accepted in your community or if the preaching style belongs to an ethnic heritage not your own. Preaching in a style not native to your community might come across as insensitive, mocking, or even racist to those who have a long standing claim to a particular dialect and rhetorical style.

All of us can appreciate a wide range of rhetorical styles while respecting the heritage of other people. Martin Luther King would not have been so successful had he not preached in the style familiar to his community. That does not mean that his rhetorical style will appeal to all communities just because a swath of people from different backgrounds appreciated his preaching.

Lestre said...

I think a "Pentecostal" or "Southern-fried Evangelical" style of preaching (or reading) is just too ripe for parody for it to have any substantial benefit for most English speakers. I think what a great many people find attractive about the Catholic liturgy is its serene sense of assuredness—a sense that the insertion of anything too novel would only be a case of "trying too hard."

Best preaching/oratical style ever? Richard Burton in Night of the Iguana. (Burton, to begin with, had one of the finest stentorian tones in celluloid history.)

A Sinner said...

"there is nothing wrong with a Southern drawl-if that's where you're from and that's how you speak. There is something ridiculous about it if you just assume that accent but you do not actually speak in that way."

But the people don't need to know how the priest "actually speaks" if, from day one, he speaks that way. As sortacatholic describes, people actually switch accents and registers all the time.

"I see no need to sink to the level of tinkering with people's emotions and whipping them into frenzies in order to 'win'."

It's not just to win. It's to give people with desperately mundane lives a little taste of what it means to be moved. Our society has more and more tamed and domesticated emotions until people are so repressed that they live all day taking their cues like sheep from secular TV and the Movies...until sometimes they snap.

They need a religious context for a release valve, and liturgy is designed to relieve all those different emotions in its various parts. And the place for the "frenzied" emotions (which would be out of place in the other parts), IS the sermon.

"I have a hard time seeing how the glory of traditional worship is compatible with the style of preaching someone like Fr. Phleger does."

Well, easy. He puts his maniple in the book, preaches like that, and then puts the maniple back on and starts the Creed.

It fits better than orchestral music, in my mind. And yet some places get away with doing that.

"this is where I fail to see how adopting such an uncouth preaching style (ala Fr. Phleger) aids this in any way."

Because passion is beautiful too. I think there is a long tradition in the Church, an ascetic tradition identifying the beautiful with the calm, the peaceful, etc, and that's one thing, and it has it's place.

But there is also the beauty of the thunderstorm, the beauty of the wild animal rapture of f^*&ing like there's no tomorrow, the beauty of the shaman babbling and shaking, and the beauty of the priest shouting and screaming like a wild-eyed charismatic.

"How do you think the NO (or Trent for that matter) controls the dose?"

The Novus Ordo, at least as it is seen in the United States, just by the utterly profane atmosphere. There is no difference between it and, say, a PTA meeting.

Trent, on the other hand, by it's rubricism, it's ossification, it's attempt to control and make logical what had been organic.

There is the happy 1950's image of everyone sitting in church, praying their rosary, or following along in the missal.

The idea that there might be food vendors in cathedrals or playing dice in the back of the church...is unacceptable to that vision.

Folk Catholicism, as Arturo Vasquez always discusses, has thankfully resisted those tendencies, if sometimes a little too far in the other direction.

A Sinner said...

"The diversity and richness seen in Catholic life in say, the Middle Ages is charming and beautiful but we do not have the material to work with to recreate something like this."

I don't see why not. The problem is the people who actually WOULD have the good-sense and good-taste to do good organic development...are also generally the goody two-shoes too afraid to do anything "without permission" because of the "rubrics"...so it's the ones who want liturgical dancers and giant puppets who go ahead with their vision, whereas the ones who would actually be able to do it tastefully...are all trapped in this ossified preservationism, this "conservatism".

"I'm writing a lecture paper arguing for the institution of women as lectors."

Get. Out.

lol, jk

I mean, in the Novus Ordo, why not? They're already "Readers" all the time.

But don't get your paper anywhere near the Old Rite, where women are not to raise their voice (except perhaps in a cloister).

"I think a "Pentecostal" or "Southern-fried Evangelical" style of preaching (or reading) is just too ripe for parody for it to have any substantial benefit for most English speakers."

And yet all of Latin America is becoming Pentecostal and Evangelical.

I think it has to do with the "suburban American" neutering of religious experience.

As I discussed in another post once, I think the thing that is racist is rejecting such styles (and gospel music, etc) just because they take their origin in black churches.

A Sinner said...

I will say though that if people are uncomfortable with "black" or "southern" preaching...the example of classically trained Shakespearian actors is a good one too.

Lestre said...

* "And yet all of Latin America is becoming Pentecostal and Evangelical.

I think it has to do with the 'suburban American' neutering of religious experience."

So you want to win the hearts of Latin America at the expense of appearing an undignified laughingstock in North America?

* "As I discussed in another post once, I think the thing that is racist is rejecting such styles (and gospel music, etc) just because they take their origin in black churches."

There's no racism here. I'm not rejecting them because they originate in black churches. I'm rejecting them because they're histrionical and overbaked. And whatever value it may indeed have, "tent revival" fervor has accrued far too negative an association in the public sphere to be anything other than a liability. I don't suggest that the Church has necessarily to bend to the public sphere, but in this case it would do well.

"But there is also the beauty of the thunderstorm, the beauty of the wild animal rapture of f^*&ing like there's no tomorrow, the beauty of the shaman babbling and shaking, and the beauty of the priest shouting and screaming like a wild-eyed charismatic."

All of which can be readily had outside of the Church. Everyone loves a visit to a charismatic chapel (myself included), but the appeal is mostly lurid, scarcely holy. Elmer Gantry's been done to death.

Anonymous said...

*But the people don't need to know how the priest "actually speaks" if, from day one, he speaks that way.*

That, also, would just be silly. Something tells me (correct me if I'm wrong) that you'd take issue with the people who are, say, from the Midwest who seem to have developed an English or French accent in order to fit into a certain position they find themselves in (you encounter these folks in Traddy circles from time to time). Well, what you suggested is foolish for the same reason. The priest needs to be true to himself, his background, his origins. The word is overused, but he needs to be "authentic" in the best sense of the term. Assuming some fake theatrical accent will just make him the subject of derision-and deservedly so, IMHO.

*As sortacatholic describes, people actually switch accents and registers all the time.*

Sure, but you don't go from something like a flat Midwestern accent to a Southern drawl unintentionally.

As to shaking people out of the mundane, you don't have to resort to tricks.

*They need a religious context for a release valve, and liturgy is designed to relieve all those different emotions in its various parts. And the place for the "frenzied" emotions (which would be out of place in the other parts), IS the sermon.*

Says who? Some Protestants get frenzied in the sermon because, well, they have absolutely nothing else. Even the most passionate Catholic preachers should have the collected and erudite air of authority befitting Holy Orders, not the sweaty and bestial excitement of a wild-eyed heretic.

*Well, easy. He puts his maniple in the book, preaches like that, and then puts the maniple back on and starts the Creed.*

It can be physically done but its not fitting. Its like going to some P&W funfest in a glorious cathedral. Or whitewashing your church and putting up wood paneling behind the table altar which replaced the glorious high altar. De facto, it can be done-but is it proper?

*It fits better than orchestral music, in my mind. And yet some places get away with doing that.*

Well, we know what opinions are like...Whether we like orchestral Masses or not, at least that's in the tradition.

Jonathan said...

I think most everyone is misconstruing what A Sinner is trying to communicate in this particular entry. They aren't saying that Catholic clergy need to start screeching from The Pulpit, but rather that they should be able to speak in a manner that engages their congregation (ie know your flock). I can't begin to say how tired I am of Sermons (at TLMs mind you) where the Priest speaks as if he were in a college classroom. Mind you its nice to show that you have attained a degree, but of what value is it to throw statistics around as if we were all sitting there taking notes. I got enough of that in my courses, I don't need that when going into Church.

What A Sinner is trying to communicate is that a GOOD Sermon should ultimately engage you on all levels (That is the aim of The Divine Liturgy in case any were unfamiliar with that fact. Something that I think we in The West disregard and relegate to the realm of "emotions"/sensationalism.). The Priest should be able to speak to each member of his flock individually through a well thought out sermon. It should be able to reach down into the depths of their soul and give them something to meditate upon. It should be able to reach out to the sinner and call them to repentance (check out a text called Wisdom Sits in Places by Keith Basso).A good sermon will engage everyone, from the intellectual to the least read of individuals. Plainly put, the sermon should act as a shepherd's hook/staff/rod in gathering/pulling in all the flock.

Please do recall that non-Catholics occasionally visit and thus a good sermon can make them consider The Church.

As a side it would be nice if actual Catechumens were dismissed before The Liturgy of The Faithful, but I don't see that making a return. It would definitely create a sense of awe in The Eucharist, thats for sure.

Seeing The Liturgy as some elitist intellectual's playground where only those in the know are allowed to participate is not the aim of Mass. The aim of The Liturgy is to call together people from all walks of life as the Priest offers sacrifice unto GOD on their behalf. This intellectualizing of The Mass is exactly what stifles The TLM from getting the proper exposure. Once it stops being a niche Liturgy for a set crowd (there is a whole strata of what brings people to a TLM and you would be surprised (maybe not) at how many assist for reasons other than The TLM itself.), those who see it as their sole properly end up realizing that they must fade into the masses of other Catholics.

How do you think Christ, Moshe, Eliyahu, Aharon and The Levites preached to the masses ?

Anonymous said...

*Because passion is beautiful too. I think there is a long tradition in the Church, an ascetic tradition identifying the beautiful with the calm, the peaceful, etc, and that's one thing, and it has it's place.

But there is also the beauty of the thunderstorm, the beauty of the wild animal rapture of f^*&ing like there's no tomorrow, the beauty of the shaman babbling and shaking, and the beauty of the priest shouting and screaming like a wild-eyed charismatic.*

Everything has its place, and not everything that might be beautiful in the right place is beautiful everywhere. Thunderstorms can be quite beautiful-or dangerous. Sex can be beautiful between husband and wife in their own privacy but its quite ugly when its simple fornication-no matter how "passionate" it is.

Of course, that brings up the issue of "passion" in the first place. The passions are neutral-they can be used for good or evil. Just because something is "passionate" doesn't mean its beautiful. I'd say shamanistic demon worship really isn't all that beautiful. A priest getting up in front of the crowd making a spectacle of himself is, well, just acting the fool.

*Trent, on the other hand, by it's rubricism, it's ossification, it's attempt to control and make logical what had been organic.*

Yet, that wasn't Trent's doing. St. Pius V allowed any liturgy that was at least 200 yrs. old to continue yet is was the bishops and heads of religious orders that scrapped their old liturgies if they did or if they hadn't already taken on the Missale of the Roman Curia spread around Europe by the Franciscans. It was Rome that insisted on the Easterners maintaining their own customs instead of adopting Roman customs. Curial officials weren't shoehorning Maronite priests into fiddlebacks-that was their own doing...

*Folk Catholicism, as Arturo Vasquez always discusses, has thankfully resisted those tendencies, if sometimes a little too far in the other direction.*

...and sometimes a lot too far in the other direction. We can stand Italianate kitsch or polychrome Mexican churches, but there are some points in which there needs to be a proper "baptism" of cultural practices to make them proper.

*I don't see why not. The problem is the people who actually WOULD have the good-sense and good-taste to do good organic development...are also generally the goody two-shoes too afraid to do anything "without permission" because of the "rubrics"..."

Yet when groups like the ICRSS do things like this, people crucify them.

*.are all trapped in this ossified preservationism, this "conservatism".*

We are not in the time or place to be tinkering with the liturgy. To develop an idea of von Hildebrand's, the "modern man" that the Council lauded so much has no proper liturgical or Catholic sense to be doing such things. Precisely what we need in this era is preservation.

*As I discussed in another post once, I think the thing that is racist is rejecting such styles (and gospel music, etc) just because they take their origin in black churches.*

...or its rejected because those "black churches" are heretical Protestants? Maybe it has nothing to do with their race, but their errors?

Some of the black Catholic parishes (like St. Sabina's once upon a time...so I hear) had top-notch chant choirs. Its only whitey litniks who plaster kinte cloth all over the place and replace Catholic styles (which are universal and transcend boundaries of race and nationality) with BS Protestant styles which are supposedly more racially appropriate.

Really, who's more of a racist, the priest who introduces the treasures of the Church (i.e. Gregorian chant)to minority group X or the priest who tells minority group X that since they are X, they want y music and z preaching and not the treasures of the Church?

A Sinner said...

"So you want to win the hearts of Latin America at the expense of appearing an undignified laughingstock in North America?"

I'm not sure I'd phrase it that way. But I think it does have something to do with what the East calls the "Fool for Christ" dynamic. "Laughingstock" isn't necessarily a bad thing if it is winning souls for Christ.

The priest acts "dignified" during the rest of the liturgy...because during the rest of the liturgy, it isn't about him. He's supposed to disappear into the action. But, for better or worse, the very nature of the sermon does mean that it IS going to be affected by his personality, his showmanship, his charisma.

Also, though the Sunday sermon at Mass is the most common, I wouldn't dismiss the idea of extra-liturgical sermons making a come-back.

You say this all looks foolish in the context of worship...and yet how many young people go to "worship" at rock concerts where the thing that gets them is that primal tapping into emotions and the charismatic screaming personality of the star?

"Foolish" or "undignified" some would think, but that sort of suspension of disbelief, that sort of buying into the collective consciousness that is constructed at such events...is part of their appeal. Is part of why they touch people to their core.

I'm not saying have a rock concert at Mass, of course, but then at least give something that touches the same places in people's psyches. Otherwise, they'll keep getting the lost souls. Those young people are going to those concerts, turning to drugs, turning to orgiastic behavior...for a "religious" experience, or something to fill the same place psychically.

Just as the Romans turned to the mysteries of Dionysus, and of Mithra (and of Christ) when the Roman State cults became so ossified and bureaucratized and devoid of any of those consciousness altering frenzies that they were simply impotent for most people.

"All of which can be readily had outside of the Church. Everyone loves a visit to a charismatic chapel (myself included), but the appeal is mostly lurid, scarcely holy."

I don't find the appeal lurid, I do find it holy in some sense, by the very fact that those emotional states, those altered states of consciousness have been made sacred, have been set-apart.

And that's good. Society couldn't function if those primal energies were bubbling out all the time in daily life. But when you channel it into religion, when you give it that outlet, then that is it's proper context.

"And whatever value it may indeed have, "tent revival" fervor has accrued far too negative an association in the public sphere to be anything other than a liability."

Except tons of people DO keep flocking to it.

But, oh, we don't want THEM. We don't want "their type". We want the "mainstream" clean-cut rational people.

I'm again reminded of another time that the scholarly establishment kept losing followers to an itinerant charismatic preacher, and the resentment they had for Him...

A Sinner said...

"Something that I think we in The West disregard and relegate to the realm of "emotions"/sensationalism."

Exactly, Johnathan.

"Just because something is 'passionate' doesn't mean its beautiful."

Well, depends what you mean. I'd say if the passion is positive then it is beautiful in some sense by definition, because it is a manifestation of Love, however disordered.

There are beautiful lies, and beautiful sins. Satan can appear as an angel of light, and for the light I would praise God.

Ginsburg's "Howl" can be (and is) one of my favorite poems even if I ultimately disagree with many of the actions described therein...because there IS beauty in an acid trip, in a hook-up in a dark alley, in satanic heavy metal. That's exactly our "problem," as it were.

Passion means you're alive, it screams out "I exist!" To feel SOMETHING. People today need that. People's neural feedback has been short-circuited by all the "civilizing" forces in play today. They need a primal scream, as it were.

But they need it in a context that isn't drugs, that ISN'T promiscuous sex, that isn't rock and roll. In those "highs," people are looking for consciousness-altering experience that finds it's proper and healthy context in religion. And if the best you can offer them is Fulton Sheen well, I mean no offense to him, but that just isn't going to cut it.

That's sort of my big point around here. For too long the Church has shunned these "sinners" (which means people with strong appetites I guess) and pandered to the personalities of old women and repressed angry young nerds who, emotionally frustrated themselves, want to deny everyone else feeling. The trance-like state induced by chant (which isn't universal at all; the "Gregorian" version of it comes from 10th century Frankish culture) has to be balanced by a phase of mania or frenzy, or the release just isn't accomplished, and I think it leaves people spiritually and emotionally frustrated.

If priests are too embarrassed to give it to us in church for fear of not being "dignified"...then we sinners are going to keep finding it in drugs and sex and rock and roll.

Michael D said...

I mean, I guess the maniple being placed into the book is symbolic enough of the transition into the sermon, but it does leave something wanting in that it is a gesture very easy to overlook. Blink and you miss it type of thing. Obviously, while he's speaking, it is observable that he set it aside, but still, only keen observers will really appreciate the meaning of the gesture.

So, then what is the solution, obviously (and given that this is a trad site) it would be that the priest should face Ad Orientem. He should lead the flock together facing the altar, and then turn around and face them to deliver his sermon.

A Sinner, you have constantly discussed dissatisfaction over the papoltry of neo-cons, but I think too that can fit to the personality cults, for lack of a better term, that develop around individual priests. "Presiding today is Father so-and-so"; who cares, presiding over the liturgy should be a time when he is "faceless" to us, leading us together into a spiritual experience with the divine.

Then, he turns around to face us, and delivers his sermon, ideally with strong passion and conviction. I recognize, of course, that being a traditionalist, you support Ad Orientem, but I think it important that you mention these two things in tandem, because they complement each other exceedingly.

Also, as much as I can appreciate Fulton Sheen based on what I've seen on youtube and EWTN; he's great, but just can't quite be fulfilling. Sometimes he can sort of wander in his parlance, or round off his sentences in a kind of monotone voice that just makes one lose concentration and appreciation for what he's saying. It's the classical example of "When he's good, he's really good, but when he's bad, he's pretty bad."

A Sinner said...

Wow, I think that's a very good point, I may mention it on the blog itself sometime if you don't mind. How facing ad orientem during worship and then turning around for the sermon really "switches gears" for the part that IS about the priest's showmanship (as opposed to facelessness like in the rest of the liturgy).

Of course, we have to worry about personality cult, but it's better than a lack-of-personality cult! (Really, I'd say, that if ALL priests were doing this, we wouldn't have to worry about that)

Lestre said...

"There IS beauty in an acid trip, in a hook-up in a dark alley, in satanic heavy metal. That's exactly our 'problem,' as it were.

Passion means you're alive, it screams out 'I exist!' To feel SOMETHING. People today need that. People's neural feedback has been short-circuited by all the 'civilizing' forces in play today. They need a primal scream, as it were.

But they need it in a context that isn't drugs, that ISN'T promiscuous sex, that isn't rock and roll. In those 'highs,' people are looking for consciousness-altering experience that finds it's proper and healthy context in religion. And if the best you can offer them is Fulton Sheen well, I mean no offense to him, but that just isn't going to cut it."

The problem with this is that charismatic preaching’s been around for quite some time already, and it’s been tried and found wanting (at least by people who are more or less well-adjusted: the adjectives—like “loony” and “wacky”—that are commonly attached to the tradition you’re praising are often richly deserved). Pentecostal-style preaching is certainly no competition for the psychedelic experience or the delights of illicit copulation. I cautiously submit that anyone who does find tent-revival spirituality to be a religious answer to these obvious thrills is nearly as off-kilter as any “old lady or angry nerd,” if not more so.

Wondering how to draw people (or excite them) using the same kinds of appeal as secular attractions do is to make the exact same mistake that Vatican II did. It is to misunderstand how fundamentally different are the Church and the world. Besides, no Mexican kid or Marjoe Gortner is ever going to rival the Michael Stipes or Nick Caves of the day (and it is a crass caricature of the appeal of rock musicians to equate the phenomenon strictly with the adoration of the hair-metal Adonis). The nearly universal assessment of revivalist preaching by unbiased outside observers is that it’s showmanship, not artistry. You may make a stir, but there is very little guarantee that you will be taken seriously by even marginally serious people. Saying this does not make me an elitist, or in any way stuck up.

Michael D said...

I certainly don't mind you mentioning it, in fact I encourage it. Promoting the Ad Orientem is good in itself, but if it helps further the goal of more passionate, rousing sermons, then I support that as well.

It's very ironic; of all the times I've attended Mass over the past several months, the one sermon that sticks out in my mind is where the priest was actually getting fired up and deploring the tabloids for promoting the fame of people like the Kardashians. It wasn't one of those holier-than-thou, make us feel righteous kinds of sermons, but he spoke with a surprising passion, even fervor, about the kinds of lies people will tell themselves to justify their sin. I can't do it justice in this limited forum, but suffice it to say that his passion and firm conviction made for a memorable sermon.

Kelly said...

Form and content both matter, but content is probably more important--I will make the effort to listen to a dull-in-style preacher if he is actually saying something meaningful, but a loud fiery style but nothing important to say with it is merely annoying.

My experience with quite a number of FSSP priests over the years is that they have very dull delivery. All of them seem to read directly and quite monotonously from a prepared text, without even so much as eye contact. And the text itself is quite formal. I'd probably enjoy the sermons more, and they might even be more effective, if they just uploaded the sermon text to the parish website or something. It'd probably make for better reading than via oral delivery. But the content is generally pretty good. In fact, many of them tend to include short bios of saints and overall provide more contextual and historical material than is usual amongst Novus Ordo preachers.

At my regular (Novus Ordo, but tasteful) parish, the Deacon is a particularly good preacher. He enunciates well and understands the dynamics of the mic and the building---not anywhere near as common as one would expect!---and you can hear every word very clearly. I would not call his delivery fiery by any stretch of the imagination. But he does have a dry sense of humour that comes through nicely at times just through tone of voice. The content of his homilies is always good. He often brings in material from that day's Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours---an easy but effective way of bringing in a more full context into the commentary on the day's readings. My only complaint is that he doesn't preach anywhere near often enough!

Another of my favourite preachers was the Associate Rector, now (unfortunately for us) re-assigned to another parish in the regular priestly rotation. He was not as humorous as the Deacon, being naturally more serious. But he, too, would bring in historical and contextual material and commentary from the Fathers, as well as point out the larger meaning of types and symbols. You always came away from his sermons actually *knowing* something that you didn't know before. His delivery was calm, but informal. Rather like someone making an extended point during an interesting dinner conversation.

Our current Rector is also a very good homilist. He usually makes more references to issues of the day rather than historical material, but it is done well. His delivery verges towards what could be called fiery, but unfortunately the effect is off-putting for, unlike the good-enunciating Deacon, he does not understand the sound dynamics of the building. When he tries to be emphatic, not only does his volume go up but sodoeshisspeedofdelivery. And with the weird echo we've go in our building, the net effect is that the very point he was trying to emphasize gets lost in the muddle of echoes. That and he tends to put emPHAsis on strange sylLABles. He doesn't actually have an accent so much as just an odd way of speaking. His unfortunate delivery mars what would otherwise be truly brilliant sermons.

A Sinner said...

I'm not saying we need to "compete" with sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, Lestre. Indeed, I've always said that "we're never going to be cool, so we shouldn't try, that's not the point" because it usually turns out pathetically.

My point is that those of us who already ARE committed to religion, still need a certain catharsis in that regard. Of course it is not going to be "as" thrilling as those other things, because the other half of the equation IS the "calm" half, the inner-peace half inculcated by the rest of the liturgy, and that is something we do have to offer those who live in a world of hyperactive but shallow thrills. But not at the expense of making room for the "charismatic" dynamic which DOES get some people. Which is an electrifying experience.

And my point about preaching is that that is not mutually incompatible with the calm quiet dignity of the Old Rite liturgy strictly so called. Because you have times like the Sermon. And, for example, the Ordinary could be set to Gospel styles, etc.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Sinner: correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't theatrical representations quite common in Medaeval European Catholic Masses?

A Sinner said...

Yes, though I doubt a Mystery or Miracle Play is going to rile people up these days. Also, some would consider that abusive, but I see no reason not to revive things like that before Mass on the steps of the Church or under the portico, or after Mass in the parish center, etc

lestre said...

* "My point is that those of us who already ARE committed to religion, still need a certain catharsis in that regard. Of course it is not going to be 'as' thrilling as those other things, because the other half of the equation IS the 'calm' half, the inner-peace half inculcated by the rest of the liturgy, and that is something we do have to offer those who live in a world of hyperactive but shallow thrills. But not at the expense of making room for the 'charismatic' dynamic which DOES get some people. Which is an electrifying experience.

And my point about preaching is that that is not mutually incompatible with the calm quiet dignity of the Old Rite liturgy strictly so called. Because you have times like the Sermon. And, for example, the Ordinary could be set to Gospel styles, etc."

Well, you did make a mention of “TONS of people” who were “flocking” to Pentecostal-style services. Pardon my misunderstanding. If all you want to do is add a little spice to a liturgy that you feel needs rescuing from the doldrums of bourgeois stagnation, be my guest. (Going out on a limb here, though, I don’t think too many of those people running off to hear Evangelical sermons are defecting from the Latin Mass quarters of Catholicism. The so-called “traditionalist Catholic” movement is steadily increasing in popularity, so it’s not quite a matter of retaining who’s in, but appealing to those who aren’t. There would at least be a “risk of alienation” to weigh against any “electrifying experience.”)

Good luck with it and all; for my part, I just think there’s bound to be a certain incongruity in marrying the mannered “solemn joy” that the world has come to expect of the Catholic Mass with the fiery palpitations of revivalist preaching and the spirited pulse of Gospel music. As someone merely on the outside of the Catholic Church looking in, I remain intrigued. My own aesthetic considerations, however, prevent me from seeing how such an endeavor could be anything other than a recipe for chaos (or the source of a very amusing send-up on The Family Guy. Come to think of it, it’s been a while since Peter’s dad has tried to light the fire of Catholicism under his butt.)