Compositions like this are just beyond me. I don’t get why anyone would want to do this instead of just chant the thing.
So… there was a time in my life when I would have thought this was really great.
So, let me try to explain what it is I used to like about this sort of thing…
The Easter Vigil has a certain primordial, primeval, even tribal sensibility to it. Fire, smoke, water, rites of initiation. It is sacred in a way that no other time is, and its timing is tied to natural phenomenon that were celebrated long before the dawn of modern religion: the changing of the season, the full moon.
The reading of the Genesis story, the flood, the Exodus- these (if proclaimed well, to a congregation prepared by prayer and catechesis) make the ancient past, the stories of our people and our God, present in a way that, while not the same as, is comparable to the present-making mystery of the Eucharist.
Music like the link above plays at these understandings- it gives a sense of shared “tribal” identity, a feeling of participation in some ancient rite. We can imagine ourselves drumming round the fire in some Julie Taymor epic. (Perhaps not incidentally, this is the same impetus for those ridiculous mask/puppet liturgies).
Conservatives and traditionalists, however, misdiagnose the problem- attempting to de-tribalize the meaning of the liturgy (Easter Vigil or otherwise), making a lot out of how these emotions and so forth are not the point.
But I believe that those emotions, that sense of “tribal” identity and connection with the “ancient ways,” and all of that is a huge reason for the particular forms of our Catholic liturgical heritage. The problem, though, is that these sorts of things (the recording here, the suburban drum circle liturgies, the puppet insanity) are really bad ways of creating that identity and that connection.
They are bad because they are too easy, and they are false. Our sense of what is truly tribal and ancient is completely skewed by our entertainment and artistic industry’s re-imagining. From the Rite of Spring to the Lion King, from the African Sanctus to The Mummy franchise, from EPCOT center to Karl Jenkins, Enya, and Avatar- our sense of “tribal identity” and “ancient forms of worship” is completely manufactured… which is perfectly fine if you’re going to a concert, a movie, or a theme park.
But the people who love these faux-tribal beats would be BORED TO TEARS if they had to sit through (or stand through) an Ancient liturgy from any culture- whether it’s the Death and Resurrection plays of ancient Egypt, the Greek theatrical rituals, the Early Christian catacomb Masses, or even a contemporary hours-long drum-accompanied, dance-infused Divine Liturgy in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Real tribalism, real ritual, is ghastly boring to modern sensibilities- that’s why the movies dress it up the way they do.
The Catholic liturgy has two sets of “benefits” as it were- the supernatural benefits which we cannot “mess with.” That is, the grace we receive through the sacraments- we receive it regardless of how poor, weird, or ill-conceived things like music or vestments are.
Then there are the (for lack of a better word) psychological benefits- community cohesion, inspiration to live a Godly life, instruction in the knowledge of God, a deeper emotional connection to the faith, etc, etc. These are the things that religion has always done for people, even among the pagans- and they are worthwhile benefits to cultivate within the community.
The progressive, folk-driven, faux-tribal approach to liturgy is trying, very earnestly, to maximize those secondary benefits. This should not be seen as a bad goal, as it so often is by the traditionalists. However, it should be understood that the approach of the last 40 years has been… well, not the best approach.
If we are interested in recovering a sense of our “tribal” identity as Catholics, we need to recover the music that truly belongs to our tribe- not steal some music from another group or try to imagine our own ritualism. If we are interested in entering into the ancient mysteries, we need to realize that time moves at a much slower pace than 180 bpm. If we are going to experience the universal cycle of death and rebirth, we need to embody the liturgy entrusted to those who walked with the man who actually did die and was reborn- not copy some movie recreation of a pagan misunderstanding of that mystery. If we want to feel connected to the Ancient Israelites, we need to fully, actively, and consciously participate in the real (not invented) liturgical structure that was the fulfillment of all their hopes, using the music that evolved directly from their Temple practices.
When you hear music like this, or see misguided white people dressed up in Kente cloth, or hear someone suggest liturgical dance, or any of the other seemingly bizarre practices of the “progressive liturgical movement,” have some compassion for what it is they are trying to accomplish. Their focus on community over hierarchy, experience over doctrine, celebration over sacrifice, emotion over intellect… these are not unworthy viewpoints or emphases. They are needed in our Church- we ARE a community, we NEED to experience the mystery, Mass IS a celebration, emotions DO help us understand God’s great love for us.
But it is the authentic liturgy of the Church, the real traditions of music and prayer, that bring us those “secondary” benefits. The movie music presented here has the best of intentions- but, in the final analysis- it is lacking.
It is lacking because it fake- an inauthentic copy of the truly ecstatic. It is lacking because it is easy- the emotionalism proper to our worship of God should be a fiery, deep, unquenchable passion, not a surface veneer of momentary infatuation. It is lacking because it is alien- not alien to the liturgy (which is universal, and admits of inculturation) but rather alien to (most of) us- it is not the music of our ancestors, and so it can exert no great pull on our genetic memory. It is lacking because it is produced- refined and composed and written down and edited by artistic and commercial interests- it has nothing of the earthy sincerity evident in the devotees of any venerable religious tradition.
For the sake of our “tribal” identity, we need to reclaim the music that is rightfully ours: the ecstatic melismas of the Cantorial tradition, the strophic hymns of the early and medieval church, the mystical organum the late middle ages, the psalmody of the monastics, the truly exotic sequences of Hildegard, the hallucinogenic polyphony of the high Renaissance. That’s the music of “our people.” Those are the base-pairs of our genetic memory, and the soul of our collective consciousness.