Bill Murray on Latin liturgy

Bill Murray (2)This is all over the web now: famous actor Bill Murray, who comes from a Catholic family and has a sister who is a nun, told The Guardian that he prefers the old Latin Mass to the reformed one. You all remember him from SNL, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, What About Bob, Groundhog Day, and Lost in Translation, right? OK, I don’t, but I bet you all do. I have a few initial thoughts about this (see below), but first here’s The Guardian on Bill Murray on things Catholic:

One new saint he does approve of is Pope John XXIII (who died in 1963). “I’ll buy that one, he’s my guy; an extraordinary joyous Florentine who changed the order. I’m not sure all those changes were right. I tend to disagree with what they call the new mass. I think we lost something by losing the Latin. Now if you go to a Catholic mass even just in Harlem it can be in Spanish, it can be in Ethiopian, it can be in any number of languages. The shape of it, the pictures, are the same but the words aren’t the same.”

Isn’t it good for people to understand it? “I guess,” he says, shaking his head. “But there’s a vibration to those words. If you’ve been in the business long enough you know what they mean anyway. And I really miss the music – the power of it, y’know? Yikes! Sacred music has an affect on your brain.” Instead, he says, we get “folk songs … top 40 stuff … oh, brother….”

AWR: There is no doubt that the ancient rituals of the great world religions have a certain aesthetic and psychological appeal to the human spirit. We might as well admit it and face up to it, for it is the challenge we face in implementing the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The Council rightly sought to retrieve and reemphasize what is uniquely Christian, making the liturgy less like the other world religions, and that’s not necessarily appealing to everyone.

But on the other hand, the appeal of the pre-Christian and extra-Christian can’t be totally dismissed either, for it is an aspect of human nature as created by God, and his Son took on that nature. We have to attend to the anthropological aspects of ritual (and the appeal of Latin mass to people like Bill Murray), but we can’t let all that set the agenda. The Gospel does. The Kingdom of God does. That’s what drove the Second Vatican Council.

Or what do you make of this??

Read the whole piece here.

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23 comments

  1. It’s not often that we see Bill Murray do earnest.

    I suppose he isn’t saying anything here that hasn’t been said a million times already.

    And it’s true that, had the liturgical reforms been more faithful to the Second Vatican Council, even though some of the Council’s provisions were not appealing, maybe Bill Murray would feel better about going to mass. I don’t know if he still considers himself a practicing Catholic, but he talks here like a guy who’s maybe not all that plugged in anymore. The unplugged are legion, and each person has his/her own story as to how/why s/he became unplugged, but certain themes do emerge, and the changes to the mass are one of those themes.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #1:
      Are you sure it is earnest? Most of what he’s famous for is deadpan comedy.

      If he is earnest, then of course, all of VII should be reversed! 😉

  2. They resonate with him (and others) because they remember the old. They’re OLD, like me. They resonate with me, too. Some of us made another decision. It’s OK for him (or anyone else) to like the old. It’s not entirely about the mass, it’s about what kind of person the mass forms you to be. Changing the neighborhood? Doing good for the poor? Loving your enemies? Worship in whatever language you like, even if you’re famous.

  3. I find it fascinating to read other people’s experiences of liturgical reform. I suppose some economically-inclined pastors realized good days were ahead when they could fire their well-paid choirmasters and get the teenagers to strum guitars and tap tambourines for free.

    In my city back east, folk groups usually supplanted a low Mass at the margin of the liturgy schedule. Not the organ and choir. Did Ed Gutfreund sing about the folk Mass at 3AM as part of a tripped-out fantasy? I think not.

    Mr Murray likely had an option of worshipping at St John Cantius when he wasn’t on location in Japan or in central Pennsylvania. I doubt he moved from the 930 choir Mass to the 2:05 youth Mass just for the angst of it all.

    Sometimes the complaints are valid. But the issue is usually more with leadership’s priorities in churches of convenience. In my 70’s home parish, the choir had one Mass, the folk group another, and the organist got three of the remaining four. The last one was likely just as it was twenty years prior, only in English.

    Rory’s point is well-taken. It’s about what kind of people the Mass urges us to be.

  4. I like the comment that it is the Gospel and the Kingdom of God that sets the agenda. We are called to be a living Church and, as a living church, we should me growing in our faith and understanding of the liturgy that builds on what has come before us and what lies ahead. I can appreciate the experience of the Latin Mass because it was my first experience of Mass as a child in the 1950’s. I, however, embrace the “new” Mass especially when it is well prepared and presented in a way that allows me to participate fully. A source of my frustration is this perpetual “us vs. them” mentality from within the ranks of liturgical ministers. It is a poison that infects the people in the pews to the point that they go somewhere else or stop going to church altogether.

  5. Therese D Butler : A source of my frustration is this perpetual “us vs. them” mentality from within the ranks of liturgical ministers. It is a poison that infects the people in the pews to the point that they go somewhere else or stop going to church altogether.

    Well, yes, so often the idea of integrating the two experiences is spurned by both sides. For me personally the initial effect of taking a “both-and” approach to liturgy has often been that one side says, “Look at everything liturgy has become. You just want to do Latin and throw that all away,” while the other side says, “Just leave out the contemporary stuff. Don’t you believe in tradition?” It is incredibly frustrating that people can’t bring themselves to drink from both stores because they’re too enamoured with one and/or scared of the other.

    1. @Richard Skirpan – comment #6:

      Don’t you believe in tradition?”

      Whether we like it or not, we have to accept that for an increasing number of people, at least two generations, “tradition” is post-conciliar; and Latin, chant, and devotions are an alien presence that does not accord with the tradition that these people know and love. They know no other “tradition” than their own. Similarly, those who cling to the pre-conciliar tradition may have only experienced some of the more outrageous manifestations of post-conciliar experimentation and, on that basis, wrote everything off.

      That’s why we have to have dialogue rather than confrontation. Both sides are speaking out of tradition, their tradition. Neither has the fullness of the truth. There are no easy answers anymore.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #8:
        I very much agree with dialogue over confrontation, but perhaps I should have written Tradition, rather than tradition. One side’s views assume Tradition trumps tradition, and vice versa. They are both important. Those who can’t deal with T or t – to the point of leaving the church… well, it doesn’t seem to me their Christian formation has been very good. More of one T or the other t won’t really help them. Helping them with both just might.

  6. Many a lapsed Catholic and even non-Catholic have expressed the same. Jimmy Fallon likely never attended the old Mass. It’s not hard to see the aesthetic appeal.

  7. I like John’s comment in #7, “the aesthetic appeal.” That is it. Beauty should be a driving force in Catholic liturgy. I think that the aesthetic was too drastically changed in the implementation of what the council called for. This change in aesthetic- partially driven by the desire for intelligibility- had huge consequences for the subjective feeling behind going to mass. I am not proposing a solution here. But you can’t tell me that a great number of people don’t get the hairs on their neck raise when a loud, rousing “Adeste Fidelis” is sung amid incense and statues and all the bells and whistles. The Kingdom of God must incarnate that which is good in human religiosity. It sometimes does that better in the older form of mass.

  8. *Deep sigh* – I can understand the nostalgia in some ways, although not in this particular way. All I can think of right now is “De gustibus non est disputandum.”

    There I times I have to press myself, ad there are times when change comes in the wrong way or for the wrong reason… But I am forever thinking about the one ritual that is all about transformation – the eucharist – and how resistant we tend to be as a people of that change.

  9. Mr. Murray seems to be hinting at an issue that I don’t see being discussed much: that in a multicultural society, having Masses in various languages has the effect of segregating communities. Multilingual liturgies and resources make worthy attempts to heal that rift, but can only go so far. It’s impossible to adequately represent every constituency. The documents support observance of the Latin Novus Ordo Mass as a unifying liturgy, but one hardly ever sees this outside the Vatican. At present, I find myself in Hong Kong, a very cosmopolitan city. Most Masses are in Cantonese, many in English, and then a smattering of other languages. The only Latin Mass to be found is one in the extraordinary form. I would love to worship with my worldwide brethren by following an English translation booklet of the Latin and singing the Latin Ordinary that all Catholics are supposed to know. But the Church in effect tells me I cannot.

  10. We’ve had ethnically segregated parishes long before the new Mass. The situations people describe when Latin would be useful aren’t terribly common. If I have an English translation, it doesn’t matter at all if the readings are in Cantonese. The rest of the Mass should be easily recognizable as well without familiarity with the language. Granted, you couldn’t respond so I see more value in a Latin ordinary and dialogue. But then balance it against the more common situation of a non-regular attending Mass who would benefit from the vernacular. There’s no solution that will satisfy everyone.

    1. @John Mann – comment #15:
      I know that we are off topic here, but I do feel like there is a solution. If ordinary form masses frequently use both Latin and vernacular options for the ordinary, people will know the meaning of the Latin- because they often hear the text in English- and the Latin tune because they also regularly sing it. The answer is not to have lots of Latin liturgies. Instead, have English liturgies with a smattering of Latin, Spanish liturgies with a smattering Latin, etc. Then, in big Cathedral churches, at high Holy Days, and in international gatherings, go all Latin. People understand and are united by the language of the Western Church. I think it is what the Council intended, to boot.

    2. @John Mann – comment #15:

      “The situations people describe when Latin would be useful aren’t terribly common.”

      In this regard, I think it might be helpful to think about what, in the business world, we call “use cases”: pertinent scenarios.

      Doug O’Neill gave one ‘use case’: a traveler in a cosmopolitan city. That is a case that suggests that use of Latin may be practical in some sections of Hong Kong or New York or London, but doesn’t really argue for widespread, universal adoption of the practice.

      Here is the ‘use case’ in my suburban, American parish: our area is gradually becoming more ethnically diverse. At any given weekend mass in our parish, there are people – not tourists or temporary business travelers, but immigrants who live permanently in the community – whose first language is Spanish, Polish or Tagalog. (There is also a growing population which the demographers simply classify as “Asian”, which covers many different languages and cultures.) These parishioners are not so numerous at present that it would be practical to have masses in those languages on a regular basis. But it seems to me that it could be a mark of communal courtesy and communal unity if all of us could be on an equal footing, so to speak, in our worship. And as Steven Surrency notes, it needn’t be all-or-nothing; but we could do the common responses and some of the people’s prayers in Latin.

  11. Bill Murray is not alone. In fact, what he says echoes what Andrew Greeley said about the implementation of Vatican II:

    “Much of the ceremony and art of the Catholic tradition was summarily rejected, without vote or even consultation. The altars were stripped, to use the phrasing in the title of Eamon Duffy’s book on the Reformation in England. The leaders of this secondary revolution banned statues, stained glass windows, votive candles, crucifixes, and representational art from new or remodeled churches. They rejected popular devotions like May crownings, processions, First Communions, incense, classical polyphony and Gregorian chant. They dismissed the rosary, angels, saints, the souls in purgatory, and Mary the mother of Jesus. They considered these old customs and devotions liturgically or ecumenically or politically incorrect. … These various movements subverted much of the richness of the Catholic imaginative and communal tradition in the name of being ‘correct’ and ‘postconciliar.’ There was nothing to be learned from the preconciliar past, from anything that had happened before 1965. … No one seemed to understand that they were destroying precisely that sacramental dimension of the Catholic heritage that was more important than prosaic rules and that held Catholics in their Church regardless of what else happened.”

    1. @Tom Piatak – comment #17:

      They considered these old customs and devotions liturgically or ecumenically or politically incorrect.

      While Greeley’s analysis may be partly true, a much more important reason is that they wanted to do away with what they saw as the saccharine sentimentality of much of those practices, images, etc. I think many of us are glad that a proportion of the old Plastic Piety has vanished. One of the great developments since Vatican II has been the conversion of Catholicism into something for the head as well as the heart. Of course we haven’t always got the balance right, but on the whole things seem a lot healthier than previously in that regard.

  12. “They rejected popular devotions like May crownings, processions, First Communions, incense, classical polyphony and Gregorian chant.”

    And as one who suffers from serious incense allergies I thank them. Of course to say that they “rejected” incense comes as a great surprise to those of us who hack away every Christmas, Easter, or any other time a priests decides to burn some on a whim even in the most VII oriented of parishes.

  13. Mr. Inwood,

    Evelyn Waugh, G. K. Chesterton, and Ronald Knox, among many others, would disagree with the notion that Catholicism before Vatican II was not a religion of the head as well as the heart.

    The notion that we have now found the right comibination of head and heart is belied by collapsing Mass attendance throughout the West, and the hemorrhaging of Catholics to Pentecostalism throughout Latin America.

    And there is, unfortunately, little doubt that post-Vatican II Catholicism has lost the aesthetic appeal that once attracted artists such as Bill Murray. I can readily think of dozens of monumental works of art, some of the greatest creations known to man, inspired by pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any great work of art inspired by post-Vatican II Catholicism.

    I do not say this because I regularly attend the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. In fact, I regularly, and happily, attend the Ordinary Form. But I go to Mass at a parish where the altar servers ring bells at the Consecration, the choir regularly sings in Latin, and we still have a beautiful high altar, statues, and stained glass, as well as regular exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a May crowning. These things that I so enjoy were thoughtlessly, and brutally, cast aside in far too many other parishes, as the words of both Andrew Greeley and Bill Murray attest.

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