Saturday, April 21, 2007

That instructional film on the Mass

Some time ago, I blogged on a movie called "A History of the Mass" (2001) as copyrighted and distributed by Liturgical Training Publications. I ordered it and viewed it more closely this morning. It is a deeply problematic film, obviously agenda driven to anyone well read in liturgy but apparently objective and informative to anyone not well read, which means most Catholics. It purports to tell the story of the Mass, and its best aspect is that it at least traces the origins of the Mass to the early Church.

But the narrative is flawed by a preconceived notion of history, which runs as follows. The early church had it right, a delightful community of people who worshiped together, helped the poor, and broke bread in their homes in memory of Jesus. Theological errors began to creep in after Constantine that emphasized Christ's divinity over his humanity, and so the Mass began to get ever more remote from the people, culminating in Trent, which entrenched this error and perpetrated it until the great liberation of 1969 when the Mass was returned to the people. The film contrasts medieval cathedrals, which are presented as forbidding and elitist (hence altar rails), and modern worship in open undecorated places where people gather around altars and sing songs from Haugen and Haus.

The music of the film is particular amusing. For the period 300-800, the soundtrack plays polyphonic secular music from the early middle ages. The first Gregorian music heard is Kyrie, which accompanies the Trent narrative.

The film takes a truth--that people ought to actively participate in the liturgy--and emphasizes only the external element of it and focuses on it to the exclusion of every other truth. It's as if the writer couldn't think about anything else to talk about. It's is the people vs. the elites in every frame: that is the essence of the great liturgical struggle through history. Among the errors the film says has afflicted liturgical history: people thought that liturgy should be about the Eucharist rather than themselves. So processions and adoration are presented as dangerous distortions.

This film ends with some images of priests dancing and carrying incense bowls around the church, and very strange scenes of gatherings of late middle age women singing 70s music. This is the ideal of the film, and it thus ends with quotes from Cardinal Mahoney about inclusion, participation, and the like. What I found particularly strange is how the entire subject of beauty in architecture and music is completely dropped, as is any serious discussion of theology or the impact of the Church on the world. The Reformation is mentioned only once in passing.

Though this film is only 40 mins (just right for a parish!) this is very dangerous film to the reform of the reform, and it advances ideas that strike me as being on the verge of outright heresy of the "we-are-Eucharist" variety. Also, the sweep of the narrative is wildly distorted: was it really one long decline from 300 to 1969? Please.

It is produced by John h. McKenna, CM, Directed and edited by Jim McDermott, Chicago, Illinois and David Agosto, HTF Inc., Los Angeles, CA, with Executive Producer Maria Leonard. Gabe Huck receives a special note of thanks.

I've sent this film to a friend who I think might be able to offer a more detailed critique and I do hope that he follows through. Also, let me again say that an accurate documentary on this topic would be very valuable.

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