Shea, Voris and Amazing Grace
An interesting spat has developed between Catholic blogger Mark Shea of Catholic and Enjoying It and Michael Voris of RealCatholic TV. In the above video Mr. Voris attacks the use of the Protestant hymn Amazing Grace at Mass. Amazing Grace was composed by John Newton, an eighteenth century captain of a slaver, who converted to Christianity, was ordained in the Anglican Church and became an abolitionist. The song is used frequently at Mass in my parish.
Mark Shea, who has never had any use for Mr. Voris as far as I can tell, attacked the video in a post at his blog:
Voris’ sole message is “I am the measure of Real Catholicism and those who agree with me have the right to call themselves Catholic, while those who disagree are liars and lukewarm fake Catholics”.
His method is to begin, not by proclaiming the Faith, but by proclaiming that whoever has been chosen for denunciation in today’s video is a liar whose lies are about to be trapped and exposed. In short, they are the Enemy, the watered-down, the fifth column. This posture of sneering hostility established he then sets to work, inviting the viewer to join him in mocking whatever it is he is going to mock today.
In this video, our Real Catholic elects to tell us that most of his brother and sister Catholics are half-breed Protestants who, among their many sins, wear “Protestant clothes.” (What? No mention of Protestant hair, Michael?) The point of this little litany is not so much to make sense as to establish, via a sort of hypnotic chant, that there are “Real Catholics” (Voris and his nucleus of Pharisees) and Everybody Else: the great unwashed who are unworthy to be called Catholic.
Then we go to work on today’s specific task: arraigning Catholics who like “Amazing Grace” as protestantized dimwits who are letting the Pure Catholic Faith be corrupted by the base metal of an “anti-Catholic hymn”. Dave Armstrong (who is, of course, not a real Catholic since he questions the infallible Voris) looks at Voris’ tissue of prideful, biblically illiterate and theologically stupid assertions that then follow:
I think it is an interesting presentation by Michael Voris, but I believe that his negative conclusion about Amazing Grace as an “anti-Catholic” song is absurd: much ado about nothing. Catholics believe in Grace Alone, just as Protestants do. It is presentations like this one that divide Catholics and Protestants unnecessarily, and give the latter the impression that we frown on grace or put works on the same plane with it. But the Church teaches Grace Alone and condemns works-salvation, or Pelagianism, so I don’t see this as a contradiction to our theology at all. Grace is amazing!
Other than the pleasure of viewing a good example of the odium bloggum that makes Saint Blogs such a lively environ on the internet, what can we glean from this? Well, and I am certain that Mark will faint as he reads this, I tend to agree with him overall. I rather like the hymn Amazing Grace, or rather I did, until being forced to listen to it dozens of time at Mass. Now it is rather old hat to me, but I find nothing objectionable in its use at Mass. It is a heartfelt hymn of praise by a man saved by God’s grace, and that is all it is. There are no deep theological musings in the song, so I do find Mr. Voris’s critique silly. He is also given to making statements in his video in an ex cathedra fashion that I personally find off-putting, although, ironically, I believe that Mark does that frequently in his own blog posts, so I think his critique in that area is ironic to say the least.
This little tempest does raise an interesting question as to whether Protestant hymns should be used at Mass at all. I have been at Masses where Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God was sung which struck me as an unintentional hilarious parody of modern ecumenicalism. However, most Protestant hymns used have nothing in them that any but the most nit-picking Catholic would find objectionable. Personally, I find much greater problems with the drek hymns from the Sixties and Seventies of the last century endlessly recycled at Masses in this country. Most of them are banal beyond belief, many are completely unsingable by ordinary parishioners, and more than a few have a fair amount of heresy in the lyrics. Go here for an excellent discussion of the ten worst Catholic hymns.
I agree with George Weigel that most of the hymns written during the Sixties and the Seventies need to be placed on the shelf for, oh, the next thousand years.
For classic Lutheran theology, hymns are a theological “source:” not up there with Scripture, of course, but ranking not-so-far below Luther’s “Small Catechism.” Hymns, in this tradition, are not liturgical filler. Hymns are distinct forms of confessing the Church’s faith. Old school Lutherans take their hymns very seriously.
Thus, with tongue only half in cheek, I propose the Index Canticorum Prohibitorum, the “Index of Forbidden Hymns.” Herewith, some examples.
Go here to read the brilliant rest. The problem with Mass music in this country isn’t Protestant hymns, but lousy hymns, most of them written during my lifetime, that are played ad nauseam at Mass. Mr. Voris is correct that we Catholics have a 2000 year heritage of fine sacred music. It is time we rediscovered it, and the sooner the better!