|ROME, 20 APRIL 2004 (ZENIT).
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: This past summer, my parish had a Polka Mass. I didn't feel it was
right to go to this Mass, since I don't know how I would be able to
associate Polka music with anything other than dancing. Isn't the music at
Mass supposed to elevate one's spirit to God? Does a polka do that? And is
that a legitimate form of liturgical music?
A: We have dealt previously with the general principles involved in
liturgical music (see (Nov. 11 and Dec. 23). From those I believe that it
is fairly clear that music usually associated with dancing or other
profane activities (at least in a Western context) should not be admitted
into the Mass.
I was rather surprised to hear that Polka Masses were still going on
had thought that they had gone out in the '70s along with a host of other
Perhaps the principal difficulty with such things is not so much the music
in itself, which like many human elements in the liturgy may have
different meanings in different cultures and in different epochs, but the
idea that the Mass needs some sort of a theme in order to enhance its
significance or relevance.
When we label the Mass we tend to diminish rather than augment its
importance. We restrict its universal meaning as Christ's very sacrifice
renewed upon the altar and the sacred banquet which forms and increases
our union as part of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church.
This is the Church's greatest offering to God and any addition to the Mass
such as "Polka," "Clown," "Disco" (yes, there have been cases) or any
similar extraneous element
reduces its scope and attempts to press it into service for some cause
other than the worship of God.
It could be argued that this is done in order to make the Mass more
attractive or welcoming to certain groups. I am certain that it is often
done in good faith. Yet, I think that 40 years after the Second Vatican
Council it is clear that such attempts have failed to fulfill their
The best and most efficacious means of making the Mass meaningful is to
teach Catholic truth as to what the Mass is.
To understand the Mass is to grasp the foundation of every other aspect of
the Catholic faith as well as to find the strength to live it.
No amount of toying with externals can substitute for a lack of knowledge
of the essentials although, when carried out with beauty and fidelity,
these externals can prove to be a resource for teaching and confirming the
faith in the essentials.
What I term labeling of the Mass, however, should not be confused with
legitimate practices such as, for example, when an immigrant group
celebrates Mass in their own language and using music from their religious
tradition, or when different styles of liturgical music are adopted in
accordance with the various congregation's spiritual sensibilities.
Nor does it include the proper use of the many possibilities offered in
the missal to adapt the Mass texts to particular situations, such as the
use of votive Masses and Masses for Special Necessities such as "For
Peace," "For Christian Unity," etc.
These texts serve to specify particular intentions and invocations which
the Church, albeit in general terms, already implores from God, in every
* * *
Follow-up: Polka Masses
After our piece on "Polka Masses" (April 20) a priest from North Dakota
wrote the following commentary "The tradition of having 'Polka' Masses is
very much alive ... scheduled to coincide with a community's annual 'Polka
Fest.' When I ask people who attend them for their reaction, they respond
by swinging their hips and saying something like, 'I wanted to get up and
dance.' I have never heard anyone say that it brought them closer to God
or his people. A few people respond, 'It was hard to pray.'"
I think that the commentary speaks for itself. What is important is not if
the people like the music (they probably do) but whether it helps them
live the Mass (it probably does not).
While the recently published instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" says
little about music, it does say in No. 78: "It is not permissible to link
the celebration of Mass to political or secular events, nor to situations
that are not fully consistent with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
Furthermore, it is altogether to be avoided that the celebration of Mass
should be carried out merely out of a desire for show, or in the manner of
other ceremonies including profane ones, lest the Eucharist should be
emptied of its authentic meaning."
Thus, linking the Eucharist to an annual "Polka Fest" or other analogous
celebrations in this manner is not advisable.
This does not mean that all expressions of national or ethnic traditions
are excluded from the Mass. But they must be specifically religious in
content and contribute to living it with fervor.
Although such folkloric music is excluded from Mass it may be offered to
the congregation after Mass in the parking lot or parish hall, especially
in communities with strong ethnic ties.
While on the subject of the new instruction from the Apostolic See I wish
to note one or two points which clear up earlier replies.
In the very first question of this column (Sept. 13) while not favoring
glass chalices I doubted if liturgical law forbade them in every case,
especially with regard to heavy crystal.
This doubt is now cleared up by the instruction's No. 117, which states:
"Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of
Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all
artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made
from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This
norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that
easily rust or deteriorate."
A later question on the use of "flagons" (Sept. 23) for the consecration
is also resolved in No. 106: "However, the pouring of the Blood of Christ
after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be
avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so
great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the Blood of the Lord are
flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the
I note that No. 106 will also require a review of the norms recently
published by the U.S. bishops' conference which favored the use of a
single large chalice from which the Precious Blood would be poured into
The instruction in No. 105 prefers the use of several chalices: "If one
chalice is not sufficient for Communion to be distributed under both kinds
to the Priest concelebrants or Christ's faithful, there is no reason why
the Priest celebrant should not use several chalices. ... It is
praiseworthy, by reason of the sign value, to use a main chalice of larger
dimensions, together with smaller chalices."
In a follow-up on the theme of extraordinary ministers (Oct. 28) I
mentioned that it did not make much canonical difference if they were
called special or extraordinary.
While I was right regarding the norms, the new instruction, in No. 156,
goes deeper into the question of vocabulary: "This function is to be
understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to
say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not 'special
minister of Holy Communion' nor 'extraordinary minister of the Eucharist'
nor 'special minister of the Eucharist,' by which names the meaning of
this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened."
Thus the instruction stresses that only the priest is, properly speaking,
minister of the Eucharist. The others are ordinary or extraordinary
ministers of Communion.
It also notes (No. 158): "Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy
Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are
lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some
other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion
is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.
This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief
prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is
not at all a sufficient reason."
There are probably some other points in our earlier replies that might
need some fine tuning in the light of the Instruction and if necessary I
will take them up at a later date. ZE04050421