Reviewing the mass

Mick LaSalle is the film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. His blog is called “Maximum Strength Mick.” Here is what he says about going to church on Easter.

Every time I go to church, which isn’t often, and I’m not bragging, I always come away frustrated at the way the mass is handled these days — with lots of acoustic guitars and folk-style singing. Sometimes I actually end up developing a feeling of hostility toward the ensemble leader, which kind of negates the whole point of going to church right there. But even when I feel in sympathy with these people, who after all are devoting hours and hours and hours of practice to these Sunday performances, I usually get the sense that they’re enjoying themselves a lot more than the Congregation is.

Usually the priest just stands there befuddled, as if thinking, well, if this is what people like, if this is what brings them in, fine with me. But I don’t think this is what’s bringing them in. I think the congregation in most cases is merely tolerating it. In some cases, it may be keeping people away.

I was talking to a former Episcopal pastor yesterday, and he told me that if he were to do it all over again, he’d go entirely the other way. Bring in organ music. Incense. Choirs. Maybe choirs singing in foreign languages. Things to make people feel that they’ve entered another world — a mysterious place where God dwells. Instead what you get in church these days feels 30 years out of date, a throwback to the 1970s, and completely devoid of mystery or emotional power. There’s nothing visceral about it, and this is what this priest was saying: You have to make church a visceral experience — reach them through the emotions — and then, with the sermon, start trying to reach them through the mind.

Advertising a product doesn’t mean you’re cynical about the product. It could mean that you believe you have something worth buying and want to figure out the smartest way to make people want it. I don’t think it would hurt if churches looked into hiring theatrical consultants — or asking for volunteers. Just get some people in who know stage craft. And get rid of the acoustic guitars and the folk music.

I know. This is how critics get in trouble. I went to church and now I’m reviewing the mass.

See: SFGate: Church on Easter.

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