Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Holy, holy, holy

Before we begin, go here and listen to the Sanctus from the original recording of the Missa Luba, a Latin Mass in African traditional style sung by a choir of adults and children from the Congolese town of Kamina in Katanga province, with percussion. It was arranged by the Belgian priest Father Guido Haazen and recorded in 1958.

I'll bet Anne remembers the Missa Luba. We became aware of it sometime in the 1960s, and it became widely admired by the counter-cultural generation. It’s popularity coincided with the Second Vatican Council, and seemed to represent an opening up of the Church to the non-Western world, without condescension. It was also widely admired by many in the Civil Rights movement.

I mention it now because the Sanctus was a significant part of the soundtrack for Lindsay Anderson's If, the film I wrote about yesterday, where it played in striking counterpoint to stately Anglican hymns. Last night I listened to the whole Missa Luba ("Luba" refers to the ethnic people of Katanga).

There is irony in the fact that a Latin Mass should become so popular just as Vatican II was dumping Latin for the vernacular. There is also irony in the fact that the reforms of Vatican II coincided with my leaving the Church.

It seemed to me at the time that the reforms were merely window dressing. Instead of addressing the antiquated theology and culture of hocus-pocus, we got guitar Masses. Instead of embracing science and affirming mystery, we got a watering down of a liturgy that for all of its supernaturalism still resonated with nature. Instead of rooting out the entrenched misogyny, homophobia, and triumphalism, we got a pasty "ecumenism" that amounted to nothing at all.

Against all this, the Missa Luba stood out for what seemed to be a truly universal celebration of mystery and goodness.

Sacred music can still make my hair stand on end, as it did last night. It makes no difference that it's in a language that many do not understand; the music is sacred, not the words. Words are the bane of religion. Strip out the Credo and sing the Gloria twice. In Latin. Celebration, not fabulation.