Lessons and Carols, December 2, 2011
Church of the Gesu Milwaukee, WI (The church was named after the founding Jesuit church in Rome: Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesu – Church of the Holy Name of Jesus.)
The Christmas concert at Marquette was beautiful – an attempt to put new life into tired myths was laudable. The concert was held in the upper church of the Gesu. This is the “Upstairs Church” of theologian and N.C.R. columnist Jamie Manson. (A distinction she made at the 2011 C.T.A. Conference. Upstairs = formal and in conformity; downstairs = pastoral and politically challenging). The hymns were in English, and impeccable Latin. The student choir was mostly white. I did notice one African American singer and a few Asians in the large choir that I guess was over one hundred students.
I doubt that a concert of such Roman Catholic magnitude could have been done at Marquette when I first arrived as a freshman in 1953. John Walsh, S.J.’s theatre productions were as skilled or more so, but the resulting catharsis was not directed by official Roman Catholic theology. Walsh’s life changing Masses in the basement church are another story, but the place did bring back memories. I remembered the basement church of my student days with renewed Faith and joy. Let’s call it the church of Yeshua – the homeless Jewish handyman from occupied Galilee.
It was liturgy in the round. Music and readings were from the four directions encircling the church. Participation of the congregation was requested and achieved. As a dry Mass, the concert was structured as a dramatization of the battle between good and evil. The singing began with a traditional English Carol, “The Lord Did Adam Make,” explaining creation and original sin. The “good” wins by Jesus shedding his Blood. (E’en So, Lord Quickly Come) Finally victory is confirmed with an outstanding rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from the Messiah.
The result was beautiful but troubling. The congregation was walled in the church by the four directional music and readings. We participated, but did not question. It was a liturgical retro return to cultural - theological Vatican dominance.
It fits, of course. The Marquette sports symbol is the Golden Eagle, the same as the Roman Empire (see www.caerleon.net/history/army/page5.html). The Roman Empire executed Jesus (Gesu), but the fundamentalist theology that explains the Stations of the Cross claims that Rome is innocent. The 1st Station (“Via Crucis” – Way of the Cross) on the eastern wall of Gesu Church shows the Roman Governor Pilate washing his hands of the execution. Rome is sanctified. The Jews were blamed as is presented on the 9th Station on the west wall where men of the Torah denounce Jesus (Gesu) after he falls.
A white male priest in a clerical suit with a Roman collar gave the final blessing. There was no “ita missa est” (go the mass is ended) charge to change unjust political structures. The handyman’s “Good News” that peace is possible through non violent political action was left to boil over from downstairs.