CNP Logo Home
Online Catalog
Musical Musings
Liturgical Planners
Submit Your Music
Contact Us
Company Description
CanticaNOVA Publications
Bookmark and Share

Wardrobe Malfunction:
Polyester Liturgy

by Gary Penkala

Rockin' the 70s

I just attended a "Polyster Liturgy" [note: they're never called "Masses"]. It was in a very big church. It reminded me of the picture to the right. If I had to attend or be a part of these on a regular basis, I know I'd die of cyclamate poisoning.

One generally can't avoid Polyester Liturgies these days — they're hanging on, still being planned, implemented and attended. For those who want a little protection, though, here are some warning signs:

  • It will be in a large church [e.g. cathedral, basilica, etc.].
  • There will be brass… and probably timpani … and don't rule out crash cymbals.
  • It might be solemn; but certainly ostentatious.
  • Latin will be missing.
  • Sung dialogues between priest or deacon and congregation: absent.
  • The congregation will sing, though, to the point of vocal exhaustion.
  • There will be HYMNS — many — at least four and probably more.
  • The first hymn will be a "Gathering Song."
  • The music will attempt to be inclusive and multi-cultural.
  • No chant will be heard, or it will be relegated to a token, inconsequential "prelude" spot.
  • Propers — what??
  • The choir will exercise a role of "supporting the assembly's song" … and nothing more.
  • There won't be guitars; after all, we are "dressing up" in a suit (albeit leisure type).
  • Handbells — why not?
  • Don't expect to hear Bach or Vierne on the organ.
  • Congregational Mass parts will be predictable.
  • All Mass music will be from a famous Midwest publisher.
  • There will be worship aids and a strongly miked "song leader."
  • The homily will be coherent, but innocuous.
  • Expect Eucharistic Prayer III — can't use II; we are dressin' up, ya know.
  • Communion time will be filled with a mini sing-along of three or more assembly songs.
  • Then a "Meditation Hymn" will be sung by everyone.
  • Planning was done by committee.

If you're in a small parish, you're probably safe from Polyester Liturgy, although there are many other liturgical fashion faux pas that might plague you.

But otherwise, is there a fix? Sure … and it's easy. In planning, steer toward what the Church wants, rather than what a prelate or a priest prefers or what a 1980s-minded music committee orchestrates.

Your fashion prescription: use some Latin, some Propers, some good organ music, some choral motets (during Mass), fewer hymns, less amplification, Catholic-identity items (like litanies, and antiphons, and chanted psalmody, and processions).

It's hard to find a leisure suit on anyone in the congregation anymore. May the Polyester Liturgy have the same fate … soon!

Article written 20 August 2014

CanticaNOVA Publications / PO Box 1388 / Charles Town, WV 25414-7388
Send website comments or questions to: