ML wrote: “Recently a friend and I did a lot of research, and with it tried to convince our pastor that to stage Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia in our (Catholic) church was to stage a New Age production. He would not hear of it. He did say that he would never allow if it were New Age. It’s too late – the show (it was billed as a “show” in the local paper) went on as apart of an Earth Day 2010 celebration in our area. I attended and was predictably horrified. I normally would not have attended such an event but wanted to make sure that we were correct in our conclusions about this event. (I went armed with holy water, a miraculous medal, a St. Benedict’s medial and a crucifix.) After I was told by my pastor that he just wanted me to pray for him, rather than to hear anything else that I had to say, my friend and I found a Vatican document that seemed to say that concerts could be allowed in churches but only sacred music could be performed. Could we have used that document to support our argument?”
ML goes on to say in her e-mail that the same pastor allowed two other performances by Paul Winter – one of which was his Winter Solstice program – to be performed in the church. She slo reports that she has not received a reply to the letter she wrote to the Bishop about the problem.
Although the Vatican document, Concerts in Churches, is a good one, I doubt that this would have convinced the pastor not to allow the play – especially because he has allowed plays by Winter in the past. This suggests some familiarity with Winter and his work, which is widely known in New Age circles.
In fact, five of Winter’s albums have won Grammy Awards in the “Best New Age Album” category between 1993 and 2007.
Perhaps the pastor sincerely doesn’t know about Winter’s background, but there is certainly enough information out there to prove that Winter’s work does not belong in a Catholic church.
But before I get into that, for those who are not familiar with Missa Gaia, this is a so-called “Earth Mass,” a musical performance that has been referred to in some Catholic publications as a “contemporary liturgy” that “celebrates the whole earth as a sacred space by integrating recorded sounds such as the calls of wolves, whales, eagles and seals.” (The Tidings – Southern California’s Catholic weekly)
One reporter, writing for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, described what he saw when he attended a performance at St. John’s (Episcopal) Cathedral in downtown Spokane.
“The Kyrie eleison was launched by the recorded call of an Alaskan tundra wolf. Humpback whales introduced the Sanctus and Benedictus. And the Agnus Dei? How about harp seals. This was a communion not with wafers and wine, but with nature.”
This is all presented very innocently to churches, often as a way of celebrating the feast of St. Francis of Assisi in October, which is why the play has been showing up even in Catholic churches around the country.
However, closer scrutiny about the origins and nature of the play raise serious questions about whether or not such a performance is appropriate for inside a Catholic church.
For instance, Winters describes how he came up with the idea in 1980 while serving as an “artist in residence” with fellow musician Jim Scott at the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John in New York City. The Dean of the Cathedral asked him and Scott to create a piece of music for the Sunday morning liturgy.
“The idea of writing a Mass seemed far-flung,” Winters remembers on this Earth Music Productions website.
“I had never even been to a Mass! Trying to imagine what I would want to hear in a truly contemporary Mass, I realized I would want to create a Mass that was both ecumenical and ecological, one which would embrace all the voices of the Earth.”
In a statement appearing on the website of the Unitarian Univeralists Association for their 2000 general assembly, co-creator Jim Scott, says the two of them decided the performance would be “somewhat improvisational, borrow from many religious traditions, mix music of many cultures and even include the voices of other species. We took the name of the Greek goddess Gaia after the writings of James Lovelock, whose ‘Gaia hypothesis’ is that all of life on earth and the earth itself comprises a single living entity that is self-sustaining and, of course, evolving.”
(Lovelock’s theory, by the way, is very popular among New Age eco-spiritualists and is not compatible with Christianity.)
That Missa Gaia is named after a Greek goddess and is based on New Age eco-spirituality should certainly raise a few flags at the pastoral level.
And the fact that it is so popular among “progressive” New Agers in the Catholic church is another proof that the reason it appeals to New Agers is because it IS New Age.
A perfect example occurred in July of 2007 when Missa Gaia was part of a program entitled “Cosmology of Fulfillment,” hosted at the Sophia Center at Oakland’s Holy Name University and featured speakers such as Rosemary Radford Ruether.
California’s Catholic Daily (CCD) reports that an advertisement for the event referred to these speakers as being “mindful scholars of the new cosmology.” This new cosmology “rejects any notion of human superiority over beasts, plants, and inanimate creatures. Further, promoters of the new cosmology, including Ruether, blur the Creator and creation to make the universe the body of God,” the CCD explains.
The CCD points out that Ruether is a very well-known theologian in progressive circles who once said in an undated essay that “all racist, sexist, classist, and anthropocentric assumptions of the superiority of whites over blacks, males over females, managers over workers, humans over animals and plants must be culturally discarded.”
“Ruether also wants to discard patriarchal and hierarchical notions of God; she and other ‘eco-feminists’ have said that God can be called Gaia, the name of the Roman mother earth goddess,” the CCD reports.
They go on to say that “it is perhaps no surprise” that the Sophia Institute would feature Missa Gaia at the same event where Ruether is billed as a speaker.
I also want to point out that the other play ML’s pastor allowed, known as the Winter Solstice, is based on the pagan calendar and is billed by Winter as “a holiday alternative.”
Winter does nothing to hide the pagan/New Age roots of his work, which is why I find it very hard to believe that ML’s pastor is not aware of it. There is something else going on here, about which I’m completely unable to comment upon, and I believe the best thing you can do right now is pray for him.
Rest assured, we will all be joining you in that prayer!
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