Polka Mass and Adoration

Brian H. Gill's photo: St. Paul's Church with its new addition in the foreground. The St. Faustina Adoration Chapel is to your left. (2019)
(St. Paul’s Church and its new addition. The St. Faustina Adoration Chapel is to your left.)

I thought this was going to be a short and simple look at my parish’s polka Mass and the Adoration Chapel in St. Paul’s parish.

Then I wondered when and where the first polka Mass was. That reminded me of my salad days, ancient philosophers, a Chinese emperor and liturgical dance. Which brought me back to the Eucharist and adoration:

Something New

Our Lady of the Angels: Polka Mass

(Our Lady of the Angels polka Mass, Dale Dahmen & The Polka Beats.)

Our Lady of the Angels had its annual polka Mass in mid-September. I like them.

My wife would like them more, I gather, if more polka bands were less loud. This year’s band was of the less loud variety. Possibly because they were a few members short.

One idea behind our polka Mass is encouraging folks who aren’t regular churchgoers to worship with us.

It’s working, from what I see. Mass attendance wasn’t at Christmas and Easter levels, but was above average.

Polka Masses are a new thing.

They started in the 1970s, when two priests — Father George Balasko and Father Frank Perkovich — who were also polka musicians adapted polka to our liturgy.

Fr. Balasko celebrated the first polka Mass on Memorial Day, 1972. That was at Holy Rosary Church in Lowellville, Ohio.

Fr. Perkovich’s first polka Mass was May 5, 1973, at Resurrection Church in Eveleth, Minnesota. That’s in Minnesota’s Iron Range, home for many Polish-Americans.1

Oompahs and Opinions

Back in the mid-1970s, when I was driving Interstate 94 between Minnesota’s Twin Cities and Moorhead, this part of the state was ‘polka country.’

Every radio station I found in these parts played polka.

That’s changed, but folks here still like polka. Many of them. Many of us, now. My wife and I moved here in the mid-1980s.

I’ve yet to meet someone kvetching about polka tunes at Mass. Maybe that’s due to our German heritage. Or maybe I haven’t sought out sufficiently censorious citizens.

My guess is that a few folks in my town aren’t happy about oompahs during Mass. That may, or may not, explain why our annual Polka Masses seem less exuberant these days.

I’m not sure how many folks have a concern raised in a ZENIT Q & A. Someone apparently couldn’t associate polka with anything but dancing.

A Badger Catholic blog post about polka Mass also inspired negative comments. Polka Masses are, apparently, “tacky and dated,” or “tasteless.”

Another reader apparently didn’t approve because polka is Polish, not German. I don’t know how that person would deal with learning that polka is Bohemian, too.2

But — Polish, German, Bohemian or an American hybrid — I like our annual polka Mass.

It’s not Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor or Beethoven’s Missa solemnis in D major, but neither is what we sing at other Masses.

De Gustibus and All That

I think I understand some objections to music that doesn’t follow conventions of recent generations.

Nostalgia is a factor, likely enough.

De gustibus non est disputandum, so I can’t argue with that.

Speaking of nostalgia, “de gustibus” and so on is Latin; “in matters of taste, there can be no disputes” in my dialect of English. More or less. We’ve trimmed it down to “there’s no accounting taste.”

I’ve read that “de gustibus” is an ancient Roman proverb, which may be true. But I don’t know which collection of ancient Roman proverbs it’s supposed to be from.

The earliest source I found was a paraphrase in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1879-1880 “The Brothers Karamazov.”

A runner-up is Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” written in 1895. And “de gustibus” still adds a touch of class to the occasional literary and scholarly work. Like Phillip K. Dick’s “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.”

And that’s another topic. Almost.3

History, Personal and Otherwise

Mostly About Me

I’ll admit that my tastes, musical and otherwise, are influenced by where and when I’m living.

And by what I’ve experienced.

I started listening to a “Christian” radio station in my teens. I was hoping to learn something that would help me deal with what I now realize was depression.

Instead, I heard ardent condemnations of communism and Catholicism mixed with pronouncements of mankind’s depravity. The station also featured enthusiastic promotions of the latest End Times Bible Prophecy books.

I didn’t take the doomsayers seriously.

I’m not sure why. Maybe because I hadn’t been brought up to believe that anyone spouting Bible verses must be right. Or maybe I noticed that the wannabe prophets and their promoters were pushing a book.

Besides, I knew that “The End Is Near” cartoons had been around for decades.

They still are.

Where was I? Oompahs during Mass. Opinions. Wannabe prophets and cartoons. Right.

Diatribes against “blasphemous jungle music” weren’t that radio station’s mainstay. But I got the impression that newfangled music or ideas were not welcome.

Unintended Consequences and Ancient Philosophers

The drip feed of guilt — and wacky prognostications based on “Biblical” numerology — helped me learn to love rock and roll. And eventually become a Catholic. (September 29, 2017; November 15, 2016)

I’m pretty sure that’s not even close to what the station’s supporters had in mind.

Decades later, I still like rock: and pretty much any music that’s played well.

And I haven’t become convinced that thou shalt be saved by Gregorian chants, Christian rock or polka. Although I enjoy all of the above.

Oddly enough, I suspect that calling musical styles good or bad isn’t entirely unreasonable.

Folks like Plato and Aristotle said that music encourages or produces attributes like virility or being at ease. Or at least affects our emotions and minds. Others didn’t agree.

About a century later, Sextus Empiricus wrote “Against the Musicians.” He apparently figured that music was useful for happiness, or maybe it wasn’t. Either way, he said theoretical discussions of music were a waste of time.

Philodemus saw music pretty much the same way.4

Don’t bother trying to memorize these names, not on my account. There won’t be a test.

Another Ancient Philosopher

Mozi — another name you needn’t remember — would have been a Renaissance man, if he’d lived two millennia later and been European.

He was born in Lu, a state that isn’t there any more.

We might know more about him, if Qin Shi Huang hadn’t allegedly burned scholarly texts in 212 BC. And buried scholars the next year. While they were still alive.

What we know about those incidents comes from Sima Qian’s “Records of the Grand Historian.” Sima Qian worked for the Han dynasty, about a century after Qin Shi Huang.

I gather that Qin Shi Huang, “First Emperor of Qin,” is more of a title than a name. Qin etcetera’s name is Ying Zheng or Zhao Zheng. Anyway —

Mozi wasn’t among the targeted scholars. He died a couple decades before Qin Shi Huang founded the Qin dynasty.5

The Emperor’s Unrecorded Book-Burning

Some contemporary scholars say the book-burning didn’t happen.

Mainly because there aren’t official records of the incidents. Besides, a Han dynasty scholar might have told the story to discredit Han’s predecessor.

Today’s take on the scholarly live burials seems to be that maybe some scholars were killed, but they weren’t buried alive.

And weren’t executed for being Confucian.

That may or may not need explaining. I’ll talk about it anyway.

Qin Shi Huang’s official philosophy was “legalism.” The moniker’s insufficiently accurate, and that’s yet another topic.

The point is that Qin Shi Huang’s “legalism” and Confucianism weren’t compatible. The allegedly-buried scholars were Confucians, and so — presumably — were the books. As an anti-Confucian, Mozi would have been safe. Probably.

But Mozi wouldn’t have enjoyed support from an early-Qin analog of the American Guild of Musical Artists.

He thought musical performances were a waste of time and resources. I see his point.

Particularly since he lived when the Hundred Schools of Thought overlapped the Warring States period. That was not a serene era. At all.

Confucians like Mengzi and Xunzi said music shouldn’t be judged on what my culture calls practical results, but in how it shapes morals and solidarity. Or “social cohesion, … moral and psychological development,” as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says.

I think Mengzi and Xunze were on the right track, too. But I grew up in the Sixties, so maybe that’s not surprising.

A couple dozen centuries after Plato and Mozi, we’ve learned more about how music affects us. And, from what I’ve read, we’re not much closer to agreeing on music’s role in our lives and societies.6

Solemnity, Sincerity and Celebration

I wouldn’t insist that all Catholic parishes must have at least one polka Mass each year. Or Gregorian chants. Or Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor.

I do think that music and worship go together. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1156)

Liturgical music should score on three criteria: “…beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration….” (Catechism, 1157)

That last point, “the solemn character of the celebration,” seem to rule out polka Masses.

Polka doesn’t strike me as being particularly solemn. Not in the sense of being serious, dignified and restrained.

It’d take doing to make a polka “dark or undecorated,” as one dictionary puts it. I’m pretty sure it could be done, though.

I’ve heard “Joy to the World” played — and sung — so slowly, it sounded like a dirge. On the ‘up’ side, the next hymn wasn’t “Oh Woe, All Ye Faithful.”

On the other hand, solemn can mean “made with deep sincerity.”7

I’m pretty sure that folks can be deeply sincere without sounding like they’re singing J. S. Bach’s “Come, Sweet Death, come, blessed rest.” Maybe even upbeat and uptempo.

Bear in mind that I like Baroque and Rococo. And polka.

That doesn’t mean I think our Holy Thursday Mass should include a Bavarian brass band belting out liturgically-appropriate lyrics set to The Duck Dance’s tune.

Propriety and Perspectives

David Danced, Uzzah Died

(From James Tissot, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Tissot’s “David Danced Before the Lord with All His Might.” (c. 1896-1902))

Folks clashing over “proper” religious behavior didn’t start with Vatican II.

Take David’s dance, for example.

But first, a little background. King Saul’s son, Jonathan, and David had been friends. Saul feared that David was after his throne. That led to considerable unpleasantness and, eventually, Saul’s death.

It’s complicated. On top of that, 1 and 2 Samuel don’t agree on details. Not by contemporary Western standards.

Long story short, Philistines captured the Ark, David dodged Saul’s would-be-lethal attacks and became king. Picking up the story in 2 Samuel 6, David and a massive escort are returning with the recovered Ark.

And they’re not being solemn. Not in the stuffed shirt sense.

“They transported the ark of God on a new cart and took it away from the house of Abinadab on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the cart,
“with Ahio walking before it,
“David and all the house of Israel danced before the LORD with all their might….”
(2 Samuel 6:35)

Two verses later, Uzzah, son of Abinadab, is dead. Struck down by God, 2 Samuel 6:7 says.

Maybe that could be a proof verse for devotees of the Perpetually Peevish God. By itself, it fits perceptions that God has anger management issues.

Michal, Saul’s daughter, berated David for dancing like a commoner. God apparently didn’t mind, though, since David stayed alive for a considerable time after that.

Uzzah, the Ark, and Blame Games

Uzzah’s death seems unfair.

God had been almost sluggish in penalizing the Philistines for disrespecting the Ark. Why pick on Uzzah?

Maybe it’s because the Philistines didn’t realize that the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was — God. Uzzah did. Or should have. David, too.

What’s odd, in a way, is that God didn’t smite Abinadab, Ahio and David, too. That’s applying my culture’s ‘angry God’ belief and our notion of fairness.

Uzzah — his name means “strength” — should have known that hauling the Ark on a cart wasn’t the right way to carry it. Maybe the cart was Abinadab’s idea, and Uzzah didn’t want to correct his father. Or maybe both of them were clueless.

Either way, using a cart was a breach of protocol.

So was touching the Ark.

Abinadab and sons should have known that touching the Ark, or other sacred objects, would be lethal. (Numbers 4:15)

David would arguably have been held responsible, too. By contemporary American standards, at least. He’d been in charge of the operation.

Even if David hadn’t handled the logistics personally, he’d have noticed that the Ark was on “a new cart,” as 2 Samuel 6:3 puts it.8

Carrying the blame game into overtime, someone could accuse God of criminal negligence. I wouldn’t, but I’ve been living in a lawsuit-happy society, and that’s yet again another topic for another day.

Documentation, Folklore and Assumptions

Near East in 1000 BC by Thomas LessmanDavid, Uzzah, Michal and all lived and died about three millennia back.

I think they’re real people. And that they lived in what we call the Kingdom of Israel’s United Monarchy.

That may take explaining, considering post-Enlightenment assumptions.

Documentation for the United Monarchy is almost entirely in Hebrew Sacred Scriptures: our Old Testament. What’s there doesn’t quite add up. Not by today’s literalist standards.

It was a significant player in the region, at least during Solomon’s reign. Or maybe a major annoyance, from its neighbors’ viewpoints.

The United Monarchy didn’t last long. Rehoboam started as the United Monarchy’s king and ended as king of Judah.

Assyrians conquered the southern kingdom two centuries later.

Then the Neo-Babylonian Empire’s Nebuchadnezzar II rolled over Judah. He relocated the Israelites to Babylonia. Cyrus II of Persia sent them back, and that’s another still another topic.

Since then, Israel’s territory has conquered or occupied by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, assorted caliphates, crusaders and the Ottoman Empire. Egypt, pharaonic and contemporary, has been in the mix, too.

I’m not surprised that we don’t have detailed Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian documentation for the tribes of Issachar, Naphtali and all.

Stuff gets lost as millennia roll by: including records of minor border territories.

And some things are passed along as oral tradition, like John Henry’s life and death.

Sometimes imaginative details get added to biographies of high-profile people. Like Washington’s cherry tree incident.

And sometimes once-important places are remembered mostly in folklore and myth.

It wasn’t until fairly recently, for example, that we found evidence that Dilmun was real.

Thinking that David is a real person doesn’t mean I believe that the Bible is word-for-word true: by contemporary Western standards.9

Time, Place and Being Appropriate

Music and (Sometimes) Dance

Maybe music that’s associated with dancing isn’t appropriate for Mass.

And maybe themed Masses take focus away from the reason we’re worshiping.

On the other hand, maybe recognizing regional culture a few times a year is a good idea. (Catechism, 1202)

I suspect that America’s Puritan heritage doesn’t help us accept insufficiently-Puritan practices. Not that all Puritans were fanatical killjoys.

They apparently believed that setting Psalms to music was okay. Choral singing and organs, not so much.

Liturgical dance wasn’t part of Puritan worship. The last I checked, it’s not allowed in Catholic worship either. Not in my part of the world.

Liturgical dance is allowed, even encouraged, in some other cultures.10

I think liturgical dance is a good idea. But we’re not ready for it. Not yet.

But polka Mass? I figure it’s not appropriate for celebrations like Holy Thursday or the Feast of the Holy Innocents. But otherwise, I don’t have a problem with it.

Constants and Variables

Song and music have been and are an important part of Catholic worship. (Catechism, 11561158)

That hasn’t changed.

But sacred music’s form and style?

That’s been changing, and still is.

Gregorian chants, for example, didn’t catch on until Gregory I’s day. Give or take a few generations.

Some of us, mostly musical specialists, are still singing them. But monophonic plainsongs haven’t been current for centuries.

Likely enough, some folks had conniptions when a mix of Roman and Gallican chants started replacing Ambrosian chants. Today, a millennium later, Gregorian chants seem like something we’ve always done.

A millennium from now, maybe some Catholics will be complaining about newfangled Mass music because it isn’t like Missa Luba.

Or Mass in F Minor by The Electric Prunes. Or polka Mass music. Or whatever traditional (lower-case “t”) sacred music sounded like in their ‘good old days.’11

With or without liturgical dance, and whatever sort of music is involved, Mass is a big deal. Talking about that means backing up about two millennia.

“This is My Body”

Public Relations and Peter

The Last Supper, James Tissot (between 1886 and 1894)
(From James Tissot, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Tissot’s “Last Supper.” (c. 1886-1894))

Before our Lord was tortured and executed, Jesus celebrated the Passover with folks we call the Apostles. (Matthew 26: 1730; Mark 14: 1226; Luke 22:7: 20; John 13:114:31)

That’s when Jesus added something to the procedure described in Exodus 12.

“Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’
“And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
(Luke 22:1920)

The Apostles didn’t seem shocked by being told to eat our Lord’s body and drink his blood. Most likely, I figure, because they’d heard it before.

Like the time our Lord’s followers caught up with him in Capernaum.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
(John 6:5354)

Saying “eat me” to his followers wasn’t a smart move. Not from a public relations viewpoint. Quite a few disciples didn’t like what they heard and left. (John 6:6066)

Others realized that, like it or not, following Jesus of Nazareth was the only viable option.

“Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
“We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.'”
(John 6:6769)

A Very Big Deal

Claiming divinity has a long history, from Naram-Sin to Aleister Crowley and his Thelema religion.12

What’s different about our Lord’s claim is that a few days after being executed, Jesus stopped being dead. (April 21, 2019)

That got the surviving disciples’ attention. (Acts 1:612, 2:141)

Where was I? Polka. Gregorian chants. Truth and Aleister Crowley. Right.

Someone started calling that famous Passover celebration the Last Supper. Maybe it was St. Augustine of Hippo, in Tracate 109. Maybe it was someone else. Whoever coined the term, it caught on.

I was born a couple millennia after the Last Supper, but I’ve been there. Often. In a way.

I’m a Catholic, so Mass is a big deal for me. That’s because Jesus of Nazareth is a big deal.

Every time we hear ‘this is my body … this is my blood,’ we’re with our Lord at that Passover meal, and Golgotha, and beyond.

We call Mass the Holy Sacrifice, among other things, “…because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering….” (Catechism, 13221405, especially 1330)

It’s more than just a memorial or reminder.13

Jesus is really there, in the Eucharist: physically present, even though my senses tell me that the unleavened bread and wine are still bread and wine. (Catechism, 13241327, 1378)

And that, as I’ve said, is a big deal. A very big deal.

In the Adoration Chapel

Hanging Out With Our Lord

(Monstrance holding the Eucharist in St. Paul’s St. Faustina Adoration Chapel.)

The St. Faustina Adoration Chapel isn’t about adoring St. Faustina Kowalska, although her Divine Mercy devotion is important in this town.

The Adoration Chapel is a place set aside for Eucharistic adoration.14

It’s a room with stained glass windows, an altar and monstrance, benches, chairs, and varying numbers of folks apparently doing nothing much except being quiet.

Some of them will be reading. Some are praying or just sitting there. When I’m there, I’ll be reading or just sitting there. Apparently.

What we’ve got in common — I assume — is that we’re all there to adore our Lord.

Adoration, acknowledging that God’s God and I’m not, is my first reasonable attitude toward God. (Catechism, 2628, 20962096)

For me, part of adoration is spending an hour a week, sometimes more, in the Adoration Chapel. Health and weather permitting.

I’ve got options for how I spend my time there.

Sometimes I’ll pick up a Bible or Catechism from the bookshelves. Sometimes a book about Saints or being Catholic.

This week I took one of the ‘an hour with Jesus’ booklets from the pamphlet rack. It had topics for meditation and contemplation, prayers: more material than I could handle in two or more hours, judging from how far I got.

Sometimes I’ll just come in, pay my respects, (silently) say a short prayer and chill out. That sounds less highfalutin than saying that I send my mind on a quest: seeking why and how I should live, so that I might “adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking.” (Catechism, 2705)

Quite often, I don’t come with any particular goal in mind. Other than hanging out with our Lord. Which, again, is a big deal.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

1 Primarily polka:

2 Opinions:

3 Latin, yes; ancient, maybe not so much:

4 Musing on music:

5 Mozi and the emperor:

6 Various views:

7 The importance of being solemn:

8 The Ark, David and Uzzah:

9 History, oral and otherwise:

10 Worship and culture:

11 Music, mostly:

12 Assorted claims:

13 Jesus and Mass:

  • Vatican
  • Definitions

    EUCHARIST: The ritual, sacramental action of thanksgiving to God which constitutes the principal Christian liturgical celebration of and communion in the paschal mystery of Christ. The liturgical action called the Eucharist is also traditionally known as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is one of the seven sacraments of the Church; the Holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation (1322 ff.). The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life (2177). See Mass.”
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

    MASS: The Eucharist or principal sacramental celebration of the Church, established by Jesus at the Last Supper, in which the mystery of our salvation through participation in the sacrificial death and glorious Resurrection of Christ is renewed and accomplished. The Mass renews the paschal sacrifice of Christ as the sacrifice offered by the Church. It is called “Mass” (from the Latin missa) because of the “mission” or “sending” with which the liturgical celebration concludes. (Latin: ‘Ite, Missa est.’) (1322; cf. 1088, 1382, 2192). See Eucharist; Paschal Mystery/Sacrifice.”
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

    TRANSUBSTANTIATION: The scholastic term used to designate the unique change of the Eucharistic bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. ‘Transubstantiation’ indicates that through the consecration of the bread and the wine there occurs the change of the entire substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ, and of the entire substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ—even though the appearances or ‘species’ of bread and wine remain (1376).”
    (Catechism, Glossary)

  • NewAdvent.org

14 Eucharistic adoration:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to Polka Mass and Adoration

  1. irishbrigid says:

    Missing word: “Besides, I knew that “The End Is Near” cartoons had around for decades.”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Thanks for taking time to comment!