The Berets: The Mass for Peace (1969)
Catholics have been composing musical settings for Mass since the days of Gregory the Great and before, but the 1960’s and 1970’s saw the introduction of entirely new styles of music for the sacred mysteries. One of the more innovative productions was the so-called “Mass for Peace” by the Sardinian group the Berets.
I say “so-called” because the whole concept of this being a Mass for peace is something of an afterthought, a method to sell it to a new generation which was enamoured with the anti-war movement and frightened at the possibility of nuclear annihilation. The original of this production was the Italian La Messa dei Giovani (The Mass for Youth). That’s really its aim; in the post-Vatican II, pre-Novus Ordo Missae era, it was a way to appeal to a generation which witness an entire church jettison centuries of liturgical tradition for…well, we know now.
If the idea was to change the way the Mass was celebrated, this isn’t quite the way to go about it. It’s too lively for general liturgical celebration, and too difficult for many parish musicians to handle, a fact that OCP and others have used to inflict two score of banal music on Catholic churches. Although it’s certainly possible to celebrate a Mass like this (the Polish group Czerwono-Czarni proved that, even under Communism, which disliked both rock music and Christianity) such is the exception rather than the rule.
If the idea, however, was to put the Mass as a form of entertainment, it succeeds hands down. It’s not as avant-garde as the Mzsa Beatowa, and as such it is more accessible. It’s really fun in many ways. Like John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper a decade later, it’s constructed on the idea that, although the theological centre of the Mass is the anaphora, the dramatic centre is the Creed, and the Mass’ Creed makes belief so much fun that one feels like dancing. The Lord’s Prayer is without a doubt the most lush and–dare I say it–sensuous rendition of the prayer I have ever heard, appropriate for a wedding or even a prom (without, I might note, the ending doxology Protestants can’t do without).
Putting sacred music in an entertainment setting isn’t new. Handel’s Messiah was criticised on this very account (and this obviously isn’t on that level). Today everyone complains about the entertainment nature of much of our “spiritual” worship. The advantage of the Mass for Peace is that we can call it what it is and enjoy it.
- Sanctus (Holy, Holy)
- Our Father (Lord’s Prayer)
- Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)
- Don’t Kill