The chant of Elton Johnby Michael McGirr
The pop star, Sir Elton John, has expressed the view this week that all religion should be banned. He was reported as saying that religion turned people into ‘hateful lemmings.’ It would have been more accurate if Sir Elton had said that religion makes people eat ‘hateful lamingtons’. It is no coincidence that in the small town of Inner Springs, population 531, the address of the Anglican Church is Lamington Drive.
Our Catholic priest, Fr Thong, was saddened by Sir Elton’s remarks about religion. He has retaliated by refusing any more to play Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as a communion reflection. Besides, unlike Elton himself, the cassette Fr Thong bought in 1975 has been starting to show signs of age. Elton John has been the Gregorian Chant of Fr Thong’s priesthood.
Fr Thong once described Sir Elton as the greatest liturgical musician of the Vatican II era. Asked to explain, he pointed out that Candle in the Wind was really a reflection on the experience of saying Mass out of doors. And Saturday Night’s Alright was, he believed, written to support the introduction of the vigil Mass the night before Sunday. At one point, Fr Thong informed his congregation that there was no need to kneel in preparation for communion after the sign of peace. He substituted I’m Still Standing for the Lamb of God.
Generations of young Catholics in Thong’s parishes have made their first confession to the strains of Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. They all sung Sacrifice during their first Holy Communion; Thong added a few words of his own so the kids could sing the line ‘sacrifice of the Mass’ to more or less the same tune. At one point, Thong had written to Sir Elton asking for advice about vestments. He never received a reply.
Now this fine tradition is in jeopardy.
Fr Thong was not to know that Sir Elton’s comments on religion were a pre-emptive strike. Sir Elton is one of the few pop stars not to have sided with religion.
Britney Spears vowed and swore to maintain her virginity. Two marriages later, her promise is under review but she’s already banked the money she made from swarms of clean living half-naked Christian teenagers. Cat Stevens had the sense to take up Islam and to renounce the scandalous lyrics of hits such as Peace Train. A number of Christian social activist lawyers are pro Bono. Even our own Guy Sebastian is an outed Christian. Sebastian was the first Australian idol, putting his career somewhat at odds with the first commandment which prohibits all idols, Australian or otherwise.
This has left Sir Elton without a religious constituency to buy his records. As a result, he is vulnerable to Pope Benedict’s renewed fervour for the Latin liturgy. Sir Elton hasn’t written too many Latin songs although he has been rumoured to want to set the entire Aeneid to the tune, if you can call it that, of Benny and the Jets.
Pope Benedict is perfectly right to want the Mass back in Latin. The whole thing works much better when nobody has a clue what it’s about. It stops them asking awkward questions. It’s just that it leaves the likes of Sir Elton in liturgical limbo. Well, it would have done except for the fact that the Pope is thinking of closing limbo down.
Apparently, he has been concerned that plans for World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 may have involved the Holy Father doing some limbo dancing. The Pope is not as young as he used to be. He thought that limbo dancing would probably leave him unable to move and, ever since some trendy Marxist infiltrators thought the Pope should walk on the same earth as Jesus, his job no longer comes with the perk of a sedan chair. He decided to cut the whole idea off at the knees.
My neighbour, Cardinal Shallots, is in two minds about the resurgence of the Latin mass.
‘On the one hand,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t really matter. Mass is such a way out idea that nobody can understand it no matter what language it’s in. It may as well be in Swahili for all I can figure it out.’
‘What about the other hand?’
‘Ah yes, I suppose that’s the left hand. The basic Christian insight is that God speaks our language. Sure, we can never understand God. But we believe God understands us.’