Beyoncé Mass

‘Beyoncé Mass’ Adds to Episcopal Cathedral Excess

on April 27, 2018

No, it wasn’t a service intended to facilitate worship of music superstar Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, as one Nigerian publication incorrectly reported, but the recent “Beyoncé mass” at San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral was predictably over-the-top.

According to glowing reports from California media, the gathering themed around the song catalogue of the former Destiny’s Child lead singer attracted approximately 900 participants to the April 25 midweek worship service. The crowd size was far in excess of the Episcopal congregation’s average Sunday attendance, which has dropped from 900 to 600 in the past decade.

The Beyoncé mass joins a long list of themed Eucharistic celebrations, among them the U2charist, the Dr. Seuss-themed “Seusscharist”, and the Clown Eucharist. Some feature artists’ popular music interspersed within an otherwise normal prayer book service, while the more outlandish have clergy dressed in costume.

Each share a common attribute: projects of mainline Protestants eager for media exposure and recognition as liturgical innovators.

Knowles-Carter has not publicly identified herself with the Episcopal Church – or the Christian faith in general – nor did she participate in the Grace Cathedral event. The performer’s identity as an African-American woman did shape the liturgy, with participants given a womanist version of the Lord’s Prayer to recite addressed to “Our Mother”. The prayer’s plea to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” was exchanged for “Separate us from the temptation of empire, But deliver us into community.”

Participants also joined in a “calling out” for those in bondage to homophobia, transphobia, and patriarchy, interspersed with a stanza from the song “Freedom”: “Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move Freedom, cut me loose!”

Grace Cathedral is not a newcomer to this field, having hosted a variety of outlandish events going back decades, including a “Rave Mass” in 1994. Episcopal diocesan cathedrals in Washington, D.C. and New York have also hosted oddball celebrations: in 2009 the Washington National Cathedral organized and hosted “Sacred Circles: A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality” featuring pagan idolatry in which gifts were offered up to summon spirits. More recently, the Cathedral offered “sacred breath yoga” complete with “sound bath meditation with crystal bowls”.

Grace cathedral’s most enduring contribution has been the modern Labyrinth movement, in which progressive Episcopal churches offer a vague promise of spiritual awakening found more often in eastern mysticism and untethered from the person of Jesus Christ.

Cathedrals are expensive buildings to operate and maintain, which led the Washington National Cathedral in 2014 to make the space available to rent for corporate events.

In 2007, George Conger of Anglican Ink reported how the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York leased its premises to the singer Elton John to celebrate his 60th birthday:

John, who months before gave voice to his disdain for Christianity, noting he would “ban religion completely … Organized religion doesn’t seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings, and it’s not really compassionate,” turned the Diocese of New York’s cathedral into a ballroom.

The New York Post reported that for John’s party “the altar was set up as a stage for the performers, which included the trendy rock group Scissor Sisters, Sting and Paul McCartney.”

The full text of the womanist Lord’s Prayer recited at Grace Cathedral is below:

“Our Mother,
who is in heaven and within us,
We call upon your names.
Your wisdom come.
Your will be done,
In all the spaces in which You dwell.
Give us each day
Sustenance and perseverance.
Remind us of our limits as
we give grace to the limits of others.
Separate us from the temptation of empire,
But deliver us into community.
For you are the dwelling place within us
the empowerment around us
and the celebration among us
now and for ever.”

Video from the “calling out” segment of the service:

  1. Comment by Larry Collins on April 27, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    I just threw up. This isn’t authentic Christianity at worship. This is a caricature of Christianity turned into a feminist party.
    But then then Episcopal Church long ago took a left hand turn on a downhill slide.
    Pitiful and sad.

  2. Comment by Judy Bailey on April 28, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    I agree it’s was sickening. Where was our Triune God
    In any of this? Yes, the Episcopal Church chose to fall from Grace so many years ago and it is very sad. As Billy Graham said “the Word of God is infalliible”. When we seek Him we are given discernment to choose the way of righteousness.

  3. Comment by Gregg on April 29, 2018 at 8:23 am

    How many of those 900 in attendance even knew where the cathedral was prior to the “event?” And how many will be back on Sunday?

  4. Comment by Rev Dr BK Hipsher on April 29, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Some of the comments I’m reading around the inter webs this morning are painful and malicious. And so many said of the teachings of Jesus in his day. Using contemporary music as part of calling a community of love together is the key to keeping religious practice alive. God(dess) bless those who conceived this and birthed it. God’s love is not packed in mothballs from the first century. It is alive!

  5. Comment by Daniel G. on December 7, 2018 at 10:57 am

    Seriously? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. This so-called mass is a blasphemy. This was not about Jesus but about “let’s feel good about ourselves.” I doubt you are a real pastor but if you are, shame on you. Oh, you don’t believe in shaming, pity. Oh, you don’t believe in pity, well too bad.

  6. Comment by Dan on April 29, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    I was part of a UMC Emmaus community that did clown communion on a regular basis. The servers dressed up in full clown regalia to serve communion. Although I’ve tried to put it out of my mind, I seem to remember that they presented the elements for consecration and then served them in pantomime with the customary exaggerated motions. I can’t remember if the celebrant also was costumed as a clown. I always felt this was extremely sacrilegious but never worked up the courage to say anything.

  7. Comment by Rev. Debbie Mak on May 1, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    The “Clown Communion” you are referring to, Dan, is supposed to be a part of the Chrysalis (the youth version of Walk to Emmaus) and is done in Pantomime attire, not a clown costume. If a Walk to Emmaus community was using it on their weekends they were violating the covenant they made with the Upper Room who has very strict guidelines to insure inappropriate teaching does not take place.

    Pantomime does involve exaggerated motions to draw attention to the story. When this type of communion is done, there is a cross on the altar along with a loaf of bread and a cup. The two pantomime celebrants are typically a man and a woman. As appropriate music plays, one mime presents the loaf of bread to the other who cradles it much as one would a baby. Then the other picks up a long spike and reaches for the bread. The mime holding it resists handing it over but does and the bread is placed on the cross and the spike goes through it. The loaf is then broken in two and placed on cloths. The cross is lifted (a specially designed cross with a reservoir in it holding grape juice) and the juice is poured out of the cross into the cup. When done in the context of intended, with 15 – 18 year olds, it is very effective and quite moving. Having served as a spiritual director on both Emmaus and Chrysalis weekends for more than 25 years, I can honestly say that I have seen students transformed by this experience. Might I add, this was always done under the supervision and indirect participation of an ordained minister and the elements were always consecrated appropriately.

    I am sorry that your experience was a disappointment.

  8. Comment by Dan on May 1, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks for your explanation. I do believe our Emmaus community did not follow everything exactly as prescribed.

    Having been raised in the Episcopal church and serving as an altar boy, Holy Communion was a very important part of the service and required a lot of interaction between priest and altar boy. I therefore grew up with a very “high” view of Holy Communion. I suppose this explains my negative reaction to “clown” communion. I had a similar very negative reaction when the UMC introduced communion of the unbaptized as an acceptable practice.

  9. Comment by +CJIII on April 30, 2018 at 12:03 am

    The “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society”, aka the episcopal church of sodomy and abortion.

  10. Comment by Paul Zesewitz on May 1, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    Wow. I am all for a gender-neutral God as far as a pastoral prayer and what not. But when a service changes the word Father to Mother in the Lord’s Prayer, that is nothing less than idol worship. One way or another, it smacks of apostasy. Jesus called God, “Abba Father”, not “Abba Mother’. I suggest we stick to His words, not the words of the Episcopal Church.

  11. Comment by John on May 2, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    “Wow. I am all for a gender-neutral God as far as a pastoral prayer and what not. But…”

    Nice to see that you’re worried about blatant idol-worshipping heresy as long as it’s gender-neutral and respectful of mental illnesses, Paul.

  12. Comment by Parris West on May 2, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    The Episcopal Church (TEC) aka Trashing Everything Christian

  13. Comment by Dominic Gabriel Koenig on May 2, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    People who think the Paschal Mystery needs to be “made meaningful” would seem to think that an occasion when time stops and we enter both the past and future as their Lord (and ours) enters us is somehow not meaningful enough on its own.

    Heretical prayers and contemporary music cannot fix a problem like that. I have nothing against the artful (and orthodox) inclusion of any sort of music in the liturgy. But the switching of symbolic cosmologies from Semitic celestial monotheism to pantheistic, chthonic gnosticis amounts to a switch of religions.

    And the profanation of the sacred mysteries of Xtianity into a sort of stunt, however much brief attention it draws is perilous and pathetic.

    I worked for the Diocese of California in 1971. I received Episcopal orders in 1977. I renounced them and swam the Tiber in 1994.

    Be careful, lest you also cause little ones to stumble.

  14. Comment by Jim Mitulski on May 11, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Reading the nastiness and pettiness of the critical comments here – mostly by people who weren;t there- persuade me to remain open to what happened at this Mass. So many of our churches are small in number, and resistant to change. I love seeing the Catehedral full of young and diverse people . I know these critical comments are meant to show how clever and sophisticated the critics are in their orthodox faith. It’s really unattractive, a much worse witness than people trying to people who have been alienated form church by the kind of people who talk like this. I have served as a campus minister- and I’m glad most of these commentators are not the ones providing pastoral care to young people.

  15. Comment by Daniel G. on December 7, 2018 at 10:59 am

    Jim, Christ doesn’t need to be repackaged to be relevant. Get your thoughts and attitude correct.

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