Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Une Les Misérables Sainte Eucharistie at York Minster?

The following should make you think about why you attend a service of Holy Eucharist. Is it for entertainment, or is it about worship of God, or is it for love of Christ? Can the service engage in imagination through theatrics and still lead people to true repentance and regeneration?

"A communion service set to the music of Les Miserables will be held at York Minster at 7.30pm on Sunday 19th January. Led by Transcendence, a team which holds a regular Multimedia Eucharist at York Minster, this service will feature prayers and hymns set to the tunes from the famous musical." 
"The Revd Sue Wallace, who will be preaching at the service, helped found Transcendence with the Revd Jeremy Fletcher and a group from the Visions multimedia arts collective" (From the Diocese of York)
I fear that the large numbers attending this entertaining service will merely be engaged and not necessarily led to repentance and thanks for God's sacrifice, and they will not be back in equally large numbers the next week.

When I first encountered Les Misérables, it was as an assigned reading in French class back in High School. Later, I watched the 1935 film starring Fredric March, Charles Laughton,  and Cedric Hardwicke (which I highly recommend).

When the musical came out, I was not planning on watching it as I thought it was a stupid idea. Unfortunately, family pressures forced me to endure the movie once it was out on DVD. At the time, I wondered what Victor Hugo would think about the musical, but now I have to wonder what Hugo would think about the Misérables Eucharist.

Hugo was a "Rationalist" (human reason, or understanding, is the sole source and final test of all truth), and many of his works were banned by the Catholic Church as noted at the Patheos blog,

"...he became a non-practicing Catholic, and increasingly expressed anti-Catholic and anti-clerical views. He frequented Spiritism during his exile (where he participated also in many séances conducted by Madame Delphine de Girardin), and in later years settled into a Rationalist Deism similar to that espoused by Voltaire. A census-taker asked Hugo in 1872 if he was a Catholic, and he replied, 'No. A Freethinker'... 

...the frequency with which Hugo’s work appeared on the Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Hugo counted 740 attacks on Les Misérables in the Catholic press). On the deaths of his sons Charles and François-Victor, he insisted that they be buried without a crucifix or priest, and in his will made the same stipulation about his own death and funeral. The End of Satan and God (1886 and 1891 respectively, in which he represents Christianity as a griffin and Rationalism as an angel). 'Religions pass away, but God remains'” 

Since he was a rationalist, I suspect Victor Hugo might fit in well with the modern Church of England and with many in the Episcopal church, so I am forced to conclude that Hugo is both smiling and turning over in his grave over this most  recent attempt by the Church to become more relevant.

This conclusion was made through the use of rationalist thought and has therefore passed the final
test of truth.

If you are interested in an eye-witness account of the Les Mis Mass, go to LizClutterbuck


  1. Pewster,
    I have mixed feelings about the "entertainment" part. Some of the most beautiful music ever written was for the church (eg. Missa Solemnis by Beethoven). Brahms was no fan of the church but his 'German' Requiem is beautiful music nonetheless. Some of my absolute favorite liturgical music is by John Michael Talbot.

  2. Anonymous7:28 PM

    It is worse than you think. See Cranmer at, part of which follows: In England, a cathedral has consented to a screening of a film considered by many Christians to be irreverent and debauched, if not blasphemous. In Northern Ireland, a theatre has cancelled a show which is considered by a few Christians to be irreverent and childish, if not blasphemous. The sacred space is resisting calls to cancel the screening; the secular space has bowed to the sensitivities of Christian politicians.

    Wells Cathedral in Somerset will be showing Martin Scorsese's controversial The Last Temptation of Christ as part of the Bath Film Festival tomorrow, 25th January, at 7:30pm. Despite protests from members of the congregation that the film distorts the gospel and sexualises Christ, the Dean, the Very Reverend John Clarke, is of the view that the notorious sex scenes between Jesus and Mary Magdalene raise importnat questions about Christ's divinity: "In this more sceptical age the church should not hide from controversy and part of the task of the cathedral is to promote an intelligent faith that is capable of attracting men and women to follow in the way of Jesus in the twenty first century," he said.

    The Theatre at the Mill in County Antrim has cancelled the Reduced Shakespeare Company's less controversial show The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), which was due to open next week, on 29th January. Some councillors protested that it trivialised Scripture, mocked God and ridiculed Christ. So the theatre has cancelled the show. "In taking this decision, the (Arts Board) wishes to confirm its commitment to deliver on the agreed council's artistic policy to deliver the highest quality performing arts programme, offering a diverse, socially relevant and enriching experience to as many citizens as possible," said a council statement.

    It is a bizarre state of affairs when a hallowed historic cathedral - built to glorify God and magnify the name of Jesus - can turn cinema for a night and play host to an offensive interpretation and false representation of the gospel, while a secular theatre is prohibited from performing the superficially profane.

    I hope it gets better.

    Jim Beckner

    1. Jim, that report on the Dean at Wells was picked up at Stand Firm in Faith. Here is the thread: