Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

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Every so often, a piece crosses one’s desk that makes you wonder how journalism has survived up to this point.

Puff news coverage of a “Beyonce Mass” does leave one shaking one's head. How, you wonder, can a singer better known for quadruple platinum albums be associated with the holiest rite in Christianity?

Answer: When the host organization is San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral and the music critic penning the piece doesn’t know much about religion.

Here’s what appeared recently in the San Jose Mercury News:

For die-hard fans, the words “worship” and “Beyonce” have gone together for years.
Yet, probably not like this:
San Francisco’s stunningly beautiful Grace Cathedral will host a contemporary worship program featuring the music of Beyonce on April 25. This “Beyonce Mass,” which is part of the church’s Wednesday night The Vine service series, is at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. No, the megastar won’t be there -- at least in person.
“Beyoncé? At church? That’s right!” says an announcement on the church’s website. “Come to The Vine SF to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten -- particularly black females.”

(In response to that, redstate.com sarcastically noted: "Surely the poor and marginalized will be so relieved to know there’s a church out there brave enough to let one of the richest women in America speak for them.”)

Now, a Mass is a specific rite in a specific denomination: The Roman Catholic Church. Grace Cathedral is Episcopal, not Catholic. There are conservative Anglo-Catholics who frequently use the term "Mass" in an Episcopal context, but -- obviously -- that is not what we are dealing with here.

A piece in the San Francisco Chronicle provides a few more details.

The Beyoncé Mass is part of three-part series the Vine is hosting at the Nob Hill church that started with a program on Mary Magdalene called “The Original Nasty Woman.”
“The beauty of Beyoncé’s music is she explores those themes in an idiom that is accessible to everyone,” (the Rev. Jude) Harmon said. “We can use it as a conversation starter. That’s what it’s designed to be.”
The evening will feature music, readings from scripture by women of color and a sermon by Rev. Yolanda Norton, who serves as the assistant professor of the Old Testament at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, where she also teaches a course called “Beyoncé and the Bible.”

Excuse me, but a Mass is a specific Catholic rite in which a priest consecrates bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. A collection of music and Bible readings are not a Mass. The reporter could have explained this, or put “Mass” in quotes.

But hey, what’s a few inaccuracies when it comes to covering religion?

The Chronicle's reporting was better on the music end of things, where we learn that Beyonce made history last weekend at the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival, an annual desert music festival in Indio, Calif.

Beyonce made history Saturday when she became the first black woman to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. After a high-energy, two-hour performance filled with guest stars, drum lines, and tributes to African American culture, Twitter exploded with praise.
"I saw it with my own two eyes. Beyonce is the greatest entertainer to ever live and the Queen of Music," tweeted Chance the Rapper.

Her Coachella set became the most-viewed live performance on YouTube in the festival's history, with 458,000 simultaneous global viewers at its peak. The Huffington Post said that Beyonce is increasingly adding spiritual symbolism to her line-up.

In recent years, Beyoncé has begun making more explicit references to female spirituality in her music and in her public persona. During her Grammy performance last year, she incorporated imagery from African, Hindu and Roman goddesses. 
In July, Beyoncé ignited Instagram with a portrait of her holding her newborn twins, draped in a veil and flowing robes. The image provoked comparisons to the Virgin Mary, who for centuries has been represented as a white woman in Western art. Beyoncé’s portrait challenged the association of Mary, often seen as the ideal feminine figure, with whiteness. 

It sounds like Beyonce is going the way of Oprah, tying spirituality into her persona and portraying herself as a goddess figure.

It’s going to take a lot of reinventing to make this booty-shaking hip-hop queen into something Catholic, but stranger things have happened.

But all you music critics out there: Kindly don’t let folks get away with using loaded words like “Mass” to describe an eclectic mess of a faith event. Call it a festival or even a church service. 

But a Mass? No. 

The event isn’t until April 25, so there’s time to still read previews of this august event, not to mention the breathless coverage that will no doubt emanate from it. But call it what it is: Celebrity idol worship. Nothing to do with God.

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