Will They Follow?

U2-themed liturgies offer a sacred spin on the music of the world's biggest band

Blair says that interest in the liturgy has come from far and wide. “We had a cathedral in Hong Kong and a church in Cape Town, South Africa. We have pictures of people from all over the world, holding the ‘co-exist’ sign while singing “40” (which refers to Psalm 40)…It’s great to see how it’s broken out all over in ways that are not connected except by God.”

From a Roman Catholic perspective, Woods questions if such a service is faithful enough. “The liturgy is, fundamentally, a celebration/remembrance of Christ’s Paschal Mystery—his life, death and resurrection by the community of faith,” he points out. “The liturgy celebrates our salvation in Christ. We should emerge from liturgy with a paschal (saving) vision of the world and live accordingly.” He advises young Catholics proceed with caution. “For me, the question is, Does a U2charist accomplish this more profound incorporation into the Paschal Mystery and the church, or does it remind me of being at a memorable U2 concert 15 years ago? Does this service remind me of Jesus Christ the Savior or Bono, The Edge and the gang and the good they’re promoting?”

Theological Leap
While Woods considers himself a fan of U2, he says using the band’s music in a church service—the very thing that draws people to a U2charist—can be a limiting factor. “Their “40” works since it is Psalm 40, but every Sunday? They only use a few verses, and there are 150 psalms which express many things about who God is and what the people experience in their encounter with God,” he says.

Woods acknowledges that traditional and contemporary church music also has its limitations. “Simply put, it’s what keeping some of this generation away from church. But music expresses faith often in poetic and nuanced language,” he explains. “Using such music (U2 and others) may move one to explore their faith more deeply, but it is a big theological leap for most young people to build their faith on such liturgies.”

“Does a U2charist accomplish this more profound incorporation into the Paschal Mystery and the church, or does it remind me of being at a memorable U2 concert 15 years ago?”

Woods also questions whether U2charists and similar services prepare young people to become part of the larger church. “It shouldn’t take the place of Sunday Eucharist, in my opinion,” he says. “Can this music and liturgy inspire people to go out and live with more purpose, bettering the human condition? Yes, of course. But is it the most lasting and effective way to do so? My short answer is no,” he says.

As for feedback from the band, there has been no direct contact between U2 and organizers of U2charists, but Bono told People magazine last year that he was fine with it as long as participants ‘got the message.’ The Edge elaborated further, telling Yahoo! Music he too, sees no problem with the concept, saying “I guess our stuff has dealt with a lot of spiritual issues, so maybe it is the contemporary music most suited to that use. But we never expected it! Who would have thought that our music would actually be in a church service? But I’m fine with it!”

Seeing Stars?
Blair considers Bono a modern-day prophet but deflects criticism that her group is engaged in ‘Bono worship’ and reading too much into the lyrics. “It’s not just about his lyrics—he’s trying to live and use his resources as a celebrity to help heal God’s world. I’m not just seeing that because I have stars in my eyes—he’s really doing what we are supposed to be doing.”

Blair’s deeply personal and spiritual connection to U2’s music is perhaps best reflected in her thoughts on her favorite song “Where the Streets Have No Name” off of 1987’s The Joshua Tree. “I’d love to have that song played at my funeral—it speaks so eloquently about the yearning in all of us, that everything is possible in God,” she says. “We’re beaten and blown by the wind, yet there’s an overpowering sense of hope that runs through the song—it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it!”

At the end of our conversation, the reverend gave me a guarantee: “When you realize the sacred in it, you’ll never quite hear U2 the same way again.” She says to listen for themes such as human beings’ hunger for God and how we try to fill the ‘God-shaped hole’ within us with things like money, drugs and sex. “It’s the stuff you’d hear at a 12-step meeting,” she notes. As for scripture, “It’s all over the place,” Blair points out. “‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is not just a song to drink Guinness to. Wipe the tears from your eyes is from Revelation.”

As for my own ‘spiritual’ U2 journey, I’m still waiting for the opportunity to attend my first-ever U2charist in St. Louis. But as Fr. Mike Woods pointed out, I have a feeling there may be something missing, sort of like attending a U2 concert minus Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam.