A Light to the World? Detroit Parish Insults the Bishop at Confirmation Liturgy

A Detroit-area musician played over the bishop’s homily at the Confirmation liturgy Tuesday, May 17, with support from many of the parishioners.

Bishop Donald Hanchon (Photo: Archdiocese of Detroit)

Bishop Donald Hanchon (Photo: Archdiocese of Detroit)

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon had come to Assumption Grotto, a conservative parish on Detroit’s east side, to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation upon the parish’s young people. Bishop Hanchon is an affable and able spiritual leader with master’s degrees in theology, liturgy and ministry. He studied Spanish and Hispanic Culture, and has served Detroit’s Hispanic community. And somewhere along the line, he mastered the ukulele.

So when he preached Tuesday evening to the new Confirmands, Bishop Hanchon pulled out his ukulele and broke into a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The message–that one should reach out and evangelize where one lives, taking the Gospel to the world–was an appropriate message for youth who, fortified with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, must now take their faith into the marketplace.

But what happened next is both an embarrassment and a scandal.

The parish organist, according to ChurchMilitant, was offended that the bishop would use such a plebeian instrument in his high-falutin’ church, and he  began to play the organ at full volume, drowning out Bishop Hanchon’s melody.

Michael Voris’ arch-conservative organization Church Militant reported (emphasis mine):

Auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of Detroit since 2011, Hanchon pulled out his ukulele during his homily and began to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” The bishop is well known for such antics, especially at youth Masses, where he has strummed his instrument before.

At Assumption Grotto, however, his musical efforts were drowned out by the parish organist, who started up with more appropriately themed music in the middle of Bp. Hanchon’s performance.

The organist, a long-time parishioner of Assumption Grotto, played the organ at full volume, and although Bp. Hanchon continued singing and playing, he eventually stopped, drily remarking, “Only at Grotto do you get that sort of accompaniment. Thank you very much.”

     *     *     *     *     *

I’ve gotta say:  This is boorish behavior, both on the part of the organist and of ChurchMilitant, whose published report is dripping with contempt. The bishop is a good man, and is deserving of respect–even if you’d have preferred a different approach. The hostile conservatives who saw fit to criticize may think they’re holier-than-thou, but in their pride and hubris, they forsook common manners like Internet trolls.

I once attended Mass at Assumption Grotto, my baptismal home, when a visiting priest was filling in for the Sunday liturgy. The priest, accustomed to the practice of shaking hands during the Kiss of Peace in most parishes in the archdiocese, said the familiar words: “Let’s offer one another a sign of Christ’s peace.” But from the pew behind me, a man complained loudly, “We don’t do that here!”

But that day, we did; and in following the lead of the celebrant, we sinned not.

The point that I want to make is this: It’s a Big Church. Catholics worship in many different ways in different places; and while I have some strong preferences, I am not the sole arbiter of what music is acceptable in church. The Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, recognizes the unique value of Gregorian chant in the Roman liturgy, while still allowing for other forms–explaining in paragraph 116:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations….

In paragraph 37, Sacrosanctum Concilium specifically addresses the matter of rigidity in worship:

Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples. Anything in these peoples’ way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit.

I’m wondering whether the self-appointed critics at Grotto aren’t what Fr. Thomas Rosica had in mind recently when he spoke of some Catholics on the Internet as promoting a “cesspool of hatred.”

Some years ago, my husband and I were privileged to attend Mass at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral, in the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The cathedral was simple as compared to a typical cathedral on the U.S. mainland. The accoutrements were modest, but I was struck by the vitality of faith. In that modest structure with its metal hurricane shutters and its confessional with simple folding chairs, the congregation, accompanied by steel drums, sang with gusto–figuratively lifting the roof off as they belted out their praise to the Lord. I’d never experienced such passionate worship, and I’m sure that our Heavenly Father was pleased.

In countries around the world, Catholics express their love of God in diverse and wonderful ways. In Africa, one might be pleased to encounter an open-air liturgy with drums, xylophone and mbira, or thumb- piano; in Scotland, the clàrsach and fiddle figure prominently; and in Korea, the kayagum may accompany the vocals. In a first grade classroom, a simple song with accompanying hand motions may help children to learn their prayers.

Likewise, the bishop’s ukulele lends an informality to his homily to the Confirmation class, and those students will probably remember his words. In any case, he is our spiritual leader and mentor; the decision whether to introduce a uke during his homily is his, not ours.



By |2018-01-27T17:39:31+00:00May 20th, 2016|Faith|


  1. Gwen Fuller December 15, 2016 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    What a lovely job by the organist. I don’t see what all the fuss is about….

  2. R. E. Fichter October 27, 2016 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Reading the comments, it occurs to me that Right Wing/Conservative Catholics are a somewhat somber, scary, and judgmental lot, quite the opposite of Jesus. They would have needed their burnt feathers and fainting couches if they attended the wedding at Cana where the dancing would have been joyous, and when the wine stopped flowing, our naughty Savior mixed up a whole lot more of the very best. I suspect, given how the Lord’s creation progresses, that sacred music like everything other part of life, was never meant to remain stuck in one era or consist of ONLY rather staid White European music from centuries ago. Contempt for change is hardly consistent with worship of the ever-creative Creator God.

  3. Judy Holmes September 1, 2016 at 7:08 pm - Reply

    Your commentary is thoughtful, based on our Catholic tradition, including Vatican II, and invites dialogue. Thank you.

  4. jmt323 August 20, 2016 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    eh, organists… who needs em… why do u think the byzantine church did away with them… organusts & choir members pushing each other off the choir lift, perhaps…
    on the other hand, one cannot live the Catholic Life without the bishop…

  5. Joe July 29, 2016 at 1:48 am - Reply

    What the organist did from a musical stand point was rather brilliant, he accompanied the bishop. The organist did a rather good job. The organist also work Veni Creator into the accompaniment. When I heard this I thought this was all planned out. I understand what everyone is getting all upset about.

  6. John Mikalajunas June 16, 2016 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    I think the organist was rude.
    I think the bishop showed how out of touch he really is with his musical selection.
    Would it not have been better to share the story of the Movie “for Greater Glory” of the young Mexican teen who died proclaiming Long live Christ the King. This teen will soon be canonized a saint.

  7. David Saunders May 27, 2016 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    Apparently His Excellency had nothing of substance to say about the Faith or the sacraments in this homily, and so he attempted to make it “relevant” or “accessible to children” by doing this.

    It’s a sad commentary on just how hollow and vapid our Faith can be when otherwise intelligent people like His Excellency can’t think of anything better to do to honor those to be newly-confirmed with a proud demonstration of what our unique Catholic identity looks and feels like.

  8. Cecilia Lakin May 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Sacred music is, certainly, a very important element of liturgy, and all of us are indebted to the musicians who devote their careers so that we can be inspired by the beauty their art brings to our public prayers. Only the organist can speak for himself about this incident, but a reasonable guess might be that his intention was less to show disrespect for Bishop Hanchon and more to preserve his own understanding of what constitutes an acceptable worship experience. Regrettably, his choice ultimately was disrespectful to the bishop. No one, surely, could deny that Bishop Hanchon is a faithful, joyous priest who gives himself unselfishly for the good of the Kingdom. He came to our community, Oakland County Latin Mass Association, for confirmations in Extraordinary Form last fall. I believe this may have been his first public High Mass. Knowing that he incorporates ukulele into his homilies, we mentioned that many in our liturgically-conservative community might be less than enthusiastic about hearing one during Mass. I do not know if he had planned to play, but in fact he did not. Liturgy was reverent and holy. He was warm, inspiring, generous – and we would be blessed to have him back any time. Had he chosen to play, I believe our community would have been respectful and would have remained grateful for his ministry. The matter was badly handled at Assumption Grotto. Apologies are in order and the matter needs to be put to rest.

  9. Loretta May 23, 2016 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    I can’t imagine the organist did this without approval from the pastor. They had to have known the Bishop was going to do this. The charitable action would have been to ask him not to before. That’s exactly what another Latin Mass community did and the Bishop didn’t play his instrument. Seems like CM had to have also known and been ready to publicize this stunt as well. Bad taste and disrespectful in my opinion.

  10. Angelo May 22, 2016 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Those haters should have been there in the mid 60s when Mr Bauer, the choir director had an orchestra show up to finish midnight mass.
    People had heart attacks. But…they got over it LOL

  11. Blaise May 22, 2016 at 3:00 am - Reply

    I just found and watched the video of this. The organist perfectly matched the bishop’s key with his accompaniment. It sounded really good! I don’t think it could have turned out better even if they rehearsed it.

  12. Mary Lockwood May 21, 2016 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Respect for a bishop, people’s bishop, was lost at that mass. It was disrespectful. His intent was to relate to those being confirmed. God bless the bishop!

  13. Blaise May 21, 2016 at 10:10 am - Reply

    I keep saying I will visit this parish one day. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it from friends.

  14. Kevin May 20, 2016 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Actually, can speak with relative confidence, the youth at that parish looked at him with bewilderment and wondered what on earth he was doing.

    Sometimes its a smart idea to know one’s audience.

    • raphaelheals June 7, 2016 at 11:36 pm - Reply

      I think it was Pope Benedict who wrote in his superb book “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, that when one is attempting to ‘entertain’ ,they are on the wrong road. ( paraphrasing )
      It is not a bishop or a priest’s role to be an entertainer, to bring attention to himself, seeking attention and fame, but to intercede for the people to God. I remember about ten years ago being at a Mas when the priest put on sunglasses and did his Blues Brothers impersonation. It was a disgrace. Priests should not use props to entertain. The people of the west are thirsting for truth, light and teaching. So often they are down dumbed and treated like infants. This fiasco has been a mortal wound to our faith and has been going on for fifty years now. Just as the anti Christian culture we are surrounded by has had a deleterious effect on the west, so has the agonizing preoccupation with innovation in the Catholic church caused unbearable damage in the spiritual health of the people of God. Less props…..more teaching and making our hearts burn …PLEASE

  15. Tito Edwards May 20, 2016 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Both the bishop and the organist were wrong.

    As for Sacred Music, anything on the ukulele, or for that matter, a guitar is nowhere near what is the minimum standard for Sacred Music.

  16. Diana DiRita May 20, 2016 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    I love Bishop Hanchon! Hopefully the kids saw right through that organist. Bishop Cepeda confirmed my son. During his homily he asked for one of the kids’ cell phones. Everyone was waiting in anticipation to some sort of diatribe on the evils of today’s technology. To our surprise and delight Bishop exclaimed, “St. Paul would have LOVED to use one of these to evangelize to the world!” He definitely captured the attention of one and all but most importantly the attention of all confirmation students. Our Bishops continue to work to capture the hearts and minds of our youth. That is beautiful.

  17. TJ Burdick May 20, 2016 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Kathy, for this. Bishop Hanchon is my Uncle and frankly, I think he’s tops.

  18. Martin Edwards May 20, 2016 at 11:27 am - Reply

    I do hope that our organist would have the sense to behave in the same way should he ever have to. It was a witty and charitable riposte (as it was a variation on the theme the Bishop was performing) to a very vulgar performance by the Bishop.

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