The Pope’s Music

This month I must reflect on a phone call I received from an old and discerning friend who was extremely upset over the music used at the papal Mass in Washington on April 17, and on a note another friend sent saying, "It was as if the Washington, D.C., crowd were pleasing themselves and not their guest." 

I missed the Mass but heard that it included quite a mélange of musical styles. My oldest son, who watched at his grade school, did not like it. Neither did Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, who apparently said on EWTN that the music was an affront to the pope, whose classical music tastes are well known. I report this secondhand, as it was mentioned from the pulpit by the pastor at a northern Virginia parish where I attended Mass the next day. He was not happy with Father Neuhaus’s remarks, as they were considered non-inclusive. He expressed his relief that the Holy Spirit had chosen Joseph Ratzinger as pope, and not Richard Neuhaus.

The day before the pope’s Mass, the "Style" section of the Washington Post ran an amusing story by Hank Stuever on music and the pope’s visit, and on how the younger generation has turned against the Sixties and Seventies "Kumbaya Catholicism." In one part, the story told of the experience of choir director Jeffery Tucker:

At a recent conference, a jazz pianist confided to Tucker that he’d been playing at church, but there was a new, young pastor who had taken over and "he said, ‘you know what that means’ [and] I said, ‘well, I’m not entirely sure.’ So, he added, surprised that he would have to clarify, ‘That means he wants Gregorian chant!’"
I take this as another sign that the Holy Spirit is active in the Church today.

But where does Pope Benedict XVI stand on the music issue? As it turns out, there was an outstanding piece in The Australian (April 12), "A Battle Against Banality," by Christopher Pearson that gives the answer. (Benedict’s travels this summer to Australia for World Youth Day.) In the article, Catholic theologian Tracey Rowland is quoted as saying of the pope’s cultural critique:

Ratzinger has focused on practices (that) diminish the possibilities of the soul or the self, for its own transcendence. The marketing of vulgar art, music and literature and the generation of a very low, even barbaric, mass culture is seen by Ratzinger to be one of the serious pathologies of contemporary Western culture. By this reading, clerics who think that they will win young people to the church by adopting the marketing strategies of public relations firms and attempting a transposition of the church’s cultural patrimony into the idioms of contemporary mass culture are only further diminishing the opportunities of youth for genuine self-transcendence.

One immediate consequence of this position has been Benedict’s insistence on music worthy of the liturgy, rather than "utility music" derived from 1960s youth culture. He says: "A church which only makes use of utility music has fallen for what is, in fact, useless. She too becomes ineffectual. For her mission is a far higher one. The church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable and beloved. Next to the saints, the art which the church has produced is the only real apologia for her history. The church is to transform, improve, humanise the world, but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection."

Surely, no one has spoken of music in a more exalted way than has this pope, who restores to art its hieratic purpose. Is this inclusive? Is the cosmos inclusive? Is Christ inclusive? As St. Clement of Alexandria taught, Christ is the "New Song" of the universe. "[It] is this [New Song] that composed the entire creation into melodious order, and tuned into concert the discord of the elements, that the whole universe may be in harmony with it." How is that for inclusive? That New Song is not played on bongo drums, as that would be exclusive — in the sense that it would exclude the transcendent, which cannot be reached by any bongo drums I have ever heard.

My acid test for any part of the liturgy, including the music, is this: Would a complete stranger observing it believe that what is taking place is the most important thing in these people’s lives? I cannot express how I have missed that sense of sanctity in the Mass with which I grew up. I am also a man of the theatre. I was an actor in my early professional life, so I understand the stage. That is what infuriated me about the "new" liturgy of the 1970s. Any competent stage director could have told the liturgical innovators that it did not convey the presence of the sacred. It was so obvious that the conclusion occurred that they must not think the sacred was present. Many parishioners got the message, as they stopped believing in the Real Presence.

No, the transcendent can only be pointed to or reached by the greatest art. When is the last time you heard music at Mass that reinforced your faith rather than tested it? When is the last time you heard the cosmos in your parish?

The objection to this might be: What parish can afford Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or a Bruckner Mass? True enough, which is why I cherish my visits to the Brompton Oratory in London, where great musical liturgies are sung at each 11:00 a.m. Mass on Sunday (which also proves with what dignity and solemnity the Novus Ordo can be said).


However, at my own parish in Virginia, the parochial vicar always chants the Consecration, for which I thank him each time. It does not cost a thing. What a relief to hear those most scared words invested with sacred music. As I grow older, I feel a part of this younger generation of Catholics who want Gregorian chant.

Robert R. Reilly is the music critic for Contact him at

Joanna Bogle


Joanna Bogle is a writer, biographer, and historian. She relishes the new translation of the Mass, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, her own excellent local Catholic parish, traditional hymns (especially, perhaps, Anglican ones) rain, good literature, sleep, the English coast, Autumn, buttered toast, and a number of other things too precious and important to list here. Visit her blog.

  • Richard F. Grantges

    Along with the traditional music goes the organ. Not all churches even have organs anymore and of those that do, few have anyone able to play it as it should be played – it is NOT a piano or a guitar. We still have a long road to go to get back to real beauty and spirituality in our churches. I was fortunate to be raised in a church with a poor but honest organ, someone who knew how to play it, and the sense to bring in instrumentalists from time to time for Hadyn and other masses. Of course they also had teaching Nuns who, in my opinion, are our greatest loss.

  • Deal Hudson

    Bob, I’m surprised you made no mention of the middlebrow setting of the “Lord’s Prayer” sung on the South Lawn of the White House by Kathleen Battle at Pope’s welcoming ceremony. It reminded me of the time, I am told, during the Reagan days, Prince Charles was served tea in a tea bag. He didn’t drink it, purportedly. But Benedict XVI had to listen, or at least pretend to. I was greatly relieved when the all-male military chorus knocked the socks off the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Something I have never told you: While a graduate student at Emory in the mid-70s, I used to organize musicales with titles like “Mid-Summer Midnight Male-Only Monteverdi Bash.” I recall hosting three or four of these for composers beginning with M, including Mozart, Mahler, and, yes, Monteverdi. There was much protest against the all-male part, so I relented after the first one. But I didn’t relent on the program which consisted of listening to lengthy selection (with absolutely no talking or moving around allowed) from each composer. Sometimes there was a live performance by friends who sang and played. At the end of the evening there was always a competition for who could “name that tune.” LPs would be awarded as prizes (I really hated giving them away!) These evenings did not break off until two or three in the morning because after so much listening people invariably got very thirsty. I relate this story as an example of how I protested (and fought) the banality of musical taste in the present age.

  • Robert Kord

    Christian Music should always be HOLY and SACRED. It should inspire. It should be tried and true, time-tested. Gregorian and Ambrosian Chant as well as easy to understand (both melody and message) hymnology [prior to 1900] also also including several Negro Spirituals: all qualify as lyrics and melody perfectly matched in allowing us worshippers a transcendental connection to our Creator, Savior and Sanctifier.
    The Washington Stadium selection of music for our Holy Father, Benedict XVI was so underwhelming in both melody and undecipherable lyrics that to say it was plebian or vulgar is giving it too much credit. The only bright spot was Francks’ “Panis Angelicus.”
    Hootenanny-Hippie-Woodstock music for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should be a thing of unbearable and sordid history now that we are all adults in the Third Millennium of Our Lord’s ministerial Church. Shamefully, the Washington, D.C. higher-ups don’t get it yet.

  • joseph

    St.Augustine said that 500 books will not change the hardened opinions of people. The strategy should be to inculcate a taste for sacred music in the youth.

  • Alyx

    I’m not sure I understand the big to-do with liturgical music. The parish I grew up in adopted the Life-Teen Mass on sunday evenings (in addition to the current mass schedule) about eleven years ago, and one of the big changes was music. Our then youth minister, Bob Rice, introduced to the mass (and only that mass) more contemporary styled christian music- artists like Michael w. Smith, Rich Mullins, etc… the musicians involved were a drummer, a violinist, bass guitar, accoustic guitar, keyboard and vocalists (of which i was one). Think about the missal’s and the music in the catholic church in the 80’s and 90’s- that’s what I grew up with. ‘on eagles wings’ ‘servant song’ etc… and I still love them (and we were also always very blessed to have a beautiful music ministry) but this mass brought something new- It’s difficult to explain, but the songs are so incredibly gorgeous. I remember one Easter Sunday, being at the LifeTeen mass and the 2nd communion song/meditation song was Agus Dei by Michael w. Smith- and if you’ve never heard it, you need to, because it’s absolutely beautiful, reverential, it nearly made my heart burst with love and gratitude for the Lord. I’ve since moved away, and I miss my church immensely. My point is this: music as part of the liturgy is meant to uplift us, to bring our attention to God, his mercy, his sacrifice, his love, and should evoke feelings of love and gratitude in us towards our Savior. The music (at least in my church) does that; the congregants sing, not half-heartedly, but with feeling and emotion, and very often, my own heart wells up with thankfulness and joy when singing these songs. A good tree produces good fruit, so judge by the fruits.

    If you’re in the Albany, NY diocese I highly suggest you head over to St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Latham for the 5:30 mass on Sunday evenings.

  • FJ

    I agree with Alyx – our parish did the same thing and the result has been amazing. People really enter into the Eucharistic sacrifice (I know someone will comment on this so I will reply now: Iam not saying no one ever entered into the Sacrifice prior to this music being used), people leave the Mass invigorated in their faith and really ready to take that faith to the world. I would challenge people to go a Mass that really does contemporary Life Teen music (make sure they do it well, don’t find the worst parish that offers it and then complain, we could do the same thing with chant), I think when people experience it they are really drawn in to the mystery of the Mass. To often the newer more reverent contemporary music gets associated with the music from the 60

  • Peg

    The Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota still sings sacred music. At our Sunday Latin High Mass (Novus Ordo) you can hear Gregorian chant and from October through Corpus Christi we also sing the classical Masses by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, just to name a few. The Masses are sung by a volunteer choir of 60 people, four professional soloists and orchestra.

    If you have never heard one of these Masses, you must! Your heart will be lifted to God as you get a glimpse of what heaven must be like.

  • magdalen

    As I grow older, I feel a part of this younger generation of Catholics who want Gregorian chant.

    I can only say–ditto for me.

    I am not young either but I do indeed with to worship with the aid of holy and sacred music. I rarely sing at Mass any more. It is mostly songs that begin with the word ‘we’. You know–we come to share our story, we are called, we gather together, we are the light of the world and so on–all about us and not the praise and worship of God. I am TIRED of it.

    Although an indult was not allowed in my diocese, I hope to be in a new diocese before the end of the year and, you know what, I hope to attend the TLM and my if fill my longing for reverence at Mass.

  • Lisa

    I’m young (35)and most of the music I grew up with in Church was from Glory and Praise. I still love those songs!
    BUT, we have Scott Hahn visiting our parish next weekend and my husband is in “charge” of music. He’s been asked to play Gregorian Chant and
    I CAN’T WAIT!!

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Lisa wrote: I’m young (35)and most of the music I grew up with in Church was from Glory and Praise. I still love those songs!

    BUT, we have Scott Hahn visiting our parish next weekend and my husband is in “charge” of music. He’s been asked to play Gregorian Chant and
    I CAN’T WAIT!!


    Hi Lisa,

    Keep your eyes out for our Wednesday morning cover story. I think you’ll appreciate it…

  • William

    Sacred music, church music, should be like no other. What we’be been conditioned to these past forty years in our parishes in no way fits that requirement–it all sounds like someting else: irish spring, campfire chorale, fourty-second street, down by the swanee, et., etc.! It invariably causes the mind to wander to secular rather than celestial realms. The missalette companies are the prime movers in this shift away from the sacred. When you hear or sing Gregorian Chant, only heaven comes to mind. Was a time when no Catholic church had a piano in the sactuary to accompany sacred song. The missalettes arrange and score all their stuff for it and the stuff is pitced too high or is too convoluted for congregational singing. Two things that don’t belong in a Catholic Church: wall-to-wall carpeting and a piano! (They both attract too much detritus.)

  • ScholarChanter

    Few thoughts. 1. The prevalence of a lot of bad music in liturgy in the US is definitely indicative of bad music education in the US. If people never hear music that transcends, then how can they want it? Certainly this goes both ways – the church needs to lead in presenting the world with good music. In my town, there are churches that perform a Bach Cantata or hosts an organ recital every single Sunday. It is wonderful, but I am told that no one attends these events. What can we do? It may be a catch-22, but music ministers work with very limited resources in many parishes, including people who are willing to volunteer in making liturgical music.

    2. Personally, I am not too keen on the 18-19th century 16-bar hymns that come initially from the Protestant tradition, that we consider “traditional Catholic hymns.” We don’t have a good excuse not to adopt “Shout to the Lord” and the like based on that argument. Many folksongs have become hymn tunes (Kingsford, O Waly Waly for instance) people now consider “traditional,” but I imagine they were people objecting to their use back then. There are good music from other periods, both before, and those from this decade that are equally worthy of liturgical use (Pinkham, P, Bainton). Also, if we should only use music “tried and true” how could we have picked up the 4-part hymn tunes in that last few centuries for liturgical use, which we now consider “traditional”?

    3. I am curious as to why people object to the use of a pianoforte during liturgy. Good piano-playing can be just a beautiful as a good organ-playing.

    4. Mr. Reilly mentions the liturgy in London. They have a big “advantage” over American Catholics, in that the Anglican musical tradition has kept up some of our solemn liturgical traditions much better than we.

    5. There should be more effort made to beautify (or “juice-up”?) novus ordo liturgy – why do not enough of us ever celebrate novus ordo liturgy in Latin, with Latin hymns and all, after all, that sounds like the orginal intent. The celebration of the extraordinary form (“Tridentine”) is beautiful, but for many of us who never grew up with it, it feels as foreign as attending Byzantine liturgy (although it is much easier for a newcomer to follow Byzantine or Maronite liturgy than the old Latin rite from my experience). The celebration of Novus ordo in Latin that incorporates all the beauty of old Latin rite may be much more accessible to us young’ens.

  • Fr. Steve

    It must be pointed out that contemporary Christian music is good, delightful and moving, but not worthy of the Sacred Liturgy. For two reasons. Music for the Sacred Liturgy must be sacred. That is it must be different from the music of the world in words and melody. Lifeteen music by its nature incorrporaites the musical styles of the world that contemporary teens are attracted too. This alone disqualifies it from the relm of the sacred and therefore from Sacred Liturgical Music. Secondly, the Church’s God given instrument is that of the human voice. The only instrumentation that the Church hesitatingly allowed into the Liturgy is the organ because of its closeness to imitating the voice. String instruments (ie. piano), percussion instruments, etc. would have made the Church Fathers flip out. With their zeal, may we strive for sacrality with our God given instruments, to forever sing the mercies of the Lord. Let us sing this other songs at youth rallies or else where.

  • Todd

    “Many parishioners got the message, as they stopped believing in the Real Presence.”

    I think it’s great that internet Catholics are promoting and advocating for better sacred music. However, they don’t need to promote falsehoods such as this to make their point.

    “No, the transcendent can only be pointed to or reached by the greatest art.”

    The greatest art is not only achieved by great repertoire. One needs great leadership as well. How many Catholic parishes are willing to hire great musicians to provide it? More often Catholics are willing to “settle” as they invest their cash in schools, parish administration, and other aspects of parish business.

    “When is the last time you heard music at Mass that reinforced your faith rather than tested it?”

    Last weekend.

    I think when people look to be critical, and they head into the celebration of Mass like a film critic, they won’t be disappointed.

    I think the title of this article misleads us. Sacred music is not about what edifies the pope, the pastor, the music director, or any other personality. Aside from the worship of God, liturgy is intended to sanctify the faithful. Generally, any musical style on any musical instrument, can achieve this.

  • Arnold

    I would like to tout my parish, St. James Cathedral in Seattle. I was very pleasantly surprised when I moved here in 1995 to find the high level of liturgical music and reverent liturgy along with excellent acoustics. We also have several concerts of sacred music from the great composers each year plus a beautiful Taize inspired Friday evening candlelight service. At the 10:00am Mass the level of congregational participation is very high (1,100 people).

  • robert reilly

    I am very grateful for all of these insightful remarks. Let me only add more of what Benedict thinks on this subject. In 1985, the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote,

  • Andy

    for the most part. The piano is not a suitable instrument for liturgy simply because it is sub-par at leading congregational singing. Sung music is what is proper to the liturgy, and no instrument is more conducive to this than the organ.

    One thing you said struck me, though:

    “1. The prevalence of a lot of bad music in liturgy in the US is definitely indicative of bad music education in the US.”

    Indeed. As a matter of fact, few parishes are blessed to have full time music directors, and many of them simply hire (part time) the local music teacher from the school. They get poor music in school, and then more of the same at Mass. Coincidence?

  • Maryanne

    I hope those of the archdiocese of Washington learned from their mistake with regard to the terrible music that was played during the celebration of the Mass. I am not sure how this could happen as everyone knows that liturgical music reform is underway and one that the Pope is involved with. I am not sure how the Archbishop and those associated with the planning of the Mass missed this. Let us pray that they learned from this. The liturgical music played both at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Yankee Stadium was angelic and heavenly.

  • Janice

    but the gentleman said: Music appropriate for the Mass is not what is pleasing to us, but what the Church deems worthy. The music played during the Mass in D.C. was unworthy. We have been lured to death for the past 40 years by “Glory and Praise” dreck and what “we” like, but it’s not about us. The Mass is the Lord’s. And we should play what is worthy of God.

  • Todd

    “The piano is not a suitable instrument for liturgy simply because it is sub-par at leading congregational singing. Sung music is what is proper to the liturgy, and no instrument is more conducive to this than the organ.”

    Again, I must dissent from this thread.

    It has long been a Protestant contention that all other things being equal, the pipe organ alone can function as a better songleader than the piano. There are more technical and musical reasons for this rather than strictly legislative ones. But given organists and pianists of near-equal ability and experience, this is generally true. But not always.

    A top-flight liturgical pianist will always outperform mediocre or even good organists. And a well-designed musical ensemble can be the equal of the organ, providing a gospel witness of cooperation, sacrifice, and mutual respect that a soloist cannot show.

    Catholic tradition also shows that singing without instruments is quite possible.

    Lastly, any instrument utilized for liturgy requires two things: that it be played well, and that it be played appropriately. Most musical instruments have great versatility. Organs accompany hymns as well as ballpark songs. Pianos play jazz and sacred music. Guitars are portable, and like the other two instruments I’ve mentioned, can be played in nearly any style with success.

    The key is finding good musicians. Church legislation and sacred repertoire doesn’t play itself.

  • Andy

    I agree that a well played instrument is superior to a poorly played one. That goes without saying. You make it sound as if the organ is an arbitrary choice of instruments, however.

    One of our only explicit instructions on music comes from Pius X’s Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini. It is quite strict and strives for mostly a cappella music. Not only does it give pride of place to the organ, however, but:

    (VI)19. The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like.

    Why did this document go out the window with Vatican II?

  • ScholarChanter

    Fr. Steve wrote: the Church’s God given instrument is that of the human voice.

    In fact, in Byzantine liturgy, instruments are not allowed, period! Only sentient beings should be making music during liturgy (there is a better statement of this than what I am remembering).

    So.. why don’t many people sing during mass? Is it a carryover from the old Latin rite? Is it from the Irish low mass tradition that is prevalent in the US, as proposed by Thomas Day in “Why Catholics Can’t Sing”?

    Music that is easier to sing certainly helps, but at what point do we sacrifice beauty for accessibility? Stick only with tunes that people know?

    While it may take some time to bring up the quality of music, it can be done with some effort and prayer! Eventually, people will expect quality music and will participate. We can learn more sophisticated music – God gave all of us that capacity!

  • Peter

    We have only two kinds of music. One is a mariachi band that plays the same 5 songs every Sunday and has been playing them for years. The music leader gets paid. The other is a teen rock band led by a young mother who has aspirations of Christian rock stardom or something, so we get evangelical anthems. I appreciate all their dedication to provide music ministry, but it becomes a din, especially since they are very mediocre musicians at best, and worse singers. We have three church organs that need some repair, and we have a music liturgist who is a trained organist, but her pleas for the organ to be repaired so she can play have no effect. At a recent retreat, prior to an hour of adoration, two 20-something guitarists, overamplified and over-miked, were so loud in the 400 year old church that people covered their ears and I had to leave with my children. And the Holy Hour was ringing in the ears. Nowadays, I endure the music at Mass rather than become elevated by it. We will need to drive 50+ miles round trip to hear a Latin mass with chant and organ music, so our children can experience some of that sacred atmosphere that is lost in our parish. No wonder people leave the church when their senses are assaulted.

  • Greg in Houston

    Here’s a post, largely on topic, but on a related liturgical art. Much of this thinking on sacred music for the liturgy can be also directly applied to the visual arts that are used throughout the church building itself to support the liturgy …

    In what some call a Vatican II wreckovation, how many churches have been denuded of their statuary and fresco murals at the hands of fervent post-concilar iconoclasts?

    And how many of the 70’s & 80’s ‘in the round’ churches, as well as so many others today, feature almost exclusively non-representational art, filled with all kinds of abstract stained glass in swoops and swishes, starbursts and geometrics, but never the Holy Family, Not one of the Communion of Saints, or no Member of the Trinity! How many churches do not even feature a true crucifix, with the Corpus of Jesus at the time when the temple veil was rent? How many have Stations of the Cross without any depiction of Our Lord’s Passion, perhaps even just a poor number on the wall?

    Formless, non-representational, non-figurative art in the church is obstructionist, diversionist, uncertain, relativist…If form follows from function, formlessness must follow from intended disfunction or no function at all. These pictures say no words. Abstract ecclesiastical art for use in the liturgy is not illuminative, is not an aid to transcendance, is mute on proclaiming the Good News. It is ‘Kumbaya Kitcsh’.

    Lord, that we may seek to see! May we open our eyes and may we seek to see there Your Holy Face, a real face in true flesh and precious blood! May we see in your saints their witness to You and Your graces given to them!

  • R.C.

    Okay, I see:

    (1.) Love Of and Longing For the Classical and Gregorian forms of music in the liturgy.

    (2.) Feelings expressed about modern “praise and worship” style music, and its instrumentation, which sounds like disgust, contempt, and hatred. (That is what it *sounds* like; I cannot tell if that is what it is.)

    In all of the above, there is something amiss; something that does not follow, logically.

    It may be that the Classicists’ own reasoning is faulty. But I’ll allow for the possibility that there’s something I’ve missed (because no one has bothered to express it clearly).

    So let me ask some reasonable questions:

    (1.) How long did it take the original synthesizer (that is, pipe organ) to be accepted as usable in liturgy? There was, you know, a time when it was newfangled and presumably not appropriate for church music. How long did it take for *any* instruments to be permitted, instead of voices only?

    (2.) On the basis of the answers to Question (1.), how long will it take before, say, electric guitar will be usable in the liturgy?

    (3.) Some modern “praise-and-worship” songs have trite, poorly-written lyrics. On the other hand, some hymns have absurdly poorly-written lyrics too; and some modern songs have lyrical content the equal of the best hymns. Are these latter songs excluded, then, on some basis other than lyrical content?

    (4.) Some of the melodies selected for Catholic worship of the traditional variety are musically uninteresting; then again, so are some of those composed by such modern songwriters as Chris Tomlin. There are also melodies of real beauty in each category. Are songs in the latter category therefore excluded for a reason other than melodic craftsmanship?

    (5.) Of the experiments in the use of modern (amplified-instrument, small-ensemble) music in Catholic worship, apparently most (all?) have failed to produce music worthy of the name, or the venue. Was this due to the use of terrible musicians, or terrible music? Or is there something intrinsic to the use of amplified instruments in a small ensemble which is demeaning to worship?

    (6.) If in response to (5.) one answers, “it’s something intrinsic,” my question is…what? Is there a criticism which can be stated in solid musical terms? And if so, is it a criticism which could not have as easily been applied to those innovators who introduced instruments, the pipe organ, and (horror!) that lowbrow, pop-music instrument we call the “violin,” to worship music?

    Are those who put down the *format* not in fact reacting to a wealth of poor *examples*?

    Take as an analogy: What would you think of the art form “Shakespearean Sonnet” if you’d read hundreds of examples, but they were all examples written by high-school students as a homework exercise? Would it, under such circumstances, be appropriate to regard the “Shakespearean Sonnet” as an intrinsically flawed art form?

  • R.C.

    A LOGICAL QUESTIONER might ask why the Church should allow guitars and the like in worship at all? The question is welcome; the answer is, “vernacular.”

    Just as every user of language understands his own vernacular best; so too every listener of music is best able to receive, comprehend, and have his spirit lifted by music which is not entirely outside his musical vernacular.

    Of course, just as coarse language might be familiar but not suitable for delivering the Word of God to the minds of men, so too might shoddy music and lyrical content, while sadly familiar, be unsuitable for delivering the Word of God to their hearts.

    But notice in each case the failure is the use of the wrong sub-genre within a larger (acceptable) genre. A homily is delivered in English instead of Latin; all very well. A homily delivered in the type of English used in gangsta rap is not good at all. Do we therefore return to Latin?

    Similarly, when music for worship with well-written lyrics and melody is delivered via drums, synth, piano, bass guitar, electric guitar, et cetera, one can EITHER (a.) write and deliver the music soaringly, or (b.) write and deliver it with a nasty aggressive beat and repetitive, dissonant riff.

    This is a reason to choose the former option over the latter; it is not a reason to generally disparage the use of those instruments!

    “But why use them at all?” Well, to the extent that they fall within the musical vernacular of the listeners, they allow music to communicate more effectively, sometimes leaving the listener inspired where music outside his vernacular would leave him cold.

  • R.C.

    To sum up my earlier posts:

    While many rational persons can hold views about worship music which differ, there are certain opinions which are not, in-and-of-themselves, rational, even if rational persons hold them. (That is to say: They are incorrect, and they are self-evidently incorrect because of flaws in their reasoning.)

    (1.) “Instrument X is better for worship use than Instrument Y.” Such a statement is always false, for any X and Y, until one has answered the following questions: How is X (or Y) played? With what skill level? In what style? Alongside what other instruments? As a part of what song? Composed in what style, and how well? To lead what age/race/culture of congregants, with what “musical vernacular?”

    (2.) “Traditional music produces the correct emotional responses in the listeners; modern music produces responses which are not conducive to their use in liturgy.” If “modern” includes schlocky 3-chord ditties patterned after the sound of Tom Petty, and excludes, say, “Close to the Edge” by Yes, then of course this seems reasonable. But by the same lights, “Traditional” includes bawdy French chansons as well as Handel’s “Messiah.” On such a basis both genres are unsuitable!

    The reality is that sub-genre, arrangement, the skill of the players, and, again, the musical vernacular of the congregants matters.

    (3.) “Modern praise-and-worship is better; the Church ought to get with the program.” In this thread, this statement is largely unvoiced, but for fairness, it should be included. Some of the modern stuff is poorly-written melodically and lyrically; the instrumentation either has no recognizable motifs, or the same riff repeated to boredom without any development; and the performers are sometimes lacking. In such a case, if one picks from among the better traditional arrangements, and uses top-flight players, the traditional will obviously win out, EVEN IF it is not suited to the musical vernacular of the listeners! (Better something strange done well, than something familiar made unrecognizable by lack of skill!)

    ALL IN ALL, please remember: We music directors in churches do all this thinking and choosing and scoring and hiring and performing for a pittance.

    We try to use the musicians we’ve got available, with the skills they’ve picked up however, and the arrangements we can find on sometimes short notice, to communicate God’s Love and Grace and Majesty to a congregation whose tastes and opinions may vary widely!

    And then we sit back and pray that the Lord will turn these paltry loaves and fishes into a banquet.

    We know we sometimes disappoint. But (sorry for the bluntness) please: Cut us a little slack.

  • Todd

    “Why did this document go out the window with Vatican II?”

    Because a council trumps a motu.

    Greg reinforces my point about priorities. Since WW2, American Catholics have invested in schools, not churches. The dark ages of sacred architecture in the US are more accurately pegged to 1945-1975, before EACW and other official guidance.

    People leave parishes over loud musicians as well as slow organists. Sadly, they do not suggest their pastors alter priorities as they do so.

  • Sally

    I agree with RC. I think what we are looking for in general is simply a better, more highly skilled, execution of music period. A bad organist or off-kilter schola is going to be just as grating. And, as someone said (was it also RC?), much of this can be laid to blame at poor musical education. A congregation that by and large listens to mediocre music on their own time, and has never been taught to sing since elementary school, isn’t going to care too much one way or another about the music at Mass. Therefore, a good musical director, in-tune organ/piano, etc isn’t going to be high on the parish’s list. So the people who are willing to volunteer under those conditions are going to be the ones doing the music.
    I say to all who are complaining about music–you need to volunteer! Join the choir, start your own schola, do what you can, don’t just complain.

  • Heather B.

    Let me enter my thoughts from the other side of the Ambo. I am a cantor for my parish, and we have decidedly different music styles for the various Mass celebrations. We have a Gospel Mass, we have two Spanish Masses, we have a Contemporary Mass and we have two traditional-style Masses. I cantor for the two traditional-style, sing with one of the small Spanish choirs, and sing with a Gregorian Chant choir for the monthly Tridentine Mass in town.

    Now, I have heard a lot of griping from people regarding the styles of music put forth. Personally, I am for the traditional style music and Gregorian chant at Mass. But you have to remember, the majority of the people who participate in choirs are VOLUNTEERS! We give our time and, oftentimes, limited musical training and pray that God uses our feeble gifts to bring others to himself.

    That being said, we are at the mercy of the Priest and Liturgical Planning Committee regarding what we are allowed to perform. In my parish, good luck being allowed to sing anything in Latin. Then we are also limited by the ability of our weakest singer. If that person cannot learn a Brahms Requiem, then it’s not going to be sung. Period. Now, if you want to “pony up the bucks” to hire a professional choir, have at it! Or, better yet, join us in the choir and work to make a difference.

    Just remember, you will not be able to please everyone.

  • R.C.

    Regarding schooling:

    There are classical music university programs and local orchestras to train violinists and the like. It would be interesting to see statistics on how many church musicians are graduates of such programs.

    On the modern small-ensemble “praise band” side of things, there are also creditable centers of learning. In my hometown of Atlanta, the Atlanta Institute of Music (AIM) is the best source for band-style curricula. It would be very interesting to see how many church musicians are graduates of THAT kind of training; I’d guess very few. Fewer than the number of formally trained classical musicians, at any rate.

    In addition, there are other factors making modern-instrument music tough in a church:

    (1.) Some church sanctuaries are designed to be the resonance chamber for a pipe organ; that is, they’re designed to reverberate. This makes them almost perfectly wrong for modern music reproduction, where eliminating any natural hall reverb is desirable.

    (2.) Most churches/parishes don’t realize that the sound technician and sound equipment, together, account for about a third of how good the group sounds. Often, they get a skilled bandleader and reasonably skilled musicians, and then sabotage the whole thing with a volunteer tin-eared soundman and microphones from Radio Shack.

    (3.) Some churches/parishes aren’t aware that, when it comes to musicians, “the servant is worth his hire”; that is, the quality you get is often in proportion to how much you pay them. In Atlanta, a worship songleader of any skill starts at $150 per service. Instruments requiring particular skill may be comparable.

    (4.) The high-school or college kid who plays acoustic guitar is, likely enough, NOT the most mature, humble, and spiritually authentic member of your congregation; I don’t care how good their chops are. Get some mature “anchors” in the group!

    (5.) Rehearsals, when unpaid and poorly-organized, are often scanty. I’ve known Protestant “contemporary praise-and-worship” services in which the band’s sole rehearsal for an 11:00 AM service started at 9:00 AM!

    Given these factors, it’s no wonder that some Catholic churches experimenting with modern instrumentation and song forms have yet to see it done well.

    In J.S.Bach’s and W.A.Mozart’s time, the church could sometimes serve as patron of the arts. I wonder if there is a role for the church to act similarly today?

    I can imagine a situation in which a musician who was regularly used by a church could receive an extra “voucher” for some form of musical training/education, forming a sort of performing apprenticeship. In essence, they’re paid both for the individual service and for the constant improving of their skills.

    At any rate, schooling and skill are issues, and will continue to be. What a joy it would be, though, to see churches continuing and amplifying their ancient tradition of producing the best musicians around! It’d be a good witness to the world if the best musicians and best singers were all found saying, “Well, it started in my church choir…” on VH1 “Behind the Music.” (It’d be even more gratifying if, for a change, no descent into substance abuse followed!)

  • Mary B

    As I memntioned on another site my problem with ALL these arguements is the lack of Charity and Prayer. I waited 20 years for my family to be at such a point where I could join choir again. I am out of practice. I am older. Each song in Latin and in Glory and Praise has been a step on my Journey. Some places God led me were not what I would have chosen but the result was a closer relationship with and awe of Our Great God.
    Unfortunately when we sing a song because it is special to someone who requested it (Memorial Mass) there is always someone in the pews who feels it is necessary to criticise. Maybe our Latin pronunciation was off, our soprano sharp, our organist tired (he’s been doing this over 30 years)
    Some encouragement would go a long way! How about paying the organist extra to teach interested kids enough to interest them? How about putting up more Sacred Art in your Faith Formation Classes? How about sponsoring parishioners to go to Music camp instead of hosting soccer sign ups?
    What can you do today, this year, to encourage your pastor or music minister? What can you do today to encourage one more child to enjoy Classical Liturgical Music?
    I’ve been making plans to include more music in my children’s lives over te summer by hiring a young man fresh out of music school. My husband holds down the fort so I can get to rehearsal and turns on Classical radio in the car.

    Holy Spirit inspire us to find solutions! To do Your will! To Love!

  • Morgan

    “The dark ages of sacred architecture in the US are more accurately pegged to 1945-1975, before EACW “

    LOL, yeah, Environment and Art made everything hunky-dorey, AFTER EACW they stopped building those ugly as sin church buildings right away.
    TG for the BCL.

    Or were you being facetious?

  • Brian

    Dear Robert,

    I would agree music is important in lifting our hearts and souls to the sacred, but could not disagree more with the tenor of your piece. A small, but passionate group seems to be sounding a call for the Church to take a quantum leap back in time. If only we restart Gregorian Chant, get the organs back in churches, say more Masses in Latin, it would solve all our problems and lead to a long-awaited renewal. Nonsense!

    The comments attributed to Rev. Neuhaus, if accurate, are an affront to the people who undoubtedly rehearsed and gave of their time and talent for Pope Benedict’s visit. Thank God the Holy Father spoke of matters far more pertinent to the Church of today.

    I have had the privilege of witnessing wonderful liturgies, where music did make a lasting impression; I even remember the sermons. One such Mass was in southern California where a very professional choir praised God with uptempo contemporary Christian music. The church was packed on a Sunday evening; it looked like the crowd at midnight Mass. Another liturgy was in Bangkok, Thailand where a young group led similar music. Again the church was jammed. In Africa, the choir sang hymns accompanied by (gasp!) drums.

    This is not to say organs and chanting and the classics don’t have their place. They most certainly do; but they are by no means the only way, or necessarily the “correct” way, especially in a universal Church.

    At the wedding feast of Cana, I suspect there were some mighty good times, dancing and wonderful music, but I’ll bet not a whole lot of chanting.

    Thank you for the opportunity to post.

  • Jitpring

    I’m 36 and a recent convert. At a Mass recently, I began so infuriated with the drums, the guitars, and the tyrannical songleader that I wished them all into the cornfield, hoped that lightning would strike them down, and that the ground would then open under their feet and swallow them straight into the bowels of Hell. Of course, I was then unable to rightly partake of the Eucharist and required confession.

  • Cheryl

    What apppalled me far more than any musical selection was the use of Spanish at some of the events.

  • David Brandt

    Several have raised the matter of volunteers, laymen serving the Church through music.

    Just so. It is a bit of a truism that we get the church we deserve, even in all its electrified bass guitar thumping during Communion horror.

    B16’s moves with regard to the older form of the Mass emphasize this: the duty is placed first upon the lay community to band together _as_ a persisting community to request the older use.

    The duty then falls upon the bishop to provide training to willing priests, lest- finally!- he be subject to the embarrassment and tedium of being reported to Rome.

    The trouble with the clericalism of both clerisy and laymen that Russell Shaw has been writing on for many years now is that in our passivity we laymen have given up our right to ‘vote’ against the Bunigni-to-Beatles liturgical establishment.

    Granted, that establishment is powerful, and domineering, and unironically brooks no dissent.

    But those old guys are dying, and the infamous ordination class of ’68 is edging into retirement.

    It is time- this is our chance to take the Church back from the Glory & Praise gang. Speak to our priests, join our liturgy committees, join our choirs- join, I say, but perhaps even now what is meant is “infiltrate”. Form small-faith communities bound together by an interest in beautiful liturgies, liturgical documents, and the rights and powers of the laity under canon law. Share information on orthodox or traditional-friendly priests and liturgists. Especially in scandal-plagued, cash-starved dioceses, carefully directing one’s Three Tees to a specific parish in each deanery may meet with some success even over the opposition of Spirit-Of types in the chancery.

    And, as always: most of all, offer prayers of thanksgiving for the priests we do have before we offer prayers of supplication for newer/better/more priests.

    (Ugh. Okay, the seminaries. Every problem is related to every other problem, isn’t it?)

  • Ricky Smith

    I will try to be polite with my response and I do respect everyones thoughts about this subject. I have been an unpaid musician in the Catholic Church since I converted in 1985. I have played and sang for I can’t even come close to saying how many Masses. I have written some liturgies that were used and still may be being used in other parishes.

    I have always played mostly from the GP books and never has anyone said to the Priest or to me or write in the guest book after Mass that they thought that the Music should be changed. If anything there were always compliments on how they enjoyed it and how the liturgy of the music made the Mass so inspiring to them.

    Now, I have never had any music training. I play completely by ear and never have ask for any money. Because, I did it for God and he gave me a voice to sing with and the natural talent to play the Guitar. I never played for show. I always sang from my heart and I found my inspiration from the G.P. and practicing many long hours.

    I am now 60 and have recently been diagnosed with Meniere’s disease and can’t play for Mass anymore but people (Sisters too) are praying in my parish for me to get well and come back and play for Mass again because they miss the beautifull music.

    I know there is a lot of the GP played in parishes for entertainment and some being played with little if any practice but I didn’t do it that way. I did it because that was the way I could serve our Father in Heaven.

    However, as being a musician I could always tell those that had prepared for the liturgy when I went to other parishes. I have always appreciated those that sacrificed their time to willingly serve their parishes and I have met many who were very sincere what they were doing.

    When I read how people put down this music it hurts me deeply because I feel that God has allowed me to touch many lives in the different parishes he let me be a part of here in southwest Mo. He has rewarded me in all of these years with no criticism from not one person.

    If you want proffessional musicians then be prepared to pay them instead of spending so much on the church picnic and dances that most people come to for the chance to win a trip. Or a new trophy case for all of the church teams trophies. We, have to choose our prioities and music has never been one of them. Why is it now?

  • Dom

    “I think the title of this article misleads us. Sacred music is not about what edifies the pope, the pastor, the music director, or any other personality. Aside from the worship of God, liturgy is intended to sanctify the faithful. Generally, any musical style on any musical instrument, can achieve this.”

    Todd wrote this and if this is true then why haven’t rock songs on the radio given me a sense of heaven? Any type of Christian music has only tried my emotions at best but has NEVER lifted my soul. EVER.

    It’s sad to say that there are still people out there who consider themselves artist and musicians but have no inkling of deciphering the difference between typical music and sacred liturgical music. Just sad if you ask me.