Catholic Music: It’s Time to Stop Making Stuff Up

Every weekend or so, some name composer of mainstream Catholic music is out and about giving a workshop in a parish somewhere. I’ve been to enough of these to pretty much know what they are going to say in advance.

They stand in front of parish musicians and repeatedly tell them that the most important job is to engage the congregation to the point that people feel like singing, and that means catchy tunes and simple words.

And how to decide between the hundreds of such songs in the mainstream pew resources? The answer, we are told, is to look at the theme of the week, which is given by the readings. Flip through the book and find a song that seems to match in some way. Check out the theme index. Then consider and anticipate the congregation’s reactions to the pieces of your choosing and give it your best shot.

Sadly, nearly everything about this is wrong. In this model, the musicians are being charged with making the liturgy happen on a week-to-week basis. The Church struggles to provide liturgical books with deep roots in history, but the musicians show up and put five minutes of thought into making decisions about styles and texts that have a gigantic effect on the overall liturgical ethos. It is too much responsibility to put on their shoulders, and no one is competent to pull it off.

What is restraining and constraining the musician’s range of play in this model? Only their own subjective view of what’s right and what works. In practice, this is no restraint at all. In the same way that unstructured worship gatherings from evangelicals are open-ended and reflect nothing more than the desires of the worship leaders, the musicians dominating Catholic Mass today pretty much do what they want to do.

The liturgy itself is being held hostage to a few people’s on-the-spot views of what the message should be and what should take place. A major aspect of the Mass, one that can make or break the entire point of the ritual, is being put in the hands of people who have little or no substantive guidance or basis for their decision-making. Moreover, their hymnals and magazines and liturgy publications encourage that very attitude.

To be sure, it is flattering for the musicians to hear that they have this power. When the workshop leader comes and tell them this, their egos get a boost. Most aren’t paid and most aren’t really trained either, so this kind of responsibility can be welcome in lieu of material reward. It is to accept a job that is almost priestly, but without the trouble of six years of training and ordination. But the truth is that no actor in the liturgical world should have this level of power and discretion, and it is wrong to expect this of anyone.

What’s more, from what I can observe from parishes I visit, it doesn’t actually accomplish the goal. What happens is that people feel as if the musicians are overreaching and asking something of the congregation that the people don’t feel the need to give. Mandatory enthusiasm for someone else’s project doesn’t go over well in any aspect of life, especially not in music. Many just sit there vaguely and habitually protesting in their minds. So the musicians end up with a feeling of failure and confusion. Or they blame others and end up getting mad about the people and their refusal to go with the program.

What, then, is the constraint? Where are the boundaries? Where are the guidelines? The second Vatican Council plainly stated: Gregorian chant is to have first place at Mass (Sacrosactum Concilium). This statement has profound significance if you understand something of the structure of the liturgy and the purpose and applicability of Gregorian chant within it.

The trouble is that hardly anyone does understand this. Most everyone today think that Gregorian chant is a style or a genre, one marked by a monkish solemnity. They figure that, given that, it is enough to sing Pange Lingua on Holy Thursday, or sprinkle in a bit of Latin during Lent. Surely that is enough.

But this characterization completely misses the point. Gregorian chant’s distinct contribution is that it is the most complete and robust body of music for the ritual of the Roman Rite that elevates and ennobles the word of God in the liturgy itself. The point is not to sing chant but to sing the liturgy itself, meaning the text that is assigned to be sung at the place in the Mass where this particular text is intended to be sung. The notes are important but secondary to the word, which is the word of God.

In other words, it is not our job to discern themes of the day and take over the job from the Church of pushing texts that we find appropriate. The texts for singing at Mass are already given to us. There is an entrance text, a Psalm text, an offertory text, and a communion text. These are in the liturgical books. The counsel to pick and choose whatever you want amounts to a counsel to ignore the liturgy of the Church and substitute something of your own making.

So we can see that the Council’s embrace of chant was not about some old men who wanted to hear old-style music rather than new music. People who ignore chant and diminish its place in liturgy like to think this is true, but personal or generational preference has nothing to do with it. Nor is tradition the whole story. The embrace of chant is really the embrace of the liturgical text that is to be sung, and a drawing attention to the most complete and ideal musical model for presenting that text.

Of course musicians do not know that they are throwing out whole parts of the liturgy that have been integral to the musical experience of the Mass dating as far back as documentary history. Nor do the workshop leaders intend to do violence to the liturgy in this way. Most just don’t know about Mass propers and the role of the choir. Or if they do know, they find the project of singing propers to be unviable because…well…the project really hasn’t been picked up much over these last fifty years.

To be sure, this last point has been a serious problem. Musicians have not really had any means of singing Mass propers. They are not in the hymnbooks. Bishops haven’t really insisted on them. Confusion about these points has been everywhere. The official chant books of the Church, to the extent anyone knows about them at all, seem forbidding. And as self justification for not following any guidelines, people could always point to the can-of-worms-opening clause in the General Instruction that permits “another suitable song” to replace propers when necessary.

But thanks mostly to the efforts of the Church Music Association of America, we now have the beginnings of a growing repertoire of music that is both accessible to parishes and seeks to do what the Church intends with regard to the liturgy, which is to say that these new resources set the liturgical word to music. There are new books of sung propers appearing every few months, books such as the Simple English Propers (2011) and the Parish Book of Psalms (2012).

The idea is to provide a bridge to the ideal, to re-root the singing at Mass in a coherent framework, to restrain the wandering power of the subjective imagination of musicians, and to unleash a new kind of beauty that comes with following both the letter and spirit of the liturgy itself.

For most Church musicians, this is a completely new way of thinking. It is an amazing thing to discover. It also comes with a new mandate, not to rule but to serve, not to invent but to re-discover what is, not to impose but to submit in humility to what is bigger and greater than ourselves. To discover Mass propers as the musical mandate is also a liberating experience because it frees us from implausible and unworkable tasks and gives us a means of truly contributing to the life of the liturgy.

Author’s Note: If you want to know more about the proper role of music in the liturgy, there is no better source than William Mahrt’s The Musical Shape of the Liturgy (CMAA, 2012). Here is the full presentation of the bracing but uplifting reality.

Jeffrey Tucker


Jeffrey Tucker is managing editor of Sacred Music and publications editor of the Church Music Association of America. He writes a bi-weekly column on sacred music and liturgy for Crisis Magazine and also runs the Chant Cafe Blog.

  • It seems like Mass has turned into a musical at times.

  • Peter Freeman

    Finally found a music-free Mass in my neighborhood. Not only is it devoid of bad music, it clocks 15 minutes shorter!

    • Elizabeth

      How often do you go to Mass that 15 min. is a priority?

      • Peter Freeman

        It’s not the quantity; it’s the quality. Eternal praise should never feel like it takes an eternity.

        • Shelly Flinn

          would have loved to go to a “Padre Pio” mass. 🙂

          • texasjo

            Yes, and Padre Pio took hours to say a Mass. However, I do not like the Masses today as far as music, as I sang Gregorian Chant in a convent school. And, the nuns were wonderful musicians in those days. Some of the songs they sing today are not even correct in content. And, as I look at the congregation, hardly any singing, it is so boring and people look as if in a trance. I was a music major, and music is a higher way of speaking to God. Just as incense rises with our prayers, our voices should sing in jubilation or adoration.

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  • John Quinn

    it is a pity that you have not attended a workshop by Marty Haugen, Bob
    Hurd, David Haas, Bernadette Farrell or Chris Walker.

    Gregorian chant has first place ‘all things being equal’.

    Have you tried James Moore’s ‘Taste & see’ or Bob Chicott’s ‘God so loved the world’ as communion antiphons?

    Prof. Paul Ford, Dr.Richard Proulx and Mary Berry have been promoting Gregorian chant (successfully) for decades.

    Not forgetting Dom. Alan Rees, who has composed introits and antiphons for the entire church year at Belmont Abbey.

    Is Sacred Scripture really ‘inappropriate’ for the Liturgy?

    • Jeffrey Tucker

      Why do you keep posting the same thing over and over? I would comment back but the comment is essentially incoherent. I’m a fan of Ford, Proulx, and Berry, They all favor(ed) chant. All things equal means that it is still primary even when it is not possible to sing it. As for your last line, I don’t know what to make of it: the propers are 100% from scripture.

    • Paul T

      John, I’ve attended a couple of Haas workshops. They were little more than campfire song celebrations. I’ve gone from cantoring Haugen/Haas to (mostly Protestant) “praise and worship” to chant and polyphony, and feel like I’m finally at home. With chant, the mystery, awe, and reverence are back in Mass.

  • John Quinn

    Jeffrey, it is a pity that you have not
    attended a workshop by Marty Haugen, Bob Hurd, David Haas, Bernadette
    Farrell or Chris Walker.

    Gregorian chant has first place ‘all things being equal’.

    Have you tried James Moore’s ‘Taste & see’ or Bob Chicott’s ‘God so loved the world’ as communion antiphons?

    Prof. Paul Ford, Dr.Richard Proulx and Mary Berry have been promoting Gregorian chant (successfully) for decades.

    Not forgetting Dom. Alan Rees, who has composed introits and antiphons for the entire church year at Belmont Abbey.

    Is Sacred Scripture really ‘inappropriate’ for the Liturgy?

    • Barbara

      It must be inappropriate because I have not heard any in so long. I long for the old catholic hymns. When I went to the catholic grade school my grade was the class to sing at the 8:00 high mass. Sister had us sing Gregorian Chant. If grade school children can sing it, there should be no reason for adults not to sing Gregorian Chant.

      • Bill

        As a choir boy in the 40’s we always sund Gregorian. So easy. So beautiful. I have Gregorian notation translated fro, the “square” notation to the more recognizable “round” notations. That should make it feel less “foreign” to those who have that opinion

    • I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. Much of the music is good for performance, but not for the congregation. In addition, the politically correct tone of many of the lyrics brings about a secular approach to worship.

    • WSquared

      “Is Sacred Scripture really ‘inappropriate’ for the Liturgy?”

      This is a red herring, and you know it. It’s not a matter of Sacred Scripture, but how it is conveyed, and how it therefore points to the spiritual reality that we profess to believe in. Furthermore, we all seem to be forgetting something when we discuss Sacred Scripture’s “appropriateness” (well, duh) in the liturgy: in Catholic theology, the Word of God is the Word Made Flesh, which is not exclusively Sacred Scripture. In the EF, this is made very clear by the Last Gospel (one of the reasons why I pray the Angelus after Mass is because it reminds me of this).

  • D. Tallerico

    Jeffrey, this is excellent but of course, it is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to the selection of sung prayer at Mass. Everyone, from the priest, to the altar servers, to the congregation, and to the choir must be in communion when it comes to the understanding of Mass as participation in the Divine Liturgy. When Catholics are re-educated to the “why” of their “gathering” the “how” will make more sense. Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote a lovely article explaining this: In the Presence of Angels, I Will Sing Your Praise (1995).

  • At our church, the pastor chooses all the hymns, period. We sing, over the course of the year, probably about 150 different hymns. We take them, mostly, from the 1940 Hymnal. They are almost all of them superb, and there’s not a really poor one in the bunch. I’m willing to learn chant — and polyphony. I don’t think we have to boot out J. S. Bach and Mozart and Handel for the sake of chant; or Johann Crueger, or Samuel Sebastian Wesley, or Michael Praetorius …
    I do hope that the fellow below was joking when he mentioned the awful Haugen, Hurd, et alia ….

    • Ben Dunlap

      The original piece was not perfectly clear on this, but I think the main point is to revive the use of the traditional *texts* of the Roman Rite for the entrance, between-the-readings, alleluia, offertory, and communion.

      There are plenty of Renaissance, baroque and classical settings of these texts that are just as neglected as Gregorian chant.
      But these texts, the Mass Propers, were mandatory and universally prayed in Roman Catholic Eucharistic worship until 1970. Until then they had not substantially changed for a thousand years or more, and the documentary record before the 10th century or so is simply silent on the question, so it’s very likely that they are in fact much more than a thousand years old.
      They still exist (in the Graduale Romanum) but have been optional since 1970. In practice, something approximating these texts is still typically recited at weekday masses, but on Sundays, they are almost always replaced entirely with hymns.
      Certainly a licit option but — regardless of the quality of the hymns chosen — it begins to feel threadbare when one discovers the rich and ancient treasury of the Propers. Why not use the Propers *and* some fine old hymns?

  • Midwestern Trad

    Welcome back to Crisis, Mr. Tucker. We’ve missed your writings.

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  • fiatlux

    Tony… While hymns can be beautiful, what this article speaks to is that Holy Mother Church has already chosen proper intriot, offeratory and communion texts for each Sunday of the entire Church year so that your Pastor does not have to choose a lovely but random hymn. In the Tridentine Mass, these texts are all set to music which is proper to that day and that day only. The great horror of the music situation today is because almost no one knows that the new Mass has these proper texts as well, and that they are to be sung. Unfortunately, the Church failed to set any of these proper texts to music and only recently have some good attempts to set these for choral singing been widely available. Let’s not settle for randomly chosen hymns, even if well chosen. Let us please sing the propers for.each Sunday, and learn the full joybof the liturgical year.

  • hombre111

    As a retired priest, I have chosen to sit often in the pew, attending Mass in several different parishes. I always wanted to do this, because the priest at the altar is so busy being the presider that he does not have the chance to have a prayer or a focus of his own. I have begun a project to attend a couple of Masses in every parish in the area. I will then try to turn this into some kind of summary.
    So far, I have attended six out of the eleven parishes in the area. I have focused on celebration style, sermon, and music. The majority of the priests have an adequate celebration style: Not prayerful exactly, but clear enough. The problem is with the international priests who struggle with a strong accent. Two or perhaps three of them are simply incomrehensible, especially to old people with hearing problems. As for the sermon: The majority are clearly not prepared, speaking off the cuff. Pronounce those sermons mediocre at best. There are four excellent preachers in the group, not always well prepared. And again, the problem of foreign accents. Those men need to understand that they will never preach a truly inspiring sermon in their entire lifetime. Finally, music. When the sermon is so-so or incomprehensible, it is the music that saves the Mass. One parish does Gregorian chant, but it is difficult to sing it well, and they usually don’t. The hymns so maligned in this article are often a real inspiration to the ordinary people in the real life situation of the parish. I often give myself permission not to sing, just allowing the music around me to carry me into the prayer places I could never go when I was the presider.

    • Tully

      The problem with incomprehensible priests is not their accents. It is the families of the parish who have not once discussed the idea of joining the priesthood to their two or less sons.

      • hombre111

        I agree. But there it is. Celibacy is not a big sell these days. Parents want grandkids and young people want to get married. After a huge effort in my conservative diocese, we have seven young men in the seminary. Even the conservatives cannot get hot on this thing.

        • Wendi

          I disagree. Celibacy is not the problem. Being open to life and living the faith are the problem. People don’t want their religion to inconvenience them and it shows.

          • hombre111

            I want to agree, but I see too many really good young men who are going to live loving generous Catholic lives. They just don’t feel a call to celibacy. Remember, celibacy and priesthood are not really connected. The Church in her wisdom decided that if you feel a call to be a priest, you would have to accept the “munus” of celibacy, whether you have that call to celibacy or not. Not working so well these days. In my day, men were so in love with the priesthood they accepted celibacy as the price they had to pay. Now, young men are saying, why in the world do I have to pay that price? No thanks.

            • David

              In your day, men were in love with the priesthood, and today they are not. Why? Because over the last 50 years we’ve watered down what it means to be a priest. It’s not seen as a noble calling, worthy of the sacrifice that it requires.

              • hombre111

                If had had the chance to do it all over again, I would do it all over again. But I would hope I could attend to my emotional act a lot sooner than I did. I think in part it was because the seminary was designed to keep men immature, and we had to do our growing up after we were ordained. For instance, we had no contact with women, but as soon as we were ordained, there were women all over the place. Pluse there was a mnimum effort to help us understand and learn how to deal with our sexuality.
                I think that priest actually have it much harder today. In part, it is because of the priest shortage, but we do things today no priest dreamed of doing fifty years ago: Parish councils, different parish committees, committee responsibilities with the diocese. At one time I was pastor of four parishes, twenty-nine, sixty-five, and eighty-five miles apart. I have received huge disrespect from parishioners when I did not do what they wanted. In the two thousand family parish where I live as a retired priest, there are two priests. In the day there would have been four. The young priests are in a hell of a bind. One guy, ordained two years, is pastor of a parish the size of Rhode Island. It is 130 miles to the nearest other priest, and that is in another state. Another guy, ordained two years, is suddenly administrator of a thousand family parish. The guy who took over one of my last parishes has been ordained two years. It is considered one of the most difficult parishes in the diocese. He has a 57 mile drive to see another priest.

                • musicacre

                  Yes the life of a diocesan priest must be incredibly lonely at times since there are less priests, as compared to the brotherhood experienced in a monastery. I guess we have to keep praying for more strong young men to be priests. I’ve heard of African priests (in Africa) that have to cover that much territory on bikes!

        • rsmyth75

          i agree w/u wendi! the protestants r imploding 10x faster than we r!!! the heresy of modernism is the reason and the real scandal

    • Rita

      Well, I feel sorry for our beloved Pope Benedict xvi, he has a foreign accent, he will never preach a truly inspiring sermon ( sarc ).
      I’m glad you have retired Hombre 111

      • hombre111

        If the pope were just another old priest with a heavy accent trying to preach in a language he cannot speak well, the parishioners would see him coming up the aisle toward the altar, and sigh. But because he is the pope, he always does well. Whether he does well or not.

        • MariaJC

          We are to get over the accents and get on with listening. If one focuses on the accent, one naturally gets agitated which agitation then causes one to not understand. Be open to the Word of God. Be open to your fellow Christian brothers who, surprise – surprise – are not only anglo-Americans (Americans, who themselves have plenty bad accents)! Me thinks too, that it might just be a simple case of selfishness that one is not being “entertained” in the way one wants. Petulant, un-Christian adults (hearing aid or no-hearing aid) who judge instead of support and empathise. Do you think for a moment that the foreign priest enjoys standing in front of people who are so unkind and impatient?! He would much prefer to be around his own people.
          Let’s put oursleves in their shoes for a moment. In any case, the Holy Spirit will help you hear the priest if you are sincere. Try smiling with your heart and genuinely being grateful that you have a priest to celebrate Mass. Perhaps you will then find that his accent is ever so slight…

          • hombre111

            Excellent, thoughtful post, MariaJC. When my brothers and sisters go to Mass, they hope to hear a good sermon. Out comes the priest with the heavy accent. They will be able to understand about one word out of three or four. And so they sit there for ten minutes or so in what is essentially a blank time. But they will always stick with the Church. I think the problem is with the youth. Adults will put up with things out of loyalty and a sense of the larger picture. But young people will not. So, at a time when many of them have grave doubts about their faith, they are expected to endure this incomprehensible Mass. When Mass was in Latin, at least the readings and the sermons were in English. Now, for these kids whohave still not developed a sense of loyalty to the institution, and have only a vague sense of the big picture, this ordeal with the incomprehensible is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Oh, I know, they should have been taught better by their parents. But that is the situation the Pope throws at us today. I say the Pope, because the refusal to allow married priests is his decision. Amazingly, he seems to sleep at night. .

            • musicacre

              Now that I’ve hit middle age and (I hope) am a little wiser, I can see with some hindsight that there has been a tremendous (false) focus on the HOLMILY being the entire reason for the Mass. I’ve only realized lately, this is so Protestant. The absolute main focus for Catholics is unique to the Catholic is the SACRIFICE of the Mass. Some Protestant churches even shudder at the word, offertory. Let’s be not mistaken, the Mass gives us graces BECAUSE of the Sacrifice, not because of Father so and so being extra inspired one particular morning and “relating ” to us! Any Protestant church can do that too!

              By the way, it IS this generation that is restoring the Latin Mass to it’s proper place; ( there are many quotes from Vatican II that say the Latin Mass is to be accorded prime position, though it never was…) which is every Sunday. My daughter who is classically trained is very excited to have been invited to the local Latin Mass to lead the choir. She never grew up with it, and neither did I, but we have a great and growing love and fascination. We are proof that if you expose people and educate them, they will come to love the Latin Mass.

    • Frustrated

      Amen Fr! Those who insist of bringing everything back to the middle ages for the sake of their own nostalgia miss the point that we are there to worship God and Gregorian chant and Latin are NOT the only approaches. As you said, so many of he more modern music brings me to prayer and a closer sense of God’s presence. This doesn’t happen when the musicians become performers but I have to say so very often, those who do Gregorian Chant and other old school music are even worse at being performers that the more modern musicians. It’s the same way with Latin. The celebrant needs to focus on saying right more than praying the Mass. The people are lost. The Mass becomes a ritual fulfilling of ones Sunday “obligation” as opposed to a time of intimacy with our loving God. Mr Tucker should look at the emptying of the pews that has occurred since the trust back to pre Vatical II days before encouraging more backsliding to those bad old days. The mission of the Church is to save souls and to bring people closer to God and the use of language and music which can more easily be understood and participated in critical to helping carry out that mission as is good liturgy and well as the readings and Gospel being proclaimed not just read and a homily that is well prepared, well thought out and shared with passion and enthusiasm. My heavens! When I think about who and what we celebrate we should be dancing in the aisles rather than acting like we’re at a wake.

      • First off, Gregorian Chant and Latin are not from the “middle ages.” The Novus Ordo is 42 years old. “dancing in the aisles” is not appropriate at Holy Mass. It is intended to be a solemn occasion since we are receiving our Lord into our very bodies. Uh, it is a marriage, not a wake. When was the last time you saw dancing in the aisle at a wedding? As noted above, small children can learn chant. It isn’t hard. It doesn’t even have to be in Latin (but why not? It is the language of the church and the Mass. In a country like ours, with a plurality of languages, the effect of saying Holy Mass in the vernacular has Balkanized our churches. Instead of all worshipping as One, we have “Spanish Mass, Polish Mass, etc”). Chant is simple, timeless, and beautiful. There is a reason we have had 3 “generations” of popular music in the church since 1970 (hey! Remember Ray Rapp? St. Louis Jesuits? Think that “music” is going to be around in 100 years?) Father’s comment that concerned me most was that he was so busy “presiding” that he “didn’t have a chance to have a prayer or focus of his own.” Gulp! Holy Mass is all the prayer anyone needs.

      • musicacre

        The pews weren’t empty when the Mass was Latin!:) If you want to express your emotions that is not what the Mass is.

    • Wendi

      Chant is not difficult. My three year old can chant the ordinary…in Latin and English. It’s about exposure and repetition.

      • hombre111

        I did chant in the seminary for ten years. Once in a blue moon, I hear it well done in a parish. Usually, it is a train wreck. Maybe you should start sacrificing so that your three-year-old can have a music career.

        • musicacre

          That’s kind of sarcastic. Latin is on the rise; you only need pay attention to all the new online groups and publications!! You might not want it to be, but it is. Not evenly, in every location, but It is a powerful force that won’t be stopped. By the way, just an example, all 6 of my children (mostly grown-up now,) sing Salve Regina more familiarly than most people know the national anthem. Why? Because one mother in the parish many years ago decided to do a practice for 1/2 hour once a week for about 5 or 6 weeks. It stuck for those 2 or 3 dozen kids. they will never forget how to sing it!

    • I can’t say that I disagree with you about your criticism about thick accents. As an immigrant myself, some people have difficulty understanding me, though I’ve been living in the US for some 15 years. For sure, probably a word out of 10 is not understood now, but it was worse in the beginning. Physiologically, I’ll always have an accent, and so will these heroic foreign priests.

      However, when a just-ordained priest came to our parish, he had spent 6 months in Spain to prepare himself minister to the 30% of our diocese who are Hispanics. His Spanish was pretty good from the beginning, but, sometimes, in the middle of a homily, he’d ask the congregation how to say something in Spanish. The faithful were delighted to share their mother tongue with him and his willing to speak it well pleased the Hispanics in our parish very much.

      On the other hand, I sometimes to another parish for daily Mass where a Vietnamese priest barely speaks English and often skips the homily altogether. At another parish, I couldn’t believe that the pastor assigned a priest who had just arrived from Nicaragua and spoke no English to celebrate a Mass in English. It seems to me that in spite of the sacrifice that foreign priests are willing to make, their enthusiasm to serve the Church is not met with the responsibility that dioceses have to help them to minister effectively. So, it’s my impression that it’s not their fault, but their bishops’ that their accent is too thick and that the faithful does not get to be preached to effectively.

    • Dave

      Amen Father….Often times we expect more of musicians than we should…You are correct when you said that music can save the Mass even if the homily is not good. The best is good music and good homilies…I still think it is the priest that sets the tone..

  • Surely there’s a place for both Gregorian chant and the centuries-long tradition of Christian hymnody. After all, who wrote hymns? Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Ambrose, Prudentius, Venantius Fortunatus, Jacopone da Todi …
    I don’t recommend “random” choosing of hymns. First, there are hymns appropriate to the various liturgical seasons and feasts — that takes care, or should take care, of at least the entrance and recessionals for Advent, Christmastide, Lent, Eastertide through Corpus Christi. Then, there are Eucharistic hymns — plenty, and quite powerful. Then there are hymns inspired by the psalms — plenty; one has a lot to choose from, if the psalm of the day is one of the more beloved ones. Then there are hymns that fit into certain clear categories — missions, Christian zeal (the military hymns that have been removed from contemporary hymnals), petitionary hymns, penitential hymns, hymns of praise, etc. Priests ought to have more than a passing familiarity with sacred music. My pastor does not choose good hymns at random. He chooses great hymns, with special attention to the season and the day.
    One thing — Pope Saint Pius X recommended Gregorian Chant as a corrective to the operatic performances that were becoming common in churches. He wanted people to learn Gregorian chant so that they — not the choirs, merely — could sing it. Sacrosanctum Concilium has the same thing to say about polyphony. People can learn these things. Heck, polyphony was written precisely for men and mere children — boys. What we now have is the worst of all possible worlds. We have the “performances”, not operatic but just awful and silly, of showboating choirs, while people sit in the pews in simmering frustration; and they’re not singing Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus; they’re singing “Sing a New Church into Being,” or some such tripe. Bad music, bad poetry, bad theology — and bad liturgy.

  • In my Novus Ordo parish in Canada, the music is almost uniformly BAD. We have two hymnbooks, I don’t remember their titles but one is red and the other one navy blue. While there is an occasional traditional tune in the blue book, the red one contains almost exclusively the productions of Dan Schutte and his likes. This stuff ranks from mediocre to really awful. Well, lex orandi, lex credendi – no wonder many contemporary Catholics believe that it is enough to be a “good person” to be saved… On the other hand, when I attend the traditional Latin Mass, I am treated to the music of Palestrina and other great composers of the past, performed by an excellent choir. The difference is palpable.

    • Shelly Flinn

      I consider myself traditional and charismatic. I love ALL aspects of the Church and don’t believe it is good enough to be a “good person” to be saved. I try to go to confession once a month and Eucharistic adoration weekly. It is what is truly in your heart and are you trying to practice your faith with all your being.

      • WSquared

        It is indeed what’s in your heart, but let’s not forget the intellect, also. If one’s heart is to remain pure and oriented toward the Lord, it must be guarded by the virtues that allow us to see Him. What’s in our hearts has to be reasoned through in order to be intelligible to us, so that they “stick” better, and we often have to parse things that seem to “speak” to our hearts: not everything that speaks to our heart is of God (surely our toxic popular culture is evidence enough of this). This comes straight out of Proverbs and the Gospel, namely the parable of the sower. And a heart that does rest in the Lord, as per St. Augustine, provides for a sturdy exercise of the intellect. They work in concert.

      • WSquared

        Practicing your faith with all of your being does include the intellect, which I see very few people mention when it comes to any discussion of sacred music in the combox. We primarily talk about the heart, but not where it needs to be oriented. Let’s not forget that “you shall love the Lord with all your mind, all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” is Scripture, too.

  • fiatlux

    Tony… Hymns are extra-liturgical; propers are part of the liturgy. Your rubric for choosing hymns only narrows the field from which to arbitrarily select a hymn. Mr.Tucker’s point still stands, that is, the Church already has music chosen for each Sunday. The problem so far with the Novus Ordo is that the music for these texts, while given in Latin in the Graduale Romanum, has not been promoted, nor made widely available for the English proper texts. No one is saying that hymns must be banished. There is time, usually, for an appropriate hymn or motet to be sung after the proper at the Offeratory and during Communion, and at the close of Mass. But these must be understood as extra-liturgical, and therefore secondary to the propers in importance if time does not permit. A lovely text by a Saint is edifying, but not integral to the Mass as are the propers. You must admit that your rubrics for choosing music require a great deal of literary and musical taste. The Church, thankfully, has made certain that the faithful need not be beholden to the good or rotten taste of the chooser. Would that all musicians in service of the Church knew this! Sing the propers first, then … your rubrics apply to the (please let us admit) more personal and arbitrary choice of hymn or motet. (There is always room for setting the propers to original or traditional melodies, or writing your own, but the point is to sing the propers already! )

    • RJV

      A minor quibble. It’s not that hymns are extra-liturgical, but that, for the most part, they belong to another liturgy, namely, the liturgy of the hours / Divine Office. In the Office, the singing of a hymn (and here the Church has assigned proper hymns, especially in the Latin typical edition), is an integral part of the liturgy. Also, there are hymns proper to the Mass (e.g. the Gloria, the Pange Lingua during the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, though not Mass, per se, etc.). The Mass also has room for a hymn of thanksgiving after all have received Holy Communion (e.g. Te Deum, Te decet laus, etc.). In all these cases, however, when a hymn is sung, nothing else is going on. (Even Gloria, laus, et honor is not processional hymn per se, but is sung at the threshold of the church after the procession from the location where the Gospel was read and the palms blessed. There is a proper Introit for palm Sunday that is to be sung during the procession to the sanctuary). So, singing a hymn is a liturgical act in its own right. We all hymn God (or the Cross, or a Saint, etc.) together. Hymns and processions don’t blend well. A processional chant, on the other hand, is a musico-textual counterpart to the liturgical action of procession. I often find the cadence of unaccompanied chant to fit perfectly the pace of the ministers as they walk, and the swinging of thuribles as incense rises up to God.

  • As a convert to Catholicism but a long time choir singer, I was disappointed to discover that Catholics don’t actually sing all the great Catholic music we sang and/or learned about in school. As a lover of both the Catholic faith and great music, I resist the urge to groan each time I show up to Mass and discover we are singing yet another Marty Haugen song instead of one of the great pieces from the centuries long tradition of amazing sacred music (no offense to Mr. Haugen, who I am sure is a wonderful man. I just don’t think his music is worth singing 10x as often as every other composer as my parish music director apparently does.)

    • musicacre

      When my son was in first year music at university they studied Gregorian, etc (even though it was a feminist, secular university), and when he offered to take some classmates to church, (they really wanted to go), they were crushed that there was no Gregorian, even though most of them had never been to church. It was a typical Cathedral with just the usual hum-drum latest modern “tunes” and pop music. They were prepared to be lifted by what they thought was going to be almost other-worldly music, but were sadly disappointed. There’s nothing unique about our church if we are just running behind the Protestants, copying their grasp of what liturgical music is. And new potential worshipers get it, that the church is just trying to reproduce what one hears on the blaring radio and at concerts.

  • child of God.

    Thank you thank you thank you, we have a chlidish LOUD emotionally charged mass it is disgusting, the music leader feel inclined to “Help God Out” by keeping every one hysterical and emotionally charged “because the mass is just boring without it”???
    “Young people NEED loud emotionally charged music to keep them engaged!!”
    This ignores the wonder of God’s presence during the blessed eucharist!!
    PLEASE, more prayer and less noise!!

  • Robert

    So where does the organ fit into all this?

  • Charles Culbreth

    What Jeffrey Tucker passionately pleads for is undeniably truthful and would, in an ideal world stuff the plethora and panopoly of post-conciliar problems back into the Pandora’s box. But, as I’ve reminded him elsewhere, more light and truth need to be shared with both the professionals and the pew people who root for his vision to prevail. The whole truth and nothing but this truth is that the endgame always remains the Latin Graduale Romanum. So far, so good. However, as has been correctly pointed out in these comments already, the Church has been down this rocky road at least twice in its liturgical history- Trent and “Tra le sollecitudini.” And the “ideal” solution wafts away soon like incense, save for some remarkably beautiful, exceptional adherents in alpine monasteries, small parishes in Palo Alto, San Diego, Auburn et al, and in small colleges where folks like Dr. Ed Schaefer and others have chosen and been providentially endowed the privilege of implementing the ideal. But back in real, unwashed catholicland, there is a sort of renaissance that approaches the ideal and endgame with the burgeoning catalogue of “chant-based” book resources, the most notable examples in the U.S. including the forerunner “By flowing waters” (1999, Dr. Paul Ford), The American Gradual (Pr. Bruce E. Ford), The Simple English Propers (2011, Mr. Adam Bartlett), The Vatican II Hymnal (2011, Mr. Jeffrey Ostrowski), The Lumen Christi Missal (2012, Bartlett), as well as many other similar “solutions” over the years by Frs. Weber and Kelly, Dr. Tietze etc.
    The dilemma remains: are these bridges or terminal destination resources for people that must negotiate vastly different worship cultures armed only with the meager knowledge that the popular culture has ensnared upon them? And what’s more, we’ve been here before. What little liturgical reform resulted from Trent was soon forgotten upon the fraternal twin horns of baroque opera forms and an opposite extreme, the singmesse. After 1903 resources such as the Rossini Propers and the Palmer Burgess Gradual hardly made pervasive dents in the now well-ensconsed “hymn sandwich” mentality.
    We in the church music biz ARE STILL COMPELLED to have to CHOOSE what elixar product will be the parish remedy or poison? You can’t still “make this stuff up.” For most of us this “wonderful variety” of choice remains a sort of potential “Russian roulette” revolver wherein each chamber is loaded with one of those “silver bullet” solutions I listed above. We can get the pastor’s permission to pull the trigger and still not know if we will survive or thrive afterwards.
    The Latin Mass, OF and EF, and the Gradua Romanum (or Gregorian Missal) remain the only “true” path in intellectual honesty here. We’re always going to be in it for the long haul.

  • AmeriCelt Catholic

    I am a Catholic convert, and currently I contribute what I can, with my rather mediocre keyboard and vocal skills, to the music program at two parishes in our little rural parish cluster. For a while, I was choosing the music, which I no longer do — and pleasing no one. I have the greatest sympathy for the person who now has that task. I would love to use more Gregorian chant, and try to sing some of the Mass propers in English. But our people, with a very few exceptions, simply will not learn it. Some won’t even tolerate sitting and listening while the very small choir sings for them.

    A few years ago we had a pastor who had a degree in sacred music, and loved using the traditional Latin texts, or good English translations of them. He used “Parce Domine” and similar pieces in their appropriate places. He had us use the Mass of the Angels (now called the Chant Mass) in Latin, in its entirety, during one entire Lenten period. We taught the people. The priest taught the people. We encouraged them. We reminded them that for those who watch the daily Mass on EWTN, the words and music were already familiar.

    The people complained bitterly. Finally, seeing that we were going to continue using this music for a while, some of them just stopped coming. Many of those who continued to come stopped even trying to open a hymnbook and follow along, choosing rather to just sit and wait until the music, including the Mass setting music, was finished so they could get back to the Mass.

    We did get a few expressions of gratitude from people who either wanted to connect with the musical traditions of the Church, or who remembered these things from their youth, but in general it was very discouraging.

    • MariaJC

      Sad how some people are just spiritual sloths! Clearly, not understanding that at Mass, one aims to elevate one’s soul to God. Such people need to be distracted by bad music for fear that they might actually encounter something beyond themselves!

    • musicacre

      Actually, unless I’m mistaken, the Latin Mass in it’s entirety (The Tridentine?) has only the choir singing, and for good reason! For the congregation, it’s a chance to follow and gradually be lifted to the undreamed- of heights that early man on earth could not do- be in physical communion with God! This unearthly, beautiful chant helps shed the careless culture that is outside the doors and enter into this mystical space. Who would want to drag in earthy, campfire music at a time like this?? Maybe we’re all forgetting what the Mass is. A very wise elderly Chinese Jesuit who was in our parish for a short time used to repeat the same thing over and over; ” You don’t come to the Mass for someTHING, you come for someONE.” Aside from being idealistic about it however, I do think the rejection by so many people of sacred music is just plain ignorance, this hidden beauty of the church has been hidden too long! Most Catholics have made friends with the meager offerings that pop music strains to be.

    • texasjo

      I think the music should be a little of chant, and a little of inspiring songs, that the congregation KNOWS. Before church, we could get them to learn the song. I stopped going to church…people didn’t dress appropriately (sexy or dumpy), had no respect, hugged boy friends, chewed gum, didn’t sing, and the EM’s had personal problems. Give me back that old Religion…well, Jesus will take anything He can get from us, I imagine, but woudln’t it be nice to give him the best? After all, he gave us the BEST. AND, have homilies that teach us something, are well-prepared!

  • Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!! I wish more people feel this way!

  • frjohnmorris

    I do not want to offend my Catholic brothers and sisters, but you can find everything needed to chant the entire Tridentine Mass in English in Gregorian Chant at the Lancelot Andrews Press, which is the publishing arm of the Western Rite of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Look at Look at the St. Dunstins’ Psalter, the Monastic Diurnal Noted and the Hymnal Noted. You will also find a complete Benedictine Breviary in English in two volumes, The Monastic Breviary Matins and The Monastic Diurnal.

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  • hoary

    To put it bluntly, “Catholic” music since vat2 sucks.

  • Kay L

    I was a music director of a small parish for several years where I had the responsibility to build the repertoire from the ground up. I can assure you that no music was chosen “on the spot” to conform to a “theme” or anything like you have characterized in this piece.

    Music planning was done 6 months at a time with great care for the liturgical use, the pastoral application and musical quality. Essentially, most of the repertoire could be done without accompaniment if need be–the melody needed to be strong enough to do this.

    What traditionalists fail to recognize is that Gregorian chant was developed in monastic communities that sang it corporally EVERY SINGLE DAY.

    There is no way that a most of the large Catholic churches today would be wise to spend time doing the same music for the weeks on end that would necessary to accomplish making Gregorian chant the only repertoire of their liturgical life.

    I used Gregorian chant where I felt it would be embraced by the community, in the Agnus Dei, in the Tantum Ergo on Holy Thursday. And we used chants for the Easter Vigil and the sequences.

    The rest of the repertoire was limited to roughly 150 pieces of music, of which many were psalm settings. The core of the repertoire comprised roughly 60 songs that the community knew well and could sing easily, including the children.

    The directive that the music be sung communally is not a novel idea by some volunteer with a guitar. It comes from the American Bishops and their writings on how music is to be carried out in liturgy. And while it says that Gregorian chant has pride of place, it certainly doesn’t prescribe it as the be all and end all for American parishes that comprise anywhere from a hundred families to several thousand.

    When I have encountered traditionalists, the very idea that Catholic Bishops have the authority to weigh in on things like this is scoffed at.

    I did my job, I did it well. The community had a strong repertoire that was their own, that they knew, that they could sing. They were not taught new songs each week. They did not need cheerleaders to stand up in front of them and wave their arms. They knew what to do because I made it very easy for them to do it.

    But, until the Catholic church gets really serious about putting their money where their mouth is–ie, the collection plate is directly influenced by two things: good preaching and good music–they will continue to have pockets of parishes where volunteers are pressed into service—and I might add–do their job for no pay and NO EGO BOOST. It’s extremely uncharitable for you to ascribe sinful motivations to someone else’s service.

    Not having any direction and being given some that has been bought and paid for by the pastors, if not the liturgical directors of the diocese, it is quite natural and healthy that people would do as they’re instructed. You can complain that you don’t like the direction they were given, but it is derisive to mock their spirit in the giving of their service having been so instructed.

    This is not rocket science. People have been trying for decades to get churches to fully embrace chant and its just not going to happen. You would have a better chance teaching it in a Catholic school as long as you do mass EVERY DAY.

    • Ben Dunlap

      Thank you for your years of devoted service, Kay. Does your experience suggest any specific objections to singing Mass Propers these days, now that the “chant is hard” problem has been solved by (very new) books like Simple English Propers and the Parish Book of Psalms?

  • Dave Marney

    ” the most important job is to engage the congregation to the point that people feel like singing, and that means catchy tunes and simple words.”

    I agree with the author that many have this exactly backwards: what it should mean are catchy words and simple tunes. The music must serve the words, not vice-versa.

    I am a hymn-writer (, and when I set down to write a hymn, the questions I ask myself are:

    – What should the singer be feeling when they read these words?
    – What can I do musically to bring out that emotion?
    – What can I do rhythmically to help the singer memorize the text?

    Gregorian chant worked for its time, and it is a good example of a text-centric approach. I don’t think it’s necessary to literally adopt it, however, to get the same effect.

  • Nadster

    As with all of Mr. Tuckers writings on this subject, this one is laced with condescending elitism and actual disdain for his fellow Christians. Yes, there is an ideal for music in the church, just as there is for all things liturgical and of the faith. But to portray good-willed people giving their time and, yes, talents, to this particular ministry as a bunch of ego-mongering, uneducated liturgical simpletons is just plain not very nice! I wish I had multiple degrees in sacred theology and years of university education in liturgical music, but I don’t. I am too busy raising ten children, running a company and basically trying to be a good Christian. Yes, I play guitar as mass and I sing songs by guys like Matt Maher and my priest allows me to select music. I am sorry Mr. Tucker for being such a simpleton, but the alternative in my particular parish is an 82-year playing our worn out organ that we can’t afford to fix, using 1970’s tired old protestant hymns like Amazing Grace and Lift High The Cross. Maybe there are folks in our parish who cringe at guitar based “pop music”, just as I am sure there are folks who would return to latin, not knowing what is going on at mass, standing outside and smoking cigarettes during the homily while the wives prayed their rosary during the Eucharistic Prayer…all the “good ole” pre Council practices.

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  • TheodoreSeeber

    I agree with both ideas, but here is what I would add for music ministers (and no, I haven’t done this job, but I’ve NOTICED that when this is done, it can bring even the most folksy guitar Mass to the level of a Latin High Mass): Limit your choices to music that uses the same scriptural passages as the Liturgy of the Word.

    I’m in Oregon, so I’m familiar with the Oregon Catholic Press, which owns a ton of copyrights in American Catholic Folk Music. EVERY one of their song books, from Today’s Missal to the Music Issue, has footnotes on each song that uses scriptural references giving those references. THAT should be a guide to every music minister. Look at the readings, then pick your music *based on those readings*.

  • Shelly Flinn

    So then are we saying there is no “room” for Catholic music writers who have songs in their hearts God gives them that are purely Scriptural based? So then are we not to “sing a new song unto the Lord his praise in the assembly of the faithful” as is prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours? I believe there is room for all music, but there should be masses to reflect the different preferences. We have a “traditional” and “contemporary” mass music setting. Unfortunately, you lose the youth without the current and new contemporary musicians like Josh Blakesley who recently came to our church for our youth. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE chant myself- I chant the Liturgy of the Hours. I am also a musician and have received some beautiful songs from our Lord from praying the Liturgy of the Hours, mainly in the midst of intercessory prayer or in reading the psalms, I receive new melodies in which to sing them and have thus written responsorial psalms that way. Are we to stifle the Spirit? I, too, am a convert, but it wasn’t the music that converted me: it was the desire for the Eucharist. You can’t squeeze God in a box and thank GOD we are all different. You aren’t going to please ALL of the people and not ALL of the people are going to be touched in the same way. But there is that wonderful feeling that occurs when the Communion hymn magically backs up the priest’s homily and you get that warm fuzzy from God inside that you prayed before you “picked” the song. I believe if we use music to draw people into the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, we have met our goal.

    • WSquared

      But Shelly, it’s a matter of what belongs at MASS, not whether there’s “room” for songs in their heart that God gives them. There is a time and a place for everything, and Mass is not necessarily the time. The Mass is the public prayer of the Church, and what we pray is what we believe. If what brought you into the Church is a desire for the Eucharist, which is what the Mass is about, then it makes sense that music at Mass should reflect that– God’s saving action, what the Eucharist is, the God we believe in. This comes out far more clearly in the propers for Mass, which are the Psalms, mostly, which culminate in the Eucharist. Given that Mass is time set apart from the everyday, wherein we are meant to be drawn into eternity, beat and rhythm also matter, because it’s a matter of form and function. Music with a strong, regular, measured beat gives us the sense of the passing of time. Weak beats give us the sense of eternity. Since you brought up music being “purely Scripturally based,” chant does follow the flow of Scripture far better than “Sing a New Church Into Being,” etc. Mass is meant to reflect and communicate to us the highest goods.

      The thing about the Spirit, though, is not to stifle it, but know that it is together with the Father and the Son. There is meant to be an order, and the Catholic tradition is a faith-and-reason one. Both the emotions and the intellect are re-oriented toward God, and it takes you deep. Some forms of music accomplish that better than others.

      That does not mean that Catholic musicians can’t contribute new music. Kevin Allen and many others whose work features on websites like Corpus Christi Watershed are good examples. This is new chant and polyphony being written for the Mass. But again, the issue is what the Mass actually is and what it is about. Anything that undercuts the theology of what we profess publicly to believe really is a step backward.

  • Janie

    Our parish is lacking, to say the least, in music but then again I have learned that unless one attends a parish in a large city, we get what we have–mostly “a joyful noise”. But I love going to mass. I also love going frequently to a local non-denominational church to sing my lungs out with great praise music. This church is not charismatic–went to one of those once and it almost scared me to death so I avoid those. All four of my college kids enjoy the praise music as well. However, they all attend colleges that teach the beauty of the Gregorian chant. Balance is the key.

  • Matthew Arnold

    You cannot balance the bad with the good.
    You have to follow GIRM.
    You cannot invent Masses, ever, at all.
    You cannot get what the Church, including our present Pope, wants, until people of the “Vatican II spirit” face the biological solution.
    Keep praying for the beauty of the Liturgy to return.

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  • What percentage of American Catholics understand Latin? I don’t see much point in doing Gregorian chant in a language where you don’t know what you’re saying. Unfortunately, the rhythms of chant seem foreign to English. And I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has a degree in Latin, so I do understand it personally, but I see few others who do. European-type metric melodies seem to work much better with most congregations.

    • Christian S

      There are English translations of the entire Missal available, including the antiphons. One such English Missal is complied by Father Columbia Kelly of St Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana.

      The Latin language “issue” is misinformed.

  • Matthew Advent

    Mr. Tucker, you are the bomb. Although I’d like to see a few of your pieces on economics and government in Crisis to counteract the barrage of nonsense its contributors seem to only be capable of.

  • Virginia

    I attended Masses for children in the Catholic School where the musician played pieces from classical composers. In one instance, we approached Holy Communion to the sound of a Sousa march.

  • Billy Bean

    I wish every Catholic could visit an Eastern Rite parish at least once to experience the beauty of Eastern Chant and hymnody (usually a cappella). The theological content is rich and reverent, the 8 “tones” are accessible, beautiful and versatile.

    • Val1

      I did once. Listening to it was pure penance – very distracting from the mass.

    • Michael Leggett

      I currently do head to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in two Ukrainian Catholic Parishes of The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, CT, in both Astoria, Queens & Manhattan’s East Village. I am awed by singing the responses and “Holy God, Holy and Mighty”. It is far superior to singing Schutte, Haugen & Haas Doggerel.

  • When I read this article, I was surprised to know that there are proper antiphons for every Mass. While it shouldn’t surprise me, having been born in the post-conciliar years, I was unaware of them.

    As someone who strives to abide by what the Church commands and asks of me, I sulked in the thought that I wouldn’t live long enough to see the Mass be celebrated after the rubrics through and through. Even though my parish is considered to be one where the liturgy is celebrated reverently and faithfully, I wouldn’t know that there are these proper antiphons.

    Well, I’m glad to say that my pessimism was, if not totally unfounded, defeated. Starting this Advent, the priests explained that the rubrics for the Mass indeed give options, but the norm is that the antiphons be used. As a matter of fact, what we have been experience in the last half-century is actually the last, and therefor the least preferred, option: an ad-hoc song. So, in my parish, the antiphons will be used at all Masses from now on.

    Praised be Jesus Christ!

    PS: I wonder if my forwarding Jeffrey’s article of 11/12/12 to our music director made him interested in reading this article too. 🙂

  • Dave

    I am the director of contemporary worship at my parish which has 5300 families. I spend a lot of time choosing music for the Mass for which I am responsible. A church that does not move forward stagnates and becomes dead. Jesus Christ himself went against the status quo and he changed the world. I resent when some over academic individuals think they know everything. This article needs to be viewed as one persons’ opinion. As usual, theses articles are well written and convincing to a point. I really do not think that Jesus cares about the kind (style)of music we do in church as long as it praises His Holy Name. My thought on all of this is that all sacred music has a place in the church. I hope that chant and the traditional hymns never go away, but to say this is the only style of music to use in church is ridiculous. I always strive to make use of traditional music in my planning process. What I am looking for is the scriptural and theological contents of the text.. The words are more important than the music. I for one really think that the chanted Responsorial Psalm is superior to the sing-song style of writing. Chanting focuses on the text and allows us to use the official text of the church. It is risky to paraphrase the lyrics to fit a melody. However, to chant a song of praise seems a little mundane. I feel that music at Mass should represent the best of what is from the past and best of what is current. I get the impression that some of the authors of articles like this think that the best music for church has already been written. That of course is ludicrous and could be one of the small reasons that people leave the Catholic church. We are called to use our talents in service of the Lord. This may be a little off the topic, but do you think if the internet was avaiable in the time of Christ, he would not have used it. Of course He would!!! So it is with music also, which is a form of communication. The writers of the past were reflecting the times that they lived in just as we do today. That keeps our faith alive and vibrant

  • PJ

    Such a great post and thank you!

  • Terry

    I must say that the comments on this – and just about every piece in CM & CWR are about as enjoyable – as in well reasoned and nicely put – as the pieces themselves. And I thank all of you for that.

    A few things – I go to Latin Mass whenever I can and one Sunday the (visiting) Priest said this as part of his homily – “The biggest sin of our times is the loss of the sense of sin.”

    My favorite description of Christmas – “Today we celebrate the unthinkable.”

    If you can find it (I’m looking for it) there is a movie called ‘Saving Grace’ that is a gem. Not the one made about 10-15 years ago, the one starring Tom Conti made in the mid-80s. The Pope (in his civvies) gets accidentally locked out of the Vatican and goes on a walkabout.

  • Bradley Currah

    Hello Jim,

    I’ve recorded and produced a new album entitled “Prayers of the Saints,” which has been very recently finished. It’s not full of simple lyrics although the music is fairly catchy.

    When doing research on lyrics and writing, I decided that the older prayers and liturgical poems and hymns were unmatched in beauty and theology. So, I decided to put many of the prayers to music.

    In case you’d be interested in talking about the music, or the lyrics, or reviewing the album, I’d love to talk more. Or if you’d like to just hear the music, you can by clicking on the link. Curious to see if you’d like the stuff.

    Bradley (hear samples of the music here)

  • Charlie

    The Bible says nothing about what type of music except to sing praises to the Lord.

    Read Dave’s comment below as it seems a fair assessment of the topic.

    I especially like his comment about hymn writers of the past expressing themselves at that point in time and maybe churches need to update their hymnals to todays feelings.

  • AugustineThomas

    This is yet another Novus Ordo problem. When Mass is a free for all, everything ends up disordered–the way the people dress, the way they sing, the way the pray and practice their faith.

  • Writer Guy

    This is a well-written article, very insightful. The ego-building “praise and worship” music that is permeating the Catholic church is history repeating itself during my lifetime. Raised a Protestant, I went to seminary and majored in music with the intention of a lifelong vocation of church music ministry. After 20 years of dedicated service I was edged out for younger, sexier, hipper, and edgier faces. I am among many who came to the Catholic tradition expecting just that: tradition, a lineage of worship connecting us to the foundation of the Church. How disheartening to find the same music I had seen divide many congregations doing its damage to Catholic parishes as well. I am directing music at a parish (I converted) and it has been a tiring struggle, trying to keep the masses resembling anything Catholic. Even priests and nuns have scolded me harshly for incorporating occasional Latin, chant, and the organ. I have never been so cursed at like I was when I moved the choir off the altar and back to the loft. I have not found any local Catholic parish music directors who are not onboard with the praise and worship movement. The parish’s choice of Catholic publisher does not support or provide materials for traditional music, as it is mostly in the public domain and renders no profit for them. I tried connecting with communities of directors on the traditional/sacred side of things, but I found them judgmental and unwelcoming because I haven’t jumped full board into chant and near-Tridentine music. Where does a director like me go for others whose pastor demands contemporary “ditties” to keep the peace and appease current parish pop culture?

  • profling

    What do you expect? The whole liturgy is mere kitsch.