Is Inculturation an Excuse for Pop Music at Mass?

What is the standard by which we should judge the music we hear or sing at liturgy? That’s a huge and controversial question, but a recent experience revealed to me something interesting. It suggest an answer that is completely different from what you hear from the defenders of pop music at Mass, especially when it is pushed as a way of appealing to teens.

Here’s the story. In preparing music for this past Sunday, the schola at my parish ran out of time to prepare the authentic Gregorian Introit. There is nothing wrong with that. We are all volunteers and there’s only so much practice time. Gregorian chant should be given “first place” at Mass but it is not always possible.

Plus, aside from this, we sang two pieces of Renaissance polyphony, the Gregorian communion, an English proper chant for Offertory, a Psalm and Alleluia, plus all the ordinary chants of the Mass and the dialogue chants. That is actually a gigantic amount of music for an amateur group that sings with no instruments. We’ve been working together more than ten years now, and this is the fruit of that long-term work.

The feast was Corpus Christi, and the liturgical books assign the entrance Cibavit Eos. I had to find a replacement for the procession. My first thought in finding one, after years of doing this and feeling rather comfortable with the genre nowadays, was: what does the real entrance sound like? There are many options out there today, thankfully, and to select among them requires that you have some grounding in the character of the ideal music of the Roman Rite.

At least, I can only say that I would no longer feel comfortable replacing a Gregorian chant without having some familiarity with the thing for which the replacement is substituting. It’s taken a long time but I feel like I’m finally getting and practicing what the Church has long taught, that the appointed chants are the standard by which we measure whatever we end up doing. I ended up choosing a simple choral number by the composer Richard Rice, very beautiful and stately with a clean presentation of the text.

The translation of Cibavit Eos, the original text of the introit for this day, reads as follows: “He fed them from the fullness of the wheat, alleluia. And sated them with honey from the rock, alleluia.” It’s hard to imagine a better text for the day. It’s the first thing you hear at Mass, and it should be just right. Fortunately, as Catholic singers, we don’t have to make up texts or choose among them. It is given to us right there in our music books for the Roman Rite and often even printed in the Missal itself.

I’m grateful for this. It keeps our singing grounded. It provides a challenge. And when we can’t do the Gregorian, or when we are seeking to introduce more variety in styles, we are at least in a position to choose some rooted alternative that is part of the structure of the liturgy itself. This doesn’t remove personal discretion entirely, but at least when we exercise our own judgment over something as important as an entrance song, it is tethered to tradition and expressive of the embedded liturgical Word itself.

The very day that I was going through these exercises in my mind, I bumped into the transcript of a speech by Fr. Robert Schreiner, who is a powerful voice in the Life Teen movement that recommends singing “praise and worship” music at Mass. The text is from a speech he gave in 2010. This speech has become the canonical defense used by the rock group in your parish, the one that sings music with repetitive words that have nothing to do with what’s in the liturgical books and accompanies that music with pop rhythms. You know the type, so I don’t need to go on with my description.

Fr. Schreiner begins with his bona fides. He understands Gregorian chant. He can read it and sing it. He plays piano and organ. He didn’t like Christian rock at first. He kept trying and still didn’t get it. Then finally he went to a Mass at which a popular Catholic singer was leading a band. Within 30 seconds, he says that he “got it.” “I became a convert…. And then the teens have been teaching me their culture. Life Teen has been introducing me to their culture.”

And so he underwent a subjective conversion based on one experience. Even based on his own account, and despite all his provisos about the need for music to be humble and holy, his final standard is not what the liturgy structure intrinsically asks of us but rather how he personally responded to what he was seeing and hearing. He then reports that he opened himself up and let the “teens” teach him “their culture.”

Based on this experience, he threw himself into the mainstream of Life Teen liturgical life. To be sure, such experiences can be powerful. Perhaps we’ve all been through something like this, a time when we thought we had all the answers only to observe with our own eyes how something completely different seems to be enormously successful. For example, I’ve had friends tell me of similar experiences when attending, for example, Eastern Rite parishes.

So how to justify this according to Church teaching? Fr. Schreiner wraps up the whole justification in one idea: inculturation.

The question of inculturation is a non-negotiable and for us who are reaching out to teenagers, the question is absolutely predicated on this. Do teens have a culture of their own or not? If they don’t, then we really need to pack up and go home.

By way of review, this notion of inculturation is not something that Fr. Schreiner is making up. It has a real meaning in the documents (a point I owe to Adam Bartlett). St. Pius the X spoke to the matter more than one hundred years ago, and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments addressed the topic in an entire document released in 1994. Varietates Legitimae said that authentic inculturation introduces the idea of a “double movement.” In this, the Church can assimilate values of local cultures and, at the same time, introduce peoples into the broader church community. This is an essential aspect of evangelism. The consummate example of inculturation is named in this document: “the translation of the Bible into Greek introduced the word of God into a world that had been closed to it and caused, under divine inspiration, an enrichment of the Scriptures.”

But there is an important proviso here. These features of the culture to be assimilated, according to the document, must be “permanent values of a culture, rather than their transient expressions.”

This proviso relates to liturgy in particular here. There is no real problem outside of liturgy but the central question is whether Christian pop music marketed to teenagers really is part of the “permanent” value of a culture or whether it is a mere “transient expression.” The question is crucial, writes Varietates Legitimae, because “the inculturation of the Christian life and of liturgical celebrations must be the fruit of a progressive maturity in the faith of the people.”

It strikes me as obviously true that Christian pop is part of the transient culture and not permanent. Therefore, it doesn’t in any way qualify as something that can be snuck in under the inculturation label. In fact, rather than encourage progressive maturity, pop music at liturgy entrenches and prolongs an immature stage of life. It fails to prepare kids for mature faith.

Pop music, even when the text is Christian in its intent, is transient in two fundamental ways.

First, the music itself comes and goes like fashion. This is what it is supposed to do. This is its character. Everyone in the pop world is interested in the new hit whereas hits from the past that last are relegated to the oldies status. Perhaps only a few make it more than a decade. Just think of any performance act that features music of the 1970s. There is a good chance that you could name 3 or 4 of the hits that would necessarily be included.

Second—and this is so obvious that it hardly needs to be pointed out but I will do it anyway—youth itself is transient. The young get old, new groups of young replace them, and so on. And people always grow up and look back and ask, “What was I thinking?”

This pattern has repeated since, oh, the beginning of time. But it is especially true in our time when no real responsibilities are expected of young people. They don’t have to provide for themselves. They have no meaningful work to do unless it is created for them. They sit at desks most of the day, hang out mostly with their peers, and are not responsible to adults in a way that is integral to their daily life activities.

So yes, many young people today might imagine that they occupy a sub-culture of their own, something self-sustaining and insulated from the rest of the world. That such impressions exist at all is living proof that adults in our world have not done their job to prepare young people for life. So it’s no wonder that we see so many post-college meltdowns among those who have never actually encountered an authentic adult world before and cannot navigate it or even understand it.

The question is whether this sub-culture has any relevance whatsoever for the important choices we make concerning music at liturgy. The answer, I believe, is that it does not. To treat it as if it did is really to cheat young people of the rich liturgical traditions of the Catholic faith. And this is why never before in the whole history of the Roman Rite until fairly recently has there been anything like a musical culture specifically designed for teens.

This all changed in the 1960s when the demographics of parish life had come to shift so dramatically after the postwar baby boom. Suddenly the teens seemed to outnumber the adults. And the adults caved in and actually worked to create this sub-culture. We began to hear about the “generation gap” and “never trust anyone over 30,” and so on. With that came the “folk Mass” and the wholesale abandonment of the musical tradition of the Roman Rite. This was not a good thing.

This period was a calamity we are still trying to repair. It left us with what is today the mainstream music in Catholic parishes, which to today’s young people sounds very much like easy-listening music from the 1980s with religious words. They are not drawn to that and so they seek out something new and probably just as transient.

This pop takeover of service music—and the cultivation of a distinct youth subculture—has been the norm for many decades. In my youth, growing up Baptist, I can recall how much I winced at the whole spectacle. There was no “youth culture” anywhere when I was very young. Then in the mid-1970s some adults showed up to cobble one together. I had sung in the choir as a young child—we sang actual serious music—but suddenly some adult emerged teach us a new way. We got goofy new uniforms (white suits with big bells, as I recall) and were made to look and sing like members of the Partridge Family.

Then they hired a “youth minister” who was this “cool” guy who wore jeans and curried favor with the biggest jerks in the youth community. This “minister” had made the classic error that adults make in trying to navigate teen subculture. He had confused notoriety with respect. The kid who suddenly sat atop the social ladder, with the permission and encouragement of our new “minister,” was actually the sassiest jerk among the whole lot, the one who was actually working to corrupt everyone as much as possible. He was the very guy that we all worked to avoid. This new minister, whose job it was to “relate” to the young,” was drawn to him and inadvertently made this guy the model and ideal.

I was still young but my older brother experienced the full brunt of this shift. Drum sets were on the altar. Music was being distributed on sheets stuck into the hymnal. We were supposed to clap and yell in services. I recall feeling a slight sense of pride in this music mainly because my parents didn’t like it and I thought it was fine, for a while, until it became boring and embarrassing.

Mostly, I recall a dramatic cultural shift in the life of the worship community. The youth sub-culture came to dominate, and the standard ended up being: how can we please these people? How can we meet them where they are? The youth were very aware of this, and in losing respect for the adult leadership, they became more unruly than ever. Fracturing and isolation and eventual rebellion became the norm—as the adults just sat and cried with their heads in their hands.

That approach is very different from the more responsible approach, which is: how can we help these people to mature? How can we draw their spiritual imaginations to a place where they are not now but wish to be? I would submit that the best way to achieve this is through a humble recognition that our subjective likes and dislikes may not be the best standard by which to select our music.

After my conversion to Catholicism, it was very strange to me to find the same debate taking place in the Catholic world. Catholics went from the “folk Mass” to “glory and praise” to “praise and worship” to whatever is on the cutting edge today—all the while overlooking the timeless music of the ritual itself.

Fortunately, Catholics are not in a position to become completely unhinged from rubrics and clear standards, so there is probably more hope for reform here than anywhere in Christendom.

On the matter of music in particular, Gregorian chant—especially in the Mass propers—remains the standard of measurement. But of course substitutions are permitted. When we do substitute, we need to familiarize ourselves with the standard so that we can make sound judgments. “What does the Church intend?” is a better question to ask than “What is going to connect with this sub-culture?”

Think of the Mass proper for Corpus Christi as drawn from the words of the Psalmist: “He fed them from the fullness of the wheat, alleluia. And sated them with honey from the rock, alleluia.” This is what God promised in response to obedience, a promise that is fulfilled from following the law rather than our own transient wishes of youth.

There are many wholly legitimate debates about music and there is no final arbiter over what is or isn’t an appropriate replacement for the musical structure that is an organic part of the Roman Rite, and such replacements will always be necessary. But we cannot get anywhere with these debates so long as the essential liturgical orientation remains in dispute. The place to look to evaluate our efforts is not to demographics and pop culture but to the core of the liturgy itself.

We should not be seeking to create, cultivate, or cater to transient subcultures of musical expression in which the tastes and style come from a sector of life that has nothing to do with the liturgy. And yet that is precisely what we have habitually done for decades. The Life Teen approach is nothing new; it is a continuation of the old errors in a different form, even as the authentic ritual song of the liturgy remains neglected.

It’s been my privilege to be asked to give some private seminars to some leaders within the Life Teen world, and introduce them to the beauty of chanted propers. In every case, I’ve seen nothing but huge success. This generation really is open to rediscovering the authentic thing, the musical prayer of the Roman Rite. It only takes one experience in singing it, and you just know in your heart that it is right.

Life Teen is actually a great venue to push this reform. But it cannot take place so long as adults (and priests) pretend as if our goal should be to be instructed by immature and mostly uninformed efforts to update liturgical music according to currently popular fashions.

To realize that teens do not constitute a culture for the liturgy to emulate is not a good reason to “pack up and go home,” as Fr. Schreiner suggests. It is a good reason to come home to the deeper, richer, and more truthful culture of the liturgy itself.

Editor’s note: The painting above entitled “Musical Angel” was painted by Rosso Fiorentino Giovanni Battista di Jacopo in 1521.

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.

  • AcceptingReality

    I think the selection of music according to popular culture leads to a casual atmosphere where “entertainment value” becomes a consideration. It’s the exact same thing when a priest habitually opens Mass with a joke, closes Mass with a joke and constructs a homily designed to elicit laughter from his “audience”. The entertainment mentality is counter-productive. It distracts and directs away from worship. Many in attendance don’t participate they sit back, relax, text their friends and watch the show. Mass is still a solemn sacrifice, is it not? The Eucharistic Lord deserves our attentive worship, does He not? A revival of the sense of the Sacred is needed.

    • John O’Neill

      You are absolutely correct; the abasement of public liturgy by using so called “praise music” and including a priest who thinks he is there to talk about jokes and or the latest sports news is a detriment to our faith. Recently in the magazine “First Things” a protestant minister wrote a thoughtful article on the negative affects of this so called praise music, actually modern pop music with somewhat scriptural messages, on the tragic motif of liturgy and hence the tragic sense in everyday life. By endeavoring to make public liturgy the equivalent of an American morning tv show we are betraying our Faith in a big way.

      • WSquared

        Besides, isn’t it true, as per the Mass, that we can only ever truly praise God “through, with, and in Jesus”?

        Well, what happens when the way we approach and celebrate the liturgy obscures the spiritual reality of what we actually believe about Jesus, thereby promoting incoherence?

      • athelstane

        Yes, that was an insightful article, even coming from a Protestant perspective.

        Americans have reached a point where they don’t care for a sense of tragedy, save at safe removes. And yet, the failure to retain that sense robs our liturgy of its true staying power.

    • bluesuede

      Very well said.

  • NECatholic

    Thank you for the time and thought you put in to your response. My own would have been a bit more direct: NO!

  • poetcomic1 .

    “I was still young but my older brother experienced the full brunt of this shift.” I misread the last word in this sentence and the whole essay briefly came alive for me.

    • lifeknight

      You made me laugh aloud! Thank you!

  • lifeknight

    You’re going to get some flack (flak?) from the number of people who contend that parishes with Life Teen Masses have a higher rate of vocations—this argument proposed by a vocations’ director at my angst with Life Teen.

    However, once young people are exposed to the sense of the sacred that chant provides, many choose to attend Masses with parts in Latin or the TLM in total.

    Admittedly, in high school I loved those guitar pickers at Mass. Life does go full circle.
    Thank you for a well reasoned, enjoyable article.

    • Jeffrey Tucker

      In every case I know of, these young priests repudiate and are embarrassed by their involvement later and dedicate themselves to good liturgy later. I know of several cases in which the embarrassment is so intense that the priest is actually drawn to EF Masses only.

      • lifeknight

        Perhaps they mature along with the teens!

      • WSquared

        On the one hand, I have a very real sympathy for those who make it a point of attending the EF only. On the other hand, I am a little wary of anything that risks ghettoizing the EF, because it kind of leaves those of us who attend the OF in the lurch (I attend the EF once a month, but I’m the only EF-lover in my family), and it makes it easier for the Folk-Mass and pop-music advocates to not have to deal with the Church’s musical tradition as well as what the Church actually gives us and asks of us, and makes it easier to isolate that tradition as “elitist” and “divisive.” There is nothing wrong with the OF Mass, and that’s not our call. But what is wrong is slotting the transient into it, which which causes confusion regarding the Almighty, Ever-living God we profess to believe in. I think it might be better for EF and tradition lovers to keep a foot firmly in both camps. The best way to confront those who oppose that tradition is to show people that there’s nothing to be afraid of: you “don’t understand Latin”? Don’t worry; you’ll catch on. You’ll see– and quicker than you think. Think ad orientem is “turning one’s back on the people” and “distant”? If we say we want to have “a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” shouldn’t we all be facing Him? And since it is only because of Jesus that we are truly drawn closer together, that’s all the more reason to face Him together.

        Besides, for all the talk we hear about “humility” and having a “simple faith,” how is it not humble and being of a simple faith to receive what the Church gives us, trusting that she gives us these things for good reason?

        • Of course the key to this becoming a concrete reality is for ordinary parish priests to offer the EF in their mainly-OF parishes. As long as the EF is generally found in EF-only parishes, or is offered by a visiting priest rather than a regular priest of the parish, the “ghetto effect” will continue.

          • WSquared


        • athelstane

          On the other hand, I am a little wary of anything that risks ghettoizing the EF, because it kind of leaves those of us who attend the OF in the lurch.

          That’s a concern, no question.

          As someone who has opted, reluctantly, for the “ghetto,” I would say this: Is it worth the risks to your family to stand and fight for a restoration of tradition in a parish where that fight is going to be an uphill struggle? Where does your ultimate responsibility lie?

          Of course, if we all take that route, the recovery of traditional liturgical life in the regular parishes will take even longer. Yet I’m never going to second guess parents who put the priority of exposing their children to reverent worship, good music and sound catechesis over their hopes to shape up a poor parish.

          Some traditionalists take the route of registering in the geographic parish and keeping a token presence there, ready to lend support to those that decide to take the lead on traditional initiatives. That might be one way to compromise a little.

          • WSquared

            I wouldn’t second-guess those parents, either, especially if so many things really are as bad as all that. But what I would like to do is to foster a knowledge of both forms of the Mass in my children. The EF is not meant to be pitted against the OF, and there are lessons for us all in putting the faith in action regarding charity, patience, and prudence here: there is a problem in pitting the one against the other that cuts both ways, trad and progressive. I definitely struggled with that one when I got used to attending the EF. What put me on an even keel was attending the daily OF during Lent. Admittedly, I prefer chant and polyphony, and would to see more of it in the OF. But a well-celebrated OF with carefully chosen hymnody is more than fine. Every parish can start there. What I tend to do is take my EF-honed sensibilities to the OF, plugging the EF into the OF and watching the latter unpack itself. In other words, the EF can enable you to pray the OF better. I also allow those EF-honed sensibilities to help me tune out an awful lot. The point being that there are two things that are simultaneously true: 1) many a time, the pop-music folks are doing their best and probably don’t know any better. 2) But “best effort” doesn’t make this sort of music okay, because it boils down to the purpose and direction of that effort.

            What would also be important for my kids to remember is that unless the Mass is invalid, that’s still a valid Eucharist. There are Protestant congregations that offer worship and sacred music that would put many a suburban pop-music-offering Catholic parish to shame. But absenting valid Holy Orders, that’s not a priest, that’s not the Mass, and that’s not the Eucharist. Game over.

            I like the route that you describe in your last paragraph. The question is how best to address any tendency to use the fact that even the worst pop-music Mass is still a valid Mass as an excuse to defend the status quo.

            • athelstane

              The easy answer to your last question is that we shouldn’t settle for less. In messy real life, however, it may not be so easy to be that demanding.

              I *am* sensitive to the dangers of “ghetto-izing” the EF and liturgical tradition in general, for the same reasons you cite (it will make the fight for a larger restoration harder and longer, in all likelihood), but also for another: it’s a struggle for traditional communities to replicate true parish life. They don’t always have the full range of parish life (perhaps being hosted by another parish), and even when they do, they almost always require their members to travel long distances, which inhibits developing a true sense of community. It’s often a compromise of some sort.

              And yet: I know people who have tried to fight the good fight in their local parish, and simply grew tired of fighting, or too alarmed at what it might be doing to their children, and finally gave up. I’m deeply sympathetic, as I said, and yet I also recognize that there’s a price that comes with that withdrawal. But for my part, for the time being, it’s a price I feel I will have to pay.

          • I would guess that there’s still a lot of good to partake of (or contribute to) in many parishes with less-than-first-rate liturgical sensibilities — devotions, Eucharistic adoration, corporal works of mercy, catechesis, even just good old parish dinners and festivals.

            It seems particularly important to me for folks with traditional sensibilities, who prefer the EF, to participate in the local parish life at least on these levels. It’s good for the parish but it’s probably also good for the individual/family, maybe in unexpected ways. That’s certainly been my experience.

            Meanwhile, no matter what the availability of the EF mass, one can always keep the kids liturgically grounded by chanting some of the traditional Office at home on a daily basis. My oldest boys (6 and 5) can sing the Latin responses at traditional Roman Compline, as well as the simple settings of the Marian antiphons (they don’t pronounce all the words just right but I think that’s OK). We sing at least part of it together every night.

            I even notice my 2-year-old occasionally singing a 2-year-old’s version of some traditional chant — she’s just picked this up by osmosis.

            • athelstane

              I think it depends (as it must) on the parish, Ben. Some are better than others; in some parts of country, the trend is in the right direction, albeit slowly. Some may have enough good things going on that parents may say it’s worth sticking around and fighting to improve, without undue risk or scandal to their children.

              My response wasn’t meant to be a clarion call for all good Catholic parents to bail out of diocesan parish life for traddy (or semi-traddy) communities. Sometimes, it really may be that bad, and I have lived near parishes in recent years that really were that problematic.

              • I suppose there are some parishes where the entire community life is genuinely toxic, but I suspect (hope?) that most parishes have at least one or two other good things going on that are worth being a part of as they already are (with no need to fight for improvement) — even if the parish’s liturgical orientation is basically off-kilter.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I hate to say it- but being one of the few Catholics in my 40s to stick with the Church- that Pop music dismissed as transient was often the only real catechesis I got growing up. The actual teaching can be summed up as “Memorize the Ten Commandments, Our Father, and Hail Mary. Jesus was nice, you should be nice too (no explanation of the term “nice”). Jesus loves you.”

    That isn’t enough to stay in the Church. The music wasn’t the problem- due to the music I learned that I should say yes to service, that the Eucharist was more than just a meal with inadequate calorie count, that I should guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride, and that God does more than just love me- he’ll pick me up when I fall down and give me the chance to overcome even my most mortal sins.

    It was the catechesis, not the music.

    Of course, my favorite secular Pop Rock artist today is Weird Al. And my favorite Catholic one is Nick Alexander- who is just a doctrinally correct Weird Al.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Which comes to another question. Since we now know plainsong *was* the pop rock of the 400s-500s (it could be sung without musical accompaniment, which in the falling Roman Empire was something only the very rich would afford), what is to say today’s pop rock won’t become the cherished tradition of a future generation?

      Even the made up Christian-like folk music of science fiction is attractive, like “We will all come together in a better place” from Babylon 5.

      • diane20047

        Well said! Everything was new once. It seems like we are blaming the lack of reverence, bad preaching, and limited knowledge of our religion on the “new” music.

      • But the musical character of plainsong and contemporary pop are fundamentally different. Plainsong tends to be non-rhythmic and harmonically subtle, and appears in many different scales/modes.

        Contemporary pop is almost always in one of two modes (major or minor), tends to be a harmonic bully, and is heavily rhythmic.

        I’ll grant that much plainsong is easy to sing, which is also true of some contemporary pop. Do you see further similarities beyond that?

        • WSquared

          tends to be a harmonic bully, and is heavily rhythmic

          It also tends to try to force Scripture into blah beats to a bar, thereby trying to “beat” it into a this-worldly conformity.

        • TheodoreSeeber
        • TheodoreSeeber

          Not really, not modern post-autotune pop anyway, though this is interesting:


 for the Pope Francis version….not nearly as good.

          But back in the 1970s, before the OCP took over, and when folk music *actually came from the folks and not somebody’s commercialization*, then in addition to easy to sing, both plainsong and modern folk music had the virtue of coming from the laity around the campfire.

          Been 35-40 years since you could say that though.

      • anilwang

        That’s not accurate. Compare Plain Chant with Gregorian Chant, Byzantine Chant, Ethiopian Chant, Islamic Chant, Hebrew Chant (which is at least 3000 years old and is still in use in Synagogues). While each is distinct, all are fundamentally of the same form and it is possible to chant any of the Scriptures once you know the basic forms. Now compare these with Pop Music. Unless you already know the rhythm, you can’t sing these songs, and you certainly can use these styles to sing arbitrary portions of the Bible. Simply put, chant is a way to turn any scripture or pray into song, as such transcends the music preferences of the time.

      • musicacre

        I always get annoyed when I hear this false argument, but I’m sure someone can explain it better than me, a housewife. The article already explained about transient music, which accounts for most “pop” music, and music itself only moved out of the church and into music halls, more recently in history. You can’t say the genius of Bach, Mozart, Palestrina, etc was incidental music of the time that would pass in time. There was genius in this music and beauty that has rarely been seen since, and yes they have survived beautifully. People in our times are more habitually moved by false sentimentalism from movies with predictable and shallow plots, and have all but forgotten how to be moved by beauty, truth and goodness. If that is all passe, then the human heart is just corrupt, that’s all. As for the actual “beat” of rock music, it is not a new brainstorm of the 20th century. We had a lecture years ago at an educational (Catholic) Conference, and the presenter explained about how even the Greeks were aware of this beat and forbade it, as they knew it would corrupt their youth. It is Almost completely rhythm, therefore it lacks the balance most good music has, namely rhythm, melody, and harmony. The rock beat inspires almost entirely, motion. The body wants to obey the music and MOVE rhythmically. You can test that by playing some for a toddler even under the age of 2. How appropriate is that for reverencing the Holy Mass, and being able to be lifted beyond a purely sense level to a thinking, meditating, praying level. The rock beat is so close to the beating of the human heart, that it automatically draws in the listener, and of course, makes them want to move.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          I’ve never been moved to that level you talk about, by anything. Not even the high mass with Gregorian Chant I recently attended.

        • Rachel

          umm, I take issue with the “rock” beat being almost to “evil” to be used, especially saying that because it has alot of rhythm. The reason is that if you hear traditional music in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, you hear a ton of rhythm. How can anyone say that that form of music isn’t really music? Are only traditional Western forms considered music?

          • WSquared

            “How can anyone say that that form of music isn’t really music? Are only traditional Western forms considered music?”

            That’s not what musicacre said, and neither did this article or anyone here.

            Not every kind of music is appropriate for Mass. The metric for what is appropriate is not “What The People Like,” but what the Mass is, and what Catholics believe about God and Man. All of that involves thinking not only about melody and lyrics, but form, function, and rhythm. Gregorian chant has a rhythm that more aptly reflects the transcendent because it relies on weak, not strong, beats. It is also simultaneously transcendent and intimate, and fosters the sacred silence we need in order to better train our hearts to hear God’s Word in a culture that is noisy, and which will not keep still. Mass is time set apart.

            Catholicism teaches that one gives one’s heart to the Lord, but giving one’s heart to the Lord is not exclusively or primarily about the emotions: it requires discipline and the intellect, because as per Proverbs, we are meant to guard our hearts from those things not of God. Badly chosen music will obscure and promote confusion regarding what Catholics believe, and can make it difficult for us to go deeper into the Sacred Mysteries. Well-chosen music does just the opposite, and chant and polyphony are written specifically for the liturgy, which is what makes them more appropriate. Going back to what the Mass is, one of the best rules of thumb I’ve ever read regarding behavior, clothing, and yes, music at Mass is this: the Mass is Jesus’s Sacrifice on Calvary made present in our now. If you would not do something at the foot of the Cross, don’t do it at Mass.

            For the record, I like a wide range of music, from classical, baroque, jazz of almost every kind, bluegrass, some pop, some folk, some rock, some opera. But not at Mass. Undercutting your comment about traditional Western forms, note that I would therefore cringe just as much at opera at Mass and turning every hymn into Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto, which one pianist at one parish I visited does in fact do. I love Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto. But not at Mass. I love the drama of a good operatic soprano range. But not at Mass. These forms of music are secular. So again: not at Mass.

          • musicacre

            I never said it wasn’t music. I said, how appropriate is rhythmic music for reverencing the Mass? That was my point in explaining the effect of concentrated rhythm on humans. I grew up with all kinds of pop music, but I don’t expect to be so dependent on it it has to follow me everywhere, even in the Church. I’d rather leave Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond , etc at the door of the church and listen to it later. Are we so intimidated by something that differs from that (Pop) that we can’t enter into the world of a type of music that was composed entirely for the prayer of the church? The early Church music was composed to be part of the prayer, the Mass. Would you expect to hear hard rock in a Buddhist monastery? If you think not…please tell me why.

  • diane20047

    Some of the praise music we are using is from the 60’s and 70’s. This is a permanent change. Maybe we should come along.

    • Alecto

      Interesting, but rigor mortis in music isn’t rigorous music.

    • 40-50 years is but a few moments in liturgical history.

    • athelstane

      That’s because some liturgists and music directors have been running the scene in parishes for along time, and they happened to grow up…in the 60’s and 70’s.

      Eventually, however, we are going to run out of music directors who didn’t grow up on Peter, Paul & Mary.

    • musicacre

      Permanent? You’re even more traditional than the Traditionalists. If you read a few books about Liturgy, particularly by Gamber, you will realize the Liturgy is organic, the BELIEF is permanent….. and of course the 60’s dime a dozen cheap tunes are slowly disappearing. Until finally in the end we will get all our quality, (suppressed ) music back. It’s already back where I live.

  • Tony

    Yesterday we sang these hymns for the feast of Corpus Christi:
    Entrance: Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates (retrieving the theme of Ascension)
    Sequence: Tantum Ergo Sacramentum (in Latin)
    Offertory: Alleluia, Sing to Jesus (check out the Eucharistic verses — “bread of Heaven, to earth come down”)
    Communion / Benediction: O Salutaris Hostia (in Latin), Tantum Ergo (in Latin)
    Recessional: Holy God, We Praise Thy Name (to wind up the celebration of Trinity Sunday)
    The organist and cantors, while we were receiving Communion, sang a setting of Ave, Verum Corpus…

  • Cincinnatus1775

    Instead of “meeting them where they are” — on the shifting sand of pop culture — invite them instead to come stand on firm ground.

    • WSquared

      Or maybe we need a better sense of what we mean by “meeting them where they are.” For example, their enthusiasm is great. But how do we lovingly train that enthusiasm into an ordered and tempered passion? How do we therefore take what pop music makes them “feel” and then show them what Gregorian chant and polyphony offers them, and how do we show them that what they learn there is applicable to every aspect of their lives, namely holistically fitting whatever God has given them and who they are into their spiritual lives as opposed to compartmentalizing things? Part of what is key to this is to know that we live in a culture that likes to separate faith from reason, which the Catholic Faith does not.

      That there is a parallel in prayer is no surprise: praying well is harder than many people in our culture are led to believe, and takes persistence, which thereby requires discipline, and not just whether or not we’re “feeling it.” Not all prayer is good prayer, either, as we all know from the painful experience of learning not to make our prayers all about ourselves and what we want to coming across those who think they can pray a Rosary for abortion “rights.” For one, Christ taught us to pray, and it should not seem like any impediment to us that His Body– the Church– should do likewise.

      • Cincinnatus1775

        Well put. What you have described in your lead paragraph is precisely an invitation to stand on firm ground. To be successful, such an invitation should be extended patiently, persistently and individually.

  • Terry

    FYI – I am a musical snob, for which I make no apologies.

    I am 69 years old and I grew up with the Latin Mass. I didn’t pay much attention in those days but that is what I grew up with. Now the closest Latin Mass to me is 55 miles away and at least twice a month I roll out at 5 a.m. and go to it.

    (Pause for a pat on the back)

    When I go to the Novus Ordo Mass at my regular parish I get there at 3 for the 4 o’clock service. I like to say a Rosary, go over the readings for the Mass, and just sit there in the silence.

    That is no longer possible – there are ALWAYS at least a few groups of people chatting, and the closer it gets to Mass time the louder it gets. I’ve spoken to the Pastor about it and he said there was nothing he could do.

    Then the Mass starts and the new songs are played and most of them are just plain awful. One of them contains the phrase “glad tambourines” and that one really gets me. At the end of the service during the recessional hymm as soon as the Priest turns around there is a rush to the exit and people are talking as if nothing had happened in the last hour. There is no reverence, there is no beauty, there is no sense of the sacred. (I’m as guilty as anyone)

    I get to the Latin Mass an hour before it starts. I sit up front. We say the Rosary at 7:30, otherwise we are silent. The Mass starts (the singing is usually two men acapella in Latin, occasionally a 7 person men and women’s choir – acapella) and I look to see what kind of a crowd is there and the Basilica (St. Peter & :Paul in Lewiston, Maine) is about half full and (except for the occasional member of the children’s choir) I never heard any of them come in.

    Don’t lower the level of the service to attract more people – elevate it and make it more challenging.

    Once a few years ago I got to the Latin Mass really early and as I entered the almost completely dark Church – the organist was practicing.

    Be still and know that I am God

    • athelstane

      “Don’t lower the level of the service to attract more people – elevate it and make it more challenging.”


  • Alecto

    Parallel cultures, ugh. It’s strange to describe teenagers having a “culture”. What’s next? Texted masses? 🙂

    These years are a milepost on the way to adulthood, where (hopefully) most of us end up. Since the condition of “teenager” is temporary, wouldn’t we be better off helping guide them, musically and liturgically, into the permanence of adulthood?

    • Maxwell

      An understanding of culture is taken at this point to mean that teens is a community of people with their own particular set of expectations, beliefs and norms that sets them apart from adults. Yes, teenagers have a culture…

      • musicacre

        If they have their”… own set of expectations, beliefs and norms”, chances are you are describing parentless children. It’s always the hope of the ultimate socialists to take over that inculturation from the parents. I have six children that are very different from each other…mostly adults now. Yet they hail from the “culture ” of our home, our church, and this flavors all their experiences in life. I’m thankful they didn’t fall for the lie that they were somehow in a separate class with certain privileges, merely because of a passing phase in their life. They all stepped up to the plate in their teens in a variety of ways to become more trustworthy, skilled and adult-like. Imitation is how we know what to do as we grow up. If the adults around a child are smoking, engaging in illegal activities,etc, chances are the child will copy. Teens that are orphans or separated from their families, will copy their peers, etc. That is not culture. Culture has a deeper meaning than that. I think the the term has been worn out, after a short life of appearing on the radar suddenly in the 50’s and 60’s.

      • redfish

        Is there an elderly culture, too, for senior citizens, and if there is; what is that, nursing home living? A culture isn’t just a group with ideas and beliefs, that just describes a demographic. A culture is something that a group participates in together.

        There is a youth culture, but its largely created by adults, who market it to teens. Movies, shows, products, books, magazines, etc. that are marketed to a teen audience. That’s something that senior citizens don’t have, except for maybe, retirement literature. Its also something teenagers didn’t really have until the modern age and the huge consumer market.

  • WSquared

    Mr. Tucker, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I had been wondering why the ad orientem Novus Ordo Masses at Our Lady of Czestochowa National Shrine that have no Gregorian chant or polyphony “worked” and were still reverent. You’ve encapsulated it beautifully. Thank you.

    “Never trust anyone over 30”?

    Too bad nobody followed that advice when it came to the “Folk Mass” and other sundry manufactured approaches to the liturgy, to say nothing of the largely immature approach to Christianity that seems to be pushed on many a young Catholic. Another good parallel example is cutesy kiddie crosses that are often given at Baptism, when what any Catholic child should be given at their Baptism is a *Crucifix*. Every Sacrament is conformed to that spiritual reality of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection. And the sooner our kids get used to it, the better. We can’t “grow up” unless we know that we are growing into something– or Someone– big enough to accommodate and then reorient that growth in fruitful ways in the first place.

    This is why your comments regarding Life Teen are also spot on: youthful enthusiasm is wonderful, but it must be grounded and channeled properly. That’s true of anything and everything. What truly is irritating in this dumbing down of the liturgy is the dumbing down of anything at all, and not just in the Catholic Faith. These are kids who will soon go to college, or are just beginning college. Most responsible professors, lecturers and T.A.s know that to meet one’s students where they are is not to make things “entertaining,” but to lovingly bring them toward what it is you want to teach them, knowing why you want to teach them whatever it is. They don’t need or want gimmicks, and good graduate students who end up being conscientious T.A.s and professors can also recall how insufferably condescending the “fun” T.A.s and professors were for being all style and no substance.

    One can detect shades of that sort of adult condescension regarding “What Young People Want” in many a sideswipe at Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: young people were only attracted to his “celebrity”; God forbid that he should’ve ignited something deep within them because of what he actually had to say, or bothered to say, to them. He was also a humble example, not just because he stepped down when he could no longer exercise the Petrine Ministry effectively, but because he never pretended to be something that he wasn’t. He was only ever himself, and young people notice when someone is being honest, straightforward, and genuine with them. Besides, we can take a cue from Pope Francis that points to “reading Francis through Benedict”: while he said that an absence of joy makes Christians go around with faces like pickled peppers, he was absolutely clear that joy and “having fun” are not the same thing. Joy is deeper. When we insist that everything should be about “having fun,” that approach makes us naive, and a little stupid. His words, not mine.

  • trouchbaton

    I am a Catholic gen-Xer, and a trained classical musician. When I was in high school, I became familiar with the Church’s traditional music not at church, but in my public high school’s excellent choir. The fact that my church had abandoned this wonderful music upset me so much that I almost left Catholicism for a more traditional Protestant church! I did some soul searching in the years leading to and after adulthood, and decided that the Church was my spiritual home. I didn’t like the music, but oh well. Now, I see this wonderful stuff I learned even more about in music history classes is being considered again. I am thrilled, and hope it comes back to the Church with a vengeance.

  • hombre111

    Hang in there, Jeffrey! In the meanwhile, I will be grateful for the choirs in my parish made up of ordinary mortals. Many a time they have saved the day when Father made up his sermon on the way to the pulpit.

  • Pingback: Is Inculturation an Excuse for Pop Music at Mass -

  • grandmameg

    Thank you for this article, Jeffrey. i’m signed up for the Colloquium in Salt Lake, but was
    “chickening” out, because I’ll not know a soul, and I’m almost 70, and, although a long-time cantor, have made no headway with our church musicians or our priests. You’ve given me the impetus to go forward and keep trying!

  • Yasha Renner

    Teen “culture” is a hilarious notion. It’s like saying “toddler culture.” Anyhow, I think most thinking adults, myself included, would prefer to forget our teenage years. In my view, teens can listen to there crap music on their own time. When it comes to worship, music must actually be objectively good. And yes, you may draw the necessary inference concerning rock and/or roll, pop music, etc.

    • Yasha Renner

      And talk about transient. How many adults still listen to the music they listened to when they were a teenager? If there is such a thing as “teen culture,” it necessarily is transient. Beauty, on the other hand, is timeless. My former boss had a fitting saying for the opposite idea, “lunatics running the asylum.”

      • athelstane

        “How many adults still listen to the music they listened to when they were a teenager?”

        A lot more than you think. Otherwise, we’d never have had a succession of “classic rock,” “60’s” or “80’s” music stations on the dial or XM radio. These bands can still make a very good living flogging their hits of 20, 30, 40 years ago on tour.

        But this is just part of the stunted, prolonged adolescence that modern American society specializes in developing now.

        For church musicians, trying to keep up with this is not only fool’s game, but counterproductive in just the ways that Jeffrey Tucker describes. Teens can figure out very quickly when they are being condescended to.

        • Yasha Renner

          Lol, you’re probably right. I forgot about classic rock, which I do listen to from time to time, usually when I need a break from Bach’s Mass in B Minor 😉 But Weird Al, Wutang, etc., to them I say, good riddance!

        • musicacre

          Exactly!! Stunted growth and prolonged adolescence is super-promoted by television, and the marriage stats reflect that also.

        • Bono95

          I LOVE classic rock (and I’m a teen, by the way). I cannot stand modern “rock”, pop, rap, or country. And to be honest, I don’t like most contemporary Christian music inside or outside of Church. In Church, give me “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You”, and “Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above”. Elsewhere, give me “Back In the USSR”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, and “Learning to Fly”.

  • anilwang

    A key problem with a lot of modern praise and worship music is that it is not focused on God and has very little doctrinal value. Much of this music could easily be turned into secular music simply by changing the word God and Jesus to a girl’s name. There’s absolutely nothing inspiring in these that raises one’s spirits beyond this world.

    Case in point, look at the lyrics “Here I am to Worship”. Replace “God” with “Girl”, “King” to “Queen” and replace “upon that cross” with “on Facebook” and you have a song that any militant secular atheist would have no qualms about singing. If you’re going to incorporate pop music in the mass, at minimum it should be so soaked with Christian doctrine that it would be impossible to make it secular without rewriting the song from scratch. Such songs *do* exist, but they’re rare.

    • msmischief

      Beware any hymn that can be turned to a love song by substituting a two-syllable girl’s name for “Jesus.”

      • WSquared

        Or vice versa.

      • athelstane


    • WSquared

      “Case in point, look at the lyrics “Here I am to Worship”. Replace “God”
      with “Girl”, “King” to “Queen” and replace “upon that cross” with “on

      Okay, now that really was brilliantly put.

  • athelstane

    In my youth, growing up Baptist, I can recall how much I winced at the whole spectacle. There was no “youth culture” anywhere when I was very young. Then in the mid-1970s some adults showed up to cobble one together.

    This hints at an important point. Common practice in Baptist (and many other Protestant) churches has been to separate worship out for children, and sometimes even more broken up by age groups. Whereas a Catholic Mass was always “here comes everybody,” from infants to elderly, the Protestant focus on worship as a more didactic exercise appeared to lead to the realization that children would need to worship at a different level than adults. And then the arrival of a popular youth culture in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s built on this principle. If children, why not teens?

    Which, unfortunately, coincided with a massive loss of confidence and believe by Catholics in their own liturgical tradition. They doubted the relevance of much of it to a modern society. They envied (at least in Anglophone and Germanophone) Protestant worship, and secular culture in many ways. And thus was born LifeTeen and similar programs, which heavily ape evangelical youth programs.

    We could be offering youth far more. And the youth usually figure that out. Either they seek out tradition, or they simply bail on the whole tired scene altogether.

    • WSquared

      Agreed. As to your last point, OSV recently ran an article about how our youth ministry, while well-meaning, can’t meet young Catholics where they are without solid prayer and catechesis to go with the pizza parties and the fun and games, keeping in mind that a lot of our Catholic young people receive mixed signals about the faith from parents who don’t practice at home. What we end up with are young people who “take all their religion classes” and not long afterward think they’ve “graduated from Catholicism.” After being fed a steady diet of “Our God is an Awesome God” and “And the Father Will Dance,” who could blame them? The subtle message that this sends is “why should any smart person ever want to be Catholic?” Again, what is crucial is that we have to be aware that we live in a culture that likes separating faith from reason, which the Catholic faith does not do. It’s a culture that likes to see religious faith not only as private, but mostly emotional and anti-intellectual. This is not only not Catholic, but even anti-Catholic. We should not be allowing this in our parishes. Catholicism is rightly confrontational regarding false dichotomies such as this one, and what it offers are faith and reason as reliable custodians of each other.

      What encountering the EF while not bailing on the OF completely offers is a tremendous opportunity to show young people how to connect the dots in the faith: putting Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacraments, the Rosary, and the Mass at the center of one’s life makes it easier to read and study the Catechism and whatever else: they will get a sense that they can already anticipate “what’s coming” and why, and they will learn what it means to think with the Church. They should also know that the Sacraments is what enables anyone from themselves to priests, bishops, and the Pope, to live “the hard teachings” that people “don’t like.” The point we want to get across is that Jesus can meet them where they are and take them deeper, because He and Catholic orthodoxy are just bigger.

      • athelstane

        The subtle message that this sends is “why should any smart person ever want to be Catholic?”

        True. And a remarkable irony given our intellectual heritage.

  • Pingback: Steynian 471rd | Free Canuckistan!()

  • musicacre

    Thank you for another great article, it’s always an education to hear more specifics about this topic. Sometimes it’s impossible to even approach the”music ” people in a parish as they are often territorial and take it very personally if you challenge them. My eldest daughter, who is a classically trained musician, (degree in voice) gave up on trying to join the 60’s (older) people in the cathedral choir and now directs the Latin Mass in town. A very wonderful and incredible oppotunity for her to share her training and enthusiasm for the uplifting music!

    • WSquared

      God bless your daughter. It’s the Cathedral choir’s loss, and such a shame, too.


  • YTC

    It’s pretty embarrassing that my first introduction to sacred polyphony outside of YouTube was the secularist Spring 2010 Concert of the College of Charleston Choir. I’m 19; give me more.

    • musicacre

      Congrats to you! It took me a lot longer, not until I had children!

  • Kaye

    I remember when the “folk mass” came in to churches in my freshman year of college in 1965. I went twice and didn’t come back until much, much later. I’m old enough now that I just go to an EF mass now; I don’t have enough time left for fighting this stuff.

  • Christopher David Williams

    I enjoy traditional forms of music. I also enjoy popular music. I feel some of the arguments in the article and comments are weak. The claim that the types of “pop music” played at churches, which is almost universally rock-based, is aimed solely at teenagers (who actually listen to electronic dance music and hip hop outside of church) is, I believe untrue. The assertion that chant is easier to sing than pop music is not borne out by my experience, or seemingly anyone around me, who sing timidly and only begin after the first few words have been sung. Many of the complaints against “pop music” seem to be born from the same attitude attributed to the “teens” – “I didn’t get anything out of it/ I couldn’t feel the Spirit in it/ I don’t like it”.

    • musicacre

      It’s understandable what you say, when you think a whole generation of us (I’m 51) were raised you could say, as musical illiterates. It’s not an insult, but a fact. We had pop music around us 24/7 and naturally we all started calling it OUR music. However some of us dug a bit deeper when we got older and what helped me to climb out of the limited box (or pit or whatever you want to call it) was putting my children through musical education, on our own dime. Which was actually tough at times and took some financial sacrifices. As some of my kids were in “strings” I started to attend their orchestral concerts (I’m talking cheap, small-town concerts) We spent less money on their whole musical education over the years than parents who send their kids to over-priced rock concerts and the latest movies, and go to Hawaii regularly, etc. I also liked certain types of music that were on the radio in the 70’s etc, It doesn’t mean I would be cocky enough to say “please me, and put this stuff in church so I don’t have to be part of Liturgical culture, but I want to bring my kitchen radio music in for worshiping God.” There are all different kinds of music and some is designed to be sung (out of tune) in front of campfires. Or singalongs in the van,etc. Or in the bar, or at dances, etc….
      I do like your idea of introducing one chant at a time, this can even be done at home. When a family experiments together, it’s something the kids never forget; it bonds. One of our experiments was saying the Grace in Latin. Even though we each had a card with all the phonetics, we still don’t have it down, but it’s fun trying! PS I was actually replying to Anne.

  • Jeff Jackson

    I’m not going to dispute the points about “teen culture,” and sure as all heck share this writer’s musical appreciations. But here’s a more difficult paradox: “Praise and Worship” galore, nowadays, in the Catholic world seems to be housed at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Admittedly, they have added chanted Masses over there, and some in the extraordinary rite on occasion. But the real occasion for anything Steubenville, for so many, is their “charismatic” expression that often sets the trend for the pop, emotion-based liturgical scenes found in so many places. Yes, they are institutionally more orthodox than at least 90 percent of today’s Catholic colleges, there’s no question. But I’m telling you, go to many Jesuit campuses these days (even their parishes), and some of the finest classical and sacred music emanates in far greater proportion. The problem is that many Steubenville graduates make it a point, in conjunction with Life Teen, to infuse “praise and worship” into many parishes, youth and young adult groups, teen conferences, campus ministries, etc. Let’s face it folks, if Steubenville is “off limits” for criticism over their role in this, then we can’t complain about it’s other sources and promoters.

    • Really the problem with PW music really comes down to ignorance. It’s pathetic.

    • athelstane

      Let’s face it folks, if Steubenville is “off limits” for criticism over their role in this.

      Steubenville is certainly not off limits to some traditionalist critics…

      But because there’s enough good at Steubenville to build on, I think the best approach is to “evangelize” people there on traditional chant and polyphony. There have been some steps in that direction; but I think if more were exposed to it, and tried their hand at it, you’d see a significant shift.

  • Anne

    I am 50 years old and I strongly dislike the organ music at Mass along with our music director’s opera voice that is like high pitched fingernails on a chalkboard!! I still listen to the music of my teens as well as country music and Christian rock

    There are 3 serious issues facing American Catholics (and Christianity) today. 1) Relationship with God 2) Right to Life 3) Sanctity of Marriage. These are the 3 issues that we should be addressing with the future of our Church (the TEENS).

    How do we go about that? Number 1 you get the teens to Mass. Then you get the teens to youth ministry where you can talk about these 3 issues & Church doctrine. Once you have them regularly attending Mass (with, or sadly many without, their parents), introduce some of the Gregorian chants. One at a time so the chants can each be learned.

  • Vijay

    Much ado about nothing. I am tired of hearing your constant complaints about what type of music should be played in church and during the liturgy. We are the church. When I grew up in India, the only music played in our churches were popular songs and hymns, kind of like what you would find in a Baptist church. Many of these hymns and songs would set our hearts on fire and bring us closer to Jesus. The same music is still played in almost any church in India, and our Catholics love Jesus, love the faith and are strong. You guys act like if all liturgy is not gregorian or has no chants, Christ is not present. You wash the outside of the cup and want to worship with your lips, while your heart is far from him. I am not trying to judge. But overemphasizing how you do something as opposed to the heart kind of sounds like the people who came to the Temple and put in a lot of silver and gold, when in reality only the widow with the 2 coins gave all. The Lord cares more about the repentant sinner singing “here I am to worship” with his heart than the Pharisee bent on telling God how well he sings and what great music he plays. Then we wonder why non-Christians think we are a bunch of hypocrites. We make a big deal of the outward form of godliness, but shun the teenagers who love Jesus from coming to him and being blessed. Perhaps we should pause and check our hearts and consciences? The last time the disciples shunned little children they were soundly rebuked by The Lord!

    • WSquared

      Presumptions that the heart of anyone who loves the Church’s tradition is far from God are condescending, and downright conceited. That type of condescension is part of what this article is about. Those like Mr. Tucker gave the teens a chance at chant, which they could’ve left if they didn’t like it. But they loved it. He extended an invitation to them to be curious about this form of music, which is more than many of us in many a parish ever got when pop music was forced on us. Seems like the teens spoke for themselves, Vijay: they want what God gives them through His Church. It seems like “the little children” don’t need you to speak for them and their hearts.

      What is at issue here is not primarily what anyone likes and prefers, but the fact that the Church already gives us the liturgy and the music to go with it. So why is pop music being promoted at the expense of the music that the
      Church actually gives us
      ? That’s not a mere complaint; that’s a legitimate question.

      Re “You wash the outside of the cup and want to worship with your lips, while your heart is far from him” and “The last time the disciples shunned little children they were soundly rebuked by The Lord!”

      One can say the same thing about priests and laity who shun those who wish to receive, like little children, the musical tradition of the Church and learn it, and those who shun lovers of that tradition like lepers and pariahs. How is it “Pharisaical” to want to accept a gift that again, the Church actually gives us? Doesn’t loving Jesus also involve humble, trusting acceptance of what His Church asks us to do in right worship of Him?

      “We make a big deal of the outward form of godliness”

      So does that mean we can get rid of pop music and most other forms of “active participation” that insist on “doing more stuff” at Mass rather than being still and in awe of being in God’s presence, then?

      It would seem that your criticism applies as well to the insistence on manufacturing emotional highs at Mass: is anyone so sure that people who clap and sing to pop music at Mass are necessarily more “godly” and more in love with God than those who love Gregorian chant, and are passionate about promoting and defending it? As many supporters of the TLM and Gregorian chant have pointed out, that joy and participation is interior, akin to how Spiritual Communion is meant to work. And it is deep. Like Mary, we learn to “treasure up all these things and ponder them in our hearts.” There is something simultaneously intimate and transcendent about chant, which is precisely the way Christ operates when we live in Him via the Eucharist. There
      is also something confident and hopeful in the humble yearning of
      chant’s yes-but-not-yet quality. By what right does anyone keep this
      from any Catholic at all, young or old?

      • Thanks WSquared. I’ve always noticed the “Oh God doesn’t really care about these external things” objection is employed a tad…uh…selectively. So the usual AmChurch suspects load up liturgical music with the most mawkish and cloying ditties possible, ignores the palpable banality and all is well. But put one traditional chant in there and suddenly Catholicism is on verge of utter destruction.

        • Vijay

          No one denies that good liturgical music is not fulfilling and pleasing. What I am contesting is that it is the only thing pleasing to God. If this article and others by Jeffrey tucker in the past were saying that “I wish all Catholics would have a higher appreciation for chant, etc” , I would stand all the way with you. Like I said earlier, I grew up in Catholic Churches, where the liturgy consisted of only popular hymns. You can imagine greater than 70% of a population that cannot read or write in India, many converted from other religions singing Gregorian chant at mass! However I grew an appreciation myself for liturgical music and my wife sang in traveling choirs in several states. My point however is that I am tired of hearing Tucker and others constantly complain and bemoan the singing of popular hymns in church. It is they who are being condescending by suggesting that popular hyms if praise in some way are not pleasing to God. So please, do not play victim here. The few Catholic Churches I have attended in the last several years, all of whom mostly only have liturgical music, have boring music and people who can’t even sing singing. I’d much rather we just sang hymns of praise, and the entire congregation were edified. In the end, bringing God the glory is the most important thing. As long as the church allows us the freedom to use different music styles to sing songs of worship to God during the liturgy, as long as they glorify God, complement the liturgy, and edify the congregation, I don’t think one believer should be telling the other believer that this is the only way to worship. That is what is truly condescending and could turn an unbeliever if even believer away from Christ. Hence, my comment here and above.

          • In the end, bringing God the glory is the most important thing

            Which modern pop ephemera does not do. One commenter below barfed up the platitude, “Don’t put God in a box!” Well, nothing puts God in a box more than reducing Him to a non-threatening Santa Claus who doesn’t even keep a naughty list, which is what this “Buddy Jesus” music does. It puts God in a discount bin at Wal-Mart among countless other tchotchkes.

          • musicacre

            It’s not condescending to have some rules anymore than it is condescending for any organization to have rules. In Canada, when we stand to sing God Save the Queen, we can’t arbitrarily substitute another song. As for music in Church, there are rules, for instance drums are specifically not allowed (percussive instrument.) even though individually some may like to “rock” through a Mass. If that were allowed, and anything else one can come up with, the Mass wouldn’t be recognizable 10 years from now. M husband grew up in Pakistan and they certainly had a modernist Mass imposed on them. (by the local Catholics) He also did not have a clue about Gregorian chant,etc., This is all new to us, like discovering gems that were buried under dust!

        • musicacre

          Thanks also; you expressed my heart; from the time we were newlyweds, we wondered why we weren’t “allowed ” to hear the traditional music. We didn’t even dare ask. Now into middle age we have a Latin Mass close by! God really does eventually answer prayers. Maybe we had to learn to wait and therefore will never take that beauty for granted, that we didn’t actually grow up with. I meant this to be a response to WSquared….

      • Vijay

        Nice try! You can go ahead and dismiss Scripture to stick to your man- made traditions. The church does not teach anywhere that music during the liturgy must be a Gregorian chant for instance. In the early church, this was unheard of. Rather the apostles sang Jewish hymns of praise to God, including Paul and Silas in a Roman jail. I can respond to each one of your elitist criticisms using Scripture and tradition, but see no point in doing so. Even our beloved Pope Francis preached and taught in churches where people sang kumbaya and praise The Lord. I know that irks some of you, just like his predecessor St. Francis irked the churchmen of the day by following Jesus’s command to seek and save the lost. There is a place for everything, even good liturgical music, and I love good liturgical music. But when music becomes your god and you make it a stumbling block for those who are seeking Christ, you fall into the dangerous trap of turning even one of these little ones astray. If music were being played in deliberate defiance of the liturgy, the parish priest and/or the teaching of the church; or if music were being played for its own sake to give people an emotional high, but not to complement the Mass; in other words if music were self-serving, your admonitions would make sense. But you are attacking and insulting those who sincerely worship God by singing praise and worship songs such as “here I am to worship” or “lord I lift your name on high” or whatever. Your own words then shall judge you. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, that do whatever you do to the glory of God. In Romans, he literally admonishes believers that they not look down upon younger brothers who worship in a certain way. As long as our bishops and The teaching of the church, as represented by Scripture, the tradition of the fathers, and the councils do not forbid believers from worshipping with hymns of praise to God, I don’t think believers should attack other believers, especially newer and younger believers and insist they can only worship in a certain way. It is easy to reprimand me by saying, “using the argument that God does not look at the outside is a nice excuse…”. But let me ask you my brother. Isn’t that true? Or are you saying God is a liar, in direct contradiction of his own word? The reason I follow the liturgy of the church is because the church is my teacher, the Pope is my shepherd and Christ my Lord. In doing so, I want to obey Christ by obeying those he has placed in authority over me. Likewise our orthodox brethren or Syrian malabar Catholics may follow a different liturgy. It is not my outward act of just participating in the liturgy that God looks at, but my heart and my obedience which now completes the sacrament and allows me to receive of the graces therein. In summary, I am tired of reading an article every other week on how Catholics do not employ great music in church on this website. I am tired of the complaining and griping. Instead, lets move forward, witness to our culture and bring souls to Christ. Now if the priest were conducting a rock concert at mass or preaching heresy, come let’s have a discussion. Even then our role ends in submission to Christ and in correcting a wayward brother in love rather than damning them all to hell.

        • musicacre

          Having a discussion isn’t an attack, unless you perceive every opinion different from yours is somehow evil.

        • WSquared

          Vijay, I did not dismiss Scripture. I did not ignore Church teaching, Tradition, or obedience to the liturgy and the Magisterium, and I most certainly do not make God out to be a liar in denial of His Own Word, which should’ve been obvious by my repeatedly asking the question about why we don’t want to accept or learn the music He gives us through His Church. Try again.

          Please lay off the false accusations and other outrageous inferences about “following traditions of men,” damning other people to Hell, and much else: before you lecture me or anyone else about how our words will judge us, you should tread carefully, yourself. Furthermore, St. Francis loved the liturgy and insisted upon beautiful things in its service. And while both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have celebrated Mass at places that sing Kumbayaa-type music, I’m not sure that either would call that type of music ideal. Benedict as Pope and as Cardinal Ratzinger did not, and gave good reasons why. And like Mr. Tucker, Pope Benedict invited people to discover the Church’s tradition; he did not force. Pope Francis doesn’t do what Pope Benedict did because it’s not his area or his gift. But nowhere has he ever denigrated the Church’s tradition, and the Masses that he personally celebrates at the Vatican are not pop-music Masses.

          And yet, a good many advocates of pop music in many a parish either directly or indirectly force everyone else to accept pop music as the norm by either actively denigrating the Church’s tradition (by incorrectly or falsely claiming that “Vatican II did away with all that”), simply not bothering with it, or just not knowing any better. Moving forward, by the way, also involves letting people know that there is something better and more solid on offer from the Church herself. It is also not uncharitable or denigrating at all to posit how and why Gregorian chant can help with better catechesis and formation of young Catholics. To meet people where they are is also to challenge them. We know this from our students, and from our children.

          That, if push came to shove, I would take a valid Mass with pop music over joining an SSPX parish or a Protestant congregation with more reverent music is indication enough that I do not, and definitely try not to if the temptation arises, make music into a god. That was very clear from my comments about not ghettoizing the EF. But that does not mean that I should think that pop music at Mass is okay, especially– as I will repeat for the umpteenth time– given that the Church already gives us the music we are to sing, so why don’t we even care to learn it and sing it? If we’re going to talk about how the Church is our teacher and we submit to obeying the legitimate authority placed over us, why do we think that this does not apply to music, also? Furthermore, Mr. Tucker is only passing on the reasons that the Church herself gives as to why Gregorian chant should be given pride of place. To recognize that the Church already gives us the music we need is to recognize that there is something she means to teach us through this music.

          I was not under the impression that most of this thread or this article or any other article on this website about sacred music was about complaint after complaint, but an honest discussion that we need to have, which we have not been having for forty years. Because there are certain assumptions that the modern world makes about God, music, and worship– and indeed love— which this article rightly challenges. It also rightly challenges certain presumptions we have about The Hearts Of Young People. That challenge is hardly an “attack” on other believers. Besides, if you’ve already made up your mind that all we do is complain, the remedy is simple: avoid this topic.

          Furthermore, you might care to notice that the reason why a lot of people don’t sing at an EF Mass, say, where there is “only liturgical music” is that singing everything is not the only way in which people participate joyfully at Mass. At the EF, the people usually sing the Ordinaries (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and chant their responses. The schola usually sings the Propers. There exists a balance between two ways in which we participate at Mass: the times when we are sing and the times when we are to be still, silent, and contemplative. I would say that the way my heart participates more fully at Mass along with the rest of me is when the surroundings allow me to be still. I can then let Christ take me deeper. David Haas can write all he wants about how “I [Christ] will come to you in the silence…” but Gregorian chant and polyphony give me that silence up front. One of my favorite pop hymns from high school choir was “Peace, Be Still,” which begins with some stormy piano chords and then goes into tranquil notes. I still like it, but I would not sing it at Mass, ditto David Haas’s “You Are Mine” from which I just quoted. Rather, for young people, to invite them to give chant a try, I would encourage them to sing something like that outside of Mass, and then lead them to see how the quietness of Gregorian chant at Mass presents them with exactly the experience they’ve been singing about, and to notice the difference, which is more than just “taste” or “style,” and the reason for that difference.

          As for “following traditions of men,” one could direct that very same argument against pop music. Pop music is not formed by the liturgy. So I’m not sure that likening pop music to the existence of music in other rites in the Catholic Church is even accurate. Mozarabic, Ambrosian, or Byzantine chant in any Eastern liturgy is closer to Gregorian chant than is pop music. I actually like pop music. But the fact that I know that Mass is time set apart from the every day and why this is so also allows me to recognize that the music for Mass should reflect that. That would actually go a long way to reminding us how we should be in the world, but not of it. Furthermore, a pretty good rule of thumb I read about someplace for whether a piece of music serves the liturgy is this: “the Mass is Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary made present in our now. If you would not do it at the foot of the Cross, don’t do it at Mass.”

          Nowhere did I say or even imply that the Church teaches that liturgical music MUST be Gregorian chant, and that hymns are not allowed. This article did not suggest as much either. But the Church, in the Vatican II document “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” which is Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, does teach that Gregorian chant should occupy first place. Gregorian chant is not the only music acceptable, but the fact that the Church teaches that it should have pride of place already suggests that she thinks it’s more suitable.

          Hymns are also acceptable, but as others have asked, what hymns are appropriate? The hymn “Ave, Verum Corpus” by Mozart is not Gregorian chant, but it is far more appropriate for Mass given its solemn reverence and is more on target in foregrounding the Real Presence and the Incarnation than “We Are Companions on A Journey,” or “One Bread, One Body.” I grew up in the Pacific, where almost all of the music at Mass was Praise and Worship music, too. So I am well aware of what you are saying. But I have also become aware of stuff that is far better, the more I become curious about sacred music, and why the Church actually gives us the music we are to sing. Also, not all hymns are equal. If what we pray is what we believe, and is how we are meant to live, then it makes sense that any music used at Mass should accurately reflect in word and deed (which applies to form and function) what Catholics believe about the relationship between God and Man.

          If you read Mr. Tucker’s article and some of my other comments again, you’ll notice that I mentioned that the daily Novus Ordo Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa National Shrine in Doylestown, PA has NO Gregorian chant or polyphony, but is nonetheless a very reverent Mass, which I am more than fine with. The reason why this is, as per Mr. Tucker’s article, is that those hymns are very carefully chosen to reflect the solemn dignity of the liturgy, as well as what the Church actually teaches. So Our Lady of Czestochowa has only hymns at Mass. But it isn’t pop music.

          Furthermore, contemporary liturgical music and pop music are not necessarily equivalent. Kevin Allen, for example, writes contemporary music for the liturgy, and Jeffrey Ostrowski and others have newly composed English Ordinaries and Responsorial Psalms. But their music uses and builds on the Gregorian form (and in the case of Allen, polyphony), knowing as they do that Gregorian chant was written specifically for the liturgy, and that their compositions should respect that reality, which itself respects the truth of What Is regarding the liturgy. Another example is James Biery’s contemporary hymn “Let Thy Will Be Done”: Biery isn’t Catholic, but “Let Thy Will Be Done” is not pop music, and comports itself well with the Mass (that was sung at the Cathedral Basilica in Philadelphia during Palm Sunday, and they’re not exactly lax about liturgical music there. Not everything was chant and polyphony. But there was no pop music). Given that love of the Lord with everything we’ve got involves the Cross, none of us should be surprised that worship involves a certain need for sobriety, which is not antithetical at all to joy. Gregorian chant, polyphony, and hymns that are actually appropriate to the sober joy of the Mass, convey this and more in a way that pop music does not. That’s a pretty valuable lesson for young people to learn.

          I would suggest that pop music is a stumbling block for the claim that music at Mass is mostly about “taste,” when it is clear that the Church giving us the music for Mass suggests otherwise, and that there are hymns and then there are hymns. Dumbed-down Catholicism is a problem in many parishes. This article argues that Gregorian chant can help with the problem by meeting young people on every level. It is an invitation to go further.

          Your argument of how Gregorian chant is not the only music applies to the way pop music is treated in the average parish: why is Praise and Worship music often treated at the parish level as the only Catholic music there is? If you want to talk some more about hymns, the Church also has hymns. Why does the average Catholic not know “Adoro te devote,” “Panis Angelicus,” or “Tantum Ergo”? By what authority do so many Latin-Rite Catholics– and I’m not specifically talking about young people here, even though it also applies when applicable– feel justified to simply chuck their Church’s living tradition, because they find it “boring”?

      • musicacre

        Just a little note to add to my response below: it might sound far-fetched, but in my experience of the 70’s and having a sister (older) who wanted to have more and “feeling” in the Mass, she started drifting. We didn’t know precisely when she had stopped going to church, (because she had left home) but she was taken with the emotional appeal of the “Moonies” and has been there ever since. Their entire appeal is not truth, but emotion. (To get you trapped ) By the way, in the process of inculturating you, they do alot of clapping, hugging and Kumbyyas! After that it’s all about money. (fundraising) She is now raising her Moonie family and two are already married into the Moonies recently.

    • “The Lord cares more about the repentant sinner singing “here I am to worship” with his heart than the Pharisee bent on telling God how well he sings and what great music he plays.”

      Maybe so, but I’d guess (mainly from the witness of Scripture and the perennial teaching of the Church on this topic) that God is even *more* pleased when the repentant sinner who is engaged in public worship puts his heart into singing the proper public worship music of his own liturgical tradition.

  • Pingback: Is Inculturation an Excuse for Pop Music at Mass? | Crisis Magazine | Worship Leaders()

  • mvoris

    “Don’t put God in a Box!!”

    He created everything, even different styles of music through his people.

    I love the old stuff and see a need for it’s use and teaching. Along with the new music, we should be using anything that will draw His people to worishp HIm in spirit and in truth. Songs, hymns, praise and worship music that has rich words and strong theology, and yes, chant and the sacred songs from centuries ago. The key is making sure we teach our people that we are worshipping Him with our singing. Full active particapation to HIM and not to the music choices or a group of people who might be leading the worship. I find these days when I do go to a church that offers the chant, it’s beautiful but I sit and listen and in awe yes, but not particapating. God wants His people to sing to HIM sweet praises.

    1. Music all styles should be used to reach the lost and faithful, not one style can reach everyone at Mass. Art is art….what one person feels or is moved to sing…. the other is not.
    I appriciate your thoughts and taking the time to share them. But please, narrow mindness is not in God’s vocabulary.

    • I agree with you. I grew up with the Latin hymns, and learned “Kumbayah”, and participated in a workshop with the Dameans. I love all the styles and genres of music in the Church, and see how there’s a place for every type of song. Surely there can be a balance between the generations and cultures.

      • musicacre

        It’s funny how for many centuries when people were less proud, all the generations knelt together and listened to the same liturgical music. If you don’t insist on deciding architecture for he church building, because , simply, you are not educated in it, and you don’t’ insist on telling the teacher in the class rooms to teach your children, because you are not a teacher, what makes everyone who is not in the slightest, versed in Liturgical music, think they are experts on Liturgical music, for which there have been many specific documents written by the church, for the church?? It’s not a matter of just being jolly together, there is form and purpose to each piece of music, and why not make the kids wear some thing other their comfy pyjamas and let them experience something they are not controlling? Let them have a new experience and listen to authentic Liturgical music. I sometimes think that we have been more conditioned to be reverent in a muesli of “natural ” history than in a church. If you played bouncey music in the hushed atmosphere of a museum, what might happen? You would be hauled out and told it wasn’t appropriate for that place. The Mass can’t be continuously changed for each individual taste.

    • Ben Dunlap

      I’m a little confused — the longer paragraph in your comments seems to be saying that the liturgy ought to be directed primarily to God.

      But then you say “Music … should be used to reach the lost and faithful”.

      I think both are true but the first is a more important principle for public worship, and needs to govern and limit the second. Scripture and Tradition seem to show pretty clearly that God cares about the details of our public worship, and gives us specific ways to worship him by way of the Church’s traditions and teachings (you can read Joseph Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy” for a lengthy development of this point).

      Perhaps any sort of music can “reach the lost and faithful” — I’d say that this can even be true of music that is not in any way religious — but that doesn’t automatically qualify any sort of music for use in the public worship of a particular ritual tradition.

      This becomes more clear when you move the conversation away from the contentious question of “Christian pop vs. Gregorian chant”. For example, even though the following is fantastically beautiful, moving, and undoubtedly sacred, it would be a little odd and probably inappropriate to sing it at a Catholic mass because it’s utterly foreign to the tradition of the Roman Rite:

      • Rachel

        actually that would be fine at Mass. Gregorian Chant is beautiful but it is not the only sacred music out there.

        • Ben Dunlap

          Yes, of course — there is all manner of sacred music, and all manner of non-sacred music that is beautiful and good. But the music used for the public worship of God must be beautiful and good and sacred, *and* it must be a good fit for the ritual in which it is used.

          Serbian chant would be a huge improvement over much of what is sung at mass in many places, but to make it the norm in Roman Rite liturgy would still miss the mark, because it is not the music of the Roman Rite.

          In the same way it would be fine, if there was a good reason, to offer mass in an Eastern-style church with ikonostasis etc., or vice versa (to offer the Divine Liturgy in a Roman Catholic church). But either practice would be a bit awkward at best and should not be the norm outside of unusual circumstances.

          • Vijay

            Define good, beautiful and sacred. Just because Chants or similar music were the pop culture of medieval times, does not mean our praise and worship hymns of today are not good, beautiful and sacred. What is more important is what is good, beautiful, sacred and pleasing in the Lords eyes. And what he looks at are the humble and contrite of heart, the broken in spirit.

            • Ben Dunlap

              I didn’t think that anyone was arguing over whether liturgical music ought to be “good, beautiful and sacred”.

              I was just trying to point out that there is plenty of undeniably “good, beautiful and sacred” music that isn’t appropriate for mass in the Roman Rite because it is foreign to the Roman Rite.

            • Ben Dunlap

              Also the book of Exodus suggests that, when it comes to liturgy, the Lord looks at the heart AND a lot else as well.

      • musicacre

        Beautiful. This reminds me of an experience I had. I have friends in Seattle that belong to a (thriving, overflowing ) parish that is Catholic, but Ruthenian rite. Interestingly, ALL of them moved over from the Roman Rite. I have attended, since it is legitimate, and was absolutely blown away by the sacred music and the absolute reverence, even the small children sensed God was there. Best clothes were worn..and why not? Do you wear your best clothes to a friend’s or family wedding? Why would you dress less carefully for God??

  • mvoris

    “Don’t put God in a Box!!”

    He created everything, even different styles of music through his people.

    I love the old stuff and see a need for its use and teaching. Along with the
    new music, we should be using anything that will draw His people to worship Him
    in spirit and in truth. Songs, hymns, praise and worship music that has rich
    words and strong theology, and yes, chant and the sacred songs from centuries
    ago. The key is making sure we teach our people that we are worshipping Him with
    our singing. Full active participation to HIM and not to the music choices or a
    group of people who might be leading the worship. I find these days when I do
    go to a church that offers the chant, it’s beautiful but I sit and listen and
    in awe yes, but not participating. God wants His people to sing to HIM sweet

    1. Music all styles should be used to reach the lost and faithful, not one
    style can reach everyone at Mass. Art is art….what one person feels or is
    moved to sing…. the other is not.

    I appreciate your thoughts and taking the time to share them. But please,
    narrow minded is not in God’s vocabulary.

    corrected copy…was not awake when I entered the first copy..

    • Desert Sun Art

      Hey, are you Michael Voris of Church Militant TV? Though I can’t say this sounds like something he would say, but I may be off-track here.

    • WSquared

      “But please, narrow minded is not in God’s vocabulary.”

      So why can’t we have the music that God gives us through His Church? For all the talk of “diversity” and “tolerance” coming from some quarters, neither seem to apply to Latin, chant, or polyphony.

      Oh, we all know about narrow-minded.

    • athelstane

      “Don’t put God in a Box!!”

      Don’t put Him in a trash can, either.

      • musicacre

        Yes, haven’t these people figured out why 3/4 of Catholics left the church after “everything ” was allowed? Alot of them genuinely thought it wasn’t the Catholic Church anymore. We’ve had clown masses in our diocese, (cathedral) , teen Masses, children’s Masses, drum Masses, girls almost shirtless in the front dancing around the altar showing everything with their matching see-through tops. Many other horrible variations. Oh I forgot, an Easter Mass where the priests’ entire homily was about his dog….and if we simply ask, “what is going on?” we are told we are Nazis or some other label. I know prayer and reverence will win in the end, but it has been distracting to say the least.

    • Full active participation to HIM and not to the music choices or a
      group of people who might be leading the worship

      That’s just it. Only a handful are really participating when the music is modern, sappy faux-folk music. Everyone else over the age of twelve and with a Y chromosome are at best half-mouthing the words with the rest being dejected and wondering “How long O Lord?” The Empire of Banality has a Darth Vader grip on liturgical music.

      • Bono95

        “How long? How long must we sing these songs? How long? How lo-o-o-o-onnng?” 😀

  • Glenn54321

    That’s a long article. When I clicked on the title to get to it, I expected the entirety of the article to read: “no.”

  • Glenn54321

    “The question of inculturation is a non-negotiable and for us who are
    reaching out to teenagers, the question is absolutely predicated on
    this. Do teens have a culture of their own or not? If they don’t, then
    we really need to pack up and go home.”

    I think the orientation of this statement is exactly backwards. Teenagers are not some other species… they’re quasi-formed adults and the product of their family and social life. They need to see reality, not have the Church create a false, dumbed down version of the liturgy in a pathetic attempt to attract them. It doesn’t work. All of the “teen” Masses I’ve seen have two elements – 1) really outdated, laughably poor pop imitation music and 2) teens who spend more time staring at the ceiling or talking to their friend than participating in the Mass.

    Stop. Just stop.

  • Pingback: Pop music at Mass? Read this. | Oh, for the love of chant!()

  • Mary Carter

    I don’t know why we are continually trying to please the teenagers when they do not choose to attend Mass no matter what we do. Give them their own Mass and let the rest of the parishioners know so we can attend a Catholic Mass and hopefully at a real Roman Catholic church. I have attended Eastern Rite churches and they have become more Catholic than we claim to be. I want to go to a REAL Roman Catholic Mass and I am planning to move to a city out of state that has gone back to the Latin Mass. Thank God for them. Also, please stop the applause we are not attending a teenage concert. Thank you.

  • MarkRutledge

    I travel quite a bit which gives me the opportunity to attend Sunday Mass at many different parishes across the country. Since the corrected translation came out, I cringe whenever the Gloria approaches. I have yet to hear one that isn’t ridiculously poor. My mother’s parish in Missouri plays a tune that sounds eerily like the Brady Bunch Theme (care to guess that non-Catholic composer?).

  • patricia m.

    To your point, I got interested in Gregorian chant at 18, when I was introduced to it. Not all teens are alike, and there’s not such a thing as teen culture.

  • James Edward

    You say,”should not be seeking to create, cultivate or cater to transient sub culture.” I say that we should not be seeking to create, cultivate or cater to transient tastes in music from hundreds of years ago. I do not like chant at mass. Most priests cannot sing it worth a darn. I find it makes peoples minds wander while wondering when they will stop the torture. Whoever said that God likes this music the church insists that we must use.
    I have a vision! Many days in the future we are all lucky enough to be before the throne of God. The heavenly choir and orchestra gathers and is ready. The music leader turns to God and says, “the usual Lord?” God kind of screws up His face and says, “doesn’t anyone care that I like jazz? With that the heavenly orchestra and choir breaks into a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

    • Bono95

      Interesting theory 😀

  • Mike Oliver

    Sing a new song of praise to him;
    play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.
    4 For the word of the Lord holds true,
    and we can trust everything he does.
    5 He loves whatever is just and good;
    the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.

    It seems there should be room for good music that echoes and reinforces the liturgy. Whether that style is one played on a modern lyre (acoustic guitar), a capella, or with the pseudo strings of an organ

    Any style poorly rehearsed and sung is a distraction and ought to be avoided.

    • Marc L

      Other than the strings and the popular availability/portability, there is zero stylistic correspondence between the lyre and the “modern acoustic guitar”, especially the steel-string rhythm guitar or even electric that is the central piece of most folk/rock/youth masses.

      But points for the “any…poorly” True that.

  • yan

    I hate pop culture, for all the usual reasons. I also hate it because I think it is cruel to young people. It is identified with a ‘youth culture’ which, as the article insightfully points out, does not really exist. I don’t like how we have created a separate category of people in ‘young people,’ and the idea of ‘youth culture’ perpetuates this faux category. The category impedes the ability of the young to grow up. Why would we want to do this? Because of a desire on the part of the middle-aged to project and vicariously live out their Romantic fantasies of youth?

    • musicacre

      You actually have to go past middle age now to lay blame:) I was a teen when those notorious guitar masses started, (I’m thinking, 1978) and I remember thinking it was joke. I was a teen and it was a 40-something guy strumming on his guitar. No young person had asked him to do that. It was super-imposed, in every parish, all around the world , at the same time. This was NOT a grassroots thing. When I was little (in the 60’s) and attended Mass with my parents and 5 sibs, we were fascinated and at the same time somewhat scared of this hefty woman in the bright lipstick who was at the front with her tambourine banging away on her rhythmically bouncing hip every part of the Mass. Her boots were very high and the skirt almost wasn’t there. It was a scandal, yet the lay people had no control over this, and were definitely shut down if they commented, as this might hurt someone’s feelings.

  • Vijay

    Vatican II:

    (a) By sacred music is understood that which, being created for the celebration of divine worship, is endowed with a certain holy sincerity of form.[2]

    (b) The following come under the title of sacred music here: Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony in its various forms both ancient and modern, sacred music for the organ and other approved instruments, and sacred popular music, be it liturgical or simply religious.[3]

    No kind of sacred music is prohibited from liturgical actions by the Church as long as it corresponds to the spirit of the liturgical celebration itself and the nature of its individual parts,[7] and does not hinder the active participation of the people.[8]

    11. It should be borne in mind that the true solemnity of liturgical worship depends less on a more ornate form of singing and a more magnificent ceremonial than on its worthy and religious celebration, which takes into account the integrity of the liturgical celebration itself, and the performance of each of its parts according to their own particular nature.

    16. One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song. Therefore the active participation of the whole people, which is shown in singing, is to be carefully promoted as follows:……..

    ……61. Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own, especially mission areas,[42] will require a very specialized preparation by the experts. It will be a question in fact of how to harmonize the sense of the sacred with the spirit, traditions and characteristic expressions proper to each of these peoples. Those who work in this field should have a sufficient knowledge both of the liturgy and musical tradition of the Church, and of the language, popular songs and other characteristic expressions of the people for whose benefit they are working.

    • Ben Dunlap

      Do you think that something in the original Tucker essay is in conflict with these texts?

      Also what do you make of the distinction in paragraph ‘b’ above between “liturgical” and “simply religious” sacred music?

  • paul zerovnik

    blah, blah, blah, once again the frozen chosen try to pontificate away modern worship, with words like ” transient subcultures,and Pop music AND subjective. Jeffery goes on to say “The very day that I was going through these exercises in my mind, I
    bumped into the transcript of a speech by Fr. Robert Schreiner, who is a
    powerful voice in the Life Teen movement that recommends singing
    “praise and worship” music at Mass. The text is from a speech he gave in
    2010. This speech has become the canonical defense used by the rock
    group in your parish, the one that sings music with repetitive words
    that have nothing to do with what’s in the liturgical books and
    accompanies that music with pop rhythms. You know the type, so I don’t
    need to go on with my description.” forget the Liturgical books!? since Jeffery the Holy Spirit has written his law upon our hearts, what proceeds next whether Georgian chant or a contemporary musical response is both pleasing to our God and Acceptable. worship is about both,and. not either or. in the halls of my minds eye i hear these words as the perfect response to this hit piece. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

    • Kurt Klement

      Thank you Paul. The words of Pope Francis always come to my mind on these posts and the following responses by many: “When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelise, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick,” and the evils that happen “ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism.” When I read these articles and the response that follow that speak in such absolutes and use the worst examples to paint with a broad brush, I am reminded of how self-referential, theologically narcissistic and sick our Church truly is! Come Holy Spirit, renew your Church!

  • john

    I think there is a bigger issue here than just music. Young people are not interested in their faith anymore…why is that? Instead of placing blame on everything else but ourselves, we must look inwards and stay true to our belief of compassion and love. Catholicism is love, it is not stricken with judgement.

    If a more contemporary setting will work for a certain congregation and pastor in guiding them closer to God in the liturgy…then why not use it? Isn’t that what matters? If it isn’t the way that you like it, there are masses throughout the day that are not contemporary masses that you can attend as well as other churches.

    In terms of music, keep it traditional if you’d like, but don’t expect young people to be attracted to that. I am, but I am a minority. I’m a 20 year old catholic music minister for a catholic church connected to a state college for the student mass where we do 2 contemporary songs and two traditional songs each mass to touch all likings.

    In my opinion, I think the Catholic church should really take a look at their teachings on evangelism. I mean, if someone doesn’t have the same view as you, should we respect them…even in our own religion (Yes even in our own religion. No one lives word for word of the Catholic religion). If it is not your taste to do contemporary music during your mass then don’t. But remember what I said in paragraph one…don’t stoop to judgement or stacking one genre against another. That is not what being Catholic is about…

  • Edward Johansen

    I’ll be darned if I am going ‘to meet someone where he is’ if he is sinking in spiritual quick sand! I’ll throw him a rope by bringing him to the Truth of our Catholic faith. What makes this music problem a colossal one is that DREs, Youth Ministers, et al. from coast to coast have drunk deeply from the wells of the Glory and Praise, pop culture hogwash and they are dug in in their parishes. One cannot lose hope however. The vocations coming from my home parish which utilizes the Old Mass along with Gregorian Chant has 10 times more vocations than any other church in the Archdiocese. The guitars just don’t seem to help souls find their vocations. One suggestion might be that seminaries across the country require a music course taught by Mr. Tucker for their future priests.

  • Caomh

    Mass is not about “How holy can they look.” or “How beautiful they can make it.”, mass is a celebration of Jesus. Yes, mass is a place for reverence, and yes, the music should be centered around the mass. But, you know, have you stopped to think that maybe not everyone worships the same way you do?

    Worship is not a strict line on which you need to follow. How can I possibly worship my Lord when I have no idea what I am saying/singing? Chant is beautiful and when I listen to it I fell full of the Spirit but I have no idea what is being chanted and therefore I am not creating a full connection with God.

    I am there at mass to worship my Lord, Jesus, not to look holy. By worshiping Jesus is how I become holy, not the other way around. So you know great, you feel best worshiping Jesus with chant in Latin! And great, I feel best worshiping Jesus by bouncing on the balls of my feet singing “Mighty To Save”! There is not just one way to worship Jesus and no one way is better than the rest.

    The idea that teenagers should not be going to youth events or youth group where there is not strict laws set down you need to follow is ridiculous. For many teenagers they are there just to socialize, yes, but think of all of the ones that get something out of it! Why shouldn’t worship be fun!? I should feel happy when I worship, and not sullen. By getting together with like-minded people I am more able to fully worship my Lord. I definitely don’t feel full of joy when I am forced to kneel on the grits that is close-mindedness. If I don’t feel connected to and focused on God while I’m at mass then I should not be there. Worshiping in a way I do not enjoy does not get me connected to or focused on God.

    • WSquared

      “Mass is not about “How holy can they look.” or “How beautiful they can make it.”,

      Nobody said it was.

      Mass is a celebration of Jesus, but there are some specifics. Namely that Mass is His action, not ours. We barely have hymns sung about the Mass as a sacrifice, which it is. Mass is the Sacrifice on Calvary re-presented for us. We are conformed to that Sacrifice at Mass through the Eucharist, which is how we become holy. There is no holiness, no divine life without it. There is a great joy, awe, gratitude, and hope in knowing that when we die with Him, we rise with Him. I’m not sure that that’s supposed to be… “fun.”

      As for “how beautiful can they make it,” the beauty comes from an
      encounter with the Incarnation– the same deal as how we are to become
      holy. We don’t “make” that beauty ourselves. There aren’t “strict
      guidelines,” but there are standards that reflect what we believe and don’t believe.

      Re Latin chant, there’s always looking up the translation (after a while, you will get the gist of things), and there is always chant in English. Check out Corpus Christi Watershed for some really good ones, like responsorial psalms and glorias. Some deacons have chanted the Gospel in English. The Mass is meant to be chanted. Not everyone can chant, though, and that’s okay. But chant should nonetheless be encouraged where possible instead of suppressed as though “Vatican II did away with all that.” Which it didn’t.

      Furthermore, since Latin, not English or anything else, is the official language of the Catholic Church, shouldn’t we at least be a little bit curious? Wouldn’t that be closed-minded? It’s interesting how learning common prayers in Latin can help you meditate on them in English, and a bit of Latin is a good reminder that the Church is universal, and that we are meant to be in the world, but not of it. I think we’re all capable of holding words in more than one language in our heads.

      And we don’t understand everything about the Mass immediately, either. That understanding unfolds over time, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s primarily about understanding every word that’s being said. I sometimes find myself at the Vietnamese Mass. I understand no Vietnamese at all, but I still have that connection with God, and I know what’s going on at Mass because I not only know the Order of Mass, but I observe that the Mass has a body language to it through its posture.

      “By getting together with like-minded people I am more able to fully worship my Lord.”

      So does that mean that you can’t fully worship the Lord at a Mass that’s full of old people, whereby you’re the only young person? Is this primarily about being with people your age, and who are like-minded, or is this about being with Jesus? What about if, as in my Vietnamese Mass example, you don’t speak the language? I have been in the latter position many times– some, where I could pick my way through the language, like in Spanish or Italian, and when I know it not at all, as in Vietnamese. But I still fully worship the Lord, because I know what the Mass is, know the parts of the Mass, and just simply make my responses in English. I therefore still know that Jesus is present. I can tell you that I’ve been the only young person at a Mass full of old people where I don’t speak the language, either. But I’m still able to be with Jesus whenever I receive Him worthily. There is not a single young person at the daily Mass to which my mom goes. But I’m at home there. Because it’s the Mass. Jesus is there.

      “The idea that teenagers should not be going to youth events or youth
      group where there is not strict laws set down you need to follow is
      ridiculous. For many teenagers they are there just to socialize, yes,
      but think of all of the ones that get something out of it”

      I don’t think that’s what Mr. Tucker said. Why should anyone assume that youth events or youth groups and learning to love Gregorian chant don’t and can’t mix? Furthermore, a lot of the time, youth ministry in many a parish does not combine serious prayer, Adoration, and solid catechesis with the fun, games, and pizza parties as much as it should. That’s a problem. Mr. Tucker invited the teens of Life Teen to learn chant. They could’ve said “no,” but they didn’t. Many of them probably don’t know a whole lot of Latin, either. But they gave it a try, and they loved it. And I would bet that in part because they were forced to concentrate to get it right, as is true whenever anyone learns a craft they are not used to, they did learn some Latin. They do know what they’re singing. So believe me, this is about people “getting something out of it.” It’s an even better idea if they receive something of eternal value. To learn Gregorian chant isn’t just about learning to appreciate another form of music. It’s to learn another way of praying. I am not eager to learn Gregorian chant primarily because it’s “fun” and I “enjoy” it. I am eager to learn it because of what it can teach me, because I can see how satisfying it is from the little that I do know.

      “Why shouldn’t worship be fun!? I should feel happy when I worship, and not sullen.”

      Why should we assume that solemn worship is necessarily sullen, and not joyful? St. Francis de Sales talks about a “solemn joy” in Introduction to the Devout Life. That much is conveyed also in the Liturgy of the Hours, which is based largely on the Psalms. There is a joyful hope in the Psalms, even as one’s heart is in torment, and enemies press in from all sides. Also, Pope Francis recently said that having fun is good, but joy and having fun aren’t exactly the same thing, and to make everything about having fun makes us naive. Since we’re meant to live the liturgy in our lives, and there is no Christianity with the Cross, a sober joy is invaluable.

      “Worshiping in a way I do not enjoy does not get me connected to or focused on God.”

      …but what happens when we experience dry spells in the spiritual life, when even praying is painful, and we don’t feel the same close connection we though we once had? Do we stop praying because we’re not feeling it or enjoying it? Or do we keep going, knowing that love is not all about our feelings, but an act of the will– to desire to do it just for Jesus, to learn to love Him more, even if we aren’t feeling it, trusting that it will come?

      “If I don’t feel connected to and focused on God while I’m at mass then I should not be there.”

      Do we stop going to Mass if we don’t feel connected to and focused on God, even though deliberately missing Mass on Sunday without serious reason– like illness– is a mortal sin? I find that pop music at Mass breaks my focus because it’s distracting– or it would be, if I let it be. I mostly did not feel connected to or focused on God while at Mass when I was younger. Should I have stopped going to Mass? Actually, I did stop going and was away from the Church for years. But that doesn’t change the reality that that was a mortal sin. I came back, and now go to both the Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo. Because the Latin Mass is far more obviously about Jesus than the congregation, it trained me to focus at the Novus Ordo (in whatever language) and learn to pray it better by shutting out distractions. It’s also helped me to see why Mass is richly multicolored and textured and not 50 Shades of Blah, despite what bad architecture and banal music would try to tell me.

  • Ruth Rocker

    I completely agree with this evaluation! I joined the Church a little over 25 years ago. My husband, a cradle Catholic, had never attended a Tridentine Mass. The NO was firmly in place by the time he got to it. It wasn’t until he retired from the military and found a parish nearly locally that serves this mass. We are still having talks about which church to attend.

    I dislike the entire atmosphere of the NO and have made no bones about it to him. There are always “celebrations” going on during Mass that have nothing whatsoever to do with the reverent worship of the Lord such as recognition for Girl Scouts achieving a religion badge, couples who are celebrating significant wedding anniversaries, etc. All of these are wonderful things, but have no place at the Mass.

    The music is beyond horrible. Even coming from a completely non-church background, I can recognize dreck being played when I hear it. And this church is SO very proud of its handbell chorus. What a cacophony that is!! They occasionally have local high school students accompany the choir on everything from flutes, to trombones (what fun), to guitars.

    The first time I attended a Tridentine Mass here I was captivated. The experience was so completely different you would think it was a different religion, rather than a different church. The atmosphere was calm and quiet – no chatting in the pews. A Rosary was recited before the Mass. While I did take Latin in college, I did not have to understand word-for-word what the priest was saying. I could see that the entire focus of this Mass was the worship of God. And that is precisely what many people are missing. Church, when they bother to go, is more of a social and/or entertainment venue than a religious one.

    I think I’m slowly winning him over to attending the traditional church with me. I hope so – for both our sakes.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I’m going to wade in here and ask a few questions about liturgical music that have been on my mind. Please be kind. I’ve only ever belonged to very small parishes and the music has been limited by a small pool of people with both talent and time. I’ve never seen anyone bring in music from outside the hymnal (except at college–totally different experience that I won’t get into here), and the vast majority of people in the parishes I’ve belonged to are reverent and respectful before, during and after mass, even the teens. One of the parishes I belonged to was about 80% Hispanic/Mexican/Latino. My husband is Hispanic. How do different cultures and languages affect what is appropriate liturgical music, if at all?

    Also, what exactly makes something a folk mass? I keep getting the idea that guitars=folk mass, but that seems too simplistic. I’m pretty sure the Disciples of the The Lord Jesus Christ in Prayertown near Channing, TX, (the community of sisters where Fr. Pavone was sent) aren’t conducting folk masses every week (or every day), even though they accompany their singing with guitars.
    A little light on these from someone with more knowledge of liturgical music than I (not hard) would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • WSquared

      Hi Rebecca,

      I think Sr. Joan Roccosalvo’s essays at the Catholic News Agency might help. Here’s her first in a multi-part series:

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        Thank you for the link. It’s such a big topic, it’s hard to know where to start reading. This gives me a starting point.

  • Sophie

    Oh, God, I pray that Mr Tucker could one day come to southern Spain, to encourage people in the parishes to sing Gregorian and beautiful hymns. I pray that he could try to convince people in the parishes that the church does not fall apart withouit the guitar(s).

    I pray that he could convince those who are “singing” in the churches should demonstrate some humility, as for their abilities.

    Why, why, do so many people still imagine that pop music has anything to do with the liturgy?. The catholic church has glorious music, the Gregorian, lovely hymns, but the mainstream congregations seem absolutely tone deaf.

    Has nobody cared to study what pope em Benedict XVI said about pop music during Mass?
    There will never be any change, until priests and bishops realice that pop music is preventing meditation and deep prayer and insteda leads to emptiness and great loss of holiness during Mass.

  • Pingback: Pop Music at Mass | Father Jerabek's Personal Blog()

  • Laura

    I’m 50 and I love what you call “pop” Christian music. Many of these artists have been around for a couple of decades. I’ve listened to this music for over 25 years myself. This is not trendy, it is a form of communication the Holy Spirit uses to reach this time in our lives. The Chants are wonderful, but organ music is not something our children can relate to. The sooner the Catholic Church recognizes that some change and even some trends are good in order to meet our members where they are and take them where God intends them, the better. I know many church tunes where changed and melodies updated in response to V2, but the changes ended. The whole meaning of V2 was to keep up with the times to keep people going to church. Instead, it became a free for all and the Catholic Church compass is broken. We try to fix what music is played, but ignore big issues that our Bishops are afraid to address and take a stand on…even though our Catechism is extremely clear on them! If the music address needs of today’s followers, that is all that is needed. Yesterday is gone and who knows what tomorrow will be. Focus on today and reaching as many souls as possible by whatever means we can. Time is short.

  • Pingback: Who’s calling the tune? The status quo of banality and trivialization in liturgical music. | romish internet graffiti()

  • Renard N. Bansale