Totally Catholic Youth Ministers Lounge

Are you in youth ministry and you've had it with crazed parents? Rollin' your eyes at the pastoral council? Tired of administration work? Love youth? Love the Church? Appalled at parish politics? Looking for some good games? For a creative ways to teach a lesson for Religious Ed? Just need a place to veg out and say "phew! Someone outside of the parish to talk to!"? Grab y'r Starbucks, turn the computer away from the staff's eyes, grab a seat on a donated dusty couch and let it all go.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Music, Mass And The Apostalic Exhortation

I'm a big fan of our faith. More than that. I'm a devotee'. Ask what my hobbies are? Being Catholic is top on the list. Even more so? Talking to others about what the Catholic Faith IS and isn't. I love living as an orthodox Catholic minister. Tough sometimes, but love it. So good.

However, I will say that even for me, something are hard to hear and accept, like the following from Pope Benedict XVI's recent draft of the Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist:
The document would also encourage a greater use of Gregorian chant and classical polyphonic music; the gradual elimination of the use of songs whose music or lyrics are secular in origin, as well as the elimination of instruments that are "inadequate for liturgical use," such as the electric guitar or drums, although it is not likely that specific instruments will be mentioned. (From Catholic News Service)

I think that there are some at St Blogs who wonder if I'm a closet wack-job because I talk about Charimatic music, praise songs and Teen Masses. I'm a big fan all of them.

But I'm also a fan of reverance, beautiful Churches, excellent "high" liturgy, doing everything the way we called to.

But-and I'm not questioning the Holy Father here-I still wonder where, in all the granduer and decorum, is the room for cultural observations? While the use of Latin should never be taken out of the Liturgy, we have it in the vernacular for a reason. Far from saying we should be singing Kelly Clarkson's "Because Of You" at Mass, I'm still argueing that it needn't be all high hymns and chants. Aren't the older hymns the praise and worship of the past? Weren't they, at one time "cultural observations"?

I know people are tired of liturgical types and priests messing with the Liturgy. I am too. But need we throw out the baby with the bathwater? (again, not questioning the Holy Father, since he may not be explicit when it comes to instruments. Just asking, that's all.)


Anonymous james chang said...


I totally agree with you. I think you make an excellent point when you say that the music we are reverting to was one time culturaly relevant. I fear that we are not moving out of a sense of reverence, but rather out of a sense of nostalgia.

We are always going to nostalgize the past. Things were more reverant, more clear, people were more obedient and the church was more holy. At least that is the message that those trying to change the Church are lead us to believe.

But we all know that is not the truth. The Church has been through some rocky times. There was a reason that Vatican II needed to come around. The environment of thought in the church was suffocating. Theology had been reduced to biblical analysis through the lens of the catachism. The Church was out of touch with culture. People were having a hard time following the hard lines of a Pre-modern Church in the Modern world.

Did some of the changes go too far? Maybe. Did some of the changes not go far enough? Maybe. But we should be pushing forward to find our own voice in this post Vatican II period. Be it musically, liturgically, linguistically, or theologically. We cannot revert to the past - we can only use the past as a lens to shape the future.

One final note TCYM - I wouldn't worry so much about questioning the Holy Father. There is truth in doubt and questining is rich in meaning.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

But-and I'm not questioning the Holy Father here-I still wonder where, in all the granduer and decorum, is the room for cultural observations?

Sure there is. My parish happens to be a Cathedral, and we are blessed to have excellent music which, especially on major feasts, includes not only the traditional organ, but brass and percussion as well.

On the other hand, we also hear and sing spirituals, for example. In our bi-lingual Masses, we hear and sing Spanish folk-type songs.

I'm not sure that the question regards specific instruments or genres per se...rather that the music offered to God be the best we can offer.

Kelly <-----not the "Clarkson" one ;-)

3:41 PM  
Blogger TCYM Lounge said...

I guess I get a little worried with this drive to get all parishes (amongst American parishes, that is) back to very traditional ways, such as james chang spoke of.

If I did that with kids, they'd roll their eyes. I think they need to be exposed to it, but I would have a hard time not having contemporary music at at least one of the Masses. 'course, being a Charismatic I also lean towards the praise and worship music as well.

So if he calls us to more Latin use and only organs, even I am going to have a hard time. Why are certain instruments "adequate" for liturgical use and others are not?

5:50 PM  
Blogger Ephrem said...

I'm very conservative about Church music. I think that we should be going to chant.

But for kids--nah. Teenagers FEEL. (If I'm remembering right from my days in Youth Ministry.) And they must be allowed to express their strength of feeling during liturgy. Otherwise they will have the impression that there is no place for them in the Church.

I'll do almost any music with teenagers. It's a sacrifice for me, and for their prayer lives to grow, I would hope that somewhere in the ministry there is also a time of reverence, such as silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

On the other hand, I honestly think that teenagers grow out of the "feeling" phase around 15 or 16. I don't think that they should feel obliged to sing praise songs with enthusiasm, for example, into their late teens.

That's a bit trickier: How do we make it so no one ever feels obliged to pretend they enjoy praise songs?

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Margo said...

Ephrem - good question ("How do we make it so no one ever feels obliged to pretend to enjoy praise songs?")! I have wondered that, at times, but then decided that I had to either go with what God was doing inside me and quit singing, or choose to sing to Him out of love while being okay with not feeling exactly what I was singing at the moment.

At any rate, not to be snooty, but I found a quotation over at the marvelous Adoremus website that TCYM might appreciate:

"It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy.… Renewed and deeper thought about the principles that must be the basis of the formation and dissemination of a high-quality repertoire is therefore required. Only in this way will musical expression be granted to serve appropriately its ultimate aim, which is “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful”. -- Pope John Paul II -- Chirograph on Sacred Music, 12 (November 22, 2003)

I think that the reason certain instruments are adequate for liturgical use is that they render the sort of music that corresponds not only to us as humans (i.e. we have passions, intellect, and will, and yes, I'm implying that electric guitars often emit sounds aimed only at the emotions), but also the sort of music that helps us as fully human beings to worship God: i.e., it addresses our passions, intellect, and will in such a way that it compellingly invites us to lift our minds and hearts to God; it helps us transcend the temporal not just emotionally but mentally and freely (w/ one's will), too.

I wouldn't argue against contemporary / pop music for youth Masses, but only urge the music selector to help the youth grow beyond music that appeals only to their emotions. A sudden switch to Gregorian chant accompanied by a "...and you're gonna like it, too!" probably ain't the ticket, but some plan to help these kids' musical tastes conform to what will truly help them worship.

Hope that makes some sense.

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Margo said...

(Whoops! Forgot to post the Adoremus link. Here it is:

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Margo said...

Oh wait, wait, I just found something better! Here's the link: and here are a few paragraphs from that article:

"If it sounds like a Broadway ballad, it belongs on Broadway, not the altar. If it sounds like a 'golden oldie', sing it at home. If it stirs feelings of a non-sacred nature, it does not belong in a sacred place. If sounds like a rock group or a mariachi band, then it may be fine for entertainment at the parish picnic or in the gym, but not at Mass, and not in the temple wherein the Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented.

If the instruments used to accompany congregational singing do not lead the faithful into fuller participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, or a deeper sense of the sacred; if instead they entertain us, or bring our hearts and minds into the world -- the mundane, secular, and sensual -- then how can they be suitable (or 'made apt') for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?"

Ok, that's probably enough from one Liturgy enthusiast ;-)

11:55 PM  
Blogger Cantor said...

We need to examine a fundamental assumption that pervades many people’s posts here: that all musical styles are equally valid for liturgy.

Let’s examine characteristics of Gregorian chant:

a) generally, but not necessarily, written in a language that no one “owns” culturally

b) smooth melodic contours - comparatively few leaps

c) intimately related to the texts that go with the melodies

d) no written harmonies, all monophonic

e) free sense of meter - literally just pitches, with very simple rhythms

These four make this style of music the closest thing I can think of to being a culturally neutral form of music. Yes, it developed in Western Europe, but it’s such a simple form of making music that it essentially sheds its European roots.

I disagree that we need anything from the liturgy that cannot be taken away. We need to stop looking at how we can shape the liturgy to please us and start looking more at how we can shape the liturgy to *feed* us. For this purpose, I think having music that “sounds like church” is exactly what is needed: when I hear electric guitars, I think of the Metallica and blues I used to play in high school. When I hear Gregorian Chant, I think of church. Now, I’m not like most people in many ways, but I doubt there’d be much contest that in most of the Western world, Gregorian Chant says “Church” more clearly than any other kind of music.

Why is polyphony also included as being prized in the Church’s musical tradition? Not because it’s old, and not just because of aesthetic beauty, but also because of a timeless beauty of form: if you look at how the works of Palestrina, Lassus, Byrd, and so forth are written, they faithfully follow rules for writing counterpoint while still achieving beauty and freshness. And as Pius X observed in his “Tra le sollecitudini”, the melodies of this school of polyphony are written in the same spirit as Gregorian chant, albeit with defined rhythms for the sake of counterpoint.

This is not to say that new music cannot be written. I am a parish music director, and I write new music for my parish with some frequency - simple music that the people can learn and sing easily. Where do I look for examples of how to write good melodies for church? Gregorian Chant. Where do I look for how to write harmony? Western counterpoint. Of course, the music is new and is also shaped by my experiences with the popular music of today. In this way, (not to toot my own horn too loudly here!) we achieve a blend of the old with the new: writing new music with the ideas and devotion that guided the old.

The worst offender these days, I believe, is David Haas. His melodies sit too high and are often jagged, resulting either in awkwardness or just simply being trite.

And remember, just because something can’t be sung at Mass doesn’t mean it can’t be prayer. (Look into the history of the oratorio for a historical precedent for this.)

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for your honest heart and truthfulness, it is refreshing to hear someone be real. Its cool to read about real people who serve Jesus.

I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don’t want to be a pest, I just thought that I’d share.

“All my music is free.”

2:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for your honest heart and truthfulness, it is refreshing to hear someone be real. Its cool to read about real people who serve Jesus.

I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don’t want to be a pest, I just thought that I’d share.

“All my music is free.”

2:27 AM  

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