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.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Music and Liturgy

A start of some good discussion in the combox below:

From one:
Sacred music, suitable for use in the temple of God, as Pius X said in Tre la sollicitudini in 1903 (and reaffirmed by John Paul II in 2003) is that which is inspired by the Christian faith, has a sound theological character, and is universally recognizable. Thus, sacred music is able to complement the work of Christ in the liturgy, the goal of which is to draw us deeper into his paschal mystery for the purpose of our union with God (not merely our articulation and expression of our faith).

From another:
I'm not advocating secular music in liturgy at all. I think it can have a place in the classroom, but not in liturgy. But I don't see any problem with songs from bands like Third Day and MercyMe being used in liturgy, played by a music ministry that uses electric guitars and drums. I think they meet the criteria you cited. And they are an effective means for attracting young people to Mass.

Labels: , ,


Blogger Chris said...

When I was at the University of Virginia, I sang with the liturgical group at mass. I recall doing a U2 song during Mass (I think it was "In the name of Love") and it went off well, was well received by the congregation and lauded by the Priest. That notwithstanding, I think you do need to be careful about what Christian Rock music makes it into liturgy. I personally am not a big fan of that music and also think that most teens don't connect to it in mass. I also think a lot of the Christian rock is overly simplistic in its themes and tends to evoke themes of evangelical tent revivals than a Mass. I think drums and guitars can be great in Mass, but would think any lead guitarist should probably switch to rhythm. Those playing and singing in Mass do well to remember that the Mass is never a concert. The music is to support the mass, not to use the mass as a stage.

I am new to the site, by the way. Good work. If you are interested in checking mine out, go here:

Peace, All. And Merry Christmas!

11:10 AM  
Blogger Turk said...

Chris I agree that Christian Rock should not make it into the Mass. In regards to the U2 song. Just because it was "received well by the people and lauded by the priest" doesn't make it acceptable or right.

I think you hit the nail on the head explaining Christian rock songs as to simplistic. This goes back to comments made by Br. Thomas. These songs don't lead us into a deeper mystery of Christ but leads us into a deeper "personal" understanding of ourselves which is more of how the Protestants worship.

Merry Christmas to all!

12:30 PM  
Blogger Dennis said...

No, Turk, you can't make that generalization. It's always a mistake to universalize personal preference and say "this is right," while "that is wrong." And when you're dealing with musical genres, that's all you get. Now, you can talk about the text. You can say, "This text is all about ME, and therefore it's not good for public worship," or "This text is about God's transcendance, and would be good for public worship."

You can even say this musical style fits well with this text and this purpose, but that musical style or mode does not suit the sense of the text.

But I don't think you can say "Rock and Roll" does not work at mass. You (not just you, many) are trying to pass off their personal preference as if it were a universal goodness or truth, yet I've never seen a good articulation of the merits.

Yes, we should have more polyphony and chant. I love it. I sing it. And, to be honest, I'm good at it. But you can't throw out an entire genre and pretend that it's not just a whim.

Here's the way music works through time. Every century there are a thousand crappy songs. Most of them suck. Within a hundred years, all the sucky ones are no longer in use by anyone, and the great ones as handed on to the next century, where they find themselves being sung in church along with the next generation of crappy little hymns.

The proliferation of crappy little songs of this most recent generation makes a lot of people think there is something inherently wrong with songs that have the musical style of showtunes or the style of irish or appalahian folk tunes or the style of rock and roll.

But some of the songs of this age will be really good. And future generations will look back at the one or two really good hymns or songs and say "How come we can't have good music like they did back at the turn of the millenium."

And that's my humble opinion. It's kind of like a preference, isn't it?

4:27 PM  
Blogger TCYM Lounge said...

I hear what you are saying, Dennis, and I comprehend what the good Brother (in the other post) was saying.

But, however, what about "Praise and Worship" music (which I hope is what is meant by "rock and roll music) for Mass? I've always advocated it's use because it is engaging and it's up beat nature, drums, et al make it more..."less boring". (As kids are prone to say that the music at Mass is "boring!" or that Mass is "boring".)

I know that it is God who condescends to us, yet he did come in our nature and we do use our language to comprehend the Incomprehensible. The good Brother would say not "what can culture offer liturgy but rather what can liturgy offer the culture? " but what if those in the culture cannot connect to the liturgy? Is not the goal to connect to God and the liturgy?

I know this opens up a can of worms about subjectivity...and you are right, it is not about Me, Myself and I at Mass. But the objective reality of God-how do we even begin to comprehend him except for his condescension?

Am I making any sense?

4:41 PM  
Blogger Turk said...

In my 10 years doing youth ministry (including several years doing Life Teen) I have found that kids find the Mass boring because they don't understand the richness of what is happening. With that being said I don't think changing the music to thier liking is the answer. If they never understand the Mass then they leave the youth group with nothing to sustain them.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Turk said...

Read Br. Thomas' latest comments under the Peter and Paul post below. I think it answers several parts of our discussion.

7:23 PM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...

I'm relatively shy about posting comments on blogs, so I missed that there was a new topic in the blog on our discussion. I have copied my most recent post in that previous topic. It follows:

Instruments carry cultural associations. In some cultures, say the African culture (not African-American) and perhaps ancient Semitic cultures, drums along with dance were part and parcel to divine worship. This is why, in Africa, the use of drums and dance in the liturgy is explicitly approved. Once the culture was evangelized, the culture’s sacred instruments, previously used for pagan worship, could be incorporated into the liturgy.

Psalm 150, while divinely inspired, carries the cultural associations proper to the time of its composition. We should be careful not to attach our 21st century understanding of cymbals and drums to its interpretation.

In Anglo-European culture, dance, drums, electric guitars have had absolutely no history of use in a setting of divine worship, however. On the contrary, the use of drums and electric guitars in American and European culture have been entirely secular—more than that they are attached to genres of music (rock and all its descendents) that have more to do with eroticism and violence than they do with worship of the divine. These associations cannot be unlearned, even if the lyrics speak a sacred message.

Moreover, as musicologists more trained in such matters than I will tell you, the form of rock music—the use of drums and electric guitars—touch something primal in the human psyche. This insight goes back to Plato and Aristotle but has been confirmed again and again by musicologists and sociologists. It stirs up passions in the human soul that are antithetical to the sublime worship of God; that’s part of its character which is what makes it appropriate for concerts, high school dances, making out, etc. This was the very point Cardinal Ratzinger made in 2000:

“On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as the cult of the banal. ‘Rock’, on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit’s sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for few moments” (Spirit of the Liturgy, 148).

I am not prepared to say that drums are absolutely profane and have absolutely no place in the worship of God, since they are clearly part of the heritage of divine worship in certain cultures throughout the world. However, I am prepared to say the use of drums as typically conceived in the American culture and as typically manifested is absolutely foreign to the worship of God and should not be used. The electric guitar, unlike the drums, have absolutely no history of being used anywhere in the world for worship of God whatsoever. Unlike the drums, it was not created in any culture for divine worship.

This caveat, that the instrument was created for divine worship, is what’s behind the Church’s insistence that the pipe organ and Gregorian chant have pride of place in the Roman liturgy, for both were created by Christians to assist worship. This does not meant this is the only instrument or the only genre of music that can be used, but it does mean, as both Pius X and John Paul II said, that all newer forms of music must conform to the principles of organ music and Gregorian chant.

One of the principle criteria is that music must be at the service of the liturgy, and this was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council. Part of the problem, practically, of rock music with drums and electric guitars, for example, (as well as with much of the 1970s music) is that necessarily includes so much syncopation that it is very difficult for a congregation to sing while they are praying. They often have to focus so much on the melody, and getting the beat right, that they can’t enter into the mystery of Christ itself.

Now one might argue that this is not a problem with youth, since they’re used to singing along with these same sort of melodies in their IPod but most congregations over 25 aren’t. And this is the larger issue with rock music and excessively secularly infused genres of music—frankly, they don’t represent the typical repertoire of hymnody in our parishes. And even in a particular parish, their use is limited to the youth Mass. A number of studies have been written in the last ten years suggesting that youth Mass with this type of music, everything from LifeTeen Masses to the Notre Dame dorm liturgies, actually hurt more than they help young adults. While they may initially attract them to the Mass, they don’t help them to transition into the normal parish life where this music will not be sung. The temptation arises, then, to view Mass that is unaccompanied by Christian praise and worship as somehow inferior, boring, uninspiring, etc. which is exactly the sort of thing that happens when music begins to take center stage and no longer serves the liturgy.

Good sacred music calls less attention to itself than it does to the Eucharistic mystery.

Your point that this music attracts youth is a good one, but I simply ask at what cost? Have we considered how many LifeTeen kids don’t remain active after leaving LifeTeen or after leaving a university where this sort of thing is prevalent? Based on what I’ve read over the last ten years, the numbers are higher than you might think. One of the reasons, honestly, is that we’re forcing the Mass to bear a great burden than it is intended do. If the reason we’re using this music is to get kids in the pews, then it really is pre-evangelical. We’re trying to get kids there so we can evangelize them, and, hopefully catechize them. But the Mass has always been post-evangelization and post-catechesis—a Christian is evangelized and catechized before coming to the Lord’s table to give thanksgiving. Offer thanksgiving presumes an awareness of the reason for thanksgiving.

However, generally Christian rock has its goal the stirring of emotion just to get them to the point recognizing some spiritually affective connection to Christ for which they should offer thanks. The nature of rock music, as Ratzinger has said, is to offer a temporary ecstatic liberation from slavery to the mundane. But this isn’t Christ’s liberation. The glory of Christ’s liberation occurs in every aspect of our life—including the mundane and monotonous. To rely on Christian rock as a means of stirring the passions of the youth is not only to create false expectations on the nature of Catholic worship, but it is, in many ways, a disservice—because for most of us, our Christian heroism is not grand and spectacular, but ordinary and routine.

Finally, I would caution against appealing to the “What Would Jesus Do” line. Because, honestly, neither of us knows what Jesus’s reaction would be to any particular piece of music. We should consider that it is possible that Christ would recognize rock music as one of the sinful byproducts of a sinful human nature and culture (all cultures are under the judgment of the Gospel). I’m sure the Jewish faithful were likely bewildered by his overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the temple since they needed that service to offer sacrifices. But he didn’t blame them, be blamed the perpetuators of a corrupt service. It’s possible that he would overturn the drums and the electric guitar in an American suburban parish, not counting it against the faithful but against the progenitors of such music (since they should know better)—saying all the while, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer, and you have turned it into a rock concert.” (How many LifeTeen choirs arrange themselves in such a way as to stare out into the assembly rather than face the altar? How many cantors of youth Mass croon the psalm rather than sing it? Too many, I think.)

Music isn’t made sacred ipso facto by its use. Otherwise, the Church wouldn’t be so concerned about the instruments and forms of music used in its worship.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

And here are the last two posts from the previous topic:

Tim said...
Bro Thomas- Are you saying there is a list of instruments that our culture is allowed to use in liturgy? And that we are married to this list for eternity because of our history? In other words, if someone didn't use it in the past for worship (and specifically our culture's past), then we can't use it? We're stuck? I just want to make sure that's what you're saying before I respond.

10:43 PM

Bro. Thomas, op said...
No, I'm not suggesting that there is such a thing as "black list" of secular genres and instruments not suitable to the liturgy (although Pius X was pretty clear that operatic music had no place in Worship). I'm suggesting that: a) The Church does, in fact, teach that not all musical genres/styles and not all musical instruments can be legitimately used in liturgy, and, b) one of the reasons for this is the cultural associations attached to these genres and instruments.

This latter point is my main point. Some associations are part and parcel to an instrument's development and use--as the electric guitar was specifically developed for rock music and rock music has its own cultural associations. So it's not merely the fact that a particular instrument has not, in our history, been used in worship, it's that the instrument's (or genre's) use and development is directly contrary to the worship of God. As Pius X, Pius XII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have all asserted.

An ancillary point is that a distinctively absent element in the conversation on sacred music (not just here but generally) is the effect music has on the human psyche.

P.S. Perhaps we should take this conversation to the newer topic post on the blog to keep our eggs in one basket.

11:16 PM

11:54 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Bro Thomas- I think I disagree with you, but I don't want to misquote you, so please correct me if I do. Are you saying that JP II asserted that the use and development of certain instruments, including the electric guitar and drums, is directly contrary to the worship of God? And consequently they shouldn't be used during liturgy? They shouldn't be used to worship God? Could I ask you, Bro Thomas, and anyone else following this thread to scroll down to the video posted by Jen on this blog on October 30 of this year. The music that accompanies that video includes the use of both electric guitars and drums. I can't speak for anyone else, but that song, as played with all the wonderful instruments, draws my spirit to worship. If that song were played at mass, I would not be looking around to see who is playing drums. I would not say "this sounds like it's being played on instruments that were designed for purposes contrary to the worship of God." No, I would close my eyes and raise my hands and sing and worship the Lord. Are you saying that this song, with its guitars and drums, would not be appropriate to be played during mass?

12:18 AM  
Blogger Turk said...


I apologize if I have misunderstood you but it sounds as if anything is expectable as long as it makes me close my eyes and raise my hands and sing and worship the Lord.

Is that correct?

7:45 AM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...

I should be more clear here, thank you. I am asserting that Pius X, Pius XII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have all insisted that there are, in fact, some instruments and genres of music that are not appropriate for liturgical use (though they did not specify which instruments they are).

You can find the statement by Pius X (“Tra le Sollictuidini”) here:

This is the major statement to which everything after refers, and in John Paul’s statement he clearly says that it has lost none of its force.

Pius XII (“Musicae sacrae”) is here:

John Paul II (Chriograph on the Centenary of “Tra le Sollictuidini”) here:

And his encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” especially around nos. 49f.:

No where can I recall that John Paul II himself made the argument from history and development of particular instruments. Pius X and Pius XII touched upon it. Cardinal Ratzinger has written extensively on the issue (but has not yet formally addressed it as Pope--although the forthcoming post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation from the 2005 Eucharistic Congress will no doubt contain reference to appropriate sacred music).

You can find some bits from Ratzinger here:

A great article summary some of his writings on the matter here:

The first point is one I am not sure most fully appreciate, namely, that the magisterium, in fact, teaches that there exists some instruments not suitable to liturgy, even if it doesn't blacklist specific instruments. It does provide principles to measure their appropriateness. For the most part, it leaves the discernment of such things to local ordinaries and episcopal conferences. I am not suggesting that, as it stands now, such instruments are illegal or illicit. Indeed, in the early reform after the Second Vatican Council, the statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“Music in Catholic Worship” and “Liturgical Music Today”) intimated the appropriateness of their use. However, I should point out that 35 years later both statements are being rewritten with the 35 years of experience behind us, and there seems to be wide agreement that the weaknesses of praise and worship music need to be addressed in the forthcoming documents.

Because the Pope’s and the Second Vatican Council left it to prudential discernment, so there can be multiple interpretations or criteria applied to sacred music. Once one accepts, however, that there are such things as musical styles and genres that are inappropriate in the liturgy, one must begin to ask the question as to which styles and genres are inappropriate. The answer to this lies in the collaboration between pastors (bishops and priests), theologians, musicians, and musicologists.

Enter here the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger has a lot to say on the issue and the effects of music on the human psyche, and he is not alone in suggesting that rock music, drums (as used in European and American culture), electric guitars, etc. have no place in the liturgy for the reasons I have already outlined.

As for the October 30 song, I would not accept its use in liturgy whatsoever for a number of reasons. I like the song as it stands, and it is a religious song. But it’s not sacred music. (Sacred music being ideal for liturgical use.) If I were in my room, I would have no problem listening to it. It stirs an emotional and affective response to Christ.

If the point of worship in the liturgy were to provide or elicit an emotive response to Christ, then this piece would be most fitting because it does exactly that. But that’s not the point of liturgy. The point of the liturgy is to be drawn into the mystery of Christ’s redemption, and not merely subjectively. Precisely because the genres of pop and rock stir only the emotions, one has to ask whether the affective-emotive response one feels upon listening to this song is, in fact, the movement of the Spirit or an artificial creation of the genre. Ratzinger, I think, would suggest the latter, leaving little room for the movement of the Spirit.

The difficulty with our discussion is that we both live in a post-Cartesian, post-Kantian world where subjectivity reigns. Thus, the spiritual life is often reduced to my personal feeling about it, my sense of closeness to Christ, and my devotedness to him. But that’s not the traditional Catholic understanding of faith and worship. Thought it obviously includes a personal element, worship is a corporate enterprise—the body’s participation in the work of the head. The corresponding problem in much of praise and worship music is similarly a heavy emphasis on “Jesus and me” rather than the mystery of his work in relation to the whole of humanity and the Church specifically. In this particular song, both the text and the genre are individualistic—emphasizing my relationship with Christ and using a genre of music intended to stir my feelings.

The judgment on sacred music is necessarily prudential and the development of the virtue of prudence requires a certain level of experience, not the mere application of norms and principles but the combination of knowledge of principles with lived experience. I think most youth ministers who have worked in youth ministry for any great amount of time (over 6 years or so) will tell you that most teens have a low retention rate in the practice of the faith. The kids who go to the Steubenville festivals of praise, to Teens Encounter Christ retreats, to Youth 2000, and the like may have a profound emotional experience and may truly encounter Christ, but through an over-reliance on music such as this (music that depends on affective response), they find themselves unprepared to deal with any real crisis, and, when other emotions come into play (say dating a non-Christian or non-Catholic) which are more powerful and, for the moment, more sustained, they will abandon the faith. Feelings are fickle, they come and go.

Two final reasons I will mention for the inappropriateness of this song. First, inevitably it will cause the music and the band to be center stage. While you personally may find yourself lost in prayer, many, if not most, parishioners will direct their attention to the band and the song. (Which, by the way, they will likely be unable to sing—there’s no way to change that soloist part into a melody the congregation could sing without losing the syncopation and croon.) There may even be applause after the song or after the Mass. (What does applause tell you? Entertainment?) When the music gains such prominence as to overshadow the action of the liturgy, the ritual itself, it is no longer serving the function of sacred music.

Finally, sacred music is not divisive. There’s a difference between music from our heritage (say polyphony, chant, our treasury of classic hymns), which some people may not be properly exposed to and, therefore, dislike, and contemporary forms of music that absolutely repulse many members of a congregation—which is why you won’t see praise and worship become a part of the repertoire of a parish; it’s usually limited to the youth Mass. Sacred music, the documents say, should be edifying and unifying.

These are very sensitive topics, I realize. And we’re living in the aftermath of the turmoil of liturgical reform. Fortunately, over the next five to ten years these things will begin to be addressed in a more detailed way. I’m looking forward to the Pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Likewise, the US Bishops have just approved a Directory for Liturgical Music that awaits recognitio from the Holy See. The Directory contains principles for the development and publication of liturgical music. Once it is approved, the next step will be for the US Bishops to set out about 100 hymns or so that will constitute an established core repertoire for the United States. As I understand it at this point, the goal will be that every Catholic hymnal must contain those 100 hymns (though they won’t be limited to those 100 hymns). I daresay that most youth will not know a majority of those 100 hymns.

I’ll be interested in your reaction to the Ratzinger article at above.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...

Those links didn't come out right. I'm not sure how to get the whole link into the comment. Any help?

8:48 AM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...

I think this should work.

Here is the Pius XI motu proprio "Tra le Sollecitudini"

Here is the encyclical of Pius XII, "Musicae sacrae"

Here is John Paul II's Chirograph on the centenary anniversary of Piux X's document.

Here is John Paul's encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia." Read especially paragraphs 49ff.

This provides some select passages from Ratzinger's work in which he discusss sacred music.

This is an excellent article summarizing Ratzinger's view of sacred music.

If I were only going to read one, it would be the last one.

1:01 PM  
Blogger TCYM Lounge said...

I love the tone everyone has in this discussion, great stuff.

However, Brother, I must disagree with this:
" A number of studies have been written in the last ten years suggesting that youth Mass with this type of music, everything from LifeTeen Masses to the Notre Dame dorm liturgies, actually hurt more than they help young adults."

We have 38,000 kids showing up to the Franciscan Youth Conferences where there is a lotta drum and a lotta electric guitar. 38,000. Out of that, we have several thousand who apply to Franciscan, only about a 10th of whom are accepted.

What I can't help but say about the instruments of the past is that there weren't electric guitars, so they aren 't going to comment on them. I don't know that an instrument that wasn't specifically created for sacred music can't be used for sacred music. Flutes? Violins? I don't think we can exclude instruments because of what they are used for in other places. Certainly there is bad organ music. And piano music.

What I still have not seen answered is this idea that God in all his glory and majesty condescends to us and becomes like us except for sin. He uses things we know to communicate the realities of who he is: Bread, Water, Oil, Colors, etc.

My main point is I think we can also use "things" that a culture is familiar with to communicate the realities of God.

We keep talking about Rock and Roll, and I see a difference betw that and Praise and Worship music. Because there is a whole lotta support for this style of worship as well.

I'm not trying to make a fight here. I don't know that it's not a bad thing to draw them in emotionally and give them real meat (as LifeTeen does). Emotions are part of who God made us to be and yes, to leave it there is not good and become subjective. But do you not "feel" the grandness of God in a beautiful Cathedral? When you see a masters' painting? Can it not be that feelings be used to draw us in to an openness to God who we then find to be an objective reality?

I'm with you on the thoughts about the band being in "performance" mode. However, every band I've ever worked with -esp ones with kids in it-I say over and over and teach them that while the music needs to be practices and played well, as we are leading worship, it is NOT ABOUT THEM. Mistakes are taken lightly because again, it's not about the player. It is about assisting worship. Always. End of Story. (so I tell them...)

1:31 PM  
Blogger mgibson said...

If I may jump into the open can of worms... :) Personally, in my experience as a young adult Catholic and now a Director of Faith Formation/YM, I have wondered about whether the emperor has any clothes on?

What I mean by this is - remember Chesterton talking about modern art? And about how modern art is basically "sold" to us by those "who know" - the art experts. But he asks, do we honestly, when we really think about it LIKE that modern, formless, pointless art? He says, while "de gustibus" (no accounting for taste) is true, he came to the conclusion that the emperor really wasn't wearing any clothes, and if you got people at a moment when they weren't being influenced by others... they wouldn't like it either, at least not for the reasons they were "supposed" to like it.

I have begun to think the same question must be asked of "teen/youth" music and its use at Mass. From what I see, there is a LOT of pressure - most of it unintentional - on our youth to "love" the pop/rock stuff at Mass. Whether it is at a Steubenville conference (which, mind you, I do gladly take my kids to each year) or at a LifeTeen Mass or any other "youth" event, there is undeniable pressure on our kids to conform, to clap and sing and raise their hands like "everyone else", because "all the other kids like it and see how great Mass is here!"

I bought into this myself when I was first coming back to the Church. I remember going to my first youth Mass, with my friends who seemed excited about it, and while I was put off by the music and didn't like the sensual lyrics (that didn't have anything directly to do with God... unless you KNEW they were written as being praise & worship to God), I slowly but surely (and in many ways unconsciously) bought into it. My friends were into it (it seemed). Everyone else was singing. Everyone else seemed to think this was just great and to be a real young Catholic Christian you had to like this stuff. Then, someone somewhere mentioned something about the one parish in town that has a Latin Mass on Sunday. Latin? I was curious. The only Latin I had heard was from Matt Maher's setting of the Agnus Dei. Two of us went to that parish's Mass a few months later.

You know what? I didn't like it. Why? Because, I realize now, I not only hadn't been introduced to Latin, but because I hadn't been catechized to understand that people DIDN'T have to be "active" (as in, singing loud music, holding hands with the neighbors, raising hands up, constantly looking to "move with the Spirit", etc) to be participating in Mass. When I looked around that quiet church to see people just standing, sitting, kneeling, often with their eyes closed, and just being QUIET, I didn't know what to make of it. I honestly thought, to myself, that they didn't understand what Mass was supposed to be like. (!)

Gradually, over time, and as I got less and less comfortable with the youth stuff and praise & worship at Mass (I always have, and always will, probably, like listening to P&W in the car or at home... just not in MASS) I went back to that parish, drawn to it like a moth to flame (though with much more happy results). No, it wasn't perfect. Yes, there are too many people there who are misunderstanding the Mass from the other end. But still. AS A YOUTH I WAS NEVER TOLD!

I ask - how can we possibly "know" what the kids like best if we never allow them to experience it? Perhaps I'm totally wrong, an anomoly, a weirdo - but maybe I'm not. As far as I know, all "youth" groups, from the totally orthodox ones like Steubenville to the "interesting" ones, use the same style of music "because that's what the kids want." ARE WE SURE?? Do the kids even know what "they" want? Have they ever had a choice or a chance to say what they want? A real one? Knowing the options?

Today, as I find myself a DRE and YM, I must say that when I started I too continued the trend - of course the kids want P&W. As our parish doesn't do LifeTeen or anything "totally youth" like that, I brought these kids for their first time to a NET Mass at the NET Center in St. Paul. Funny thing was, a good number of them came up to me afterwards and asked if we had to come again, I said no, but why not? "The music, the atmosphere" they said. They wanted "real" hymns, like at our church's Masses. Now, in our case, I think my kids had a beautiful opportunity to really see for themselves what THEY wanted. They were able to experience it "both" ways, and then chose for themselves what they wanted. I'm afraid in many parishes and youth organizations that are so tied to the P&W culture, they are in fact denying our kids the opportunity to know and experience the broader Catholic musical heritage - and, in effect, making their choice for them. These kids, like myself, in this culture, whether it is intentional or not, are told by word and action that "church music is boring." OF COURSE if youth ministers and music ministry leaders ASSUME that kids SHOULD be bored by "church music" and never talk about it in a positive way... they will be bored.

I'm just saying. Now. Your thoughts?

8:09 PM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...

I think your right Mgibson. In his 1986 article and again in the Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), Ratzinger lamented that authentic polyphony, chant, "classical" music has receded into the realm of the cultural elite and away from the common folk--who, in previous centuries, not only understood this music but were generally inculcated with it. In its place, he argues, the masses have been sold on rock and pop music only to view the sacred music of the ages as "classical," "elitist," and institutionally prescribed.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Bro T- you've given us a lot to read, and I intend to dive in before I can give an intelligent response to the points you make. However, I have a question about the first document you referenced. I was just getting started when I can across this:

7. The language proper to the Roman Church is Latin. Hence it is forbidden to sing anything whatever in the vernacular in solemn liturgical functions -- much more to sing in the vernacular the variable or common parts of the Mass and Office.

Does this say what I think it's saying? And if so, to what extent has this document become somewhat outdated in a post-Vatican II church?

Caveat: I haven't read the other link yet, so if the answer to my question is there, I'll get to it eventually.


11:31 PM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...


The restrictions on the vernacular were loosened substantively by Pius XII and, later, the Second Vatican Council. We must understand that there is a certain continuity between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar liturgies, the organic and developing use of the vernacular wasn't an abrupt change. (Although it has been experienced as such in most parishes.)

The best way to interpret Pius X's document's relavence is to see that it was quoted substantially by Pius XII, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (of Vatican II), and John Paul's 100th Anniversary letter--that letter, especially, relies heavily on it and brings into dialogue with contemporary issues.

As a point of trivia, it should be noted that the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI also said that whatever the use of the vernacular, every parish should retain a common knowledge of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin. The Ordinary are those parts that never change: the Kyrie ("Lord, have mercy"), the Sanctus ("Holy, Holy"), the Credo (the Creed), the Pater Noster ("Our Father"), and the Agnus Dei ("The Lamb of God").

How many parishes do you know that routinely use ALL 5 of these Mass parts in Latin? I know of very few, practically none. Some parishes do a few, but practically nobody knows the Creed or the Lord's Prayer in Latin anymore.

Latin remains the language of the Church and our patrimonial heritage, even if the use of the vernacular is an intrinsic good.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Mgibson- between you and Bro T, there sure are a lot of good points to chew on here.

I worked with a Lifeteen parish for about 6 years as a member of what they call the "Core Team." If someone isn't familiar with that label, just let me know and I will be happy to explain. And during that experience I saw a lot of the warts that have been previously mentioned. The band is up front playing like a concert, and the teens often react to the band like they would if they were at a concert - music is playing and teens are singing while looking at the lead singer or guitarist instead of at the altar or the cross or anything God-focused - in other words their minds can often be on the band and the song instead of on God and the song.
Another problem I saw is that the Lifeteen mass tends to separate teens from their families. The teens love to gather in one section of the pews and sit together. Teens crave independence, and after all, mom and dad are really dorky, so what's not to love about sitting far away from them or, even better, mom and dad aren't there because they went to 9:30 am mass. Yup, warts they is.

However, the flip side that Bro T and MGibson (loved the Passion of the Christ by the way) are presenting isn't necessarily a better option in my opinion. Yes, ideally teens could be well "catechized," and we could expose them to many different types of music at liturgy and let them choose which one they prefer. And then they could go home and discuss it with their parents, who are very spiritual and do everything they can to support their teens' faith development. But I don't think that's what most of us are seeing on the front lines.

I see two basic types of teens. First, the ones who are totally "into it" for some reason. Most of these flock to the Lifeteen mass. Maybe it's the music. Maybe it's the social benefits - maybe all they get is rejection at school, but the teens at this mass seem to be much more accepting. Maybe it's that they are really self-conscious and shy, but at this mass, the adults in the youth ministry make a point of reaching out to them and making them feel special. Maybe it's that they don't have to sit with their parents and they enjoy the mature feeling of being with peers. Maybe they have a well-formed background in our faith and simply enjoy everything about the Lifeteen mass atmosphere (it isn't as "stiff" or "formal/cold" as some other masses seem). And there are many other possible explanations, but for whatever reason, they really like to be at mass and to stay after mass for another hour and a half (which is a MIRACLE) to hear a faith message/teaching from the youth minister/core team. And I will fold in with this group the teen who is brought to mass by a friend and who falls in love with it and joins the "youth group."

The other type is the teen who is now Confirmation age and has been enrolled, by force, under penalty of death, kicking and screaming, into the dreaded Confirmation prep program. (These are the teens I live for - seriously!). Lifeteen mass? Right. How about no mass. How about their parents don't go to mass either. Anyone in youth ministry knows what I'm talking about. A latin mass? We can't get them to an English mass. They have no catechesis. The Lifeteen teens may have some catechesis - these have none. No support at home for faith development. No prayer. Just, this is stupid and you su*k. These are the teens you catch text messaging during a talk. You can't walk a teen like that into church and sing "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" and expect them to click. It doesn't happen. But you can walk a teen like that into a mass where cool, current praise and worship music is playing and SOMETIMES get a click. So I don't blame the Lifeteen program and the Steubenville conferences for taking advantage of that. Is it the ideal? Probably not, but from what I've seen, it's more effective in grabbing teens who are otherwise going to walk out the door after Confirmation and never look back.

I'm speaking in broad generalities here. Obviously each teen is unique and has a different background and may not fit perfectly into the two categories I've described above. But without the luxury of working with teens who have been properly "catechized" or who are willing to put in the time and effort to be properly catechized, the Lifeteen type mass, the atmosphere, the music, warts and all, can really be an effective tool for grabbing and attracting teens to liturgy. Once you've got their attention, then you can work on all the other wonderful things, like exposing them to other music, scripture, maybe even a latin mass. But if you don't have their attention to begin with, you never have the opportunity to present all of that other good stuff.

Maybe my experience isn't the norm. I'll be interested to hear what others think.


12:23 AM  
Blogger Turk said...


As I mentioned before I was involved in Life Teen and what you experienced, I believe, is the norm or maybe we're the only two to experience this. With all that you have said, I'm still a little uncomfortable using the Mass (the music at these Masses) to get kids involved or excited about the faith. I don't think the Mass was designed for this. I would propose using other things to draw kids in, big events etc. and build relationships draw them into the faith and be patient with them saying "Mass is boring".

I must be honest. "Mass is boring" at many Parishes and I could give you a long list of why I think this is and music only being one of them.

Thanks for your insight on your YM experience.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...


I think you've hit the nail on the head here. This is really the dilemma all youth ministers face--whether they're conscious of it or not.

I just want to be clear that I haven't really presented an alternative to the praise and worship music. In fact, I'm not sure what an alternative would be.

I do know that some Youth2000-type events around the country are employing less praise and worship during Mass (more during adoration) while using more chant, traditional hymnody, and, believe it or not, polyphony. My initial concern with this model would be that the teens would find the music at Mass much more boring than at other times, but I've been happily surprised that this is not the case. A gymnasium of 850 teens singing chant is quite the thing to behold!

My concern continues to be longterm. The kids who are coming for the music, are attracted by the music. What happens to them in college or after college away from the support group LifeTeen offers, away from the Mass and music they've grown accustomed to?

I'm pretty sure nobody has done a formal study of the retention rate. There's a lot of anecdotal testimony out there that these kids don't stick with it and only have a reversion after some crisis of faith (by the grace of God).

TCYM has said that 38,000 attend the annual Steubenville festivals annually. Several thousand apply to Franciscan, only a 10th are accepted. A 10th of 7000 is 700. I have absolutely no doubt that the 700 or so who attend Franciscan University will remain active in the Church after college, or at least, a very high majority of them will. With the Catholic ethos of the area, the faculty, the communal worship, it would be difficult not to.

But 700 is less than 2% of that original 38,000. What happens to the other 98%?

There's a lot of complicated issues at work here and the objectivity of inappropriate forms of music is only one of them. You point out another, which is that we're dealing with the children of an entire generation that wasn't taught the faith and doesn't practice the faith. A third point at play is helping teens transition from this sort of pre-evangelical/pre-catechetical approach (getting their butts in the pews and to youth ministry) through catechesis to a mature adult faith that can live a normal life of worship as its instantiated in a majority of parish Masses around the country.

The solution to all these is not clear at all. I'm not just not convinced that the current model is the best one in the longterm.

8:34 AM  
Blogger TerryC said...

I just had to comment on the statement of how the origin of an instrument are germane to its appropriateness for its use in the liturgy. that bastion of liturgical music, the organ was first used in the Roman Coliseum during the games, so could be said to be most closely associated with gratuitous death and violence.
As for musical styles no one today would consider polyphony as controversial, yet in late medieval times some characterized it as being the devil's music. Our latest Popes statements on music hark back to John XXII's bull Docta Sanctorum Patrum where he spoke out against unliturgical musical innovations. He was taling about innovations polyphony.
As for cultural justification, Bro, Tomas seems to consider that we as Americans have no culture of our own and must therefore accept the cultural hand-me-downs of the Euro-Roman culture.
The American culture is some 350 years old. Ascribing a 1000 year old culture to a stone age people just because they were also a stone age people a thousand years ago shows a lack of anthropological knowledge. Lack of technological does not mean a lack of cultural diversification. You can not on that basis prove cultural continuity.
The Anglo Catholic cultural roots were suppressed by a number of historical factors. one was, of course, the Anglican schism. Another was the invasion of England by Normans which displaced the Celtic Catholic Church, a rite which had always accepted the primacy of the Pope and Catholic doctrine, but which had different cultural roots, with the Roman Catholic rite, which was practiced in France.
It amazes me that most seem to accept Hispanic Catholic practices without difficulty, but balk at any acceptance of Anglo-American or African-American Catholic Cultural practices.

9:51 AM  
Blogger TerryC said...

Sorry for the follow on post, but I thought You might be interested in my experiences in Life Teen.
I've found that the real hook for Life Teen should be Life Night. My priest insisted that the Youth Mass should be separated from Life Night. So we have our youth mass at 9:30 in the morning and Life Night at 6:30 Sunday night. I've got to tell you I was dead set against it when he laid it out, but he was right. This allows us to do upbeat, but liturgically relevant music at Mass and Praise and Worship music at Life Night. We still use guitars and drums at Mass, but the youth choir keeps it down, if you know what I mean. At Life Night they totally let go and God is still the focus, but it's not Mass.
I see the same two groups, and from time to time we do "get" one of the "I'm only here because gandma will disinherit my parents if I don't get confirmed" kids to jump across.
As for what happens to the other 98% we've got some of them. About a dozen college kids come help with Life Teen as Core members. Several play in the life Teen band. At least one is a part time assistant youth music minister at another local church. One has graduated from an engineering school and divides his time working as a part time engineer and youth minister at another church.
Most just come to church every week and attend XLT, which we have every month, and basically become faith filled practicing Catholic adults, which is what we really want our ultimate outcome to be, isn't it?

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Maybe I missed it but do you think Praise adn WOrship music is worthy for the Liturgy?

11:15 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Bro T said previously: >the US Bishops have just approved a Directory for Liturgical Music that awaits recognitio from the Holy See. The Directory contains principles for the development and publication of liturgical music. Once it is approved, the next step will be for the US Bishops to set out about 100 hymns or so that will constitute an established core repertoire for the United States. As I understand it at this point, the goal will be that every Catholic hymnal must contain those 100 hymns (though they won’t be limited to those 100 hymns).<

So the St. Louis Jesuits have reuinited.

Bro T- What's your take? Is "Here I Am Lord" going to make the Hot 100 Hymns you mentioned? I wasn't clear on if it was guitars in general, or just electric guitars that you found problematic in liturgy.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

The article on the SLJs is almost a year old, by the way. By now, they may have broken up again. :)

9:45 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Sounds like we can expect the Pope to speak to this issue sometime in January.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Bro. Thomas, op said...


Personally, I hope that "Here I am Lord" moves into the sunset, but that's personal preference. I have no theological or objective reasons for that. I'm not a musicologist, so I don't have any good reasons beyond my personal preference.

Similarly with guitars. I certainly think classical guitar has a place, but arguments against regular string guitars are a bit harder to make--and I haven't been fully convinced of them. (Mostly because I don't understand all the musicological principles at work.) I personally don't like them, and recoil when I notice they're going to be used at Mass. Some of that's reaction, some of it is instinct based on the principles I've already elaborated that something is not quite right. But I can't fully articulate it, and I'm not prepared to rule them out absolutely.

(Although I have noticed an annoying tendency of guitarist-cantors of "twanging" the lyrics so they fit with their strumming style along with a temptation to modify the beat of a hymn that everyone's used to, making it near impossible to sing.)

As for the motu proprio and post-synodal apostolic exhortation, I'm excited about both. The first, to see the theology he will outline behind the coexistence of the Pius V Mass with the Paul VI Mass. For the second, not only for sacred music, but for all things liturgical.

I confess that part of my pleasure at Ratzinger's election was knowing that he is much more liturgically minded theologian than John Paul was. I'm convinced Pope John Paul was not really convinced of the enormity of the liturgical abuse in the world until around the late 80s or early 90s. Part of this is due to the fact that Poland has been a very Catholic and devout country, and its transition from the pre-Conciliar liturgy to the post-Conciliar liturgy came off without much problem. I just don't think he realized that that wasn't the experience of most people.

So I'm excited to see the rich liturgical theology that Pope Benedict will spell out in the exhortation.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I bummed at Ratzinger's election - just because I know how conservative he is. He doesn't seem nearly as approachable as JP II. I recall being at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000 with our youth group. When JP II arrived in his "go-cart," the teens went absolutely bonkers. He had a parade running after him like he was a rock star (sans electric guitar, of course - perhaps an organ) (wink). There was a glowing warmth about him that is missing in Ratzinger. Popes are human, and they have different personalities . . . different strengths and weaknesses. JP II's personality was one of his greatest strengths.

I never met JP II (although I was about 3 feet away from him at one point), and I've never met Benedict, so I'm simply speculating when I say this:

When Jesus said let the little children come to me, that's how I see JP II. I don't picture Benedict in that scene. I get the sense that Benedict is a bit colder, and if he showed up at my church, rather than just hugging the teens and laughing with them, he might turn to me and say "Tell that one there to pull up his pants. His boxers are showing." (I'm half-joking, so don't beat me up over this.)

I know Benedict loves the people of the Church, including the teens. I just miss JP II. I have no problem with rules and discipline, but I miss our happy Papa. And Benedict helps me remember how much I miss him. :)

OK, I've digressed way off topic. Sorry. Nothing of substance here - just pure human, emotional reaction.

12:47 AM  
Blogger TerryC said...


Maybe I missed it but do you think Praise adn WOrship music is worthy for the Liturgy?"

I believe different music has different uses. Many Praise and Worship songs are completely unsuitable for Liturgy, but perfectly appropriate for XLT, during the period before and after the Lord is physically present. Some are appropriate for the time the Body is Present at adoration before or after the devotional silence or the singing of the Divine Praises.
Other Christian or even Catholic music are never suitable for anything but listening to in a non-worship setting. That doesn't mean that its not good music, it just isn't suitable for use in worship. Which means we use it as background music at teen functions that are not worship based, along with Praise and Worship music, played at those time mostly to help everyone learn the songs.
I would never think "Our God is an Awesome God" appropriate for Liturgy, yet it's perfectly alright in the leadup period of XLT. I'd use "Big Big House" anytime at a Life Teen function, but probably not at XLT, unless it was as a wrap up song. The Hail Mary, done in it's Joe Zelek version is perfectly acceptable for a Marian feast, as is Gentle Woman, which includes the Hail Mary. Anything by Sean Forrest is good listening music, some of which I'd use with no hesitation on a Life Night, but not good for Liturgy.
I could just as easily pick out a dozen songs from Breaking Bread, OCP's songbook used at our non-teen Masses which I think are inappropriate for Liturgy, organ music or not. Bernadette Farrell's music especially strikes me as unsuitable, meeting not one of the guidelines recently required by the USCCB. But maybe I'm alone in that opinion.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Whiteboy said...

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but let me throw in my two cents...quick disclaimer, my background is mainly LIFE TEEN - participated all in high school, Core member for 5+ years, YM for a short time. My personal preference is simple - I want good songs done well. I'll gladly take most modern Praise and Worship songs over the Haus/Haugen/Schutte Musical Triumverate from Hell, but I'm also just as content to worship with chant.

From the P&W standpoint, it's about selecting songs that are liturgically and theologically appropriate (as an aside, as a Core member we had a liturgy group that worked with the priests to help pick the music and themes that fit best - and it worked very well). I mean, give me some Matt Maher or Chris Tomlin stuff, no problem. Sure, some of it shouldn't be at Mass (I don't see Maher's outstandingly punked-out version of "All Glory to God" fitting at Mass). But the right songs can work, regardless of the arrangement.

But the arrangement means nothing if the musicians don't get it. I've been to a few LT Masses where the band did everything they could to be the center of attention - and it sucked. But I've also seen music ministers that GET IT...ones that know what's up and just get out of the way. And those are frequently the liturgies that have drawn me in most deep.

Good music done well - both qualities are required regardless of the type of music. I look at the parish I currently attend, and they have a band that plays - and they are OUTSTANDING...I never get the impression that they want to be focused on, that they're doing everything they can to enter into worship with the rest of us. However, their song selection is beyond miserable, to the point of making we want to cry. Contrasted to my prior parish, the song selection was fantastic (for the most part) - but it was completely entertainment driven.

This goes beyond just P&W music too. You can have a choir that does chant all you want, but if they don't do it well, it's going to turn people off entirely. Same with a more traditional choir - everyone has heard that one lady singing extra loud because she's right by one of the microphones.

I often say that LifeTeen in and of itself isn't an issue (quite the opposite, if you've read any of their materials, they attempt to be very orthodox). Rather, LT is a mirror on the parish - it reflects the attitude of the parish. If you have an LT program at a very orthodox parish, you're likely to find music done in a contemoporary style with utmost reverence. Likewise, if it's a hetrodox parish, it'll mainly be entertainment feel-good driven. This probably extends to any contemporary choir or band - the problem isn't the music, it's the way it is presented.

As far as the question of "what do teens want?" - there's not a good answer. One commenter made the point that some teens come to a contemporary mass and say "we want real hymns." I've heard that before, and on face that's a very laudable attitude. But have you asked them what they consider to be "real hymns?" Almost always, I get "City of God" and "On Eagles Wings" and "Gather Us In" and the like. They want the 60s 70s and 80s tripe...and that drives me nuts. They've been force fed crap all their lives that they've become accustomed to much so that regardless what you put in front of them (chant to P&W), they say "eh...we still want the crap." I realzied this is sounding very condescending, and that's not my point. I guess what I'm saying is that right now we've got at least 2 generations full of liturgial illiterates. Right now our parishes are full of music that fits that mold. Unfortunately, there's no way to remove about 40 years of bad music from the repitoire. You've either got two ways to go - move it forward and work on some contemporary, or move it back and break out the polyphony and chant.

My thing is I'm not opposed to both. In the years I've been doing it, I've only had a handful of teens randomly come up to me and ask about Latin or old hymns. But those kids should be fed too. I still say a chant fillied liturgy and a contemporary P&W liturgy an and should coexist at the same parish. This way, the opportunity is there for someone to get a taste. But I'd take it a step further. Why not have a Latin & Chant NO Mass once a semester for the LT Mass? Get the kids exposed to it. Let them see it. This isn't an either/ should be a both/and. It's almost impossible to see that happen right now though - discussions like this tend to be a lot less side saying "only latin/chant/polyphony, guitars have no business anywhere in liturgy" and the other side saying "get out of the past, this is what people really want."

What people want is to worship - it's what we were made for. Different people enter deeper into worship in different ways. That doesn't make one superior, it just requires some common sense in what a parish offers.

(and for whatever it's worth, I've got a longer post on this subject over at my blog if anyone is interested.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Whatever your style preference, all of the above really emphasizes the importance of music in liturgy. Towards the top of the priority list for parish spending should be the salary of a good music minister. I know not all parishes can afford to pay someone (or at least not much) to serve as music minister. Unfortunately, the result is often a situtaion where "you get what you pay for." I'm not saying that there aren't some good volunteer music ministers, but from my experience, the best ones come at a price - after all, they have to eat. In my opinion, it's money well spent and good stewardship.

6:50 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home