Bad Catholic Mass music

If you are like me, you cringe every time a “hymn” from the “big four” at Oregon Catholic Press is sung during Mass: Marty Haugan, Dan Schutte, David Haas, and Michael Joncas. The music is very unsingable, the words often undermine Catholic teachings, and they seem to lower the Catholic Church to the level of secularism. I’m not saying that all “new music” is bad, but a large chunk of it is garbage.

In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger states clearly that popular music does not belong at Mass. The music is supposed to elevate our souls to unison with heaven - I do not experience that when listening to OCP hymns.

By the way, I grew up in the post-Vatican II world and used to cantor songs from “Glory and Praise” - I used to like this stuff. After much reflection, I feel the new hymns are contributing to the loss of faith in the church.

I would agree :thumbsup:

I started a list of good Catholic music. Here’s the start:

PS: I am going to be a seminarian in St. Paul, MN this fall. I did some research and two parishes in St. Paul are GREAT! They are St. Agnes Parish and St. Augustine Parish. St. Augustine has the Tridentine Latin Mass.

Uh-oh. Now you’ve done it. One of the favorite topics of debate in CA’s liturgy-related forums. I agree with you. I’m not saying that Gregorian chant is the only music fit for Mass, but the OPC/SLJ/H&H stuff is truly banal and sounds like it was written for Big Bird and Kermit and to be sung while hugging a teddy bear. You’ll find no shortage of blogs and websites that agree too, like this one:

My name is already cemented on the list Society for a moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas

It is refreshing to see others feel the same way - can I get an AMEN from someone?:smiley:

" I do not experience that when listening to OCP hymns."

So the value of the Mass is determined by our personal “experience?”

I used to hear this all the time in the Protestant church. “I don’t “feel” blessed.”

I thought that the Mass wasn’t about our personal “experience.”

I happen to love Haas and Haugen hymns in Mass. I’m not saying that you have to love them, too, but the fact that you don’t “experience” any spiritual highs listening to them is not proof that these composers are “bad Catholic Mass music.”

I don’t like Haugen, Haas, and the rest either. If I had it my way, we’d be singing hymns and prayers in latin. But I grit my teeth and stifle an oath if I have to, because I’m not there for the music.


I don’t think the OP is really referring to the same thing. It really isn’t about taste but about the sappy words and sentimental tunes that really don’t help much but usually detract not so much from our experience but from worship itself. It really is hard to imagine the angels and saints in heaven singing much of this stuff.

At the same time for sentimental reasons we do slip off ocassionally on a Sunday night to sing some of the Protestant tunes. But for worship give me that old time religion from St. John Chrysostom or even that late bloomer St. Gregory the Great.


Don’t forget Bob Hurd, Carey Landry, Martin Willett, Laurence Rosania, Bernadette Farrell, Rory Cooney, and Spain’s contribution to modern liturgical “hymnody,” the late Fr. Cesario Gabarain. I could easily live without hearing their noise again.

I love Haugen/Hass/Joncas music. Also think the St. Louis Jesuits music is very good. Also, Rory Cooney’s great too.

So listen to it again with an open mind, it could lift you up on eagle’s wings. Aw, c’mon, be not afraid!


I can’t even bring myself to calling that music “hymns.” I’m not necessarily anti-contemporary music, and occasionally I do come across a Haugen/Haas/Schutte/Joncas piece that I find really good (Bernadette Farrell though…well…lets just say if I were a music director I wouldn’t be using any of her music…). I actually think the biggest problem is that their music is overplayed, and it’s always the same songs by the same composers. And while it’s nice to have songs that essentially say “Jesus loves me,” it’s also important to have songs depicting other elements of Christianity as well.

Bernadette Farrell, in my own opinion, often gets lumped with the bad without just cause.

Not that everything she has written is great; But there are many fine compositions among her work, including “Praise to You, O Christ, Our Savior” and “Christ, Be Our Light.”

In fact, some of her old music is particularly good. She wrote a piece entitled “Give Us Lord a New Heart” which is especially fine - and quite difficult as well. Of course, OCP took it out of the hymnals because the dumbed down musicians in many parishes couldn’t perform it.

I believe that the composer of “Give us Lord…” was :Paul Inwood, not Ms. Farrell, though I agree with your assessment of that piece and Ms. Farrell’s body of work overall.
The more valuable point to the quoted post is that it is intellectually and perhaps uncharitably dishonest to dismiss music wholesale because of its authorship. I admit having difficulty with placing Carey Landry’s name midst the others, but each of the others and many more living writers have made significantly profound contributions to modern Catholic worship repertoire. But, I understand that in this and most other forums, it is much more convenient to just “shoot 'em all and let God sort 'em out” than to carry on a discerning, deliberate discussion of the merits of certain modern works.
BTW, “hymns” are texts, not music. Our Church’s traditions have for centuries incorporated both hymntunes as well as texts from other denominations not in communion with Rome; but they often get a pass from the disenchanted because they meet a cultural sensibility quotient that doesn’t disturb the comfort zone of what some recognize as being “church.” And, of course, they’ll continue to get a pass (whereas the Joncas’s and Hurd’s won’t) as long as we do not have a universally licit and artistically sound English version of the Graduale Romanum. I’ll gladly adhere to Propers and Ordinaries if our bishops and the curia stop their bickering and order the compilation and promulgation of such a needed resource. In the meanwhile, I’m cherry-picking the best from all of the musical vineyards our tradition has provided for over 1500 years.

It’s good to have an open mind, but don’t let your brain fall out. I taught these songs to my parish many years ago. The tunes were catchy and I wanted to bring our parish up to date with neighboring parishes, since we didn’t have OCP hymnals. I was a new convert from another parish that used this stuff exclusively, and I ran on the false assumption that “Catholic” hymnals were fully approved by the Church.

After having studied theology for several years and having been exposed to traditional Catholic hymnody, chant, and polyphony, I deeply regret having taught them the songs. I have an open mind, and there are certain (very few) contemporary hymns I will use. I’ll listen to any unfamiliar song and evaluate it’s theological accuracy and melodic sense. Most contemporary songs share two commonalities: sappy, dated music based on popular easy-listening music from the 1970’s, and a theological content that is often vague (Gather Us In, Anthem), careless (The Supper of the Lord), or just plain wrong (Ashes, Sing a New Church). Anything that attributes words to Jesus or His Father that are not found in Scripture should be avoided.

Having a catchy tune or happy lyrics simply isn’t enough to qualify for the worship of God in the Holy Mass. Anything used at Mass should be a higher grade than pedestrian.

NB: Regarding “On Eagle’s Wings,” what was Fr. Joncas thinking when he began his hymn on a 7th?

I do not like what they write. I think it sounds cheap and sappy. There are plenty of traditional hymns out there. I can think of 50 in a matter of minutes- that is enough to cover the liturgical year, and there are many more than that. Traditional hymns don’t have to be sung like you’d rather be anywhere else but there- and they shouldn’t be. The traditional music of the Church can come alive if those singing/playing it are passionate about it (within the context of what that kind of music is supposed to be like).

I attend only the Traditional Latin Mass now, but I remember in my NO days listening to this music. As bad as it was, I didn’t mind having one or two verses sang. But when they started singing 7 or 8 verses and then the pianist was so enamored with this awful melody that he’d play it as background music for the Eucharistic Prayer, it was a little bit too much for me.

I agree insofar as “experience” goes.

The fact, however, that these ditties tend to be theologically murky (some of them bordering on paganism in the worst examples), narcissistic (the congregation places itself in the position of Christ), and unsingable by a large congregation (changes in meter, key, tune, tempo, and range) is proof enough (for me, at least) that this stuff is “bad Catholic Mass music”.

Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. From these people all I hear is kvetching.

The forum would probably be willing to help if you asked politely. Organize a fund to be used for the sole purpose of commissioning plain chant masses. There are composers of sacred music out there with serious credentials. They compose for multivoice choirs, liturgies, etc. both a capela and with organ accompaniment. Commission what you want, pay for it, and get on with life. Enough with the kvetching already.


Actually, I expect that nobody will be composing Mass settings in English until the new translation comes out. The current translation is a lame duck at this point.

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