Heresy in religious music


I just posted my first welcome and asked a question. I hope that I a now in the right place to ask a question. I thought it would go into the section on liturgical music, but apologetics was suggeste. In regard to religious music as opposed to liturgical music and the fact that some of the religious music we sing at Mass today is not exactly in tune to Catholic belief, I have a question regarding the song “City of God” by Dan Schutte. That song has been sung for years. However, when we got a new pastor he told the choir that that song could not be sung because it was heretical. :eek: None of us in the choir understood that. Can some one please explain or maybe say where the pastor was coming from?:confused

Thanks for your assistance.


Honestly…I don’t get it either. I just downloaded a PDF of the sheet music and after skimming through it…nothing is poking me in my eye.

Maybe you should just ask your pastor (charitably) what he is seeing that you are not.


I just looked over the lyrics myself. While I found them pretty pedestrian (as an adaptation from Scripture), I didn’t see anything heretical either. Maybe we’re all missing something :confused:


“Let us build a city of God.”

Not that I’m offended by the tune, but in reality we’re not building a city of God. It’s already been built so to speak in the Body of Christ which is the Church. To suggest we have the power to build something apart from that or in addition to that could be considered heretical…though I’m not in that camp myself.

Candidly I wouldn’t mind it if cantors who insist on singing non-liturgical songs like Celine Dion’s “The Prayer” were made to wear sackcloth and ashes for a week. Pop music has no place in the mass.


As a cantor…I agree with you whole heartily. Lounge music should stay in the lounge and not profane the sanctuary.


Hmmm… Interesting comments. I have heard when Silent Night was first composed, that it was forbidden to be played at Mass. I seem to recall David’s wife being embarrassed by his dancing to music honoring God, yet God described David as a man after his own heart.

What you consider profane is a matter of your opinion only.


What about Peter, Paul and Mary folk music and hand clapping and swaying to and fro as is done at many Catholic Masses. Aren’t these things permitted today?


Some good articles that explain the role of music in the mass can be found here.


This is one of my favourite songs, and as I am going through the lyrics now in my mind, I don’t find anything heretical about it. Most of the words come from Scripture, so I don’t see where the heresy there is.


This song is probably not good liturgical music, particularly when there are many great hymns and liturgical songs out there that are time tested, however, it is odd that he would call it heretical. I had never heard the song but Googled it and what I read there something like a modern day psalm. That is the tone of it. It is not spiritually deep by any means and the one line lacks clarity which might be taken out of context;

“Let us walk in his light, his children one and all.”

but, that’s stretching it, I think. It seems clear from the rest of the song what that line refers to.

As with others, I would guess the only one who knows what your pastor is thinking is your pastor. I don’t know what sort of temperment he is blessed with, but as a rule of thumb, approach with caution. He may be anticipating some blow-back from changes he is making, just like any new pastor does, so he may already be on the defensive.

If you find out, Johanna, let us know too. I, for one, am puzzled.

Is Dan Schutte a Protestant perhaps?


You heard wrongly. It was composed specifically FOR singing at a Catholic Christmas Midnight Mass, and that was where it was first sung.

I agree the priest’s objections to “City of God” probably relate to lines like “Let us build…” which if taken out of context can sound heretical. But there are quite a few other hymns popular in Catholic parishes which are doctrinally much more dubious than this one. Have you considered actually (gasp) asking Father what he finds heretical about it?


One of the many reasons I converted from evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism is that the Catholic Church taught that Christians are actually supposed to be “DOING SOMETHING.” (Gasp–Good Works!!!)

In evangelical Protestant churches, we were taught that we should just sit back and let GOD do something. We had no power to do ANYTHING. It would be wrong of us to try to add any good works to what Jesus already did on the cross. And it would be wrong of us to think about our sins; such thoughts showed a lack of faith in the finished work of Christ.

The result of this evangelical teaching is a lot of lazy, sinful Christians who never worry about the presence of sin and absence of good works in their lives, since they have their “ticket to heaven” : “faith in Jesus as their personal Savior.”

Yuck! I always knew that something was cracked about that theology. It encouraged my natural tendency to be slothful, selfish, and arrogant.

So to me, an ex-evangelical Protestant, the lyrics “Let us build the City of God” sound magnificent. The idea that I actually have a calling to “do something” to help build up God’s Kingdom is very Biblical, not heretical at all.

The evangelical alternative words would be “Let us sit and watch God build His city up in heaven, not on this horrible sinful earth, and while we watch Him work, we will praise Him for forgiving all our sins, past present and future and giving us eternal life in that city.”

If you sing it chant style, it sounds pretty good. Eternal life in heaven absolutely free. In fact, is it possible that your priest doesn’t like the song because some Christians have gotten mad at him for admonishing them to get off of their butts and work?


The new pastor is not exactly the kind of person that you can question. Sorry, but true. The choir is pretty far down on his list of favorite ministries even though he loves theater and show tunes.

I am eidfied that so many share my views. Alot of the "new"music is smarmy and some does belong in a lounge as was suggested.
This music thing has become a real can of worms. :eek:

Thank you all for your views. It has given me something to contemplate and I’ll just grin and bear with the music we have.


Fortunately, we’re not left with nothing but our own opinions on the matter. The Church herself has the authority and has decided that some types of music are not fit for liturgical use.

The quality of ‘sacredness’ (as opposed to ‘profanity’ which in this context means essentially secularity) that a piece of music (or types of music) has is not a matter of subjective opinion but has to do with the nature of the music itself.

For instance, De Musica Sacra says about various types of music:

  1. “Sacred music” includes the following: a) Gregorian chant; b) sacred polyphony; c) modern sacred music; d) sacred organ music; e) hymns; and f) religious music.
  1. Gregorian chant, which is used in liturgical ceremonies, is the sacred music proper to the Roman Church; it is to be found in the liturgical books approved by the Holy See. … ]
  1. Sacred polyphony is measured music which arose from the tradition of Gregorian chant. It is choral music written in many voice-parts, and sung without instrumental accompaniment. … ]
  1. Modern sacred music is likewise sung in many voice-parts, but at times with instrumental accompaniment. Its composition is of more recent date, and in a more advanced style, developed from the previous centuries. When this music is composed specifically for liturgical use it must be animated by a spirit of devotion, and piety; only on this condition can it be admitted as suitable accompaniment for these services.
  1. Sacred music for organ is music composed for the organ alone. Ever since the pipe organ came into use this music has been widely cultivated by famous masters of the art. If such music complies with the laws for sacred music, it is an important contribution to the beauty of the sacred liturgy.
  1. Hymns are songs which spontaneously arise from the religious impulses with which mankind has been endowed by its Creator. Thus they are universally sung among all peoples.

… ]

It was encouraged from the earliest times, and in our day it is still to be recommended for fostering the piety of the faithful, and enhancing their private devotions. Even such music can, at times, be admitted to liturgical ceremonies.

  1. Religious music is any music which, either by the intention of the composer or by the subject or purpose of the composition, serves to arouse devotion, and religious sentiments. Such music “is an effective aid to religion” (Musicæ sacræ disciplina, idem.). But since it was not intended for divine worship, and was composed in a free style, it is not to be used during liturgical ceremonies.

There’s a clear “hierarchy,” if you will, of types of music according to their suitability for use in the liturgy; it’s not a matter of taste but of the nature of the liturgy and the nature of the type of music.

Pope John Paul II even wrote:

  1. With regard to liturgical music compositions, I make my own the “general law” that Saint Pius X formulated in these terms: “A composition for Church is sacred and liturgical insofar as it approaches Gregorian melody in flow, in inspiration, and in flavor, and so much less is it worthy of the temple insomuch as it is recognized as departing from that supreme model”. Evidently, this does not mean copying Gregorian chant, but rather seeing to it that new compositions be pervaded by the same spirit that gave rise to and so molded that chant.


No, he is a Catholic and was studying for the priesthood many years ago until he found that the priesthood wasn’t his calling. At that time, he and 4 others in the seminary formed the group The St. Louis Jesuits who have written many hymns. My cousin happens to be a member of the same group and is also a Catholic Priest.


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