Just how important IS music in the Mass, anyway?


This is related to my other thread about paying church musicians. That thread has many interesting and thought-filled opinions from many CAF members, including me :) .

One of the thoughts that keeps popping up in that thread is that "music isn't really all that important to the Mass, since it's not required."

There are variations of that thought on the thread, but they all revolve around the fact that there is no rubric that requires music in the OF Mass. (I will confess ignorance about the rubrics regarding EF Mass music requirements--perhaps someone will be kind enough to post this information.)

Many of the posters stated that they make it a point to attend Masses with no music, or that they wish their parish offered the option of a music-less Mass.

Other posters on that thread have posted links to various Church documents about the importance of music in the Mass, and contend that even though music is not required in the Mass, it is still very important and that it would be a negative development if the majority of Masses became music-less. (I think it be helpful if posters would post those same links and others on this thread, if they can spare the time.)

I would like to know what CAF members think of this question--how important IS music in the Mass, anyway?

For those who do not know me, my husband and I are converts to Catholicism from evangelical Protestantism (2004). From childhood, I played piano in whatever church I was a member of, and for the most part, I loved the rich variety of music in the evangelical churches. I still love it all--classical and baroque music (pipe organ and other instruments, including whole orchestras), traditional hymns (mainly Eurocentric), traditional American hymns and gospel (I LOVE Fannie Crosy, Phillip Bliss, and even A.B. Simpson hymns!), contemporary hymns, Christian rock and country, Southern gospel, children's music, and the best of the praise and worship music.

I was raised to participate in church music, not spectate. I do NOT enjoy the trend among Christians to sit and listen to professionals sing and play. I prefer to sing and play myself, and to listen to my fellow Christians in my own church and community sing and play.

This has hugely influenced the way I approach the Mass. To me, singing is not just an option, it's a necessity. I wouldn't dream of sitting there and just listening, unless I had a cold and couldn't sing.

Jesus said that "If we are silent, the rocks will cry out." Fannie Crosby wrote, ""I sing for I cannot be silent, His love is the theme of my song." If I had no choice, I would attend a music-less Mass, but I would sing anyway, in my heart, and I would sing out loud as I walked to my car after the Mass. (I often do this, and people comment on it!)

Those of you who know me know that I do not like any form of chant. I have tried for eight years to like it, but it hasn't happened yet. I will keep trying. But I recognize the importance of chant in Catholic Church tradition (small "t"), and I'm very glad when others enjoy chant and have the opportunity to sing it in their parishes.

My husband and I grew up in the era when Christian rock music was just beginning, and we actually lived through ferocious "church music wars" in which guitarists were physically escorted OUT of the church, and sermons were preached on "demon rock."

Time and time again, we've witnessed church splits over the issue of church music, and we've seen both young and old people leave the church they love because of music conflicts.

That's my background.

Here's my opening foray on this question. I think that whether I or any of us personally consider Mass music important is inconsequential. The FACT is that in the United States, music is incredibly important to many many people of all ages, races, and religions.

I have seen elderly people depart from their childhood church and begin attending a liberal church for the sole reason that the MUSIC was good at the liberal church.

I've seen many many Catholics who attend Mass at their parish, and then drive down the road to the Protestant megachurch, or across town to the two-hundred year old Lutheran parish, to hear the GOOD music that is a staple in these churches.

I've seen many teenagers and young people stop attending church (Protestant and Catholic) because they hated the music so much. And I've seen these same young people crowd by the thousands into a weekly meeting at the Assemblies of God church to hear the best in Christian rock.

I've seen classical musicians quit attending traditional churches, Catholic and Protestant, to attend the Unitarian, the LDS, or the Christian Science communities, because these are the only religious communities that offer the opportunity to play, sing, and hear the greatest works of the classical music masters. Also, the musicians will be PAID a competitive stipend or salary in these communities.

I know African Americans who attend church for several hours on Sundays because of the great music. [edited]

And I know many people who spend thousands of dollars on acquiring a "music library," either vinyl, CDs, or iTunes.

I know that many of you can share anecdotes like this. It's just fact--in the U.S., music is important.

And I personally think that the Catholic Church cannot ignore this. To move towards music-less Masses would be, in my opinion, a disaster in the U.S. that would result in massive attrition from the Mass and eventually from the Catholic Church.

What do YOU think? :)


I can’t imagine mass WITHOUT music. In fact most parts of the mass are to be sung (eg Psalms). In our parish much of the mass is sung and not simply read. I have noticed that alot of tourists, esspecially americans, seem to be a bit shocked at the amount of music we do have in the mass up here. Is it a groing trend in the US to “tone down” the mass?


I think for many Americans they are not used to singing the propers (at least not all of them). For instance in the diocean churchs in my area only the *Gloria *and *Sanctus *are sung. The Kyire, *Creedo *and Angnus Dei are recited. The other parts of the Mass that are regular sung are the Psalm (though not always the Psalm of the day), the Gospel Acclamation/Alleluia, and the “Great Amen.” Those parts surrounding the mass that often have hymns sung are the entrance, offertory, communion, and recessional. Not sure how that compares elsewhere, but it’s fairly standard in my part of the US.

I believe the desire for musicless masses is a result of a couple things:

*]First, not everyone is moved the same way by music so some feel it just stretches Mass out longer than needed.
*]Second, music is a very personal thing. What one person might feel is moving another might consider insipid.Conversely the first person might find music grating that the second person feels is truly holy.
*]Third, some would like sacred silence during times of prayer. For instance during communion and after mass the communion and recessional hymns can disturb some that simply wish to pray in silence.
I think that those that advocate for musicless masses (and they generally just ask for 1 Mass each week, not every one) it is more about the fact that some aspect of the music (when, type, etc) that sincerely bothers them. Since there are so many tastes in music, for some the simple solution is to have no music.


Two thoughts for now as I am not ready to spend time looking through Church documents.

  1. When I moved to the city in which I now live I continued to attend the parish in my old city because I liked the music there better than I liked the music at the local parish. (In fact I disliked the music at the local parish.) I continued to drive to that parish (it wasn’t that long a drive --maybe 20-25 minutes as compared to the 5-10 minutes to the local parish) until the local parish split. I liked the music at the local parish and to this day my parish puts a high priority on music.

  2. Let me first specify that I am referring to solemnities: Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Let me also note that I am speaking for myself.
    *I can’t imagine wanting to attend a Mass without music unless I just want to get Mass out of the way so I can do something else.
    *:rolleyes: Of course if the music is really awful I might be *inspired to want to go do something else.


I just think it’s great when we can have options. :slight_smile:

Personally, I love music at Mass - even when it’s bad - as long as it’s liturgically correct not irreverent. I don’t care if it’s contemporary, Gregorian chant or anything in between.

My parents don’t. They go to a music-free Mass at a parish that has 6 Masses each weekend - five with music, one without.

Besides just personal preference, many people have practical reasons to go to the music-free Mass. Some small children do better at making it through Mass without music. Some people with attention disorders prefer to focus only on the spoken word and not have spoken mixed with sung. People who are hard of hearing may not experience the music being played as a pleasant sound. (highs and lows tend to go before the mid range sounds)

All that being said, I used to put much more value on the music. I used to primarily attend Mass in larger cities or college towns where the musicians were professionals or at least professionally trained. I really “got a lot out of” Mass with good music. Then I got dropped into a small town in Texas. The parish we first attended had great music but a few things there made me uncomfortable (not music related). So we tried another parish that some neighbors attend. It has really hit-or-miss music, part time music leaders and no real music equipment (sound system, organ) other than a piano. It was painful at first. But I really liked the priest and the “feel” of the parish, which was really important at the time since my kids were pre-school age. I realized that I wasn’t there to “get” but to give. I love going to Mass here - good music, bad music or no music.


I like it, the choir that is, not the folk music.


Music is one of those things that people will have a wide variety of tastes and opinions on. Despite best intentions you will never please all of the people all of the time, and we must remember that we are not there to be entertained.
Having said that, I do think music can enhance peoples experience of the mass.
It is, in my experience, a trend, and a difficult one to counteract, that parishioners are increasingly happy to listen to the choir/group, and not join in themselves.
They only time music really annoys me is when there is a rapturous round of applause after each ‘performance’. After the dismissal doesn’t really bother me, but one church I attended it was like 3-4 separate occasions during the mass. (I appreciate that friends and family can be proud but…)That really made me think what was the centre of attention here?..I didn’t like having to think like that.


He who sings, prays twice -St. Augustine

I’m for praying twice!

What Do the Simple Folk Do? from Camelot

"What else do the simple folk do
to pluck up the heart and get through? …

Once, upon the road, I came upon a lad
Singing in a voice three times his size
When I asked him why, he told me he was sad
And singing always made his spirits rise
And that’s what simple folk do.
I surmise.

They sing?

I surmise."


I think music is incredibly important at Mass. We are a sensual people, we hear, smell, feel, see and taste. We smell incense, candles (especially in old churches where incense and candle smoke are part of the paint!), we see the celebration of the Mass as we hear it, we feel the touch of another during the Our Father perhaps, or the sign of peace, and we taste the Eucharist. Using our ears to hear music is part of the package, but another part is using our voice and breath to praise God. There is something about singing that involves the whole person in the process of worship. I think breathing deeply to sing also helps us to open up our hearts to God. I dunno, maybe it is just me.

I also agree with the poster who has an issue with performance choirs. Having been in a choir I have to say that sometimes you just want to have a performance piece. It is technically more difficult with sometimes very complex harmonies. It is exciting to learn and do.

For the most part though, the music at Mass should be singable by the average person. I had one choir director who would induct everyone in the congregation into the choir each Mass, whether they thought they could sing or not. They did, and it was wonderful!

As for the clapping, I would be very offended if someone did that during the Mass or service ( unless it was part of the music). I have often heard the priest thank participants in the liturgy at the end of t he Mass, including the choir. People clap at that time sometime to express appreciation and that is ok, but not during the Mass for heaven sake.

Enough of me. Sing heartily my friends! :smiley:


Thank you for asking this question and allowing us to chime in . Music is for me is an important part of mass. Traditional music that is and I mean 100percent traditional. Our parish’s music coordinator has been pushing his own adgenda. Although I am still new at this (I am going thru the RICA sessions) I am shocked as to the quality of his music. Last year at this time the music was not an issue in our parish.

To be frank, it sounds like Hillbillie Music at it’s worse. Not that hillbillie music is not ok if one is attending a function that requires that mood. I was raised in the North and have since moved South. In all Baptists churches down here there are bands that sit on a stage ie pulpit and a drop screen overhead for everyone to folllow the bouncing ball. Loud Music, drums, electric guitars blast everyone out. I recently sat in a mass at our parish and I thought I was in the wrong place. Apparently this is the way things go for most churches now a days.
I am hopeful our parish puts a stop to this nonsense that is slowly creeping in. For me it takes away from the tradition of a prayerful need and mood.

Hope this helps.


My family has been singing in the church choir for generations. My husband and I have done the same. Just so you know where I’m coming from. We happen to like it all if it’s done with reverence. I’ve noticed the following two things.

I agree with several of the previous posters that some people just have a problem with certain types of music and would rather have silence than endure music they find irritating.

I’ve noticed some “traditionals” seem to prefer silence in the pews while a trained choir provides Latin wallpaper from the loft in the back. I love Latin and know how to do it. I’d wouldn’t like it if I couldn’t join in from my place in the congregation.


I went to Latin Mass today. In fact, it was the first time in a while for me. And I was startled at the beginning when I heard an organist practicing.

I then realized that, though I’ve been to this Church for Latin Mass maybe 7 or 8 times, that I had never sung a single hymn; and that there had never been a note of music during any of the Masses. There was plenty of chanting and singing by the priest and altar servers, but that was about it. But, today there were 4 hymns that the organist played… and everyone listened. At the beginning, during the collection, another time during the Mass I forget, and at the end.

And, I didn’t even notice that all the other times. I guess I was too caught up in the reverence and the history. My prayer isn’t normally so intense that I start sweating, but that often happens to me at a Latin Mass.

I thought I’d just share that. Today I realized I had gone to a decent number of Masses without a note of music, and I hadn’t even noticed. It certainly didn’t take away from those Masses at all. That being said, I’m not trying to disagree with everyone here and be a contrarian. I love music just as much as the next person. Certain types of music have really deepened my faith over the years. But, I just found this too coincidental of a question not to share this today. **


[FONT=Arial][size=2]If we read Musicam Sacram we quickly find that most parishes are doing everything backwards. The most important thing to be sung in a Mass is the dialog. MS says that if the dialog is not sung, nothing else should be.
The least important things to sing are the Entrance, Offertory & Communion hymns or antiphons and the Alleluia. [/size][/FONT]

[FONT=Times New Roman, Times, Arial][size=3]27. For the celebration of the Eucharist with the people, especially on Sundays and feast days, a form of sung Mass (Missa in cantu)[/size] is to be preferred as much as possible, even several times on the same day.

  1. The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation.
    These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led toward an ever greater participation in the singing.

  2. The following belong to the first degree:
    (a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.
    (b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.
    © In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s Prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

  3. The following belong to the second degree:
    (a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;
    (b) the Creed;
    © the prayer of the faithful.

  4. The following belong to the third degree:
    (a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;
    (b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;
    © the Alleluia before the Gospel;
    (d) the song at the Offertory;
    (e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.


Coincidental to have logged on this evening and see your new thread posted, as it touches upon our experience at Mass today. My husband said it was a catasthrophe. We think we’ve given it a fair shake - just moved and attended at this parish for over a year - but today was the last we could take it. Both of us left Mass feeling agitated becasue the guitarist/folk singers were in one key - and the electronic keyboard was in another key. It completely detracted from the liturgy. I dare not say more than that.

Long story short - we can’t take it anymore. Both of us are musical, and I have served for several years as a music minister. After my offers to assist in the ministry at this parish were ignored/declined (so I did offer - and politely - to help), we have decided we are going to go back to the parish where we attended when we were dating. It’s a 10 min drive for us, instead of just around the corner, but at least we know we will be able to focus on what matters at Mass - the Eucharist/liturgy - and not be aurally assaulted.

Yes, music is important. The vibrations in the music affect all of us, some more than others. When it’s good, it’s very, very good (and it’s best when it reverently enhances focus upon the Eucharist), but when it’s bad, it is horrid.



Glad you’re in the Church. I think I agree with your opinions, especially about chant. My objection to it, is that nobody can understand what they’re chanting.

On EWTN, I even got in a direct call on a live program to Fr. Mitch Pacwa, to complain about exactly this point. His guest, who was promoting Greg. chant, and he, both seemed to say, WHO CARES?

This is a matter of upbringing.

Even as a Catholic, I have been exposed to the singing in Jewish congregations and Protestant ones, too. The Jews sing their lungs out, especially the Shema.

I like Fanny Crosby and I’ve picked up Protestant hymnals in antique malls around in Illinois, when I lived there. In contrast, I think it’s difficult to sing a lot of the songs in Catholic hymnals. I’ve seen sopranos who can’t hit the high notes in some Catholic songs, used at the parish level.

I’ve been searching for the lyrics for a Prot. song called My Lord is Leading me home, whose second stanza is a version of the Lord’s prayer. Any ideas?

I am most critical of the monotonous singing on the EWTN Mass. The nuns used to be very creative, but the guys, I mean brothers, can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket. For some reason, tere is NO VARIETY in the Mass tunes, which sets Catholic evangelization back a lot, I think. What a poor showcase for Catholic liturgy, which is supposed to be the essense of Catholicism.

Scott Hahn’s book LETTER AND SPIRIT is an exegesis of how liturgy is so important in the Bible, and how important scripture and liturgy are to each other.

If you can’t put your finger on the ‘problem’ with Catholic music, since Vatican II, the music and Mass, itself, are supposed to be much more participative. But, you can be the judge of that, even from the comments in this thread. Solemnity and beauty of the liturgy was thrown overboard. The Church has tried to resurrect some of it with the recent changes in the translations of the Gloria and Credo, and with the bowing/genuflecting before the reception of the Eucharist.

The music at St.Patrick’s Cathedral, for the most recent papal visit, was spectacular.

I think the music at the National Shrine in Wash DC is often too technical and stiff.


Gregorian chant is actually easy to sing - unison, limited range, stepwise (or, in other words, no complicated harmony, not too high or too low, tune doesn’t jump around). There are some fancy compositions for feast days but most things use a few simple, easy to remember chant tones.

It would be easy to introduce in every parish in the United States if those who lead us wished it. I’m a retired educator and musician, I could develop a program to do it in nothing flat. I’m sure there are others out there who could do the same or better.

This would comply with the Vatican II documents that state that our Latin and chant heritage should be given “pride of place” while still honoring the traditional religious expression arising from each of the cultures that make up the world wide family of God. I’m thinking of Vietnamese chanting, the harmony of Pacific islanders, the drumming and chant of American natives, African harmony and rhythms.

Don’t you think that was the intent of the council fathers? Instead we put to death our treasury of Latin literature and music. Can we take a lesson from our Eastern rite brothers and sisters? Their communities are sometimes small and persecuted but the light of Christ still burns brightly in the beauty of their liturgical expression.

But … big sigh … ya can’t push a string. All I can do is pray and sing each morning in Latin btw. I also taught my children a few Latin hymns - Salve Regina, Lux Aeterna, Parce Domine, Veni Creator Spiritus - as part of our family evening prayers. Then, as an RE director and parish music minister, I taught Latin to those in my care as much as I could.

Lastly, I’ve put my trust in the Holy Spirit. If ever those in authority put out the call for those of us with the memories and skill, I’m ready. Until then, I’m in the pew praying and obeying as cheerfully and earnestly as I can.


What a coincidence to come on here and find this thread at this time. 2 weeks ago we were traveling. We stayed a few days in a beautiful south east city, and eagerly looked forward to attending Mass at a beautiful, well known Cathedral. Viewing the pictures online, we knew we really wanted to see this Cathedral at it's fullest. Mass on Sunday was at 8, 10, 11:30, and a latin Mass at 1:00 pm.

We opted for the early Mass. Yes, the Cathedral was a beautiful as the pictures showed, but there was not a "stick" of music to be heard. The people were just reading everything and going through the motions, like they were not really there or involved. Oh, and the priest left his bottle of water on the tabernacle during the entire Mass. :((

This week we came home to our Basilica, and the music was more beautiful than ever, the people were very involved and attentive, not just reading everything from a card.
Music probably isn't "necessary", but it sure adds to the Mass.
Happy to be home. :))


:thumbsup: As soon as the congregation recognizes that the tone steps of the priests words are echoed in the responses, a light goes on and everybody can sing chant. It’s not schola-perfect but I would prefer an imperfect situation where everyone chants than a perfect choir where everyone else just listens.


I think the secret is for the priest to get it right.

Unfortunately I have not known many priests (or deacons) who can carry even simple tones all the way through a single phrase.

The pastor we have now is the first one in my 54 years of life that I remember being able to maintain pitch. He also has a very pleasant tenor voice. Our congregation has no problem responding to him.

Other priests and deacons tend to start out correctly but end up going flat so that our congregation can’t figure out how to come in. I can tell by looking at them that they know something is wrong even if they don’t realize just what the problem is. The few people who remember the correct pitch try to fix things but the end result is always somewhat painfully discordant.


Exactly. This has been my experience, too.

In fact, you don’t suppose that it’s not the celibacy vow that frightens young men away from even considering the possibility that they are called to the priesthood, but instead, the knowledge that they will be expected to sing/chant all by themselves IN FRONT OF PEOPLE!! :bigyikes::frighten::nope:

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