MERGED: Singing the Mass by Bishop Olmsted

part three of an informative series from Bishop Olmsted of Arizona

I hope more cantors and liturgical planners come to reallize the distiction he makes here between “religious” music and “sacred” music as appropriate for the Mass.

:smiley: I’m sharing this with our organist, it’s a constant struggle to prove to the people that there is a difference and the documents on liturgy and music call for certain things as appropriate—like chant—and others for use under special circumstances—the mission field. We are worshipping God, it’s not about what we want or entertaining the people. The unity we used to have meant we could go anywhere in the world and understand, now there’s confusion just going to the neighbouring parish.

Often popularly quoted,“He who sings prays twice”, this is actually paraphrased.

Qui enim cantat laudem, non solum laudat, sed etiam hilariter laudat; qui cantat laudem, non solum cantat, sed et amat eum quem cantat. In laude confitentis est praedicatio, in cantico amantis affectio.

For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him to whom he is singing.

St. Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmum 72

Being from the Eastern tradition, in which virtually the entirety of our Divine Liturgy is chanted, it is a natural for us to “shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth” [Psalm 98:4] using the gifts of expression, language and voice which distinguish us particular in God’s creation, made in His image and likeness.

I am reminded of this quote of St. Augustine every time I hear or see my Latin Rite brothers and sisters speak of litugical singing in their own tradition.

This series of articles is a God-send!!! Finally,a Bishop who can speak on this issue with knowledge, clarity and accuracy. I was beginning to wonder if there were any bishops at all who were the least bit educated enough in music and music history to be able to speak to this colossal mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

This has been a source of great frustration for me for years. Whenever I would try to explain these things (as kindly and as charitably as I could) to the powers that be (church musicians, liturgists, etc.), I’ve been jumped on, snarled at, made fun of, and given an endless spiel of pseudo-intellectual baloney.

Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s just the way it was.

Most of the musical styles in our Masses today are not sacred. We do not use Catholic sacred music in our Masses. We use “religious” music written in popular styles. Which is good for some things, and bad for others. It can be good for non-liturgical evangelization. It’s DEFINITELY BAD for Mass.

Thanks for that. I often wondered just where that oft-quoted statement from St. Augustine came from. I also sometimes think a little sarcastically “Thanks a lot, St Augustine!” whenever the music at Mass is not so conducive to prayer (I know its not his fault, but his quote gets brought up so frequently to justify the music). You Eastern Catholics have it good in this regard.

I read those as they came out, and yes, they are fantastic articles indeed. I’d like to see a mass celebrated by His Excellency.

BTW - in researching some of Bishop Olmsted’s commentaries, I stumbled upon this blog, which may be of interest to those who read and contribute to this thread:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth; break into song; sing praise.” [Psalm 98:4]

Thanks for the link, ByzCathCantor. Very interesting articles there.

I liked this thought from his article: “In other words, the Church, though existing in many cultures, has her own authentic culture because she has authentic liturgy… both which come to her from Christ.”

:thumbsup: Me too.

I wonder, does the bishop have the authority to declare which songs are appropriate for Mass and which ones are not in his diocese? I mean specifically, like an “Index of Forbidden Music.”

Maybe that’s not such a good idea, but I wonder if a bishop can or has specifically singled out songs as not to be sung at Mass.

Back when I was a kid, playing my guitar at the Folk Mass, we used to play “Get Together” by the Youngbloods!

“Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”

Someone must have come along with authority and mercifully said this song did not belong at Mass.

Like I always say, the first step in bringing in truly sacred music into a parish is to remove the hymnals that contain poor-quality music. Pastors need to gain the courage to stand up to strong-willed musicians.

Emphasis mine. How can this bland, prosaic music do justice to the sacred, solemn and transcendant quality of the Mass? Altho involuntary, sometimes I inwardly cringe at the tune because it is so distasteful to me. Now we have synthethizers added to some hymns which do nothing to elevate the quality of the music.

I think it’s a great idea and well within the competency of the bishop, especially for the ones that are theologically incorrect or even heretical. Like “Gather the People”…here we become what we eat??? :eek: :eek:

What sort of New Age lyrics does that song contain?

FWIW - in the Eastern traditions, we have a simple rule. If a hymn is not Scripturally based and not set to music consistent with tradition, it cannot be used in the conduct of the Divine Liturgy (Mass).

This is so important - not only should the text be appropriate but the music itself should be( as you said) “consistent with tradition”. It needs to be based on styles that are recognizably sacred or “set apart” for liturgical use alone. There are many types of Chant that fulfill this requirement. IMO, some regular style “hymns” fit in as well.

The “folk/pop/rock/whatever” style of music is TOTALLY inappropriate for the Mass, as good as it can be (for some people) in other venues. I don’t understand how this ever happened in the first place. Even if the text is appropriate, the music itself is not sacred. It doesn’t fit in with Catholic worship, or with what we believe as Catholics. It’s very non-Catholic in nature.


It’s not only that… we shouldn’t place all the blame on the musicians. As a freelancer and working in over 100 parishes as a freelancer, I find it’s more the pastors than the musicians or music directors. I’ve had to do things I found completely inappropriate for mass because the pastor required it. ie. Permitting John Lennon’s song “Grow Old With Me” during a nuptial mass and at a number of other parishes, the pastor allowing “One Hand, One Heart” from “West Side Story”. (Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved “West Side Story” and even played the part of Maria in college which was my very first main role, ever, so I have a special love for it, but it is NOT appropriate for a mass.) With the Lennon song, the music director at that particular parish was very much into hamming things up, so she offered to sing that while I did the rest of the liturgically correct music (which I steered the couple towards), although she would cheese up the accompaniment for pieces like the “Panis Angelicus”. (That parish has since been closed.)

Often times, the music directors and organists will “kindly” complain (they will be apologetic and embarrassed) about the pastor or the resident priest saying the mass and the kind of inappropriate music they will make these musicians do. But the priests are the bosses and there is only so much a lay musician can do to try to do if they do not have the support of the pastor.

That’s not to say there aren’t strong-willed musicians/music directors. They are definitely out there who often have the support of the pastor who hires them. I’ve seen it in action in my own diocese when the diocese tried to do thing like implement the propers for mass or discourage the use of the Mass of Creation. At the meetings, some were really up and arms about it. So, nothing changed, especially in those parishes. Unless there is an actual crack down and parishioners reporting the problems from the individual parishes, which I think rarely happens especially since I think many parishioners don’t even know what is and is not appropriate for liturgical music, you won’t see the changes… at least in a timely manner.

This is a really interesting thread and I really think it’s time for the Church to update its protocols on music and replace the existing ambiguous wordy and contradictory material we now have with something that is clear and concise and sets out exactly what is expected.

It seems to me that this lack of clarity creates tension between priests, musicians and congregations about how best to enhance the liturgy, and this has resulted in the situation we have now where few people join in congregational singing; and where generally Catholic music now has a reputation for being poor and shoddy.

In order for this to succeed though Priests need to spend more time and interest in the music and the norms of the church. I would hope that any document makes clear that we have a great heritage on which to draw on but that this doesn’t need to completely exclude all contemporay sources.

Thus a flagship parish might have a Solemn Latin Mass with all the propers; a sung mass with Polyphonic Ordinary and traditional hymns (and when I say traditional I don’t just mean those by Catholics as most modern hymns are actually written by Catholics) and perhaps a more modern mass with modern mass settings and songs, but done in a way that doesn’t conflict with the beauty of mass. Oh and let’s not just do music for the sake of it and remember to include a spoken mass for those who prefer them.

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