Nine Reasons People Aren't Singing in Worship

This is a Baptist music leaders’ blog but has some really good points that echo sentiments often expressed here at CAF

What has occurred could be summed up as the re-professionalization of church music and the loss of a key goal of worship leading – enabling the people to sing their praises to God. Simply put, we are breeding a culture of spectators in our churches, changing what should be a participative workship environment to a concert event. Worship is moving to its pre-Reformation mess.

In spite of the barely concealed anti-Catholic jab, does he have a point?

Yes! times nine

This causes me pain and anguish when all these nine reasons run through my head during Mass. So much is lost. We should pray it stops.

The problem is that it rather was a spectator thing in the pre-VII Church. Typically the schola or choir would be the only ones chanting, and the altar boys would be singing the responses. As such there’s no real culture of singing until maybe the dialogue Masses.

Although oddly, when our Gregorian schola sings at Mass, a number of elderly people chime in at least for the ordinary parts of the Mass.

But the Propers (introit, gradual, alleluia, offertory and communion antiphon), in my understanding, were almost never sung by the people.

What problem described in the article is largely an Evangelical construct and their own problem.

We have created worship services which are spectator events, building a performance environment.

I have been to Evangelical/Baptist worship services which put TV production studios to shame in terms of how lavishly they are produced - light shows, professional grade sound and video production, thousands of DVD’s of the entire service available in the gift shop the moment the service ends, paid directors and production engineers, etc. The production value is truly breathtaking in some of these Churches.

Contrast this with an average weekday Mass in a small chapel with about ten or twenty people - a pair of candles… someone rings a bell… three minute homily… kneel on the floor… Lord be with you… Done.

Simply put, we are breeding a culture of spectators in our churches, changing what should be a participative worship environment to a concert event. Worship is moving to its pre-Reformation mess.

If Evangelical worship is moving toward pre-reformation spectator mess then the contemporary Catholic Church should be their model. Very few Christian Churches offer the congregation more opportunity to participate in worship than does the Ordinary Form of the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. We stand, sit, kneel, beat our breast, quote scripture, chant the Kyrie, smell, hear, receive… If they desire to participate in worship then they should visit a Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is the perfect solution to what the author laments.



All good points about liturgy but this doesn’t address the issue of singing at Mass.

Yes, evangelical Protestant communities take the performance aspect of music to a further level but it’s certainly an issue in Catholic parishes too. We have plenty of music leaders who, while very well meaning, pick music that only they know, that only they can sing and that is something new every week.

from my point of view, the reason the choirs are getting bigger/ more professional is because this generation of parishioners don’t like to participate.

Or, they sing the same tired pieces in too high keys every week.
Generally, you get what you pay for. And many parish musicians are simply volunteers or people with little liturgy training.
In the 20 years I led a choir (before becoming a DRE and LEM), I never once made a living wage.
All of these things lead to the stale atmosphere in parishes.
Good music is seldom a priority, and too often the newer Directors see it as a solo opportunity, not a way of leading the parishioners in prayer.
It’s an attitude shift that needs to be made. But as parishes struggle to pay the bills, there’s not many professional musicians that can afford to step up.
Our parish would rather go without music, frankly. :shrug:
It’s unfortunate. Silent Masses are beautiful, but it’s also wonderful when an entire congregation lifts it’s collective voice in song. An appropriate song, that is. :wink:

I dunno. I’ve noticed that the congregation is often doing something besides paying attention to what the priest is doing. We have our eyes on the songbook during the procession. Why bother processing with the crucifix, lectionary, etc., when no one sees them? The same thing happens at other times during the Mass - we are focused on the song and ignore the priest at the altar. The song can even trump receiving communion; people go up to communion singing, with their eyes on the book, stop briefly to receive, then go right back to singing. :confused:

I rarely sing. For one thing, my voice is terrible, and singing makes me yawn (don’t know why). Many of the newer songs are difficult to sing. Quite a few of the songs chosen in our parish are, in my opinion, not very Catholic. Some are frankly Protestant, a few are downright strange. I’m still wondering about the hymn chosen last Sunday that said we would see God “face to face” - and it meant at Mass, not later in heaven. That contradicts Scripture.

I no longer complain to anyone about the inappropriate songs, but when good ones are chosen I make a point of telling the song leader how lovely the song was.

your voice is beautiful to the Lord, he made it.:wink:

Singing is an intimate expression of the self. It is not the same as speaking. We are afraid for others to hear us express ourselves in such an intimate way. We are self conscious of the quality of the sound we produce. Rather than spontaneously praise, we judge the quality of the sound we make, and of those around us. We are afraid to be heard.

I have to think this reflects our modern culture, that tries to discourage public expressions of faith.

I agree with most of that the article said, especially the part about singing in too high a key. I Often I attend a Polish Mass and most of those hymns are in a limited ranged that most people can sing. The English hymns are not.
I don’t agree that pre-Vatican II singing was a spectator thing. My childhood parish in the late 50s and early 60s did not have a real choir - the 7th or 8th graders would act as the choir. The congregation always sang the hymns.

I liked most of what was said in these posts.

In addition, some of the songs just aren’t very Catholic, kind of goopy words, wishy washy.

I have noticed that when there is a good hymn chosen at the end of Mass, people stay and sing it. But when the hymn is lousy, the people start to leave. So they should select their hymns better, and bring them down at least a half tone. I actually hurts the voice to sing too high.

And at communion time, the choir or chanter should sing leaving people free to be with Jesus in private prayer.

And there should be easier songs to sing besides all those 16th notes in a row with and an 8th thrown in the middle. Everyone trips up on them if they sing at all.

There just isn’t enough talent or time to go around.

I really have come to feel like the music for Communion should be instrumental.
Between lining up, shuffling along, making your way back to your pew and navigating around all the EMHC’s, standing up until everyone receives, there’s not really any time spent focused on the Eucharist we have just received. It’s quickly on to the closing prayer and announcements. I really feel like we spend all this time building up to Eucharist, and then we rush to get out. It really doesn’t sit well with me at this point in my life. Given all the persecutions in the Middle East of Christians, I feel like we need to take stock, pray more fervently, and spend time in meditative prayer at Communion. It’s the perfect place for soft instrumental music. And really, the days of the beautiful Communion hymns are pretty much gone. Newer Directors seldom use the prayerfully written ones. There’s a lot of beautiful hymns and pieces that can be played on organ or piano.
If a communion meditation is necessary and preferred by the priest, the choir can sing THEN. After.
Just my 2 cents…

I always sing, even though I have a terrible singing voice. My wife always moves away from me in our pew when the music starts. (She’s the one blessed with a beautiful singing voice. I “make a joyful noise”.)

Most if the parishes around us have almost nobody singing. If you want to hear good enthusiastic congressional singing, go visit a Baptist or Episcopalian service! We lay Catholics really should do better, IMHO.

Many if the parishes around us have priests with beautiful singing voices. Maybe that’s where all the good singers are going. (HaHaHa)

One of the parishes near us has begun something I really enjoy. Instead of having congregational hymns immediately before/during/after the Eucharist, the organist plays quiet and appropriate music. After I receive communion, I don’t want to sing from a book; I want to kneel in prayer.

Our Priest has a really good singing voice and does his best to encourage participation, but running two Parishes + multiplicity of pastoral duties, means that, apart from the choice of hymns, the choir is organised by the organist. There are no men in the choir and all the hymns are pitched for sopranos. It’s quite frustrating at times, as love to sing but am inhibited by the fact that I just can’t reach the high notes, so have to pitch a key lower. Also agree with earlier poster who touched upon the shyness factor. When we “oldies” were young, it was emphasised that we should do nothing to attract attention to ourselves, especially in Church. e.g. I used to be asked to sing solos at funerals, weddings etc but was invisible in the organ loft and actually relieved to be so! :slight_smile:

There is no “Pre vatican II church”. It’s all the same church. Furthermore, the Church has made it clear in her writings that the most perfect and complete form of active participation at mass is the worthy and fruitful reception of Holy Communion. With confessions lines pretty much completely gone, yet grave sin is on the rise, is that what’s happening?

As a church pianist/organist, I agree with every point in the list.

I would add, for all Christians: (10) The generations in the United States who attended school in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, have not been taught to sing correctly or read music, and have instead received most of their exposure to music through listening to pop music. This has resulted in several generations that are physically incapable of singing hymns or any serious song with others because of the lack of education and training.

In addition, for Catholics, I would add (11) Some Catholics long to return to pre-Reformation and pre-Vatican II Mass music, which was done by the choir and the organ, and didn’t include “hymns.” These Catholics have the idea that congregational singing of hymns is inappropriate for the Holy Mass and is a “Protestant corruption” of the Mass. These Catholics are reticent about singing congregational hymns, especially any hymns written after 1900 or hymns in the vernacular.

This is one of the results of a lack of music education in the schools AND in the HOME!

With rare exceptions, anyone can LEARN to sing correctly. Not everyone will have a solo voice, but almost all of us can learn to blend our voice with others.

It’s a question of training.

Sadly, many children are not raised at home anymore with a mom or dad who sings to them regularly. Daycare centers generally do not teaching singing to the very young infant/toddler (they SHOULD teach singing at these ages!). And many schools have awful music education programs; instead of singing, they teach “bouncing” to pop music. It makes me sick to watch even the CHRISTIAN schools do this–put on a CD of really bad contemporary Christian children’s music and encourage the kids to “dance” and “praise the Lord.” No attempt is made to teach children how to read music (even very young children can and should learn this valuable skill), or how to sing properly.


clem456, singing is “intimate,” but in the past, it was done by EVERYONE in many life settings. Men and women sang while they worked, and many children sang together during games and play. Soldiers sang together! Many companies had corporate songs or hymns that everyone sang together. Many homes had a piano in the “parlor” or dining room, and “entertaining” included a time of gathering around the piano and singing favorite songs! SLAVES sang together and created a treasury of beautiful spirituals. People sang together while marching in political rallies and protest marches.

All throughout American history, people have sung together! Where do you suppose all those folk songs came from? They weren’t sung by “pop stars!” They were sung by families and friends in social settings.

Our family sang together, and still does. One of the highlights of our family Christmas is a sing-along of carols, led by one of our cousins who has a country band.

Somehow, we have managed to turn singing together into something almost sexual, and we seem to have the attitude that doesn’t allow us to dare share our inmost being with others in this intimate act of singing.

I say baloney. Singing is one of the cheapest and easiest forms of socializing, and it’s a darned SHAME that we have allowed it to be taken away from us!!!

As a former Protestant turned Catholic my observations are as follows -

  1. Protestants generally put more effort into their worship services. That’s not to say Catholics don’t put any effort - we’ve got quite a good Samoan choir, a Filipino choir, some good musicians and good intentions. But the Protestants make more effort as a rule.

  2. They haver a longer history of communal singing. I had no experience of the Pre-Vatican II church, but from what I gather it was pretty much a spectator affair. Beautiful maybe, but not very inclusive. So while the cantor, the choir and the altar boys were doing all the singing, and the catholic attendees just listened, the non-conformists down the road were warbling their hearts out. And doing it pretty well. They’ve been doing it for a long time too.

  3. Protestants encourage musicians to join in. I’m a pretty basic guitar player, and I’m limited by my hearing loss. But I would never have picked up a guitar if it hadn’t been for the encouragment I received at my old Presbyterian Church. The Catholic Church? Forget it! No way would I have been encouraged to even make a start.

  4. There is usually no lead singer. This is pretty important. If you want the congregation to join in, you need a lead singer to set the rhythm and the melody.

  5. Boring songs at times. On the other hand, the Protestants can sometimes go overboard with too many songs. And I get irritated when musicians start trying to run their own mini-service within the music session, as though they can create spirituality with music.

In a nutshell, we Catholics might have the correct core of our services in the Eucharist, but we could learn a lot from the Protestants about worship and preaching. They do both better on a regular basis.

Actually, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

In order to begin to regain [the Church’s musical heritage,] the bishops’ current discussion and decisions about the approval of songs and hymn texts for use in the Sacred Liturgy must recognize two fundamental facts: first, that these recent songs and hymns are, in fact, * substitutes ***** for the texts and melodies given in official liturgical books; and second, that these neglected official texts **remain the * preferred choice *** for what is to be sung at Mass. At present, the practice of singing contemporary songs at Mass has become so prevalent that few people are even aware that these specified texts and melodies exist, and even fewer know where they are to be found. And despite some positive signs of revival of authentic liturgical music, too often the discussions of the selection for music at Mass concentrate exclusively on selecting “suitable liturgical songs”.

I would recommend you read the whole article:

Or elsewhere:

With composition for liturgical texts at a low ebb, many choirs are re sorting to Protestant anthems. Unfortunately the texts are not from the Catholic liturgy, and in singing general religious anthems the richness of the ever-changing liturgical texts of the Roman rite is lost. One Sunday becomes as every other, and feast and ferial, solemnity and memorial, all become the same. The riches of the Roman rite are ignored. The same can happen when hymns replace the texts of the day, even though the hymns themselves may often be varied. The poverty of liturgical celebration experienced in the eighties is caused chiefly by the a**bandoning of the liturgical texts of the Missale or the Graduale in favor of general anthems or hymns. **95 The true reform intended by the Church lies in the full us of all the liturgical books, the implementation of the directives contained in the post-conciliar documents, and above all, a clear understanding of what divine worship is, particularly its essential characteristics of holiness and goodness of form. Music as an integral part of divine worship must share in and clearly exemplify those same qualities.

Footnote 95: “What must be sung is the Mass, its ordinary and proper, not ‘something,’ no matter how consistent, that is imposed on the Mass. Because the liturgical service is one, it has only one countenance, one motif, one voice, the voice of the Church. To continue to replace the texts of the Mass being celebrated with motets that are reverent and devout, yet out of keeping with the Mass of the day… amounts to continuing an unacceptable ambiguity: it is to cheat the people. Liturgical song involves not mere melody but words, text, thought, and the sentiments that the poetry and music contain. Thus texts must be those of the Mass, not others, and singing means singing the Mass, not just singing during Mass.” Notitae, Vol. 5 (1969), p. 406.

Again, I would recommend reading the whole piece, despite its length:

Regarding what “some Catholics” think about “congregational hymns,” I offer a final quotation:

Group liturgy is not cosmic, since it lives from the autonomy of the group. Group liturgy has no history, for it is characterized precisely by emancipation from history and by a “do-it-yourself” attitude, even when a group uses moveable scenery borrowed from history. And group liturgy knows nothing of the mystery, for in group liturgy everything is explained and must be explained.

You can read the rest of Pope Benedict XVI’s thoughts on this matter here:

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