Poor quality hymns and scriptural hymn lyrics


I know there have been many threads on hymns, and what people like and don’t like, what the Church wants us to hear, etc.
If this upsets you - - please don’t read further.

Often when I am reading or hearing the Bible, now that I’ve been Catholic for about ten years, I have heard enough scriptural hymn lyrics set to poor-quality music, that now I am brain-washed that when I hear some readings / phrases from the Bible, associated with it now is some awful musical melody: “We are many parts!” “On this holy mountain!” etc.

So, here is the problem - - people who like these sort of hymns will say “oh well, the lyrics are Scripture - - how could you object to them?” This is precisely why I object to many poor-quality hymns - - the Bible itself is tainted, because now so many Bible quotes / readings are associated with some trite musical phrase.

Anyone else feel this way?


I feel for you, but the way to fight bad Scripture songs is to create or find palatable Scripture songs. There are a zillion settings, so it can be easy to get away from earworms.

Gregorian chant is always an option. And changing reference frames to Latin or Greek helps. Or Welsh – that is a good language for good hymns.

Gotta say, though, that any memorization gimmick beats not memorizing Scripture.


Songs tend to stay in our heads. I would rather have we are many parts but all one body in my head than a lot of things.
I like a lot of different sacred music as long as it is sung properly.
I have no answer for your question. Someone with the resources would have to get on board. Finding that person or group is the key.


Well, yes, but I could myself write a million scriptual songs myself, but the local parish is still going to keep singing, “We are many parts…do do do doo”.
EF is the way to go, I suppose, once my last kid is out of the local parochial school.


No. But I understand your consternation, and would not be so bold to take issue with your concern.

But, as someone who this does not see this as a major concern, or distraction from the liturgy, and one who has a personal like for classic hymns and not so much with modern ones, I wonder if the tag line on this post might better be reflected, instead of “Poor quality hymns and scriptural hymn lyrics”, to, "Hymns and scriptural hymn lyrics that I personally don’t like".

Personally, I groan at the music chosen for my Church’s Sunday night Mass, where my wife seems to really enjoy it…but never, regardless of the style of the music have either of us thought that the music diminished the reverence of the Sacrifice of the Mass.


Have you heard the expression, beauty is in the eye of the beholder? It is also in the ears of the listener. There are times when I hear a hymn that is normally not one of my favs, but the Holy Spirit will sometimes give a special light of inspiration that changes my feelings about the hymn, as I remember that moment of insight. Give the Spirit His room to work, and strive to enter more fully in worship, despite your personal dislikes. Jesus is listening in the background and hears one’s heart.


Well, yes, and as a semi-pro musician with a lot of years under my belt playing/singing in church groups, I can definitely identify with a lot of what you’re saying.

Since music has an emotional component to it, you’re always going to be dealing with people who develop that kind of attachment (or antipathy) based on a host of factors. I have a friend who cannot hear a certain piece from the 1970s without weeping as it was the post communion piece at her husband’s funeral, and the same with the scripture that piece is associated with. I think that people are more inclined to feel sympathy and understanding with that kind of emotional reaction. Also, people are more inclined to feel sympathy and understanding when another person’s likes, or dislikes, are similar to their own. You’ll find that a person who genuinely likes the 80s-90s OCP Gathering music, probably because s/he grew up with it, sang it, has many happy and positive memories associated with it, is going to have a visceral defensive antipathy to those who do not care for that music. It’s harder for a person who genuinely likes chant and older style music to find ‘like-minded’ persons because for most of us, that music has not been around for some 40-50 years, and we have to take much time and effort on our own in many cases to listen, learn, and in some cases, implement in our parishes so that hopefully a couple of decades from now there will be many people who are accustomed to ‘that music’ as there are now accustomed to other styles.

And again, there is a concern (often deeply hidden and reluctant to be recognized) by some who are deeply invested in OCP etc that any person who expresses an interest in ‘something else’ is going to “take away my music and substitute that other, which I do not know and, in my fear, often come to dislike by that association with fear", part of which is based on the knowledge that about 50 years ago the entire US Catholic world had its liturgy and music 'taken away, overnight,” without any input from the people, and substituted with a liturgy and music they did not know. What happened once is more likely, they feel, to happen again. . .and there are some unscrupulous people who feed on those fears by many attempts to demonize those "rigid EF types who want to take away your music and liturgy in revenge for losing theirs. (of course, the fact that people who like older style music are often quite content with the OF, or are simply musically-minded and like to explore all kinds of music, is ignored.)

Unfortunately the simple idea that it is not only possible, but relatively easy even for the smaller parishes to have one Mass on the weekend, or 'every other Sunday", or “One hymn out of the four” to offer a music ‘choice’, seems to flare that ‘fear’ to conflagration point. “Give a trad an old hymn once, and s/he’ll have us doing the Latin Mass and burning OCP and Gather hymnals and denying us forever. . . oooohhhhh”.


I ran across this letter today. It’s from Archbishop Sample (Portland OR) to his flock. It addresses a lot of concerns - - I hope that people in Oregon like what he says…


Thanks everyone for your thoughts and input!


I just read that today. Excellent letter!!


Whether I like the music, or not, or whether you or anyone likes the music or not, it bothers me that literally there are certain Biblical passages that I cannot read without some happy-clappy hymn entering my mind. For instance, I was trying to preview the readings for yesterday (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012719.cfm), and of course, the Marty Haugen song “We are many parts, we are all one body” pops into my head (as I would think it does with many other people).
So, thanks for that, Catholic publishers and music directors, that there are many Catholics that can’t read particular Bible passages without the earworms of Marty Haugen (and others) eating away at my brain…:rofl:


When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. IOW, be a good money changer, and replace your angst with a prayer. Tell God of your pure desire to worship Him, despite your emotions, and sing with your whole mind and heart…

I am thinking about the image of a little child bringing a dandelion to his mother, hoping she would be pleased with the flower he picked just for her. Sure, it’s a weed, but what mother would not be pleased with the child’s effort to win her heart, and smile at the gesture, overlooking that it is simply a weed. :slightly_smiling_face:

Can you change it? If not, accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, with the wisdom to know the difference.


Makes me want to move to Portland! I’m having some serious trouble with the music at my parish. The music programs at my parish are the antithesis of this document.

It must be noted that Abp Sample also sits on the board of OCP https://www.ocp.org/en-us/board-of-directors.


Hmm. You use some interesting imagery here. Music used at our own Catholic Mass you call 'lemons", and you are comparing “someone” in the Catholic liturgical world to a little child. Who would that be? The music publishers are the little children, and the poor hymns are the dandelions? I guess that would make Gregorian chant a sophisticated rose that demanded careful cultivation. Maybe the little children of your scenario are music directors, or perhaps the diocesan liturgical offices? The authorities who don’t correct the use of poor quality music? Many possibilities here to choose from… Meanwhile the rose garden goes ignored and untended.


I do the Liturgy of the Hours and every Sunday night I have to read Psalm 91 and I cannot help but hear the ‘Yoo-hoo" song "On Eagles Wings’. Also in week 3 on Wednesday and Thursday for the Office of Readings, it is Psalm 89 done in two parts, and immediately, "And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up’. . .Sigh.


Yes, that’s exactly what I mean! We can’t escape this stuff.


On the other hand, the first time I heard the Magnificat put to song it was John Michael Talbot’s version played on organ…it gave me chills. And Talbot’s guitar version is beautiful, too.

Now every time I read Our Lady’s Magnificat I hear that song.


I’m trying to think if older hymns tend not to be strictly scriptural, and if this is the reason why.


This is one of the reasons the Society for a Moratorium On The Music of Haugen & Haas was established. They may still have song parodies posted on the website.

What one may also find amazing is the fact that a few of these contemporary church songsmiths actually tour about the parishes, providing concerts for a fee. IIRC, $20 admission.


“Yoo-hoo” is also the approximate German pronunciation for “owl”. Perhaps the songwriter is killing two birds with one stone. (Metaphorically, of course!)

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