The Power of Music

Music is not just preference; it is power - the power to shape belief and attitude.

I’ve read the newest GIRM more than once. Admittedly, I’ve read it part by part and with anxiety. My understanding of the document (someone correct me if I’m wrong) is that Latin chant should have pride of place and that the purpose of music is to unite the faithful in sung prayer.

The GIRM also dismisses the idea of music as performance, if I understand correctly.

Those concepts are the exact opposite of what Catholics in my diocese endure during Mass. Part of that may be because I belong to an enormous, coastal diocese that houses the entertainment industry. It’s human nature that some sort of musical competition might spring up.

But while I understand the motives of the Catholic Music Machine were I live, I do not understand why the clergy does not reign in those prideful motives. I also don’t understand the attitudes of the aging congregations I’ve belonged to. They speak of Bringing in The Youth Through Music and then assault the poor youth with songs that sound like something from a bad 70’s garage band.

I don’t know what grates me more: when the choir is full of off-key children or when the choir is full of paid performers dramatically screeching notes which no one in the congregation can follow.

I have compassion for the off-key children pushed into the sanctuary. Not so much for the mercenary singers, the choir directors who hire them, or the pastors who lie down and let it all happen.

Because I work at a public pool, most of my co-workers are college-aged lifeguards. A surprising number of them went to Catholic school. None of them currently practice their faith. Only one seems to feel guilty about it.

It is depressing to be an adult convert and yet know more about the Church than Cradle Catholics who spent 12 years (supposedly) studying the faith. Most of the lapsed Catholics I work with are shocked at the concept that Catholics believe God walked on earth and told us to eat His Body and Blood.

As to current Catholic music, it’s a joke to them.

So, who are the Production Numbers for? The old fogies who want to remember when Jesus Christ, Superstar was the coolest thing ever? All of us old fogies are gonna die soon. Do parish authorities really think that there are things better than Truth and Obedience which will convert the next generation?

That’s my passionate statement. All comments, especially those which put me in my place, are enthusiastically welcomed.


I am wondering how it is that you know that you know more than cradle Catholics that spent 12 years studying the faith. And I don’t believe that any Catholic, lapsed or not, are shocked that God walked on earth and told us to eat his body and blood. That is just not believable.

You are really making generalizations based on a limited sample of Catholics if you are going by the people you work with.


Oh well, music at Mass is a can of worms. It ranges from the dreadful the sublime. Why the priests don’t seem to reign it in is indeed the question. Ditto for bishops.

This is why I think silence would be more suitable for the Mass.


St. Ephrem the Syrian knew about the power of music. He took Arian melodies, put Catholic words to them and beat the Arians at their own game.

To this day Syriac Christians sing his hymns which are saturated with love of God, love of Our Lady and sound Catholic teaching.

Imo, St. Ephrem could teach these modernist composers a thing or two (but then I’m biased towards St. Ephrem :wink:).


Music can inspire us divinely. It can promote our thoughts to God, it can activate us to do or be better. It can allow us to simply be and just contemplate. Music comes in many genres. Miss Sarajevo might inspire me, the hallelujah chorus may inspire you, Chant might inspire another. A fun fast paced hymn like Prayer to Saint Patrick, another person.
A professional musician and myself were just discussing a music festival held over the past weekend. Lots of choirs in several stages of development, and some with instruments. The violin of one was slightly off key, just a little Not Quite Right. Talking to others, they loved it and found it very inspiring. So horses for courses.
We are not the same. We celebrate our unique gifts and ways of learning and being inspired through everything we appreciate in our hearing. That is the power of music.
An off key choir of children will, in time, with a good director, become a choir that sings in tune. They are taking the first steps into their faith, and celebrating it through music.

Catholics are made up of people who practice their faith and don’t practice their faith, and all shades in-between. Its part of the journey, the pilgrimage that Pope Francis speaks about.

As to spending 12 years studying the faith, That would depend if the Catholic went to a Catholic school throughout the years of schooling. Your sample of shocked lapsed Catholics would know God walked the earth in the form of Jesus the Son. They may not know that the Eucharist is the real presence. It is wonderful that you are there to gently educate them about the Eucharist. They are blessed and so are you.


Find an EF Mass. You should definitely find good music there. Gregorian chant is lovely.


I wish I was as good at contrafactum.

Truth is good, and Obedience is good, and while these virtues are not to be overlooked, they are not the keys to salvation. Perhaps the “parish authorities” are working another angle, like faith, or charity.


They can be. Perfect obedience is probably sufficient in itself if it’s ordered to the Truth.


I see your point, but the foundation of obedience is love. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus said “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” Obedience springs from love, but love is the necessary virtue that saves us. Or maybe it is faith. Jesus was known to say “Your faith has saved you,” but rarely if ever “The truth has saved you.” But truth is important.


You could alternatively love out of obedience, but then again both virtues come from the same place so it wouldn’t matter.

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Sounds like an opportunity for you to evangelize.

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Well, since you asked…

Try reading up on the Parable of The Pharisee and the Publican.

It’s pretty basic stuff. You should probably be able to grasp it.

Now - as for music at mass - speaking as a cradle Catholic of 50 years, and, one who has spent 35 years in various music schools and ministries…

You might want to consider going in the exact opposite direction you’re headed…

Given what you said - music to you is like the beam in your own eye… it is the hand that offends you, so you should cut it off…

It’s been said, if the devil made it into church, he came through the choir… In your case, it would probably be better for you to spend more time reading the words until you understand them before singing any further - because it is apparently making you too judgmental of appearances, not judging justly…

I dont know (or care) what your skill level is at all, or even if you have any… But I’ve spent years with some pretty talented music teachers, Catholic or not, who - with kindness, charity, joy and happiness are willing to sit patiently enduring horrible performances, mistakes and the most hideous caterwauling one can imagine… so they can help a student get a few strains right… I admire them, and I would myself do the same, for they play and sound awesome - but it was love that pulled them through… not arrogance…

What you are saying about the GIRM isn’t untrue, btw… There’s LOTS more to be known about it in V2, if not real life experience… LOTS more… In fact, a treasure trove of information infinitely beautiful… But to you it is out of reach… because you are looking at one part of the mass, not the whole; and, so, you have it backwards… and, since your calling it “powerful”, yet have it totally backwards - its an influence you should do everything in you power to avoid… no more throwing the baby out with the bathwater…

You will not hear the beauty in music because you think you’re right, and yet you are blind because you think you see… or, in this case, you think you “hear”…

So give up on music. It is only distracting you. Focus on learning the Truth of the Spirit. And, when you can enjoy the caterwauling for 50 years, you can return the prodigal son (or daughter). Apparently, your passion is just too lukewarm to really appreciate the gifts God has given all of us.

You wanted a Catholic music lesson.

You just got one.

Old school style.


“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy…The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches; but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs…Religious singing by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that in devotions and sacred exercises, as also during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out according to the norms and requirements of the rubrics…” Sacrosanctum concilium

If liturgical music is poor, the solution is to not to eliminate it but to make whatever sacrifices and efforts are necessary to make it suitable and then to sustain efforts in that direction to make it sublime.

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Actually, her “generalizations” are exceedingly well backed up by excellent research by CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate). The age group from 18 to about 29 has the lowest attendance rate at Sunday Mass of all age groups; those over 50 have the highest rate - 50%+. The youth? About 18% of them attend Mass regularly.

As to music, she qualified it by a generalization of her locale - and if I were to guess, I would guess Los Angeles area…

Yes, Gregorian Chant was, according to Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document from Vatican 2 on the liturgy, to be given pride of place; but that issue had been poking around Rome well before Vatican 2, as Gregorian Chant had been fading into oblivion well before that.

As to other issues with religious music, it takes a choir of professional or semi-professional singers - those with more than a couple of years of voice training - to be able to sing Palestrina, a composer of sacred music from eons ago. I have heard it done at Masses by such a choir, and I agree with her that it turns a Mass into a concert; not why I go to Mass. It makes some peoples boat float; but it doesn’t float mine.

I want choir members who don’t need a bucket with a tight lid in order to carry a note; but I also don’t want a concert (and I have that adequate but not professional choir at the two parishes I attend).

That is just my opinion, and you are welcome to disagree; but as to statistics, she is absolutely 100% spot on. Them’s the facts.


Ah, but St Augustine, I believe was the one who said “he who sings, prays twice”.

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I commented only on two things, of which the OP has not explained. How does she know she knows more than cradle Catholics? She doesn’t. She made a generalization based on a few people she works with. So honestly, your whole post of facts and statistics has nothing to do with me, and do not even address what I posted, but rather what you wanted to say.

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Assuming you are in LA, go to Mass here:

Problem solved.


The music at our EF Mass is ok.
Not “sublime” and certainly not any “better” than the music at the OF in the same church.

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