Thoughts Worshiping Through Song

I don’t know about you, but I have a huge problem with the large amount of people who are not passionate about their faith. I realize that everyone is at a different point in their faith journey, but I have noticed a general trend. During virtually all of the Protestant services that I have attended, people sing passionately and use song as worship.

I only wish that I could say the same for my fellow Catholics. Oftentimes parishioners do not participate in song. Why is it that so many Catholics are not passionate in praising Christ? How many times do you see people leaving the church before the closing song is finished?
It seems to me that many Catholics do not attend mass to praise God, but attend out of obligation.
I only wish that I could find a Catholic mass where people are as passionate about their faith as my Protestant friends. It would be even better if the parish I currently attend would be transformed to be passionate.

A good deal of the problem lies in the lack of quality Catholic liturgical music and a problem that I call “Liturgical Illiteracy”. The Church certainly values sacred music as we have a treasury of hymns that goes back 2,000 years. However, she has her standards as to what can and cannot be sung during the Mass.

Unfortunately, what shows up in song books published by OCP and, to a certain extent, GIA, is not suitable for Mass. It is as though the publishing houses have never heard of Musicam Sacram and Liturigam Authenticam, two of the authoritative liturgical documents issued by the Holy See.

Something else to consider is the fact that what we do in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is vastly different from what Protestants do at their services. They have the Word, which consists only of biblical readings, a sermon and songs thrown in for good measure. However, we have both the Word (the Liturgy of the Word) and the Sacrifice (the Liturgy of the Eucharist). The Mass constitutes more than just singing; at ever Holy Sacrifice the veil between time and space is lifted and we are just as much present at Calvary as were the Blessed Mother and Sts. John and Mary Magdalene. Furthermore, we are drawn into God’s time and the veil between heaven and earth is lifted so that the entire Church, the Church Militant (us), the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven) and the Church Suffering (the souls in purgatory) is present at every Mass. In other words, the Church does not consist of the warm bodies in the pews, it encompasses the saints and the souls in purgatory (the Communion of Saints).

I have yet to see any modern hymns that take this into account, let alone the Sacrificial aspect of the Mass.

It’s not just about the music. The Mass is more than that, so much more. However, genuinely sacred music, as the Church defines it, certainly adds to the solemnity and the dignity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The faithful probably may not sing because the music is bad. I will not sing a song that I believe to be doctrinally and liturgically deficient. Neither will a priest friend of mine. Furthermore, I will not sing a part of the Mass that is paraphrased (the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei) because it is wrong. If the parts of the Mass are to be set into music, they must match the official text and not be paraphrased.

It is not that the faithful are not passionate; it’s that many are wising up to the deficiencies in the musical offerings of their parishes.

Thanks for your response.

I partially agree with what you are saying, but not in a way you might expect. I am a college aged student, and from my observation, people my age are often attracted to more contemporary versions of songs rather than the traditional church organ and choir.
I think that songs like the one contained in the links above are seen more as prayer by people my age than a typical hymn.
I think that those hymns could be adapted successfully in a more modern arrangement, but until then, I think young people will continue to view them as more ceremonial – something to be tolerated, not something to be appreciated.

That being said, I’m not sure if there is a straightforward solution to what I am describing.

Unfortunately, with all due respect, that is a sad way of looking at sacred music. It is as though folks do not realize that the Mass is radically different from what the Protestant ecclesial communities have. If what is happening at the Altar, mainly the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the same Sacrifice that Mary and Sts. John and Mary Magdalene beheld at Calvary, does not move me and if what I am interested in is only music like the Hillsong stuff, then I have completely missed the point as to why I am there.

Furthermore, it’s not entertainment, which is what the YouTube segment looks like (with the lights and whatnaught). Sacred Music to be used in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass needs to reflect what the Church teaches and what she believes. Perhaps you have not heard of the phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means we pray as we believe. The music needs to reflect that. It is interesting, but, if you were to read some of the threads on sacred music, you might find that there are many young people who have written that they would rather have traditional sacred music than the Protestant Praise and Worship genre that has infiltrated the Church thanks to publishing houses like OCP that do not have any ecclesial authority whatsoever to promote this kind of music.

I am hopeful that the Holy See will soon issue a document on Sacred Music. About three months ago, I attended the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and I asked the Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that a new document on Sacred Music is coming from the Holy See. He predicted that it should come out early in 2009. I am thinking more like March or April at this point.

Going back to your original post, being passionate doesn’t necessarily involve singing. Note that we are not exactly required to sing. Active participation doesn’t mean just singing or reciting the prayers. It also means coming to Mass with interior preparation. You can sing with gusto; however, if you are singing just to sing and do not have your entire focus on God during the Mass, then all you’re doing is making noise. Interior preparation is key to active participation.

I don’t know if you went to Mass this past Tuesday. The readings for the Feast of St. Scholastica dealt with Martha and Mary. Martha was busy with the details of hospitality while Mary was silently sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He had to say. While Jesus (I am sure) appreciated Martha’s work, he noted that what he needed was Mary’s silent attentiveness.

As I said earlier, Protestants sing because that is all that they have. They do not believe in the Holy Sacrifice. They do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We believe in the Holy Sacrifice. We believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We can be just as passionate without making as much noise.

Here is something that Pope Benedict XVI said regarding Sacred Music while he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. This comes from his book The Spirit of the Liturgy:

Then there are two developments in music itself that have their origins primarily in the West but that for a long time have affected the whole of mankind in the world culture that is being formed. Modern so-called “classical” music has maneuvered itself, with some exceptions, into an elitist ghetto, which only specialists may enter – and even they do so with what may sometimes be mixed feelings. The music of the masses has broken loose from this and treads a very different path.

On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. “Rock”, on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit’s sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments.

This, to me, describes the Hillsong that you posted via the YouTube link. Now, this book was written some years before he was elected Pope. Let’s fast-forward to 2007 when he wrote Sacramentum Caritatis. Note what he says about Liturgical Song:

Liturgical song

  1. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that “the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love” (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).

He drives home the point further in this case by reminding us something that Pope Paul VI said regarding Sacred Music. Pope John Paul II quoted his statement when he wrote the Chirograph on Sacred Music to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Motu Propio that Pope St.Pius X wrote:

  1. In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point: indeed, “sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action”[11]. ***For this very reason, “not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold”, my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent[12]. And he explained that “if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious”[13]***. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category “sacred music” has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.

St Pius X’s reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able “to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church’s faith”[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.

Thus, even Pope John Paul II noted, like Popes Benedict, Paul and St. Pius X, that music used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass must meet certain parameters.

I agree that some of it may be entertainment. I was referring more to the lyrics/style of the music being played.
I also agree that being passionate does not mean that one must sing.

Would you be against the creation of new music or new arrangements of traditional songs? I am all for traditional music, but I think that there is a great value to newer music – especially when you look at it from a perspective involving evangelism of youth.
(Keep in mind that at one point or another, all music was new. Also, this passage: 1Cor 9:19-23)

I suppose my original question may have come out of frustration. It is unfortunate, but I rarely see any sort of appreciation for the Catholic faith among my peers. That’s not to say that I do not know devout Catholics. It’s just that they are in the minority of the Catholics I know. It may just be a geographical thing too.

Thanks for the additional response. I definitely understand what they are saying. The music should be there to glorify God, not the performer. I do find it understandable that many people would be hesitant to allow a more contemporary sound into our celebration, but I think you will see why I am in favor of at least some masses with a more contemporary feel if you look at the passage linked to above.

There certainly is a place for modern musical compositions for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. One of the few rays of hope that I have heard is the bilingual hymn “Amen” by Fr. John Schiavone, used during Communion.

However, even Pope John Paul II set forth parameters for new music, guidelines that are in continuity with what Pope St. Pius X put forth and with what the Second Vatican Council stated:

  1. With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple”[33]. It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy[34]. In this perspective, in my Letter to Artists I wrote: “How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the Liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God”[35].

Renewed and deeper thought about the principles that must be the basis of the formation and dissemination of a high-quality repertoire is therefore required. Only in this way will musical expression be granted to serve appropriately its ultimate aim, which is “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful”[36].

Do not think that the issue of Sacred Music has gone unnoticed by the Holy See. In fact, one of the shadows that the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist noted was the fact that they considered music used at so-called “youth Masses” to be problematic. This is what prompted the statement that Pope Benedict made in Sacramentum Caritatis where he notes that one song is not as good as another.

Furthermore, composers need to have an authentic Sensus Fidei (Sense of the Faith) and they also need to read the authoritative documents of the Holy See, including Sacramentum Caritatis, Musicam Sacram, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, the Chirograph on Sacred Music (which I just quoted) and Liturgiam Authenticam. A lot of the stuff that comes out of OCP (and, to a great extent, GIA) is written as though the composers (like Bob Hurd, Marty Haugen, et al) have never heard of these documents and are off doing their own thing.

Something else to consider is the fact that a lot of the young people have never been exposed to genuine sacred music and only know that the music directors at the parish sing week in and week out. Part and parcel of the problem is that OCP has these “liturgical planners” that folks slavishly follow as though the books were the Magisterium of the Church. When I have planned liturgies at both the parish and the diocesan level, I do not use them as they are flawed and only serve to promote the OCP genre as opposed to what the Church asks us to do.

I realize that I am throwing a lot at you on a late Friday night, but, I think that it is important that you read what the authoritative documents of the Holy See say regarding Sacred Music.

I definitely agree with that point.

Really, thanks for your responses. Its nice to have a different perspective on things! :slight_smile:

You’re welcome. Here are the links:

Pope John Paul II Chirograph on Sacred Music

Pope Benedict XVI Sacramentum Caritatis

Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Spirit of the Liturgy

An Article by Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI A New Song to the Lord

It certainly helps to have a musician in the Chair of St. Peter. Pope Benedict writes a lot about Sacred Music because he is a classically trained musician and his brother, who is also a classically trained musician, served as the choirmaster for the Regensberg Choir, quite renowned.

Something else to consider is the fact that whatever the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about Sacred Music (and the liturgy, in general) is coming to pass now that he is the Supreme Pontiff.

Musicam Sacram

Constitution on Sacred Liturgy

The last two are the authoritative documents from the Second Vatican Council. A lot of folks, well-intentioned as they may be, tend to follow the alleged Spirit of Vatican II, which can be a polar opposite to what the Second Vatican Council actually said. It is better to read the documents for yourself so that you can get an accurate picture of the true content of these important writings.

I hope this helps you.

Whenever I hear the word passionate, my dander gets up. I’ve been thought by some to be not passionate, which is far from the truth. I am reserved, and rather a shy person. I am a passionate about my faith as any charismatic, but I am not demonstrative.

We shouldn’t compare our singing with that of the Protestants when talking about what happens during our respective liturgies. Their singing is an act of worship in and of itself, much like our sung Liturgy of the Hours.

In Mass, our signing of hymns always accompanies an action and is not essential to that action: the entrance Procession, the Offertory Procession, the Communion Procession and finally, and unnecessarily because the Rite doesn’t call for it, the Recessional.

“Attracted to” and “considers suitable for liturgy” are actually two very different things. Here is a study that shows that Catholic teens believe that traditional choral music is the most appropriate for Mass, and that rock and other contemporary genres are not appropriate. In other words, the survey turns on its head everything that Catholic youth leaders think about the place of music in attracting young people to the liturgy.

As noted in Ecclesiastes, there is a time and a place for everything, and the Church makes it clear that the time and place for rocking out for Jesus is not in the Mass. There’s a reason that Gregorian chant isn’t sung at school dances, and there is also a reason that pop-rock shouldn’t be performed in the Mass.

Besides that, who can really pull off a pop-rock performance in the local parish church? You’re not going to get what is seen on those videos, but rather something about four levels lower in performance values. Teens know the performance values they expect from their music, and they are quite a bit higher than the typical parish youth band.

The Church teaches a good deal about what liturgical music should encompass, and why. And those teachings are largely ignored in about 99% of churches today. And that’s one reason that our Holy Father, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote that "I am convinced,…that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part on the collapse of the liturgy”


Here’s something for you to ponder. Are there any styles of music, popular among teens or college-aged people, that you think would be inappropriate for use in the Mass? Why or why not?

As a musician, I would be hesitant to throw out any specific genre of music.
If I had to set up some “requirements,” I would make sure that the music being played would not overshadow the sense of reverence required for mass.

I think the important thing to remember is that music should be picked based on its overall tone and it should be a supplement to the mass. The music chosen should also depend on the audience receiving that music. Music chosen for a mass involving older members of the church may be different from the music used for a children’s mass or a teen mass.

Not necessarily. Nowhere in the authoritative documents of the Church does it say that you have to pick your music based on the type of faithful who attend a given Mass. That is why so many young people are being cheated out of an authentic Sensus Fidei because they are not exposed to the genuinely Sacred Music. Instead, they are exposed only to the stuff that OCP pushes into the pews week in and week out as found in the publishing house’s liturgical planner.

It is a disservice to the young because they are exposed to music that has little depth and is childish. The older hymns have a stronger sense of the faith and are easier to sing.

Publishing houses like OCP have no magisterial authority whatsoever. Even their suggestions run contrary to what the Church teaches. The best guide to use is what the authoritative documents of the Church have to say on these matters.

OK, how would you make sure of this? What standards would you use? Your own personal instincts? Or would you attempt to use the standards provided by the Church?

I think the important thing to remember is that music should be picked based on its overall tone and it should be a supplement to the mass.

Actually, Vatican II states that sacred music is a necessary or integral part of the liturgy. That’s a far stronger position than just being a supplement to the Mass. And if we keep that in mind we are more likely to make the proper choices for this necessary or integral part of the liturgy.

The music chosen should also depend on the audience receiving that music. Music chosen for a mass involving older members of the church may be different from the music used for a children’s mass or a teen mass.

Why? Do we have different readings at a “teen Mass”? A different Kyrie or Gloria or Credo or Sanctus or Our Father? What assumptions are you working under regarding teens and the liturgy?

My point was that the “audience” should be kept in mind. We see the church addressing the different audiences throughout scripture. It is pretty clear that each of the gospels was written with a certain audience in mind, as were the epistles. I’m not saying to water down the music, I’m saying to incorporate the music that will be received by the people at mass in the most powerful way possible.

There are differences in the way Mass is conducted depending on the culture of the people attending mass. If you have ever been to a Mass for young people, you would notice that the homily is directed towards those people. There is no reason that the church could not provide guidelines for music to be used with different audiences.
Things have changed in the church. There is a reason why Mass is now most often conducted in the vernacular rather than in Latin – the message of Christ needs to be understandable by all those who hear it!

Boldface mine–I’m so glad that you have posted this. I have said the same thing many times on this board, based on my observations, but many people on this board seem to think that the majority of young people want to listen to traditional and classical music. Perhaps they are living in a more isolated situation that bears out their observation, but I think that for the most part, most situations in the U.S. don’t bear that out. It seems, though, that you have made the same observations that I’ve made about young people and music, and you are a young person.

I’m not saying that Mass music should be based on what people want. But…as long as the Vatican has allowed the use of different genres of music, I say, we go with the Vatican, not with personal preference, and select music from different genres.

I don’t think you’ve addressed the real questions here. By what standards would you prefer one style of liturgical music over another? By your own personal instincts, or by the standards offered by the Church?

And I hope you’ve read the survey I linked to, and will rethink your notion that teens and young people want modern-sounding music at Mass. The data presented in that survey should be an eye-opener to those willing to have an open mind on the subject.

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