Why don't people sing?


If what many who love the decrepit music of today assert, that because of modern “liturgical music” (which is almost universally anything but) that people can follow what Vatican II called for - that is full and active participation of the people - why does almost nobody sing at Mass? Why don’t the people belt out with glee those favorites of the past 40 years - especially since their claimed to be so loved and easy to sing?

I asked the same question on here a few months ago. The songs have beautiful words, but I’m the only one singing it seems. Sad that so many people come on here and complain about having this song or that song at Mass… Any song would be good for me if people would just sing.

The music I’ve been exposed to in the Mass has been really dull and boring, mostly because there isn’t anyone singing, at least not putting their heart into it.


Will someone please hand these good people above a copy of Thomas Day’s “Why Catholics Can’t Sing”?

This book will explain it completely and clearly to you.

People sing in the Catholic church I go to. :shrug: There’s even the occasional hymn that I remember singing even in my old Lutheran church.

The songs are too often sappy. The tunes are too high. Reclaim your patrimony in the Gregorian Chant. Teach the people to sing again. If you don’t have a choir, get one. This will help. Eastern Catholics more often sing their hearts out.


Hell is the place where Protestants dance and Catholics sing. In Heaven, Catholics teach Protestants to dance and Protestants teach Catholics how to sing. (Peter Kreeft.)

I blame it also on the fact that people just don’t sing anymore. At least, not at social functions.

It’s a cultural thing across most of the Northern US. It would be the same for modern or traditional music. Outward showing of singing just does not happen very much.

I read a copy of “Why Catholics Don’t Sing”. He makes some very valid points. Over the last 40 years, the hymns have gone from the traditional to the banal.

While singing is a solid form of worship, the current crop of liturgical music leaves a lot to be desired. During the Mass, I will not sing hymns that are doctrinally questionable, liturgically inappropriate or simply bad. This applies to the St. Lous Jesuits, Sr. Bernadette, some of Marty Haugen and David Haas and quite a few Spanish hymns that have tinges of liberation theology.

When the Holy Father wrote that

One song is not as good as another

when it comes to Mass, he is right. Sacred music has its norms and requirements. He also makes some very strong points in Spirit of the Liturgy:

The dissolution of the subject, which coincides for us today with radical forms of subjectivism, has led to “deconstructionism” the anarchistic theory of art. Perhaps this will help us to overcome the unbounded inflation of subjectivity and to recognize once more that a relationship with the Logos, who was at the beginning, brings salvation to the subject, that is, to the person. At the same time it puts us into a true relationship of communion that is ultimately grounded in trinitarian love.

As we have seen, the problems of the present day pose without doubt a grave challenge to the Church and the culture of the liturgy. Nevertheless, there is no reason at all to be discouraged. The great cultural tradition of the faith is home to a presence of immense power. What in museums is only a monument from the past, an occasion for mere nostalgic admiration, is constantly made present in the liturgy in all its freshness.

What is even worse is when “rock” music bulldozes its way into the Mass, as noted in the Spirit of the Liturgy:

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.

Where is the sobriety in today’s liturgical music? I challenge anyone to find a modern hymn that has some sobriety in it. Unfortunately, the norm for today’s music is what the Holy Father warned against.

Because they can’t read music, and they’re poor at singing by ear.

Because if they can read music, the music often isn’t supplied for them (just the words are printed), and parts are virtually never supplied for those of us who read a part other than the melody.

Because the instrumentalist, especially an organist, will not play a clear melody line, but instead, embellishes the accompaniment making it difficult for those who sing by ear to pick out the melody.

Because most of the cantors are not music conductors, and the congregation is uncertain of entrances, cut-offs, etc.

Because often the instruments, especially the organ, do not accompany the congregation, but lead it, causing the people to get lost.

Because they haven’t been taught how to sing in a head voice which would enable them to reach those “high” notes. (BTW, a D an octave + 1 above Middle C is NOT a high note.)

Because the songs and hymns are played at an improper tempo (either too fast, or more often, waaaaay to slow) that does not allow breathing in the appropriate place in the music, resulting in a “breathless” or “airless” sound that is very weak and volumeless.

Because in our current culture, corporate singing is simply not done in any circles nowadays other than “church” and it feels uncomfortable for us. Instead, in our culture, even in “Christian” culture, singing is done by professionals, and the rest of us attend “concerts” or buy CDS, and merely listen to others sing.

Because they have received the teaching that singing is to be contemplative, not jubilant, and that to “sing out” is to call attention to themselves rather than Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Because they have received the teaching that “reverent” means “soft.”

Because they are old and do not have the strength of voice anymore.

Because they are concentrating on praying or other devotion to Our Lord during the hymns, instead of being “in the moment” and devoting their time exclusively to the singing of the hymn.

Because they are taking care of babies and young children and can’t hold the hymnal, too.

Because they are babies and young children and don’t read yet.

Because they don’t understand the words to the older hymns and have difficult time fitting them into the melody (or they are snickering about “ethereal lays”).

Because they have condemned the modern hymns as heretical, and are demonstrating their objection by refusing to sing in protest.

Because they are not actually participating in any of the Mass, but are just fulfilling their obligation to prevent themselves from going to hell. Hymns and spiritual songs are so far-removed from their “real life” that they simply don’t even bother. (But at least they are at Mass and the Holy Spirit can give them some graces.)

A. I’m not all that fond of a lot of the songs
B. They are pitched so high that Farinelli would have trouble hitting the notes.
C. They keep changing the words on me!!! (I hate how the song nazis keep desexing the words to the hymns)
D. I don’t have the world’s best voice - but when I can sing, I do.

I will not sing a song with heretical lyrics
I will not sing when the pitch is too high for ordinary voices
I will not sing when the organ or musicians are not in sync or even in the same key with the cantor and choir it is impossible, although i might hum a bit

I will not sing when they are going at a funeral pace that requires a breath after every 3 words.

I will not sing songs that make me gag (Peace is flowing like a river is the example that comes to mind).

when singing traditional hymns I sing the traditional words I refuse to sing PC words. that is because I am a stubborn old rhymes with witch.

I don’t sing during the communion time, being otherwise occupied in preparing for reception and thanksgiving.

I don’t sing when I am working off a cold or asthma flairs up because I will invariably start coughing.

I don’t sing songs in another language unless the hymn number is announced in English so I can find it.

When I go back to the city and visit my former parish, I enjoy the music…and it seems that the rest of the congregation does too. They have a top-notch organist who varies the organ registration for each verse, wonderful cantors, three different choirs, and four different handbell choirs. They sing everything from chant, traditional hymns and new stuff. Obviously, being located in the city helps, as they are able to hire and keep the organist, and have a pool of singers for the various choirs. Parishioners truly seem to enjoy singing at Mass.

Parish Masses here in my rural neck of western Pennsylvania are pretty much void of singing. I know that this is going to sound judgmental on my part, but I have noticed, at least when I happen to think about it, that so many of those who don’t sing are also those that do not audibly respond to the prayers at Mass.

I grew up in this parish, and I don’t recall much said about singing after Vatican II. I’m not blaming Vatican II for this, but I wonder if with proper education and prodding from the clergy (and religious ed teachers) back during “the changes,” we would be more of a singing parish now?

Also, our society has changed. People don’t gather to sing anymore. I am a school music teacher, and over the last 22 years, I have seen such a change in my students’ attitudes toward singing. They are no longer even thrilled with singing Christmas carols.

Just a few thoughts.

In the Eastern Catholic parish I attend, there is pretty much only ONE Ordinary setting of the Liturgy (to use a Latin term); the propers are sung by the cantors.

It’s a VERY live church with marble floors and plaster walls and a high ceiling. In fact, TOO live; sound baffles had to be put in.

Still, there are good acoustics that enhance the singing, and so people are encouraged to sing.

Compare this to the typical church with wall-to-wall carpeting, pressed seaweed on the walls, acoustical (really, non-acoustical) ceilings–all of them things that soak up sound, and then quite an invenstment has to be put into sound equipment to put the sound back in!

Think about it.

(Of course, we have better things to sing, too. How can anything by Haugens and Hass stand up to the Cherubic Hymn?)

A traditional Roman Catholic Church is built for singing but many more modern ones are as you state. You are quite right about Eastern Catholic Churches. We are encouraged to sing and we do. The chants and songs are written so that men can sing them and there are usually only 8 tones.


I’ll give you 10 reasons:

  1. Lousy songs
  2. Lousy songs
  3. Lousy songs
    4.No 4 part music for those of us who aren’t coloraturae
  4. Lousy songs
  5. Often no music at all - just lyrics. And, not just for old well known tunes.
  6. Lousy music
  7. Lousy songs
  8. Questionable to heretical lyrics
  9. Lousy songs

Its because most of the music in American parishes today, in addition to being insipid, dull, boring, and frozen in time in the 1970’s, is simply not designed for congregational singing.

Most of this stuff was composed by people who considered themselves to be professional musicians, and if you are a professional musician, I have been told, it’s great fun to play. But congregations can’t sing it. It goes too high, or too fast, or the changes in meter and key throws people off. So rather than try to make sense of it, they take the logical way out and don’t sing it.

And there is also the aspect of questionable theology or that the songs are inappropriate for Mass. In my case, I, too, refuse to sing such songs.

This last Sunday at Mass, the organist (I’m sorry…the “liturgical musician”) actually played “Panis Angelicus” during Holy Communion. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I just knelt there are soaked it in, trying not to weep at the beauty of it.

I don’t know that we were all out singing or chanting before V II either. I think more churches had choirs, but I’m not sure the congregation was belting stuff out.

I think Cat’s list pretty much sums up the situation. In many protestant churches today the congregation isn’t singing either. They are listening to the ‘band’ or the choir chocked full of paid sopranos.

Now, just because they don’t sing doesn’t mean that they are not actively participating.:eek: There is also interior participation that is just as important. The hymns, especially the ancient ones, are supposed to be “far removed” from “real life” because we are in the presence of the Wholly Other. It is supposed to be “out of the ordinary.”

Furthermore, I do take exception to your criticism that most people don’t read music. Just because there are some of us who can’t read music, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t have a good ear for a tune and can pick it up right away.:thumbsup:

The only Mass at my parish where the people sing, is the family Mass which has a folk group. People sing loud and beautiful. The songs are mostly from the OCP, St. Louis Jesuits and such.

The other two Masses, one, where the organist, who also sings, quiet frankly, stinks, and the other, the oganist sets the organ at one step above A440 tuning, so the only people that can sing are women. She also choses old tranditional songs which no one knows, so only herself and the few choir members sing.

When Catholics don’t sing, its because the music director, isn’t doing a good job.


I bolded that particular section, because it’s so true of the great majority of the songs in all the NO parishes that I’ve been a member of. These are songs that are simply not designed for the “average” person to sing along with, and most don’t.

In contrast, whenever a traditional song is played, I’ve noticed that people sing with enthusiasm (Immaculate Mary is always popular). At Adoration, one of my older priests used to sing Tantum Ergo and Holy God We Praise Thy Name. No funky syncopation with those, and even newcomers would sing along with pleasure.

One other problem I’ve noticed at all my OCP-scripted NO parishes is that there are so many new songs. It seems like we never can have any old favorites on a regular basis. When I was a Methodist our hymnals weren’t constantly being replaced or updated, so we got quite familiar with the songs in them.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.