Why shouldn't praise and worship music be in the Mass?


Having done some searches on here, I stipulate that trying to get people on this board to agree about liturgical music is like herding cats. And I certainly have my favorites and not-so-favorites coughTomConrycough.

I certainly glean that the prevailing sense on here is that contemporary praise and worship music (“I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever”, “I Will Call Upon The Lord”, “What A Mighty God We Serve”, etc.) have no place in Mass.

I want to know why, because I don’t see what’s wrong with them as a whole. It’s not like these songs are assuming the persona of God, but they sing praise to God. (Now some songs, like “Breathe”, are ridiculous; that one makes me think solely of Faith Hill and her secular song of the same name.)

Is it because they sound too “Protestant”? (Did you know that Catholics like Jim Cowan and George Misulia write them too?)

Is it because they use such horrific instruments as guitars and drums? (I’m a former P&W liturgical group leader and guitarist. And my understanding is that the introduction of the organ to the liturgy raised a ruckus way back in the day.)

Is it because they’re “irreverent”? (As if praising God were irreverent; just ask King David.)

Is it because they’re too “emotional”?

Or is this seen as another “fad” that will pass (Ray Repp and Jack Miffleton, call your office)?

FYI, I also love and have sung chant and “traditional” hymns (see my sig), and I’m not crazy about the GIA/OCP Liturgical-Musical Complex. I just want to understand the hostility to P&W. I’m willing to be taught here.


My old parish used a combination of J.S. Paluch’s “We Celebrate” hymnals and “Maranatha Praise” booklets for the folk Mass. I am an organist with a love of our Church’s wealth of traditional music. Gregorian chant is our original praise music. As a rule, I dislike popular/folk music at any Mass, but I would rather hear Charismatic-style praise music any day than the contemporary “Catholic” junk most parishes have to suffer with. Praise music puts the focus on Jesus, not on ourselves.


Maybe because P & W is too easy to sing and does not require a “classical orchestra” or a trained choir. Lots of folks are still stuck in the days when we sat, stood, and knelt, but the priest and altar boys prayed, the organist played, and the choir sang. We just had to sit, stand, or kneel at the appropriate moments and pray silently in our pew. With good semi-professional musicians and a trained choir some beautiful music was made. Uplifting, nice to listen to music.

It struck me at this years Easter Vigil Mass when we had the reading from Exodus, how appropriate "Horse and Rider " would have been for the response, but we sang something inane from the “Oregon Book”.


I don’t think there is an absolute answer to this, though if anyone happens to care about the opinion of the Pope anymore, the current one cannot stand this stuff. It is called taste, you see.

The problem is not so much that anything doesn’t sound sufficiently Catholic as that the Catholic Church in some countries, including emphatically the US, has never developed a tradition that marries art with populism the way some of the higher Protestant denominations have managed. If I were to sacrifice one of the two, it would be populism, but the preponderance of modern practice and opinion is greatly against me.

I lived for a couple of years in Germany, and while they have completely adopted the novus ordo, they have never abandoned a tradition of excellence in worship. It is a long story, but among other things, they still sing a Gregorian ordinary (in Latin) at every Mass.


A lot of it would depend on who and where praise music is being used. Kids’ Mass on a weekday with the whole school could be a good thing. Sunday Mass with schola might not be the time to belt out “Blood of the Lamb” (Power, Power, Wonder Working Power…).

Secondly, while it IS praise, and it DOES focus on God and not us, it is designed to generate a certain response in the congregation. I remember Sean Herriott, the morning guy for Relevant Radio, explaining that when he was an evangelical song and praise leader, they would plan the various praise songs to lead people to a certain feeling and response. He said that he felt he was manipulating people by doing this. He might be able to tell you more: joesconversionstory.blogspot.com/


I recently posted this as a comment on The New Liturgical Movement blog, and I’ll post it here. It refers not to P&W specifically, but to any pop-sounding music.

I think the whole question of the associations which pop-sounding liturgical music triggers in the mind of the listener needs to be discussed more, since it is just those associations which are usually given as a (the?) reason for using such music in liturgy. That is, that style of music is used precisely because it sounds like the music heard “out there”, in the secular world.

The problem that I see with inviting those associations is that “out there” just does “out there” better, more naturally. “Out there”, the secular world, is implicitly or even explicitly taken as the model, and the resulting pop liturgical music attempts to adhere to that model while using more appropriate words.

The usual result is that pop liturgical music, when judged by the very standards it has itself invited, comes across as a day late and a dollar short. It’s just not as good as “the real thing”. This is both because those secular musicians doing “the real thing” are better, or at least have better recording and engineering staff and bigger budgets, and also because music that attempts to imitate pop culture is going to be much more self-conscious than the secular music that just bubbles up from the pop culture.

But whether done well or done badly, the associations remain, and the associations make the liturgy, and by implication the Church, out to be followers, copycats, secular wannabes. Rather than the liturgy existing in isolation as what it is, it can end up coming across as a rather sad and pathetic pop-culture groupie.

Pop culture music as model, or Gregorian chant as model (“On Sacred Music”, John Paul II). The two models are worlds apart, and the resulting compositions and associations naturally end up worlds apart as well.

I would also point out that the ideal for liturgical music is that the music is to be in service of the text. That is, the text is primary. Thus we see that chant and polyphony is by and large unmetrical. It doesn’t have a fixed beat and a constantly repeating structure, because the music is built around the text. With a strong fixed beat and repeating structure, on the other hand, the words must be built around the music. Thus the words must be trimmed, pared, stretched, twisted to fit onto the skeleton of the music. This goes against the ideal for liturgical music, making the text secondary to the music.


I’m not sure if I’m hostile to P&W music in the Mass, but whenever I hear P&W music in the Mass, I feel as though I was watching my Mom trying to rap, or mosh. When I hear P&W music in the Mass, I feel as though the Mass is trying to say, “See, we’re ill! We’re sick! We’re live!” like a desperate againg boomer trying to appeal to his teenage children. *(If you don’t know what those words mean, then please never say them. There’s nothing worse to this 23 year old than a baby boomer who can’t face up to the fact that he’s on the other side of the generation gap.) *

Equally as important, the reality is, most of the praise music just isn’t very good, musically. It’s not just the fact that it’s not Gregorian chant. It’s also not very good rock music. It’s not even rock music.

Newsweek or Time once did an article called “Jesus Rocks,” and someone wrote a letter to the editor saying that P&W music isn’t rock, that rock 'n roll is the devil’s music, and that that would never change. While I’m not sure exactly what they meant by that, I have to admit that they are right. The reality is, rock and roll music is simply at its best when it deals with baser topics. Rock and roll is never better than when it rebels, when it discusses violence or sex. P&W is a cheap imitation of the real thing.

The way I feel about it, I can choose between the diamond of Gregorian chant, the diamond of rock music, or the cubic zirconium of P&W music. There are definatly moments for cubic zirconium, but no one really wants it in its own right. Why go for the cheap imitation when I can have the real thing?


There is such a vast and wonderful treasure trove of music that is out there. I just don’t see the need for Churchpop. Plus I think it’s just aesthetically awful.


Pax vobiscum!

I absolutely HATE HATE HATE praise and worship music in Mass. Hate it!!! And here is exactly why it should NEVER EVER be used:

In Christ,


I heard Peter Kreeft once way that arguing taste is silly. It is like trying to convince someone they like chocolate when they insist they prefer vanilla.

There are, however, some objective guidelines. Namely Gregorian Chant is to be given a prominent place in the Church. This might mean in the Church as a whole though and need not apply to each parish. Church doctrine is objective and anything directly heretical is out.

What I do not understand is the objection that some things are too protestant. The Church has through the centuries allowed popular culture (and even pagan culture) to be co-opted for sacred use. I do not understand why America should be the only culture that is so bad it can not be thus used. Must be European bias.


To me, it depends on the song.
I love the Jim Cowan mass that my church uses. It is call-and-response, which allows, to me, a bit more focus on the Mass.

Some things (Audio Adrenaline, the Insyderz, etc…) have no place in the Mass, because then the music detracts from the reverence and importance of why we are there.
However, sometimes I am just not in the mood for singing yet another song that sounds more like a funeral dirge than a song worshipping God and His Son.

I know that John Michael Talbot and Jim Cowan have written songs that are to be used in a liturgical setting. I have no problems with these, it’s those “other” songs that bother me.

PS: I do have to add that the Teen Choir I was part of in High School was responsible, more than once, for almost causing mosh pits at the end of Mass. Death metal version of “Jesus Loves Me”, anyone?


No matter exactly what hymnody one is choosing, US Catholics have the situation (I will try not tendentiously to call it a problem) in which it is more or less assumed in the average parish that favorite hymns are a de facto part of the ordinary, meaning they seldom change. This has always been true, in my experience, even before Vatican II, and explains why Catholics never learn more than a couple of dozen hymns (and don’t sing those very well, but that’s another topic).

At the very tiny Anglican/Episcopal parish in upstate New York that was the last to pay me for my services as an organist, they had a three year cycle of hymns selected from among hundreds in their excellent (even by Protestant standards) hymnal. The cycle matched up with the lectionary cycle. It would be an exaggeration to say they never repeated one over the space of three years, but with one exception (the ghastly “Jesu, Jesu,” and I’ll never know how it passed the artistic oversight committee for that hymnal), all the hymns had what I consider at least the minimal artistic value needed to be worthy in worship, were chosen for the occasion, produced a suitable variety comparable to a true proper, and were sung enthusiastically by a congregation that was used to such things.

Should Catholics go that way? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that what we are, to put it bluntly, putting up with now and have for many years is satisfactory.


I know what those things mean, but I prefer my attrition on the other side of the gender gap, with my gray hair and arthritic ankle, thank you (once black hair, but God is better than any colorist- and it is*** just*** a fabulous gray).

I also agree with what you said.


Pax vobiscum.

Jesus is not the object of worship in the Mass. This is one of the reasons that songs that focus on Him sound “too protestant.” The Mass is a sacrifice offered to God the Father and to the Trinity, through Jesus, our High Priest. To focus too directly on Jesus seems to miss the point in a deep way.

The Liturgy is the “primary and indispensable” way that we conform to Christ. (Cf. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 14.) When Jesus taught us to pray, He addressed the prayer to “Our Father.” When we imitate Christ we should not over-focus on Him – though all prayer is addressed to the Trinity through Christ.

One of the imbalances which marks many forms of “Protestantism” as heresy is its over-focus on worshiping Jesus, out of His context as Son and Second Person of the Trinity. This leaves people who act on these theories in a “person to person” relationship with Jesus (or their idea of Him) rather than in imitation of Christ. To be “in Christ” we address ourselves to God the Father and to the Holy Trinity. This is what Jesus did and taught us to do by example.

Another aspect of this issue is the fact of the Mystical Body of Christ. If we are “in Christ” then we are united with Jesus in an important way; we identify with Him. Songs which focus on Him, therefore, often effectively focus on us.

Spiritus Sanctus nobiscum.

John Hiner


Does it? How does working oneself up into an emotional and falsely pietistic lather to make oneself feel good put the focus on Jesus?

That is not a failure only of modern praise music, BTW, as I’m sure you know. It is characteristic of tent revival music, which as originally performed would have repeated the refrain over and over again to increasing accompaniment and increasing (in those days unamplified) volume to achieve the same effect. Many of these hymns are still in use in “low church” Protestant hymnals, and separating them from a context that was specious in the first place only underscores their complete lack of artistic value.

In the strong tradition of Protestant hymns, as well as in the Gregorian, the focus is never on pandering to the limbic system of the singer, and one is always addressing or contemplating eiither a member of the Trinity or (in Gregorian because the Protestants lost this) a saint… We have higher faculties, including the ability to incorporate emotional experience into an overall artistic context tempered by intellect. This is what the Church in its official teaching expects us to be using.


Cygnus X1, as you’ve noticed, there’s a whole lot of opinion being offered up in this thread, but little fact. The truth is that the Church does not condemn, ban, or otherwise restrict the use of contemporary praise and worship music in the Mass. Yes, the songs must be in full agreement with Catholic teaching, and they must lead us in worship of God. Beyond that, it’s a matter of taste. Some people prefer Gregorian Chant at Mass. Others prefer traditional choral music. I prefer contemporary praise and worhip music, as long as the songs are chose appropriatly, and are performed well.

While I love Gregorian Chant, I cannot participate in it, so, for me, attending a mass that used Gregorian Chant would be like attending a concert. I would would listen, and enjoy, but not participate. Fortunately, our God, and His Church, is big enough to reach out to the needs of a diverse population.


I’m a pianist/organist for our little cathedral. As a musician, I don’t care that much for P/W because it’s a little too repetitive and there’s not enough “meat”. The old hymns contain a lot of doctrine that is very helpful for the congregation to understanding their faith.
That being said, I do think P/W music can help with being able just to praise God in song.


It is absolutely not a matter of taste. It is a matter of how closely or how poorly any particular composition, any particular style, conforms to the standards set out by the Church for liturgical music. Liturgical music must be judged by how well or how poorly it fulfills the functions of liturgical music, and the Church has not been shy in outlining those functions, and the standards which those functions require.

Read the Church documents on music at www.adoremus.org (where they are conveniently assembled).


Have you ever read Tra le Sollecitudini (Pope St. Pius X), or Sacrosanctum Concilium (Pope Paul VI)?


While this very true, within those guidelines, there is very broad allowance for musical style. The Church will never violate the Scriptural command to “Sing a new song unto the Lord”.

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