Worship Music (as well as other styles of music) in Evangelical and Catholic Settings


I didn’t know where to post this, so if this does not belong here, moderators, please remove.

This article was brought to my attention by an evangelical friend of mine who loves praise music, loves to worship with praise music at his church (is also a classical musician and makes his living as one), but he and apparently others, are concerned with direction where praise worship and the music is going for their Sunday worship and other worship. I bring this up because I know there are differing ideas of how music in the Catholic Church should be used. I have colleagues in “real life” who think praise music is the way to go. While I don’t think it is based on my understanding and reading of what liturgical music is supposed to be, I do know that there are parishes in other parts of the country which focus on that kind of music. I think talking and listening to Evangelicals who are currently facing this dilemma would do well to ensure that their liturgies don’t go the same directions which my Evangelical friends/family members are dealing with right now.

I also think that this could go along with music in other styles and genres… not just P&W.

And please, I don’t want this to become a bashing of music and styles or ways of prayer. What I want is a healthy discussion in how to make sure that music doesn’t become the focal point and performance point.



In my opinion, this has nothing to do with praise and worship music. I know of classical singers, those that like the Jesuit music, and those that go with the David Haas music that have the performance problem.

And there are musicians that prefer all genres that also have their humility in check and do what they do in order to lead the congregation in sung prayer, and do so without pulling attention to themselves.

Praise and worship music does not lead to big screen projectors of the musicians.


Well, I have a few ideas:

  1. Keep the musicians where God intended: the choir loft. :slight_smile:
  2. Don’t sing “at the Mass”, or “during the Mass”, but “sing the Mass” itself: meaning sing / chant all the texts that are provided, without too many substitutions. i.e. Sing the chants / antiphons that are provided by the Church.




Sarabande, in exactly what ways are your Evangelical friends afraid that praise music is affecting their worship service? If the direction were positive, they wouldn’t be expressing their concerns to you. Maybe we could learn from them and not get ourselves in the same position.

Pianistclare, do you have another bag of popcorn?!


There’s a very thin line that has to be managed between performance and participation. I’ve seen choirs lean towards “performance” on both classical and contemporary styles of music, so it’s not isolated to one style. What I always find helpful, but some may find annoying, is a mini “choir rehearsal” about a few minutes before the liturgy begins. In my experience, this helps facilitate the congregation in “active participation.” The congregation learns to use the hymnals, learns the songs, and with some repetition during the year, the songs become familiar and the congregation is more likely to sing with the choir. :slight_smile:


Happy to oblige.


Thanks for sharing. When was this revealed to you? :shrug:


Well, it was meant as a joke. Thus the smiley-face!
In reference to the original question, when the performers are able to be heard, but not focused on too much, I think that would help reduce “performer-itis” during Mass.


Hi Marysann! The concerns are very similar to what was expressed in the article. They love the music and are inspired by it, so for them it has nothing to do with a dislike of it. My friend/colleague who brought this article to me is actually a classical musician by trade, but enjoys praise and worship music at his Evangelical church. He also has a church job at a high church Episcopal church so he is well-versed in all kinds of music. We talk shop and he is well-aware of the things that Catholic church musicians are going through. He wanted to give me some perspective in regard to what he and others are experiencing. I’ve also spoken to cousins of mine who are very devout born-again evangelicals and there is similar concern over it.

The concern is mainly on how the music seems to have become more important than the worship. The use of video and lighting to highlight the “performers” as if they are on stage rather in a sanctuary along other things outlined in the article. At some of the churches it’s not as bad as what the writer described, but my cousins can see it slowly heading in that direction.

I agree with all who mentioned that this could also be the case for other types of music, which I made a point to mention in my original post. I’ve participated in and have been a congregant for masses or services where the music became the focal point. While it was beautiful and may not have been over-the-top with lighting and video screens showing closeups of the musicians and such, it still was more than what should have been done.

I also give most church musicians the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the reasons why they do certain things. I think most are doing it for the glory of God, but are sometimes Led the wrong direction or don’t know any better. One of my music directors is like that. She isn’t Catholic and tends to choose music as if we are in a classical music concert rather thanssomething for liturgy. She means well, but doesn’t have the people in charge guiding her through as well as they should.


I know that you were making a joke with the first idea, but as someone who has freelanced in almost 200 Catholic churches over the years and have seen it all with the various set-ups depending on the building, I do think there is something about keeping the musicians in an area where they are not seen and only heard… well at least most of the time. Every once in a while you come across a parish where they clap for every week no matter where you are situated and even when the musicians are not asking for it and don’t even like applause.

I do think there is a psychological aspect to “hiding” the musicians in a loft or some other inconspicuous place. People tend to less-likely view the musicians as “performing”. I’ve seen it, myself, when a choir would sing the exact same piece of music from the front and then from the loft and you get complaints about the choir “performing” whenever the choir is singing up front.

In regards to the 2nd idea, I think that is the ideal and it keeps people from doing things musically that could be inappropriate, although well-meaning. Unfortunately, though, unless you have everyone on board (most importantly, the pastor) it is not going to happen.


Yes, I agree with you, which is why I included other styles or genres in parenthesis. But I think the question of my friends/family who are heavily involved in churches which employ this kind of music for their services is why the services are starting to be more focused on the music and people doing the music rather than on God and how can they stop it? They don’t want to stop P&W music (nor does the writer of the article). They love this music and are inspired by it.

For my one friend/colleague who is a musician, he feels that the style lends towards people having the idea of making it more like a rock concert to draw people in. Again, he also loves this music and couldn’t imagine worship without it at his Evangelical church. So, he believes when employing this kind of music, you have to be very cognizant of not falling into that trap of doing all of the lighting, projectors, close-ups, etc. I think that is something Catholics should also be aware of as some parishes, especially in certain areas begin to adopt that style of music into their masses. There are people who believe it is the way to go because they look at the numbers of the evangelical churches and see that the music brings them in, but they haven’t seen what happens when it is taken too far.

Now, again, that’s not to say a performance aspect of other styles and genres of music isn’t ever made. It is, just in a different way. As I have mentioned in previous posts on this thread, I have seen it myself and have also, unfortunately, had to be a part of it due to being part of my job and having to do what I’m told to do by the pastor or music director. i.e. One of the parishes I work for has the cantors sing classical solos from the front basically in the sanctuary after Communion, which is a HUGE NO-NO. It’s like you are doing this mini-sacred music concert. I absolutely dislike doing it and have tried to diplomatically explain to the music director why it’s not appropriate for Catholic liturgy even if it is appropriate in the music director’s own denomination. It’s promoting a practice which is inappropriate and I know conjures up judgmental thoughts, especially on the cantors, like myself, who may be in complete disagreement, but have their hands tied and love the parish and the people too much to give up on the ministry.

So what are ways to ensure music doesn’t become more important than the mass and God in a Catholic liturgy?


In another post, the author wrote this:

Four Wrong Turns On The Road To Performancism

Final thoughts

Lest any of what I’ve written be construed as exclusively relevant to contemporary churches with drums and guitars, let me say loud and clear that formal, high-church, liturgical churches with organs and choirs are just as prone to performancism. The performance of an organist, the offerings of a choir, the recitation of a liturgy, the sacred movements of the clergy and acolytes can all become the same kind of performance prevalent in the mega-church down the street. The choir directors, organists, accompanists, and worship leaders at those churches have just as much reason to step back and evaluate their ministries as the guy with a guitar at a church whose liturgy is pretty much “songs then sermon”.

This crossroads is before all of us, formal and informal, liturgical and non-liturgical, mega or small.


Thank you for sharing that. :thumbsup:

What I think has been eye-opening for me reading the original article I posted and this one is the fact that there has been concern for the lackluster or virtually very little singing in the Evangelical churches. They have a reputation for well-done “corporate” singing - at least outside of their churches. It always just seemed to be a problem, mainly in Catholic congregations, as in most of the mainstream Protestant denominations I have sung in, the congregational singing is strong.


I would be interested to hear an argument against this point of view but I don’t think Praise and Worship music can be used in the Mass in such a way that it would not distract those from the most important aspects of the Mass.

you are playing some popular praise and worship song while people go up to receive Jesus Christ. Are the people reflecting on what they are about to receive, are they aware of their sins that they have committed since their last confession? I would think a lot of people would be focused on the music being played rather than what they are about to receive. I think hymns can have a similar issue.

Does the music ever take on a life of it’s own?

do people resort to clapping and arm movements while this music is being played?

I have no issue with Praise and Worship music, I listen to it myself at times, but I find it is way to distracting to have in any Mass. Praise and Worship music taps into people’s emotions a lot. I hear it all of the time on KLove or the Message, that song was so moving I just had to pull over because I was so emotional. There is nothing wrong with that but the Mass isn’t there to play with our emotions. We are there to make spiritual sacrifices to God.

I’m trying to stay away from bashing this music, but I will do a little bit, and I feel like it goes hand and hand with your desires. I bolded what I’m focusing on from your post.


I’m not so sure that this is a major problem in Catholic Litrugies now of days. At-least not compared to what happened in the late middle ages and the 18th 19th and 20th centuries. Currently I feel like the music of the Mass rather than being performance based (while there are some of those Churches out there) mostly air to the side of all inclusiveness. Churches use hymns because everyone can sing them and many sound nice. People are hesitant to bring chant into the Mass because they fear only a few can do that and they couldn’t do it that well.

A wrong understanding of active participation is feeding this all inclusive idea of singing at the Mass. People think if I’m not singing I’m not actively participating. While it is possible that someone who doesn’t sing anything during the Mass is more actively participating in the Mass than someone who is singing as loud as he can.


Thank you, Sarabande, for your explanation. I had a pretty good idea what you were going to say anyway. Now for my suggestions:

  1. Put the music group in the back. If their intention is to support the singing, this is the best place for them to be.
  2. No applause either during or after the Mass. I know you know what Pope Benedict had to say about that.
  3. No light show or any such theatrics. Ask the group if they had a light show on Calvary. That is besides the eclipse of the sun, but that was done by God Himself!
  4. Give concerts outside of Mass. If the group is as good as they say they are, and what they do is as popular has they think it is, then people will pay money to hear them. Then they can be up front, with lights, the whole deal. It is a good way to raise money for charity.

What do you think?


I think these are all great suggestions. I’m right there with you about no applause. I think it is something that needs to be taught to congregations who are used to applauding for everything. I know that most mean well, but I do believe that it does turn the music into being about the musicians and takes the focus off of the eucharist and God. I attended mass with my four-year-old recently during one of my very rare instances when I didn’t have to cantor mass. We attended a parish close to our home as the one we usually attend when I work is about 45 minutes away. That parish tends to applaud at the end of mass. They have a good volunteer choir and excellent organist/music director and I realize they are just expressing their thanks, but when my daughter started clapping I had to stop her and told her it wasn’t appropriate to do that. She can do that at concerts but not during or at the end of mass. BUT if she wanted to thank them she could go up once the church cleared out and do it verbally, which is what we did. Knowing most church musicians, they prefer it to the applause. The habit has to be broken, but it will take time.

I completely agree with your first. I have always felt that it was most ideal when all of the musicians were placed in the back or more obscure and inconspicuous part of the church which may not have a choir loft. I’ve been there, done that when it comes to singing in various configurations of all different kinds of church buildings and have felt it was always best in terms of congregational singing or just not being accused of performing or being in sight when I was situated where I was not seen by most people. Honestly, I believe that the only time I, as a cantor, should ever be up front would be during the psalm. Otherwise, you really don’t need me up there. A strong voice who can lead in the singing does not need to be in the front. A good cantor or instrumentalist can lead anywhere without being seen. That’s my opinion and I know others and even some colleagues in real life disagree with that, but I have seen it work very well enough times to believe this.

Another suggestion I’d add to your list is not overpowering with your instrument or overamplifying voices or instruments - if it is a parish that uses electric instruments. One of the main complaints I hear from parishioners is how loud the instruments are or that the cantor was singing too loudly. I think when people feel they are being overpowered, then it can come off as being a performance to some people.


This is also something I advocate as well. I don’t know what it’s like in other dioceses, but in the diocese I’m in we’re not allowed to charge money for sacred music concerts. We can have a free-will offering, though. Also, that diocese has the right to take whatever money you make from the concert for their own use. It doesn’t necessarily go to the parish. That was something I found out when we considered doing a church concert of classical sacred music at one of the parishes where I work to raise money for the organ and other needs of the parish. We were told that the money we would raise was more-than-likely not going to go to what we wanted to use the money for. But I suppose that if musicians wanted to use a concert setting as a outlet to perform and has no particular goal as to where the money will be used for, it’s a good idea.


I sang at Mass!
I sang at Mass!
I sang at Mass!
I sang at Mass and felt long forgotten joy in my heart.
It has been so long since I actually sang …it all. :slight_smile:
I sang it all!
I can’t remember exactly when I stopped singing so long ago but I can tell you why I did sing this weekend.

There was no choir, cantor or musical instrumentalist. Everyone took the lead of the priest and I heard more people sing at that parish than ever before.

It was amazing!
It was beautiful!
Let the priest lead!
Let the people follow and sing!

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