Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Which do you prefer? The Gregorian Chant “Spiritus Domini” or Chris Tomlin’s “Holy Is The Lord.”

Liturgical music is a sore spot with some people. I’ve heard time after time that “Those kids need to stop singing their upbeat music and get back to the basics of chant and older music, which the Church was founded on.”

Our good friends at the “New Liturgical Movement” focus their material on liturgical history, theology and praxis, sacred art, architecture, and music. Their group feels strongly about sacred music. I really enjoy this blog and I think it’s worth checking out if you haven’t done so (see side bar under Blog Squad). Alas, they value chant very highly and have numerous articles on why chant should still be utilized in the Church nowadays. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for chant and possess my very own “Greatest Chant Hits” yet there is something that catches my interest about contemporary Christian music. I’ve found that contemporary Christian music is largely taking over in the circles of younger kids and young adults. They sing loud and proud and throw their hands in the air giving praise to our Lord and Savior. Groups like, Lifeteen, help foster this type of music and use contemporary music for their masses. I care greatly about both groups and feel both types of music are reverent in their own way.

However, I believe there is a fine line between the old and new. I am not one for changing just to change but rather think that either changing something to make it better it worth doing or going back to what we know works is also valuable. Back in February Pope Benedict released his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis.” In this exhortation this Holiness speaks on the use of liturgical music, and mentions that:

“…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). 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).”

Yet, what Lifeteen, youth groups, contemporary churches, and colleges are doing, playing contemporary music at mass, is not incorrect by any means. Are guitars, drums, and violins, distracting us from the mass? Some would say yes, this is awful, while others would say, no, it draw me closer into prayer and communion with the rest of the community. I’ve heard others argue that a mass with contemporary music is anti-liturgical in meaning and that we’re making the liturgy to creative. That we lack the reverence the mass deserves and we are not abiding by the Church’s wisdom. The liturgy is not something that serves the culture but is something that is supposed to be set apart from the culture in order to worship God, and to worship Him but in the best way possible. If the Church's wisdom is that guitar music is not right for mass, then it would seem to simply follow that we would not use guitar music in mass. Yet, since there is nothing formally stated in writing should we tolerate it? Should we continue to do this? Is sheer "being able to do it" a good indicator that we should do it? Is this worship, deemed appropriate by the general instruction?

I feel like I’m caught in a pandora’s box with these types of music. I enjoy both types, yet I also do not want to go around the Church’s teachings and do what makes me happy. Once again a tough topic for some, especially for the younger generations. Therefore, should we change with the times by adjusting our way of thinking, which is still correct but different, or should we reaffirm the older, pre-Vatican II ways of life?

Almost forgot! Today is the feast day of my favorite saint, St. Dominic. Here is a good quote by him.
"A man who governs his passions is master of his world. We must either command them or be enslaved by them. It is better to be a hammer than an anvil."


Deacon Bill Burns said...

I like contemporary Christian musi a lot, but I don't think it's suitable or the Mass. For prayer meetings, youth groups, and the like, I see no problem with it. However, the Mass is a different experience and has a different focus.

I find that contemporary choirs (either fold or of the Lifeteen type) turn the Mass into a performance. People who serve in such liurgies need to see their contribution as a service to God, but I've seen a few too many who use it for their own glorification.

Cathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy said...

An excellent, heartfelt post.
Your genuine concern really comes through.

I can only offer you what I believe, which echoes what the previous commenter said.
Turning the Mass into a performance, making the focus on us instead of Christ, truly present, is a sacrilege.
Throwing one's hands into the air and shouting and dancing is a protestant way of worshiping. It's not wrong for them, but it's certainly wrong for us.
The Catholic Mass is not a performance, nor is it about us, or making us feel good, or happy.
It's the supreme act of worship of the one true God, and it should be treated as such.
Teenagers especially should be privy to this information. They should be catechized in this matter. Too many teens grow into adults who go "wherever" to church, because "God doesn't care what kind of church you go to, so long as you show up."
We owe it to them to teach them the truth.
I wish my catechesis wouldn't have been so lousy - maybe I wouldn't have wandered in a spiritual desert from age 17 til 30, committing all sorts of heinous sins before finally finding my way home, with the help of a priest who spoke the truth even though it wasn't always what I wanted to hear.
As far as changing with the times, the Church does not change with the times ("Hey! Society says abortion/gay marriage/whatever the latest trend is is okay, so why not?") because the Church exists outside of time. We have no right to try to change her or update her. She is not ours to fool with.
Although I heard the happy/clappy music as a teen, and even sang along, I hated it even then. Even then, something about it seemed uncomfortable, and I'm sure I am not an exception.
Again, an excellent post, and I look forward to reading more on the subject.

I hope this doesn't come across as snobby - that's not my intent, and it's not who I am, not at all.

Habemus Papam said...

The posts are great everyone!!! Thanks for responding. Can't wait to hear what Fr. V thinks. I'm sure he'll be commenting when he arrives back home. -HP

Sister Maxine said...

To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season... I concur with the above posts. The Contemporary Christian music is wonderful for Praise & Worship outside of the Mass, however, we still need to be cautious about the meanings within those songs. Keep in mind, that many of the Contemporary Christian Artists are not from the Catholic Faith. After reading a previous post from Fr. V, I really had to take a look at what some of these songs are saying. There are many that focus on "me" or "I" rather than God.

The Gregorian Chants are wonderful! I really enjoy listening to these during contemplative prayer, although they are in Latin (and my Latin has a lot to be desired). I also grew up with the old hymns at Mass and truly feel that they bring such a holiness to the worship.

Habemus Papam said...

Not sure of the age group of ppl reading the blog but I would be most interested to see what the high school kids would say. -HP

Melody K said...

When it comes to church music, does one size fit all? I agree that it shouldn't be all about "me". However classical/traditional music is not always more directed toward God than contemporary. I have known some classical musicians who played in church, who had egos the size of all outdoors. I have also known contemporary musicians who reflected the glory back to God.
Words matter, and we do want to be sure that the words we sing accurately reflect what we believe. And the music should be appropriate for the setting; I don't think anyone would want "St. Louis Jesuits" stuff for a Tridentine Mass. But I don't see anything wrong with using liturgically and theologically appropriate contemporary music, especially for something like a youth Mass; even though I much prefer the more traditional kind.

Cathy said...

Now THAT'S diplomacy!

Honestly, I go to the old Mass, so I wouldn't hear any of the newish stuff, but from the Haugen/Haas I've heard, it's frequently about us, and sometimes heretical.
But I have noooo problem with a newer hymn that's theologically sound.
I really don't prefer most of the new stuff because the lyrics are often goofy and the melodies unappealing to my ears, but that's just me.

HP -
I just turned 35.

Anonymous said...

Love the chants but also love the contemporary as well. There is something nice about hearing a song that you sang in Mass on Sunday during the week on the radio. It can take you back mentally to the Mass.

I also love for my kids to be able to sing out loud a song that is familiar to them. They do it frequently in the car as well as in the pew.

Keep up the good work HP.

Anonymous said...

ma beck

It's not just you. I just turned 43 and I couldn't agree more.

Today at mass I was disappointed with the music. I really don't like hearing that our Eucharist is "the finest of wheat."

My parish does have a mix of older and newer music and I agree it's ok to have newer music as long as it's theoretically sound.

The time I typically go to mass it's the more contemporary music and I really wish I could hit a different mass time when the hymns were not so contemporary, but I go when I need to go due to time restraints.