QUAERITUR: Is it okay for people to listen to music rather than always to sing everything during Mass?

From a priest:

Is it against the mind of the Church when a choir alone sings a hymn at the offertory and preparation of the gifts or are the people supposed to sing along as well?

No, it is not against the mind of the Church!

It is entirely proper for people actively to listen to good sacred music during Holy Mass.

The claim that everyone must sing everything, that if they listen they are being denied the opportunity to participate actively, is a canard.

That said, the music should be good, artistically speaking and in its performance, and it must be sacred.  The text should be sacred and the musical idiom appropriate for the sacred liturgy.

And that having been said, consider not having hymns at all during Mass, unless the hymn is used after the Church’s actual liturgical texts have been sung.

Let’s get rid of hymns.

The Church assigns antiphons certain moments during Mass. Those are the texts that ought to be sung first and foremost.  Everything else must take the back seat to the actual liturgical texts.

Down with hymns during Mass!

Form a schola cantorum!

There are other liturgical and devotional settings when hymns can be and ought to be used.

Use the Graduale Romanum for the Usus Recentior, the Ordinary Form, the Novus Ordo!

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64 Responses to QUAERITUR: Is it okay for people to listen to music rather than always to sing everything during Mass?

  1. Imrahil says:

    Let’s get rid of hymns.

    I disagree. Respectfully.

    One of the good things about the Old Mass is that there’s always someone there to do the praying (viz. the priest). The actual liturgical texts will not remain unprayed. Which, besides the “people praying the Mass texts itself” Mass (the Sung Mass in its variants, which can safely be put on the first place), there is liberty for other ways of devotionally attending Mass too (the Silent Mass with silent adoration, then, yes, the Pray-Sing-Mass, and so on).

    Though… let’s embank what has been dubbed “sister talk” in hymns, and let’s indeed get rid of “social worker talk” (no disrespect to this great profession!) and kindergarden talk and altogether embarassing talk in hymns. On the other hand, let there be fighting songs.

  2. Random Friar says:

    Not only is it ok, in some tone deaf people’s cases it should be mandatory. Oy vey.

  3. fvhale says:

    I cannot tell you how many classes, workshops and retreats I have attended over the years where at some point the participants are exhorted, trained, and reminded to practice “active listening.”
    But for some reason, there are many people, sometimes the very presenters at these workshops and retreats, who believe that such a thing is impossible in a church, and that if you are not “doing something,” you are failing at “active participation” in the liturgy (cf. SC 14).

  4. jaykay says:

    “It is entirely proper for people actively to listen to good sacred music during Holy Mass.”

    Or even, in the case of our choir, good-ish sacred music – I’m referring to the standards of performance :)

    Thankfully, over the last 3 years or so we have moved gradually away – even under the same slightly modernist-orientated director – from some of the dirges that used to be sung on a regular basis. “Beagle’s Things”, or whatever it was, has been consigned to the dump of history, along with “I watch the sunrise/sunset/sundance… whatever”. The Missa Orbis Factor has been introduced for major feasts and we have used the Missa pro Defunctis regularly during November. We even got some new members as a result – build it and they will come.

    I would love to see the proper antiphons being re-introduced but I don’t think our director – and bless him for what he actually has done – would go that far. In fact I’m not even sure he’d know about them, and he can be “touchy” to talk to on liturgical matters, so I haven’t mentioned them… yet. That being said, we do sing hymns or motets and apart from the unfortunately still-present “We give you thanks” (“for the song that sings our name”… what does that actually mean??) they are generally of an appropriate nature.

    Sometimes one of the priests does a blessing with holy water before Mass: would love to sing the Asperges or Vidi Aquam for that!

  5. Fr AJ says:

    To be very honest, I will say that looking at the folks in the pews and seeing numbers of people not singing annoys me. I tend to think they are daydreaming or just don’t want to be there and it seems to be the same people all the time. I hope they are listening and not thinking about what’s for lunch!

    When I was young, we had a pastor who would stop Mass and yell at people who were not singing. We would not start again until they picked up a missalette. Obviously over the top.

  6. kjmacarthur says:

    I attend one of the “Anglican Use” Ordinariate parishes, and our practice at the Offertory is for the choir to chant the proper antiphon and then to follow that by an anthem. The anthem is virtually always of a level of difficulty and art beyond the abilities of most parishioners to sing (composers include Byrd, Palestrina, Tallis, Vittoria, Mozart, Durufle, etc.) and is always a sacred text.

    I am not a licensed liturgist, so I cannot argue the appropriateness of this custom based on strictly liturgical principles, but psychologically it seems fitting, at the offertory, for the parish to offer its best music. For that to happen, the parish must delegate the task to its best singers. The rest of us offer our attention to the sung prayer and to the preparation of the gifts at the altar.

  7. Dismas says:

    There is truly nothing good or sacred about my singing. Anyone attempting to make me sing is just shooting themselves and others in the foot. For those of you blessed with the gift of singing, please, let your gift not go to waste but please refrain from judging those like myself who are not as blessed.

    I wish I could sing but for my part, in all charity, I will continue to refrain from singing at Mass. If it annoys others or tempts them to judgement I suppose that’ll just have to serve as a bonus additional note of discord.

  8. chantgirl says:

    I have always wondered when hymns snuck into the Mass as I have a ST. Gregory’s Hymnal from 1920, a St. Basil’s hymnal from around the same time, and numerous others that I’ve picked up on Ebay or found pdf’s for online. These are all pre-VatII but they all have a large number of English hymns. Were these hymns used during vespers? Mass? Forty-hours devotions? A decent number of low Masses have English hymns, so I’m assuming the large number of English hymns in the old books indicate a large number of low Masses before the Council? Perhaps they were mostly sung in liturgical functions outside of Mass? Honestly, even some of the hymns from before the Council were pretty bad- seriously sappy and trite with very predictable melodies.

  9. VexillaRegis says:

    Of course there should be hymns sung by the congregation in NO Masses! The offertory might be instrumental or sung by a schola, practical when people are searching their pockets and purses for money… Hymns are a great didactic thing, ask St Ambrose! Musically they (the good quality ones) enrichen the Mass and the congregation gets some singing practice – then you can pick some nice singers for your choir or schola.

    Of course you are not obligated to sing if you do not want to. And there are people who can’t sing without seriously annoying their neighbours…

  10. Midwest St. Michael says:

    “When I was young, we had a pastor who would stop Mass and yell at people who were not singing.”

    Well Fr AJ, there’s some “pastoral sensitivity” for ya’, yes? :)

    Even though I can sing with a decent voice (IMNSHO – hehe) – I would rather *pray*.

    “Oh yeah?” you say, “St. Augustine said ‘singing is praying twice’!”

    Well, as well documented on this blog, the vast majority of the “hymns” (if that’s what we want to call them) in our local parishes are from OCP or WLP missalettes. Blech!

    Many-many of them are focused on… *us*, not God!

    So, sorry pro-hymn singers. I will pray inwardly and if there is the occasional pre-1970 hymn being sung (or one that focuses on the almighty, not man), I will gladly join in.

    MSM

  11. VexillaRegis says:

    Hmm, you must have dreadful hymns over there!

  12. Scott W. says:

    The pushers of liturgical fluff-music have a vested interest in guilt-tripping laity into singing. Adding your voice to junky hymns formally legitimates the junky hymns. If you believe a song is unworthy of worship of Our Lord, don’t sing it! [Cue people diving down the subjectivist escape hatch]

  13. guatadopt says:

    Every time I hear “Unless a Grain of Wheat” or “They’ll Know we are Christians” or “Gather Us In” (shudder) or any number of wretched post Vatican II songs, I want to immediately get up, take my 6 young children to the nearest Eastern Orthodox Church and convert to the faith of my maternal grandparents.

  14. frahobbit says:

    We once had a priest who would yell at us if we didn’t respond at the parts of the Mass with enough vigor. I just avoided his Masses.

  15. frahobbit says:

    Also, I can find an older hymn with the same “meter” and sing those words with whatever melody is on, if it’s a “hymn” about ‘Gather us in’ or the ‘Season’s turning’.

  16. APX says:

    When people here say “hymns” what are they referring to? Über corny church songs like Gather Us In, Peace is Flowing Like a River, Table of Plenty, You Are the Voice, City of God, etc or those traditional hymns like Faith of Our Fathers, All Glory, Laud and Honour, Praise to the Lord, The Almighty, etc?

  17. StWinefride says:

    APX, the good stuff – definitely – including Bl Cardinal Newman’s Praise to the Holiest in the Height!

    Imrahil, definitely Fighting Songs!

    Faith of our fathers, living still
    In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,
    O how our hearts beat high with joy
    Whene’er we hear that glorious word!

    Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
    We will be true to thee till death!

    Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
    Were still in heart and conscience free;
    And blest would be their children’s fate,
    If they, like them should die for thee:

    Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
    We will be true to thee till death!

    Faith of our fathers, we will strive
    To win all nations unto thee;
    And through the truth that comes from God
    Mankind shall then indeed be free.

    Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
    We will be true to thee till death!

    Faith of our fathers, we will love
    Both friend and foe in all our strife,
    And preach thee, too, as love knows how
    By kindly words and virtuous life.

    Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
    We will be true to thee till death!

    Frederick William Faber (1814-1863)

  18. Nathan says:

    Fr. Z: “Down with hymns during Mass!”

    This is such a third rail–so many people, after agreeing with you about translations, the ars celebrendi, and even the theology/ecclesiology of a traditional approach to offering the Holy Mass, will not budge one inch when you suggest that we should sing the texts Church’s liturgy rather than the personally selected texts of the choir director or pastor (even if, no–especially– if, they are good and orthodox).

    I’m wondering if, in the USA, some of that may be attributed to (fairly or unfairly) German influences, where I believe common practice for a couple of centuries at least was for the laity to sing strophed hymn vernacular adaptations over the celebrant as he said the Gloria, Offertory, Credo, and Communion during Low Mass. In any case, there’s a lot of people holding on tightly to either their “eagles’ wings” or “O Sacrament Most Holy” as a substitute (in the OF of course) for the texts of the Holy Mass.

    The problem is that such substitution is licit (as the fourth option) in the GIRM. You also have to work pretty hard in many parishes to find a Gradual (which Jeffery Tucker and the fine folks at “Chant Cafe” and CMA are laboring mightily to fix) or viable musical texts for the Entrance Antiphon, Gradual Psalm, Offertory Antiphon (not even in the Roman Missal, at least before the new translation), and Communion Antiphon.

    I am embarrassed every time (I occasionally play organ for Holy Mass in the OF) I have to “select hymns” that substitute for the actual texts of the Church’s Sacred Liturgy. Who the hell am I to say that one text is more fitting than another in the Catholic Church’s official worship of Almighty God? I just think that it is going to take a long while to get to where the hymn preference is not a common occurrence.

    In Christ,

  19. Joan M says:

    For someone who has an acute ear for sharp or flat notes, or just drifting lower and lower as the verse goes on, it can be veritably painful to listen to, much less try to sing with a congregation that simply cannot hold a tune!

    I usually go to Mass on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in my territorial parish. There are usually between 8 and 15 people there (not counting the priest). They sing an entrance hymn, the Alleluia, an Offertory hymn, the Lamb of God, and a recessional. If there are 9 people there, there are, minimum 3 different keys being used, and no more than 2 or 3 actually know the tune well!

    This morning I am certain that my face was screwed up as if I had just bitten down on a lemon! Thankfully, the only person who could have seen would have been the priest, as I sit in the back pew! I really wish he would decide to have no hymns at all……. And, no, I do not sing – anymore. I used to have quite a good voice, but in the past 15 years it has seriously deteriorated and I can no longer trust it.

  20. VexillaRegis says:

    APX: All Glory, Laud and Honour, Lead, kindly light and the like! But this is Northen Europe and our hymnal does not contain more than a few bad hymns, so we are lucky. Add to that a “traddie” pastor. :-)

  21. APX says:

    BTW: What I find particularly painful to my senses and über corny to the stricteth degree is when “Rain Down” is used during the Sprinkling Rite throughout the Easter Season. I would really like to see it made required that Vidi Aquam is sung during that in the proper chant and not some sing song composition by someone like Bon Hurd or Marty Haugan.

  22. cheerios in my pocket says:

    Hi! I just found you via Michael Voris. God bless you, Fr. Zuhlsdorf! I am currently going through an identity crisis at Holy Mass. I was blessed to attend Mass at The College of St. Mary Magdalen — so very reverent, communion rail present and used by all (which I miss so very much). I agree that the hymns can go. It is time that all of the faithful worship and reverence the Lord. I have also been blessed by The Lyceum School Schola Cantorum. Mr. Voris may have heard them at the annual Cleveland RTL Symposium. My 2 eldest children (now college age) attended The Lyceum School where the entire school (around 50 students) sings Sacred Polyphony, Gregorian Chant, and even the Divine Liturgy. Try http://www.thelyceum.org if you want to listen to what ought to be sung in Church.

  23. tgarcia2 says:

    Interesting this came up today.

    I had some students from Juarez come to our Newman center at UTEP and ask if it was ok for non-Catholic hymns to play during Mass.

    I don’t think so, neither did our Deacon. Anyone able to shead light on this?

  24. Simon_GNR says:

    No, the congregation doesn’t have to sing along!! Although it’s not Mass and it’s not Catholic, as a former Anglican cathedral boy chorister, I’ve always thought one of the most sublime liturgical services is choral evensong in a Church of England cathedral – imitated by at least two Catholic cathedrals in England [Liverpool and Westminster] as choral vespers. Usually at choral evensong the congregation sing absolutely nothing, but can listen prayerfully to the singing of the psalms for the day, the Magnifact & Nunc Dimittis (Simeon’s words from Luke 2.29) set to music and an anthem which is usually sacred texts or other religious poetry set to music. Prayer and praise is offered to God in beautiful music excellently performed – the striving for perfection in the singing and playing is a very effective way of praising the Lord, I think.

    One of my fellow choristers from the 1970′s was Master of Music at Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral for a number of years and I would think that their way of singing choral vespers has a degree of Anglican influence.

  25. jacobi says:

    Let’s get rid of hymns”

    Couldn’t agree more Father.

    Hymn singing is very much in the Protestant tradition. The Novus Ordo Mass I attend usually has five hymns, sometimes even six. That can amount to about 45% of the Mass. What is worse is that many of them are of very doubtful theology with, for instance much reference to bread and wine, but little to the Real Presence. Usually they are irrelevant to the actual Mass and just a fill-in.

    In particular the final hymn should be replaced with the traditional antiphons to Our Lady, sung after the Mass. We have a tradition of Gregorian Chant which must be restored, and if there is a need for more singing what about singing the Creed, the Our Father (as the GRIM suggests) and maybe even the Gloria, the Agnus Dei and the Domine Non Sum Dignus.

  26. Random Friar says:

    @tgarcia2: A qualified yes. We sing songs supposedly penned by Martin Luther (or at least very Lutheran), which we would not dare take out (Lo’ how a rose ‘er blooming) and by any number of non-Catholic sources.

    But as for secular songs, no. There’s references in the GIRM and other sources, but the short of it is no. Even “Praise and Worship” music can be allowed, although this is an inferior choice for Mass, imho. I think in the traditional caroling before Midnight Christmas Mass, you could sing all about Rudolph, etc, but once Mass starts, it better have the Baby Jesus and no Santa or elves or talking snowmen, imho again.

  27. tgarcia2 says:

    @Random Friar-

    Thanks for the info! I believed their question was more in line with non-Caholic, non-secular songs but I’ll relay the info.

    Thanks!

  28. acricketchirps says:

    God bless you Dismas, and move more to be like you.

  29. Cathy says:

    The biggest problem I have with hymns is the tendency to internalize what is sung. I have trouble singing songs in which the congregation refers to themselves in a hymn as God, and various other messages that are sung. A hymn should be theologically sound or rejected. If we sing hymns with heretical content, we internalize heresy. In as much as a sermon may be memorable or forgettable in regards to content, what is sung over and over again is internalized and committed to memory. In a generation in which sound catechesis found rejection as rote memorization, warm, fuzzy confusing communication through musical text has committed itself to memory. I don’t think we appreciate the transcendent power of communication through song or how much the text that is sung matters.

  30. acricketchirps says:

    @Fr AJ: To be very honest, I will say that looking at the folks in the pews and seeing numbers of people not singing annoys me. I tend to think they are daydreaming or just don’t want to be there …

    Well, there’s an easy solution to that: turn around and don’t look.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  31. wmeyer says:

    It is entirely proper for people actively to listen to good sacred music during Holy Mass.

    How about if I actively tune out the many bad, banal “hymns” with which we are often bombarded? I believe my worship would be better served by silent prayer and meditation.

  32. wolfeken says:

    Let’s not forget that hymns (as we know them today) are Protestant in origin. The original “hymns” were Gregorian chants from the Office. But the quarter note, quarter note “hymn” sung at most Catholic churches today are usually Lutheran or Anglican.

    In fact, even Father Louis (Thomas Merton) observed this in Seven Story Mountain about an Episcopalian church where his dad played the organ: “…there was a lectern, shaped like an eagle with outspread wings, on which rested a huge Bible. Nearby was an American flag, and above that was one of those little boards they have in Protestant churches, on which the numbers of the hymns to be sung are indicated by black and white cards.”

  33. wolfeken says:

    Sorry, “Storey.”

  34. Blaise says:

    Can I play chant through my earphones if the congregation is murdering a terrible hymn?

  35. Midwest St. Michael says:

    “Well, there’s an easy solution to that: turn around and don’t look.”

    @ acricketchirps

    Oh Man! Really did laugh out loud at that one, acc.

    It’s not my blog, but I think it deserves hard consideration for poet of the day! :)

    MSM

  36. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Sorry! “post” not “poet”. :( But, you may well be one, though. :)

    (It’s dark in here and I cannot type very well)

    MSM

  37. jaykay says:

    Random Friar: “Lo how a rose e’er blooming is surely o.k. I love Praetorius. Would really love to do his “Von himmel hoch…” as a recessional. Or “In dulci jubilo…”. As done by The Sixteen in Rosskilde cathedral with two baroque organs and band. Great recording, seek it out. Soul-shuddering!

  38. acardnal says:

    For what it’s worth, folks, I cannot sing. I cannot carry a tune. I know this and respect this fact. For me to sing would be an insult to the composer and probably offend many in the congregation. On the other hand, I absolutely love to hear sacred polyphony and Gregorian chant sung by a trained schola or choir. I pray as I listen. It raises my heart and mind to God and heaven.

  39. jesusthroughmary says:

    At our Latin Mass, we choose hymns for the people to sing at the processional and recessional only. (Our parish purchased several hundred copies of the St. Michael Hymnal about three years ago.) During Mass proper, we sing the Propers (some Rossini, some Graduale depending on the complexity and the personnel we have available) and a motet at offertory and/or communion. Some of the Mass settings we use (Mass VIII, Mass XI in particular) are familiar to and sung by the people; others are unfamiliar to them and they don’t sing. At our principal Novus Ordo, we use three hymns, no propers, the abominable Responsorial Psalm in lieu of the Gradual, a sung Ordinary either in English or Latin, and some sort of choir anthem at Communion. That Mass is trending toward Tradition. The rest of the Masses are four hymn sandwiches.

    I rather enjoy hearing the people sing the great, traditional hymns, but it should never be at the expense of the Propers and Fr. Z is on solid liturgical ground when he says that they really shouldn’t be sung during Mass at all.

  40. mike cliffson says:

    “Let’s get rid of hymns.” hurrah!
    Well at mass at least!
    We can sing “faith of our fathers” on the pilgrimage to Lourdes , etc
    Let’s get rid of hymns.
    Let’s get rid of hymns.
    Let’s get rid of hymns.

  41. Imrahil says:

    Dear @StWinifrede,

    hoo—ray!

    A house full of glory’s watching
    far over all the land,
    it’s built from precious sto-o-one
    by God’s masterful hand! (2, 3, 4)
    God, we’re lauding thee! God, we’re prasing the! Let in the house of thee us all secure souls be!

    It’s splendidly garlanded
    with pow’rful tow’rs as arms
    and up above is glistening
    the Cross which them alarms (2, 3, 4)
    God, we’re lauding thee! etc.

    Around the walls is raving
    the strom: it’s rage is wild,
    the House will be surviving,
    it is on firm ground built! (2,3,4)
    God, we’re lauding thee! etc.

    Granted the En’my’s threat’ning,
    the Hell’s powers are about,
    the Savior’s love and batteling
    is watching for the sprout! (2,3,4)
    God, we’re lauding thee! etc.

    And right at the Son’s side stands
    the purest virgin e’er,
    around her are crowding all of us,
    the troops that’re conquered ne’er! (2,3,4)
    God, we’re lauding thee! etc.

    Many thousands have yet sheeded
    with holy lust their blood,
    the range is firmly clo-o-sed
    and courage of faith abounds! (2,3,4)
    God, we’re lauding thee! etc.

    Let’s go! by love ignited
    we, too, to holy fight!
    The Lord, who has built all the house,
    will give vict’ry in His might! (2,3,4)
    God, we’re lauding thee! God, we’re praising thee! Let in the house of thee us all secure souls be!

    Forgive the lausy translation.

  42. acardnal says:

    Fr AJ says:
    To be very honest, I will say that looking at the folks in the pews and seeing numbers of people not singing annoys me. I tend to think they are daydreaming or just don’t want to be there and it seems to be the same people all the time. I hope they are listening and not thinking about what’s for lunch!

    I am sure it has nothing to do with the terribly banal and non-sacral music/hymns chosen. Or the insipid way Mass is celebrated.

  43. CharlesG says:

    If you said get rid of hymns written after, say, 1965, I would agree, but I do like the old hymns, even if some are of Protestant origin, so long as the words are orthodox. I do understand that the propers are the first and preferred choice in the GIRM, and it is ridiculous that most Catholics never hear a sung proper or Gregorian Chant in a month of Sundays, and don’t even know what propers are. They certainly should be sung much more often. However, I think a stirring traditional hymn, especially if appropriate to the day or the season, can be wonderful. I personally wouldn’t mind it being after an introit, offertory or communion antiphon, as you suggest, or as a recessional, but if particularly appropriate, I don’t mind a hymn occasionally replacing a proper. Surely, for example, Adeste Fideles (O Come all ye Faithful) as an entrance hymn at Midnight Mass would not be the end of the liturgical world.

  44. happyCatholic says:

    Through reading Jeffrey Tucker’s informative columns in The Wanderer for a long time now, I am beginning to understand music’s role in the liturgy, about which I was clueless, even after 16 years of supposedly Catholic education. (It was the sixties, seventies and very early eighties). And I am beginning to absorb the concept of “no hymns.”

    However, that being said, there is a part of me who longs to sing “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “Praise We Christ’s Immortal Body.” The melodies are haunting, and the verses are drenched in mystery and majesty. Anyone who hears or sings them would have no doubt as to what Catholicism teaches about the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

  45. JKnott says:

    It seems to me that prior to the Protestant Revolt, most Catholics accepted the rubrics of the Mass. Now we have good Catholics going back and forth with opinions about liking or not liking hymns at Mass; should or shouldn’t be there; which ones are more acceptable etc. . It all strikes me that the Protestantized Mass has had it’s way with us. Protestants interpret Scripture as they like, form thousands of denominations all based on their expressed opinions of what they like or don’t like. That is what I am reading in this thread. Father Z said it plainly:, “There are other liturgical and devotional settings when hymns can be and ought to be used.”

  46. happyCatholic says:

    Well, JKnott, you do have a point, which reiterates Father Z’s: if hymns are not integral or are “foreign” to the liturgy, no matter how lovely they are, they don’t belong there, period.

    And, if I never had to hear about seeing a flower means I have seen Jesus Christ, or sing about comrades, it would be a small price to pay to miss my favorites. One parish I attended had a processional hymn and a recessional hymn (remember those? instead of “gathering hymns” and whatever) but I believe the liturgical texts where properly sung — I don’t know if that is a “solution” or permissible or not.

  47. Michelle F says:

    For the record, I’m with Fr. Z: ditch the hymns, and sing the Church-given liturgical texts instead!

    Now, for some of my own observations relating to some of the subjects others above have mentioned:

    Congregation Participation: My parish has a highly accomplished choir which is present for only one of the five Masses we have on Sundays. I have noticed in my parish that about half of the congregation will sing any given hymn when the choir is present. If the hymn has a difficult melody, almost no one in the pews will sing it. If the hymn is a familiar Catholic favorite, such as Immaculate Mary (Lourdes Hymn), almost everyone in the pews sings it, including when the choir is not present. (Our priest can get nearly 100% participation on that one even when the organist is absent!)

    Takeaway for priests and choir directors: Use the old Catholic hymns if you want your congregations to sing. Not only are the melodies familiar, they were written to be sung by people who do not have trained voices: the notes are not excessively high or low, the meter isn’t odd nor does it make strange shifts, etc.

    The “I Can’t Sing” Excuse: I didn’t sing songs for any reason until I joined the Catholic Church (at age 30), and I discovered that I was expected to sing as part of being a Catholic and worshipping in a Catholic manner. This was not something I wanted to do, and Lord knows I couldn’t sing, never having done it, but I wanted to be Catholic, so I started singing. I sang softly at Mass so I wouldn’t get my neighbors befuddled by my being off-key, and I started listening to and singing along with Catholic tapes and CDs at home. I didn’t do this for hours at a time, just a few times a week, and not even every week. After a couple of years, however, I discovered that I was able to do a reasonable job of singing the simple hymns. Now, after 14 years, I can even do a reasonable job singing the simple hymns a capella when the organist isn’t present.

    Takeaway for my fellow pew-sitters: “I can’t sing” is not a valid excuse. If you sing at every Sunday Mass for a year, and only at Mass, you will be surprised at how well you can sing after only 52 weeks. One thing that helped me to do this was keeping this little fact in mind: The Lord wants me to sing; if the Lord wanted me to sing melodiously with a sweet voice, He would have given me one; He didn’t give me one, so I will sing to Him with the one He gave me; if He doesn’t like it, He can fix it. (He got me to the point where I can blend in with others, but I will never make it into a choir, and it’s not necessary that I be that good.)

    The Songs Are Heretical: Um, yes, that is a problem.

    My Solution: I don’t sing them. I go to Mass to worship God, and I don’t see how blaspheming Him, the Church, or the Catholic Faith in general fits with that purpose. I check the hymns before Mass starts, and if I see that one or all of them contradict or undermine the Catholic Faith on any point, I don’t sing them.

    I used to think it was sufficient to avoid everything Protestant, and whatever was written by Haugen or Haas, but now that the 3rd Edition of the Missal is in use and the hymnals have been updated for it, I have decided that anything with a copyright date of 1969 or later is to be avoided – as well as everything Protestant. The problem isn’t simply the horrible melodies, the lyrics always either undermine or flatly contradict what we believe as Catholics. If it isn’t the man-centered, happy-clappy “we are church”/social justice drivel, then it’s Amazing Grace, which is pure sola fide. These songs are a significant part of the reason that the average Catholic does not know or believe what the Church teaches.

    I apologize for the longish rant, but the garbage we sing in parishes is high on my list of pet peeves, and I just needed to rant a bit. Thanks for reading.

    P.S. – I hate the sanitized version of Amazing Grace. If you’re going to sing it, keep the word WRETCH in it. At least that part is true, and it fits with the breast-beating we are supposed to do during the Confiteor!

  48. St. Epaphras says:

    My “quaeritur”: Is it okay for people to TRY NOT to listen to “music” during Mass? Since almost none of the songs at my local parish are hymns of any sort (let alone Catholic hymns) and they fit into the heretical, Protestant, narcissistic, childish and stupid or other categories, I just find something better to do, something which occupies the mind to help tune them out. I refuse to sing a word of them. When we have a jewel such as “Panis Angelicus” I sing out.

    Singing those awful songs seems to come too close to the Nine Ways of Being an Accessory to Another’s Sin: by “partaking”.

    And if there are good, solid Catholic hymns sung (and I am not saying there should or should not be hymns during Mass), why are they only written in unison? With some I can sing a confident harmony part from memory, but with others it’s a little trickier. It’s sooo much easier to just read the notes. When the hymn goes out of range, who wants to squeak? None of the hymnals in parishes I’ve attended in my few years as a Catholic have anything but the melody line for people to sing. It’s a shame but makes some sense, I guess. Those fluffy stupid non-hymns aren’t worth arranging in parts. However, all real Catholic hymn books should have hymns with PARTS — four of them.

    That’s my rant and it’s short this time. Very late….

  49. StWinefride says:

    Actually, I have changed my mind. No hymns during Mass.

    It’s true, everything has its place.

  50. JimP says:

    Most of the time I would much rather not listen to the hymns at Mass, but short of wearing earplugs or noise cancelling headphones I can’t avoid it. That said, I would not like to have all hymns at Mass done away with, but there are a lot of them I would like never to hear again. To paraphrase the Lord High Executioner, “I have a little list, and they’d none of them be missed”. My background is Methodist and Anglican, and I know that there are many wonderful, worshipful English language hymns. For example, consider the Episcopal 1940 hymnal (excepting at least Once to Every Man and Nation), or the Adoremus Hymnal, which includes the Latin chant for the OF Mass. My admittedly limited experience at Catholic parishes tells me the norm is music of the Haugen/Haas/Schutte/Joncas genre or worse, and I have heard worse. Instead of Let All Mortal Flesh be Silent during Communion we get Gather Us In. I can’t sing the “voice of God” hymns, or the “all about us” hymns like Sing a New Church, so I keep my mouth closed, focus on the crucifix, remind myself that it’s not entertainment, and pray that it’s not my pride or vanity that makes me feel the way that I do.

  51. Imrahil says:

    Dear @CharlesG, I agree. And then there’s of course the rubrics that say that at the end of a Midnight Mass, the lights have to turn out except candles and the Christmas Tree, and Silent Night has to be sung.

    [Of course they are no actual rubrics, but you'd get an uproar if they wouldn't be followed.]

  52. Pingback: Do I Have to Sing? | Access Catholic

  53. TundraMN says:

    GREAT RESOURCE ALERT!!!!!! READ “SPIRIT OF THE LITURGY” BY THEN CARDINAL RATZINGER!!!!! I read this book on silent retreat once and it changed the way I see the Mass for the better. I used to buy into the whole “active participation” fad where it’s downright weird to not sing along with the Marty Haugen responses. I learned that what’s really important in the way of participation is internal, active participation. External participation can be a result of inner participation, but it isn’t necessary. Then again, one can avoid the whole conundrum and go to an EF Mass.

  54. PA mom says:

    I love to sing, and with the children, am unable to be in the choir at this time. This issue to me is about doing it right rather than not allowing people to sing at all during Mass. The offertory might be better served by a choir singing alone. Sometimes we are reaching around in purses, or directing children towards the man with the basket; there is distraction during this time.
    I find the greatest support of my contemplation of God during Mass to occur when the choir is singing a (rare) Latin hymn during communion, or there is instrumental music. Other songs with lyrics I know (good or bad) keep dragging my attention to them, instead of internal prayer. Is it of greater importance that I attend to Jesus so very present, or quick swallow Him away and drag out a hymnal?

  55. eben says:

    Going out on a limb here; not sure what the difference is between a Hymm and a prayer, but I truly enjoy singing the Gloria; its very moving and it reinforces the power of community prayer. But, that’s just me I guess. BTW, I sing along with the Gloria, but unless your right next to me, you’ll probably not here me.

  56. The Masked Chicken says:

    “And that having been said, consider not having hymns at all during Mass, unless the hymn is used after the Church’s actual liturgical texts have been sung.
    Let’s get rid of hymns.
    The Church assigns antiphons certain moments during Mass. Those are the texts that ought to be sung first and foremost. Everything else must take the back seat to the actual liturgical texts.
    Down with hymns during Mass!”

    Oh, pooh. I’m all for antiphons. Antiphons are cool, but why hate the hymns? Hymns have a lovely, rich musical history going back to the Church Fathers…oh, you mean THOSE hymns…

    A little history: Luther is the first person credited with writing the German Chorale. The original chorale was monophonic (single voice) and usually either was a psalm-setting or paraphrased a psalm (under a Protestant interpretation of music favored by the strict Calvinists called, the regulative principle of worship) or new composed, but still tied to psalmic texts (the Protestant interpretation of worship music favored by Lutherans called, the normative principle of worship). Luther wrote his chorales in, “the vernacular,”. (I’m looking at you, Hagen and Haas), using either new compositions, such as Ein Feste Burg, or writing contra facta words to pre-existing Catholic chants, for example, Christ lag in Todes Banden, which was sung to the sequence melody of Victimae paschali laudes. There were “harmonizations,” of these chorales as early as 1532, where the chorale was given 4 – 6 part harmony (the harmony of the period being very simple scalar-based). In the 1560′s, the chorale transformed into the chorale motet, which had three-voice harmony as its standard. During the Early Baroque, the chorale motet was expanded into the chorale cantata, which became Bach’s favorite form.

    Newly composed words became common after Issac Watts (1674 – 1748), “liberated,” the words from their tight connection to the psalms. It was during this period that the 4-voice standard, “hymn,” developed. This is, in part, because equal temperament allowed for the development of a standard theory of harmony based on the, “Fundamental Bass,” theory of Rameau.

    Here’s the point: hymnody is a very old and a revered part of Catholic tradition. Looked at with a squinty eye, the early Lutheran chorale was a relaxed (metrically and rhyming) version of the sequence and the chorale motet was a variant on the Late Medieval motet, in the vernacular. The thing is, these early hymns rotted with excess and were eventually suppressed by the Church in the 11th-century, rose again, and later lost for good when the Breviarium Romanum was updated by Pope Urban VIII in 1631. It is not fair to say that hymns have not played a part in liturgical worship, including the Mass.

    There are three reasons why there were no hymns (as we now think of them) in the EF: 1) Trent eschewed anything even remotely connected with the secular, such as the increasingly polyphonic settings of the madrigals of the period, 2) most if the good, “hymn,” settings at the time were being done by Protestants – the very heresy they were trying to overcome, 3) Trent favored chant as a unifying agent. Had things worked out differently in the theology area, I could imagine a situation where homophonic or even polyphonic antiphons sung by the choir might exist.

    Alas, the hymn-idea could have been used effectively, even in the EF, but the modern hymn just does not contribute to the Mass as a unified whole in the same way that chant or even early Latin hymns did.

    The Chicken

  57. Imrahil says:

    But dear @Chicken, the hymn-idea has been used, and in the EF, to great effect! For instance the devotional prayers for Mass attenders by J. P. Neumann, set to tune by Franz Schubert, and still popular to this day.

    Where is the place to turn to, when grief sets me apa-art?
    To whom shall I give praises, when joyf’lly jumps myhy hea-art?
    To Thee, To Thee, O Fa-ather,
    comes I with jo-oy a-and sorrow,
    for Thou, Thou sendst the plea-a-sures
    and healest evry smart*.

    This way it begins. (Actually it beginns with an embracing rhyme, but find a rhymeword for “turn to”…)

    [*According to Google translator, that means "pain". I couldn't believe that I found something for the rhyme!]

  58. The Masked Chicken says:

    Not in the liturgy, but as an adjunct. Those are devotional prayers.

    The Chicken

  59. GypsyMom says:

    CheeriosInMyPocket,
    No need for a Mass identity crisis in the Cleveland (Oh) area–come to the 11 am Mass on Sundays at Mary Queen of Peace, 4423 Pearl Rd. (near the zoo). The schola (open to anyone who can, or is willing to learn how to, sing) sings beautiful polyphony, chant, and propers. You’ll feel like a bona fide Catholic again! Haugen and Haas are banned there!

  60. Dave N. says:

    While I find Jeffrey Tucker completely unqualified to write about music and think that some of Bill Mahrt’s ideas about the historical development of the Mass could only be coming from Bill Mahrt’s vivid imagination—even if only by accident, they arrive at very correct conclusions.

    If ever there were a case to be made for euthanasia, it’s on behalf of the long, very ugly Catholic experiment with incorporating Luther’s Early Modern ideas about hymnody into the Mass. The Bishops, also likely more by accident rather than intent, have never really supported it. I mean, even the UNITARIANS have the wherewithal and publishing competence to produce a hymnal! But since this apathy in the hierarchy also produces a nice revenue stream for the family that controls GIA (c.f. the Revised Grail Psalter), the publishers keep churning out “stuff” like the energizer bunny. Follow the money.

    I’ve always thought of those nasty missalette-ish things (Breaking Bread comes to mind) as the perfect symbol of this phenomenon–it’s printed on newsprint, entirely disposable, and not worth keeping around for more than a couple of months. Both the 18-jillion iterations of Gather and, on the other side of the spectrum, the also pretty awful Adoremus Hymnal need to meet their swift and merciful end. Sorry, but this particular cash cow has been milked long enough.

    Just make it stop.

  61. acardnal says:

    Dave N., anything or anyone you would recommend?

  62. Dave N. says:

    As Fr. Z. notes, the Graduale. One thing Bill Mahrt does excel at is that he clearly demonstrates that the Graduale can (and indeed, should) be used. He walks the talk.

  63. cheerios in my pocket says:

    GypsyMom
    Thanks so much for the invite! I have heard many good things of Mary, Queen of Peace. Your Pastor is highly regarded ; however, part of my identity crisis is the music (which you seem to have covered). The other and perhaps the most important part is the reverence of our Lord … receiving His Body kneeling preferably at a communion rail (although I have asked 2 different Pastors to please accommodate those of us who cannot just drop to our knee to provide a kneeler beside the Priest in order to receive on our knees should we want to follow a reverent tradition–no response from either), and being still in His Presence in the Tabernacle. I don’t see a rail nor a Tabernacle centrally located on the Mary, Queen of Peace website. Additionally, extraordinary ministers should be used sparingly according to the Faith, yet, they are scheduled. How do we hold our Lord in Adoration, Benediction, etc., where Priests won’t even handle the monstrance with their bare hands–and yet, we have “ministers” distributing the Body of Christ into the hands of fellow parishioners? Women in the sanctuary, reading, altar girls, and distributing the Body of Christ seems to me that we have joined the foolish culture. I cannot help but believe we have become hypocrites. We have lost so very much. That is where my crisis is at this moment. Please pray for me.

  64. mia says:

    Since my new parish doesn’t know what Propers are, I decided to post the following in the parish bulletin.

    Music Ministry Corner?

    What is that random thing the cantor sings at Communion? “,
    one of my students asked.
    The cantor (or sometimes the choir) sings Communion Proper (also known as the Communion antiphon) with psalm verses. Propers are the Mass parts that change week to week or day to day, and the unchanging texts of the Mass parts are called ‘Ordinary parts’ of the Mass, such as ‘Gloria’, ‘Holy, Holy’, ‘Our Father’, etc. The text of the Propers is from the Scriptures, and given by the Church for the Mass of the day. They are different from hymns, which are written by individuals. There are Propers for Entrance, Offertory and Communion, and the Propers have been sung for at least 1500 years for High Mass or Sung Mass. “As sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy,” says the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosantum Concilium #112) . By listening and singing the texts of the Holy Mass, we participate in the universal prayers of the One Holy Catholic Church.
    During communion of the priest, who is carrying out the action of Christ during the Mass as ’Christ in Person,’ we are reminded of Christ and his first Communion at the Last supper. The Communion Proper truly highlights this precious moment, while it also helps us to reflect on the beautiful Scripture passages that are sung, before we receive Him who ‘comes in the name of Lord.’ We humbly experience ‘The Word becomes flesh’ during the Mass as we receive ‘the Word’ in the Reading and ‘the flesh and soul of Christ‘ in Communion. The Holy Mass truly transcends time and space, even then and now. The authentic liturgical music supports the action of the Holy Mass as we enter the Sacred Mystery and experience Heaven on earth