QUAERITUR: young people, music, Mass and entertainment

From a reader:

In my experience when Masses are celebrated with a children’s choir or a teen band it seems that the focus of the Liturgy shifts from the Sacrifice of the Mass to the children that are singing or the teens that are reading at that Mass.

I know that the children that participate in such events can have a great time doing so, and that they bring great joy to the congregation. Does the joy experienced by the children, and the possible deepening of their faith, make it okay for this to happen, granted that they are within the guidelines of the Church in regards to sacred music?

I note that you say, "within the guidelines of the Church in regards to sacred music". 

If that is indeed the case, and the guidelines really are being followed in a deep sense and not merely a shallow, then I trust that the power of the liturgical action, by saying the black and doing the red, will bring about a beneficial effect…. beneficial for religion, that is.

But a lot of rubbish is done in the name of being "within the guidelines".  The letter may be followed and the whole core of what the Church is trying to accomplish is violated.  Just because the Church provides for flexibility in music styles or provides options and substitutions doesn’t mean that such substitutions are good to be done.

So, I circle back around to the point.

No, it isn’t "okay" simply because they are having a good time or others attain a nice feeling as they watch.

First, Mass isn’t entertainment.  The whole point of Holy Mass not to create a human experience, but rather to have an encounter with mystery. Our human experiences at Mass must be conditioned by and predicated on our religious goals.  

Music in liturgy has a purpose.  Of course it can delight and move and edify.  But it must be above all an experience of the sacred, both for the congregation and for those who perform the music.  Music is not an add on to the liturgy. It is part of the sacred liturgical action itself.  Therefore the texts and music must be conformed to first to the point of Holy Mass.  Then other considerations can be considered, such as how the music expresses our cultural, societal, community identity.

What the Church asks for and has to give to us must have logical priority when it comes to every dimension of the sacred action of Holy Mass.

The argument might be raised that if children have fun, they will like going to Mass.  If they don’t have fun, they won’t go.  They will think Mass is boring and religion dreary.

If they think that way, then the problem doesn’t rest in how Mass is being celebrated.  It rests in the formation the children received from their parents and their cultural/intellectual formation as well.  It might rest in the example, or lack thereof, of parents themselves and how they formed their children, or didn’t form them.  Children must be readied and formed over time to be able to accept in a greater and more profound degree what is being offered to them during the sacred action of Holy Mass.

Giving them unworthy, non-liturgical music for the sake of distraction, cuteness, fun, whatever, is another way of lying to them.

A false impression is given of what Mass is and what the virtue of religion is and who they are in the face of fearful mystery.

So.. no.  I don’t think it is okay if the motive is simply to "bring joy".  Do that in the Church hall afterward.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. cato_the_younger says:

    Father –

    I’m a convert to the faith. I was raised an athiest. As such my upbrining lacked formation. I am now a father. I will of course lead by example and instruction, but, do you have any recommendations for a good book on raising a Catholic family.

  2. momoften says:

    I went to a children’s Mass this morning. UGHHHHHHHHH. The priest decided the children’s responses were not loud enough (they were) so they screamed back the responses each time he reminded them. The servers (2 girls one boy) had no clue what they were doing….They needed 3 readers for 1 reading taking turns every few lines…They finished the Mass singing and clapping their hands to the Music. I only attended because it was a Mass for my mother. On top of everything, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes was never mentioned—it was a very difficult mass for me-by choice I don’t attend them! They are only about entertaining, not instructing—sad

  3. Brian M says:

    Momoften, yes the situation that you describe is very sad indeed, we need to pray for their conversion. However, please keep in mind that in the Novus Ordo today’s celebration of Our Lady of Lourdes today, is an optional memorial

  4. Robin says:

    In my opinion, the idea that a Mass must be entertaining and must hold the attention of children by means of gimmicks is a mistake.
    Children can absorb more of the Mass than most might think, without being made the center of it. If a child is brought to a church which is a place of beauty, where he sees adults behave with great reverence, and is taught that the Mass is the central mystery of our lives as Catholics, he will be much more likely to develop proper aesthetic and religious sensibilities than the child who is trained to see Mass as a place to perform antics for his amusement.

  5. Al says:

    Father Z – How can we get you a Global Catholic Audience on this issue

  6. Andrew says:

    “The argument might be raised that if children have fun, they will like going to Mass. If they don’t have fun, they won’t go. They will think Mass is boring and religion dreary.”

    This is the argument many self-described pastoral types make: and see how it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If, week after week, our kids/teens are given the message that the Mass is supposed to be “fun”, entertaining, rocking, etc., then they will expect it always to be that way, and they will learn to judge it according to these malformed standards. A more reverent celebration will naturally strike them as boring, and, knowing no standards other than their subjective experience, they might well reject it. Giving the kids a “good time”, as Father puts it, is a tragic shortchanging.

    We will create a kind of spiritual-aesthetic deafness in the young if we blast high-decibel noise at them throughout their formation.

    We must work to form the tastes of the young (and the older) so that they might learn to find delight in the forms that the Church prescribes in her laws. Deeper spiritual fruits will come from this.

  7. priest up north says:

    Well said Fr. Z!

    I would only add to your line that music is part of the sacred act itself that this is why using the “propers” of the Mass (the opening and communion antiphons, and the like – all of which are the given texts of the liturgy itself and not add ons) are the preferred option, followed by the use of psalms, all ahead of singing hymns. I am sure you already knew this, so I offer this for the sake of others who read the comments. Thanks.

  8. Origen Adamantius says:

    Tragically, youth Masses have been the focal point of most liturgical straying and experimentation. Often because the majority of those who chose to minister to youth fall into the experimental bent and unfortunately the experience youth of traditionalists leads them to conclude that piety means dour and stogy.

    The issue of music to entertain versus that which draws into the sacred, while explicitly evident with “youth” music, touches all forms of Music. If you attend classic Mass musical productions (Mozart) in Vienna Churches, you’ll notice that the attention and movement of the congregation (sitting, kneeling, standing) is built around what the choir is doing and not what is occurring in the sanctuary. Indeed, if one were to conduct an informal poll, you would probably find that most in attendance are not Catholic but are there for the music performance (music students, tourists, etc..).

  9. Tzard says:

    If I were to hear “But if we don’t do X, the children won’t come” – I’d respond: “Why won’t they? Can’t you make your children obey you? If I tell my children to come, they come.”

    It points to a different area – a problem in parenting.

    Of course mine haven’t had to be forced to go since they were – perhaps infants when we carried them there (timing Mass to be the sleepy time). Now they encourage us to go, want to sit up front so they can see, etc… The only difficulty I have is with new teenagers, but they still come when I say. No arguing (sometimes whining, but that too will pass). :)

    As for the subject at hand – people treat children like they are stupid. Even little children KNOW – things you didn’t think they notice. Tell them the truth and they appreciate it, absorb it, and truly learn. It’s as easy as Eggplant.

  10. Edward Martin says:

    I have a son who will be seven next month. He has received his first Communion and attends Mass every day. We live in a small city so weekday Masses are limited. The other day when we had a snowstorm and could not get to our regular daily Mass he was very upset at not being able to receive the Eucharist. He, as he said, wanted to be with Jesus. He understands, in his way, what Mass is about. He did not learn this during Cathechesis, which I my view, is pretty much useless. He learned it at home.

    The other day, he said that he wished “they could bake a big wafer for the Eucharist so he could hug Jesus”. I thought that was great.

    BTW I cannot take the credit, I must defer to my lovely wife who has been a great teacher to our sons.

  11. RichR says:

    I went to an Anglican-Use parish in San Antonio (Our Lady of the Atonement http://www.atonementonline.com) that has a wonderful children’s choir that sings sacred songs. Why aren’t they “the stars of the show” instead of Christ crucified upon the altar? Two reasons: 1) The pastor. He doesn’t ask for rounds of applause – he simply treats their music as a natural part of the Mass. 2) Choir loft – The children’s choir is not seen, it is only heard. Therefore, all the visual focus is on the Sacrifice and not the choir.

    Modern church architecture just does not help us in this area.

  12. Priests who turn over the Liturgy to children or any lay person reveal the staggering depth of their own ignorance.

    When children lisp through the Epistle or a Reading, they may be cute, their hearts may be less blemished than that of an adult, but these are not ordained or consecrated people! I frequently see a priest idly sit while a child or a laywoman reads. Does he not realize he is cheating me of hearing him speak, enrobed in his priestly office, having his priestly words pierce my heart?

    I am so grateful for the priests who do all the parts of the Mass when there are no deacons or other consecrated adults to help.

    When priests become aware of the power of their office, they might be less inclined to allow these imperfect practices. A priest or ordained deacon who speaks, touches hearts like no other unconsecrated layman. The power in the consecration/ordination empowers their very words as they articulate and fall on ears and hearts. An unordained layman will never have this power.

    A lay person may attain rare power through great sanctity or holy example, but an ordained priest converts and touches hearts/souls like no other. Check out the words of Jesus to His Apostles when He orders them to preach! Check out the old and new rites of ordination, see what the priest is ordered to do [thus has the grace to].

    And as ‘priest up north’ states, the real prayers/songs of the Mass should be the propers which take precedence over any hymn or even lessor banal music.
    If a well-led children’s choir sings the propers…wonderful. Not only should training of boy sopranos be encouraged, we will need adult choirs in the future.

  13. Rachel says:

    I am a convert. When I was a teen I went to the youth group where they played “christian” rock songs and other “praise and worship” music. They had the same mentality that they had to make it fun for the kids. I was insulted to be treated like I couldn’t understand and appreciate good music and serious theological discussion instead of having to dumb everything down.

    This sort of thing doesn’t work either. I am especially disturbed the the lifeteen groups, etc who have “rock” masses. These kids are very irreverent and are not taught the Catholic Faith. They will end up thinking that living the Catholic faith is supposed to be fun. No, its not. It is difficult and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is supposed to be sacred and solemn (not in a dour way of course). None of them know how to act at Mass.

    Of course this is endemic in our culture that prizes entertainment and fun above all. Kids don’t know how to act in museums, symphonies, the theatre, and libraries (that includes college students too!).

  14. Richard says:

    The danger is that if people only see the Mass celebrated “for children”, they will assume that it IS only for children. So it is not surprising that as children grow up, they see the Mass as a childish thing to put behind them.

    Yes, they may come back later in life with their own children. But a priest told me that most of them still saw the Mass as being for the children, not for themselves. He said that while they had grown and matured in the intervening years, their Faith had not.

    Yes, of course there are exceptions. But he generally found it very difficult to persuade them to see the Faith as something for adults.

  15. David Deavel says:

    The children whom “Children’s Masses” are geared always seem to me to be 40-60 somethings.

    We never go to one unless there is absolutely no other way to make the obligation. And in St. Paul, Minnesota that is a non-existent scenario.

  16. Credo says:

    I agree with Tzard.

    Far too many parents of teens end up letting them run the show and feel that it is not right to insist that teens go to Mass with the family/or a parent. Once the teen puts up a little resistance, many parents just give up. Unfortunely, some priests even tell parents that they should never force their teens to go to Mass, rather they are told they should wait until they want to go – this is a huge mistake!

    God has made parents the guardians of their children’s souls how can it be acceptable for a parent to give up so easily. Of course, it’s not.

    For most teens, even those who at one time loved going to Mass, there will be a rebellion against the authority of the parent.

    I make it clear with my teens that there is no getting out of going to Mass on Sundays, they have to go – except for illness, of course. This means no sleep overs Saturday nights and no working on Sundays.

    With that said, it is important that parents don’t make Sundays the only days that the family practices their Catholic faith; although, it should be seen as an important day different from the rest.

    And please parents make sure you’re taking your children to a Mass that is in accord with the Church’s liturgical traditions, with a sense of mystery,beauty and reverence, as well as a priest who will not give a questionable homily. If every Sunday you’re teens/children hear you complain about what “Father said” in his homily then one day they will turn to you and question whether it is you who is wrong and Father is right.

    Families’ lives must be Catholic every day in their home life. We need to know our Catholic faith, love it, and live it. This includes, most importantly the witness of our lives as parents (in our words and actions), and also, praying together, teaching the Faith to the children at home, talking about God in our lives, holy pictures, statues, to list just a few examples.

    When someone walks into a Catholic family’s home they should know it pretty quickly.

  17. Gloria says:

    Again – I find the “need” for a Children’s Mass totally unnecessary. I commented recently on my childhood’s Children’s Mass, which simply meant that the traditional Mass at 8am on Sunday was not changed for the children. They were encouraged to come to that Mass and only the sermon was geared toward their understanding. This was, of course, WAY before Novus Ordo. Every Friday there is a High Mass at St. Stephen’s at 12:15pm. The 7-12 grade Academy students have their own schola and choir. Probably all of them are in the regular parish choir and schola. They sing (chant) the Mass propers, Introit, Gradual, etc. Homeschooling parents of elementary school aged children bring them to that Mass, as well. These children and young people don’t seem to feel the need to be “on stage” or have their own type of music. They are there to worship and to receive the Eucharist. They are deepening their understanding and appreciation of the beautiful liturgy. Period!

  18. Maureen says:

    I recently acted as cantor for the Scout Sunday Mass (which was actually a Saturday vigil, due to the parish Confirmations being next day). The boys and young men who did the readings and read the Prayers of the Faithful took their jobs seriously and functioned with decorum and devotion.

    That is the way kids should be allowed to join in. They are over the age of reason; the Church allows them to do it; there is no distinction in canon law. So you have to treat kids doing liturgical functions the same way as adults, not as “cute readers” or “mini-cantors”. If you are doing the job, you have the responsibilities and deserve the respect. Yes, give kids help and consider their capabilities; but stop treating them like second-class members of Chirst’s Body. They have the same souls and bodies that adults have, and the ones over the age of reason go to the same Heaven and Hell. There’s no Kid’s Meal version of the Eucharist, so why do we treat kids like they’re separate from us?

  19. Paul M says:

    Excellent point, Father. Thank you for raising it again. It is almost funny that the people who should understand and promote sacred music the most: “liturgists” and bishops (especially those on the bishop’s liturgy committee) understand it the least. Sacred music is one of the defining features of the Church that are universally recognized (even by small children), except of course by the groups I mentioned above and many priests of a certain age.

    2 points for illustration:

    1) For about a year now, I have been playing various chant cd’s on Sunday morning as we prepare for Mass. I was just trying to fortify myself against the silliness that often occurs at our parish, but knew it was the right decision when my then 6 year-old said, “Dad, why are you playing church music when we’re just about to go to church? Of course, he’s never heard it in church and although he’s heard it a lot at home, he just knew it was called Gregorian chant. But it was pretty easy for him to make the connection.

    2) Hollywood is no friend to the Church, but even they understand that it’s “Catholic” to have chant and the organ in church (as well as candles and other sacramentals that are missing from the majority of US parishes. Seriously, has anyone seen a movie where they depict a Mass with strumming guitars and tambourines?

  20. Brian says:

    For a younger child to learn to stay quiet and sit still and kneel during Mass is not “fun” but it is valuable formation. I can remember, as a child, at times feeling some physical misery during the Traditional Mass, but I also recall an nascent sense of awe, reverence, and mystery.

    This Sunday, at a Traditional Latin Mass, I heard one and two year olds whining, while their four and five year old siblings kneeled quietly, calmly and attentively and payed attention to the prayers offered at the altar (and the nine-year-old altar boy). It was beautiful to behold.

  21. Mary Ann says:

    Thank you, Father. You said it like I’ve wanted to say it for a long time.

  22. KMS says:

    As a youth choir director, I thought you’d like to know that the song that my children request the most at practice is the Latin chanted Sanctus.

    I tease them “Did you ever think you’d be begging to sing in Latin?”

    Children recogize beauty. Then they pass that recognition on to their parents. :-)

  23. Irene Smith says:

    My husband and I attended a “teen mass” here in Texas. The penitential rite
    consisted of the teen band singing the Kyrie Eleison to a hip beat. No one
    else participated. Same with the Gloria. A seminarian gave the homily.
    Three teens infront of us muzzled each other throughout the mass. Need I
    mentioned the teeny bits of fabric they call clothes. I listened very
    closely to the words of consecration which were correct – else I would not
    have received. I received from the seminarian who had no idea how to give the
    Sacrament on the tongue. When Mass was over, the noise was deafening. As I
    knelt in prayer after Mass, someone went by me talking about someone’s zipper.
    I felt like I had just attended a music concert, not participated in Mass.
    Is this what we feel is necessary for our children? I fear for the future.

  24. Fr. Z., thank you so much for this blog entry. I suffered long and hard at Steubenville at the hands of this “teen-music” mentality.

    Just….thank you….

  25. Pomeroy on the Palouse says:

    The children whom “Children’s Masses” are geared always seem to me to be
    40-60 somethings.

    Our parish has started a “praise and worship” “choir” drummer (late-50’s) two keyboards
    (early 50’s) and another drummer (big tall stand-up drums) late-40’s.

    They’re “doing it for the children.” Even if it were true, we only have maybe 6-7 children
    between 10 and 18 in the parish. They’re doing it for themselves to relive their glory days
    of the late 60’s and 70’s before the spirit of VII and music got beaten down.


    p.s. I get frustrated because I had been sending links to articles like this and some from NLM
    to our pastor to read. Never heard back from him. When I finally asked him, he said the web sites
    “didn’t load” on his wireless/cell internet connection. Yeah, sure, ya betcha (my Minn. accent)

  26. TJM says:

    I guess I was deprived as a child. I was subjected to the Missa Cantata with Gregorian Chant (which I sang) and Sacred Polyphony. No clowns, no banners,
    no ditties. I am scarred for life. NOT!!! I totally agree with the commentators that the Children’s Masses are not for the young children but the
    big children who never grew up. Tom

Comments are closed.