QUAERITUR: Why is Gregorian chant better than “Gather Us In?”

From a reader:

Forgive me my ignorance – I am a relatively new Catholic, coming from the Methodist tradition. Why is Gregorian Chant more appropriate for Mass than “Gather Us In?” I like “Gather Us In.” It is singable even for the unmusical among us, and it reminds us that Jesus calls each of us by name.

As a preamble, music for liturgical worship is not a mere add on or decoration.  It is liturgical worship.  Therefore the texts used should be sacred texts.  The texts of those ditties mentioned in the question are not sacred, liturgical texts.  They are not the prayer of the Church.  Moreover, the music for liturgical worship should be art.  The ditties mentioned above are not art.  In fact, they are at about the level of the theme-song of Gilligan’s Island.  They are not worthy of use in the sacred liturgy.  They are just bad music.

When we sing hymns or ditties in the place of the assigned texts of Mass, we cut the legs out from under our proper liturgical worship and shortchange ourselves, obscuring what Christ the High Priest wants to give us through Holy Church’s choice for our liturgy.

Another view is that the Church herself told us what music should be preferred: Gregorian chant and polyphony.  I think we should do as the Council asked.

If we think we need music of no greater depth than the old Armour hot dog commercial tune in order to feel we are being “called by name” by Jesus, then we are in serious trouble.  Game over.

The ditties mentioned above, and their like, foster a purely immanent sense of God and what goes on during liturgical worship, underscoring a notion that what we do in church is all about what we do and suppressing the essentially important dimension of God’s mystery and transcendence, without which we cannot have true Catholic liturgical worship of God according to the virtue of religion and a properly oriented Catholic identity.

This is all very black and white and brutal, but I wanted to be brief and get out one view of the question.  There are other points of view, which I am sure readers will share.

This’ll be good.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Joannes says:

    I was for many years a choir member in a very “forward thinking” parish, and I seem to remember a hymn with a tune poached right from the Gilligan’s Island theme song. Some of the other men in the choir would also laugh when the song that sounded like “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka came up. Or the one that sounds like “Everything’s Alright” from Jesus Christ Superstar. How distracting.

  2. Nathan says:

    In this case, a comparison may help somewhat. Take this upcoming Sunday’s Introit (Entrance Antiphon) of the 2d Sunday After Easter (EF):

    The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, alleluia: by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, alleluia, alleluia. — (Ps. 32. 1). Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: praise is comely for the upright. V.: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, alleluia: by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, alleluia, alleluia.

    Compare it with the first verse of “Gather Us In:”
    Here in this place, new light is streaming
    now is the darkness vanished away,
    see, in this space, our fears and our dreamings,
    brought here to you in the light of this day.

    Gather us in the lost and forsaken
    gather us in the blind and the lame;
    call to us now, and we shall awaken
    we shall arise at the sound of our name.

    Which text is more appropriate for the worship of Almighty God?

    In Christ,

  3. Alexis says:

    Father is absolutely right that it is sometimes simply a matter of *bad* music.

    However, I feel discouraged that I view these debates as petty since, in the end, arguably the majority of people don’t feel that hymns like “Gather Us In” are “bad music” – they are entirely wrong on that point, but there it is.

    The problem is the culture surrounding the liturgy in the West. I’m pretty sure the debate in Eastern or Oriental Orthodoxy concerning songs like these is either non-existent, or very nearly so. The problem is a good Catholic Christian shouldn’t even *dream* of including a hymn like that in Holy Mass.

  4. shane says:

    IMHO Gregorian chant and polyphony take an acquired taste. It is simply so counter intuitive for modern man, steeped in the cult of modernity and progress, that you have to ‘de-programme’ yourself to enjoy it. I never cease to be amazed at the competence of the older generation, who were brought up with the old Mass, in Gregorian chant, even after so many decades (my own voice is a disaster – so I prefer Low Mass). In the ‘good old days’ children in schools were regimentally drilled in it. Definitely needs to be brought back to Catholic schools.

  5. everett says:

    In discussing liturgical music, there are two aspects to be discussed: the music, and the lyrics. In my opinion, Gather Us In falls short on both, but I am by no means a musical expert, and understand how reasonable people can disagree.

    On the other hand, the lyrics for the song have some troubling aspects, most notably the last verse which contains:
    “Not in the dark of buildings confining,
    Not in some heaven light years away,
    But here in this place the new light is shining,”
    This is giving the suggestion that church buildings are dark and confining, that heaven is light years away, and what is more important than either being in church or looking to heaven is simply being in “this place” where we can see “the new light.”

  6. priests wife says:

    actually new Catholic—chant of all sorts is very singable AND pray-able- Buy yourself a cd (Solesmes is the best)- read the translation of the Latin- and then play it while you are doing stressful tasks (I listen to chant whenever I cut fabric)- you will get used to it.

    Unlike other forms of art- familiar music is preferred by the brain. While a museum can display completely new paintings and people will come out of curiosity, you will notice that a concert will always have a familiar classic in the mix. We need to train our ears.

  7. traditionalorganist says:

    Another point is that for thousands of years, composers and musicians and philosophers had been working out the particular “form” that music should take. The form of sacred music is, well, full of structure and design. Each turn of phrase has purpose. As Father Z notes, Sacred Music revolves strongly around the Sacred Texts. Gregorian Chant is the product also, not only of anonymous composers, but of mystics and saints, and it exhibits the deepest understanding of the text through musical form. Further, Gregorian Chant is the root of western music, and especially of western Sacred Music. So, we would do well to follow a tradition of music for the mass. “Gather Us In” is fine for private devotion, though it is objectively bad music and breaks from the Gregorian tradition.

  8. Scott W. says:

    To put it as brutally as possible, “Gather Us In” is camp. It takes the seriousness of the occassion and injects frivolousness. And let me make a very important point: It does not matter if the lyrics are theologically and doctrinally sound. The music itself is frivolous. Here’s a helpful test. Remove the lyrics and listen to the music. Does this music sound like it would perfectly at home in/at:

    A. A rock concert
    B. A new-age aroma therapy/massage parlor
    C. A merry-go-round or organ-grinder with monkey
    D. A Broadway Musical
    E. A Church

    If the answer is anything other than E, throw it out!

  9. digdigby says:

    The song is a magical Protestant Incantation. It ‘commands’ and ‘shapes’ the encounter with God to OUR expectations, sentiments and present condition and does so without real reverence. I cry whenever I read about the Parable of the Lost Sheep. I also cry at the end of Casablanca. I’ve been taught wisely to put little store in such feelings. Only in the traditional liturgy could I be in a state of sullen cynicism, rebellion and yet feel compelled to receive communion and pray “Lord, where else will I go, You have the words of life.”

  10. lkapell says:

    I want to second the statement that chant is, itself, also very singable. In my opinion, it is easier to sing than a lot of the stuff you hear at contemporary/folk masses – some of those songs are almost as difficult to sing as the Star-Spangled Banner. Anyone who is not tone-deaf can sing chant.

  11. Oh No! Someone has brought up that old chestnut again! We used to have a folk choir that sang this song for almost every Mass for ten years- including Christmas Eve! As Dale Price once said, Gather Us In is to the modern Catholic Mass what the chicken dance is to weddings- a toothgnashing inevitability. Hubby analysed the lyrics for our blog years ago- his main point is that God is not mentioned once in that song, whereas we and us are mentioned twenty some odd times. Here’s the link.


  12. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I think that the converse of the Vatican II statement, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy,” is that if a priest is celebrating the Roman liturgy in such a away that Gregorian chant is not suitable, then the liturgy is not being celebrated correctly.

  13. traditionalorganist says:

    Another thing: Go see the old “Quo Vadis” and pay attention to the scene with the Vestal Virgins singing and dancing. They might as well be singing “Gather Us In.” All the right pieces are there.

  14. Ohio Organist says:

    Just a quick explanation of what we are talking about when we refer to Gregorian chant, and what makes it integral to the Mass rather than an add-on:

    The parts of the Mass that are meant to be sung can be divided into the “ordinary” parts, which are always the same, and the “proper” parts, which change each day. The “proper” parts of the Mass include, among other things, texts meant to be sung during the entrance procession, at the offertory, and during communion. These texts are given in Latin with their traditional Gregorian chant melodies in an official liturgical book called the Roman Gradual. (There is another set of proper texts contained in the Roman Missal, which are intended for spoken, rather than sung, Masses. The Missal does not contain music for these.) These proper texts are assigned for each day of the year in the same way as the readings in the Lectionary. We can’t just open the Bible and pick any readings we want; we have to use the ones assigned by the Church. This is supposed to be how the music at Mass works too.

    In the Extraordinary Form, the proper texts must always be sung in a High Mass. You can add extra music if you have time, but you can’t omit the propers. The Ordinary Form, however, permits “another suitable song” to be used their place. That option, while not preferable, has become the default, which is why at most parishes, there are four hymns sung during Mass and no one even knows that the propers exist. Our liturgical worship is greatly impoverished as a result.

    Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with hymns (although some, like “Gather Us In”, lack artistic merit and are doctrinally questionable.) Hymns have a long history of use in the Divine Office (where they actually are liturgical texts) and in devotional prayer. The way they are currently used at Mass, though, is problematic. Allowing anyone to choose any song they want opens a giant loophole for individual musicians and liturgists to impose their own preferences and theological views on the Church’s public worship. This contributes to making the liturgy radically different from one parish to another and thus weakens our Catholic identity.

  15. patrick_f says:

    I think the challenge with only gregorian chant and polyphony is that it somewhat dates the church – That is not to say the church isnt of course timeless, but, the initial thought of most people is “Ooo Gregorian chant.,…thats old” , they dont realize the fine work of modern chant Masters, such as our diocese’s own Fr. Webere OSB , who have been making more modern chants, with the proper texts

    True, Gregorian chant by itself has a certain transcendence which makes it ideal for liturgy and holy mass, but for people to understand why “Gather Us In” “Here I am Lord” … or Anything else thats anthro centric is not appropriate for mass, we need to start better teaching that mass is for God, and the worship of him, then you can greater introduce the more “Christo Centric” music

  16. markomalley says:

    To quote the inestimable Bishop Slattery,

    I know that for two generations now, Catholics have been expected to sing an opening hymn at Mass and in many parishes the faithful are regularly browbeaten to “stand up and greet this morning’s celebrant with hymn #so-and-so” which, depending upon the parish, might be taken from the red hymnbook, or the blue hymnbook, or the nicely disposable paperback missalette. So deeply has this ‘opening hymn mentality’ shaped our consciousness that most Catholics would be astounded to hear me say that hymns have no real place in Mass.

    Hymns belong in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the common devotions of the faithful, but the idea that the parish liturgy committee should sit down sometime early in the month and look through a hymn book, trying to find pretty hymns which haven’t been overdone in the past three or four months, which explore the themes of the Sunday Masses and which brings the people together as a singing community is an idea completely alien to the spirit of the Catholic liturgy.

    It is alien first of all because the singing of hymns as Sunday worship was a Protestant innovation, better suited to their non-Sacramental worship than to the Mass, and alien secondly because an opening hymn introduces – at the very inception of the sacred action – that element of creative busy-ness, which is, as we have seen, antithetical to the nature of salvation as a gift we receive from God.

  17. James Locke says:

    Would someone please be so kind as to give me the exact places in Vatican II and the GIRM in regards to polyphony and sacred music?

  18. lgreen515 says:

    Thank you, Ohio Organist. You gave the most helpful answer to my question.

  19. capchoirgirl says:

    Ohio Organist hits the nail on the head!
    One of the BEST things about switching parishes 1 1/2 years ago–no more “Gather Us In”.

  20. Lepidus says:

    Another advantage of Gregorian is that it was composed by Catholics, for Catholics. This can not be said of Marty Haugen, et. al. whose not even Catholic. Somewhere out on the ‘net there is a spoof of Gather Us In. The first stanza of that summarizes the problem:

    Here in this place, a bad song is starting,
    Now will the altar turn into a stage.
    All that is holy is slowly departing,
    Making a way for the coming New Age.

    And the last line sums up modern music perfectly:

    Two-thousand years of church music history,
    flushed down the john by Haas, Haugen, and Schutte.

  21. MichaelJ says:

    In a supreme display of irony, I, a traditional Catholic, am about to recommend a book by a protestant author. Go figure.

    Anyway, I recommend that Catholics read Rick Warren’s “A Purpose Driven Life”. You may not agree with what he says, but if you grasp the overall theme of this book – “It’s not about you” – , then you’ll understand the answers to these types of “why” questions a lot better

  22. None of this is saying that hymns don’t have a place in Catholic life, or even that nice simple little devotional songs don’t have a place. We could be singing “ditties” at our Catholic club meetings, or our CCD classes, or walking around the Stations of the Cross, or at home with the kids, or anywhere else that’s not Mass. Unfortunately, recent American parish life has often boiled down to nothing but Sunday Mass (or Saturday vigil Mass). So instead of thinking, “I like this new song! Let’s sing it together after the Divine Mercy chaplet!” (or whatever), it’s always Mass people think of. (During Mass, of course, not before or after or while eating donuts afterwards.)

    It’s not as if good hymns, bad hymns, or any hymns are likely to vanish tomorrow for the return of “the Mass readings in the book we never use”. But yep, we should be singing the chant or other settings of the actual Introit, Communio, and possibly the Offertorium for the day. The Gospel acclamation ought to be the one actually for the day, also. Pretty much all of these are psalms, so we ought to be getting a much bigger dose of Bible readings (or rather, singings) than we do.

    That said, it’s a permissible option to use hymns. It’s just that it’s a permissible option way down at number four, whereas American parishes pretty much never use the default option at all anymore. Freaky, huh? Nothing like kicking about 2000 years of parish practice to the curb for a hundred years of US practice…. :)

  23. We’re really supposed to chant the regular readings, too. You can hear this at some of the readings at some of the Pope’s Masses. That’s why, in medieval days, sometimes “to read” was synonymous with “to sing” — because certain things you would read out by chanting out loud.

  24. MissOH says:

    I understand the readers thoughts. I entered the church in the mid-80’s at a typical midwestern parish and I joined the choir while I was still in RCIA. As I had started the program mid-cyle, I was allowed to enter the church before the Easter Vigil and I requested One Bread One Body as the communion hymn. I was introduced to a little Latin and English chant here and there and I was attracted to what I heard. This was even though my only musical training had been in guitar and baroque recorder and my ability to read music was very basic. I was fortunate enough to end up at a parish with a music director and several parish members who really loved and appreciated chant and I learned that it is 1) not that difficult and 2) for many basic chants very intuitive and this is in addition to the fact that it takes one to the sacred rather than the profane.

    The bottom line is that there were many who, for various reasons, chose to ignore the council documents and even the wishes of Pope Paul VI (do a web search on Pope Paul VI and Jubilate Deo). Children in Catholic schools should leave the 8th grade being able to sing some basic chants in Latin, and there is an abundance of Latin and English chant available in Gregorian and modern notation, but in the garden variety parish school, there is the attitude that chant is too hard. The closest school to us is an independent Catholic school but it rather contemporary in its approach to liturgy and the mass. As part of my brick by brick actions, I am thinking of volunteering the funds to send their art/music teacher to Ward Music training (which is fairly local for us) in the hopes of helping him and the school understand what they should be teaching the students (which will likely include mine).

  25. Joseph-Mary says:

    Gather Us In is to the modern Catholic Mass what the chicken dance is to weddings- a toothgnashing inevitability…

    I had to laugh at that!

    We have a wonderful man who directs our music–on his own personal level. I like him very much. BUT he is a convert and when something is pointed out abour some of the very bad ditties and even heretical verses in some of the songs, he affably disagrees and points out that the song book has an imprimatur!!!!!!! So Oregon Press keeps em coming.

    I wrote up a whole page of why one awful song is heretical but the man just laughed and disagreed with me.

    I just don’t sing those icky songs.

    BUT I am not young and I feel robbed of my patrimony! Why don’t I know chant or polyphony? Why have I not experienced sacred music? It is not fair! It is my heritage and I want it!

  26. mcdawson says:


    Vatican II:
    Sacrosanctum Concilium

    (93) “To whatever extent may seem desirable, the hymns are to be restored to their original form,
    and whatever smacks of mythology or ill accords with Christian piety is to be removed or

    (116) “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specifically suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means exlcuded from liturgical celebrations.”

    GIRM 41 states that “Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy”

    Pope Paul VI in Juilate Deo (1974): “those who are trying to improve the quality of congregational singing cannot refuse to Gregorian chant the place which is due to it . . .”

    Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis, paragraph 42: “I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.”

  27. buffaloknit says:

    I would like to share a thought that I don’t think anyone else has expressed, yet. To sum up, Fr. Z pointed out, “Gather Us In” is a uniquely bad, and inappropriate song for Mass.

    For that reason, let’s talk about “Actually good Catholic hymns” instead, which don’t get sung, except perhaps at the end of an EF Mass on special days, or at Vespers, outside of Mass, etc. Frankly, I miss them! Fortunately, you can sing hymns, outside of Mass!

    You never know the time or the hour …. when you might need to start singing a hymn: when your Protestant friends spontaneously break out into song after dinner, at a friends wedding, etc! Ward off Alzheimer’s by memorizing additional verses of familiar hymns every so often.

    Quick story: when I lived in Buffalo, I had several non-religious, ex-Protestant friends, who loved hymns (I didn’t know this about them yet) as I complained about the bad music at my Catholic parish. Voila! We sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” and other hymns, from their youth, Saturday nights, while drinking and knitting. I kid you not. This was a very pleasant experience.

    What is my point in this story? We are obligated as Catholics to be familiar with chant and what to do at Mass… along with the Catholic hymn tradition: for use at Protestant weddings and Saturday nights! For each and every bad “Gather Us In” there is a perfectly appropriate traditional Catholic hymn, written by some saint or another, that is also “Easy” to sing!

  28. benedetta says:

    I did pray that we be gathered in. Then I awakened…And here I am…I guess you could call me a success!

    Anyway GUI is really not “singable by even the most unmusical among us”. From personal knowledge.

    As far as the theology of it, I just don’t know about the minimizing of “some heaven light-years away”. Better minds could speak to it. It strikes me as pure unbelief. So you go home and say, well, that’s some heaven, light-years away…I don’t find scriptural confirmation there nor do I find it encouraging. And if we were to die the next day, or one of us dies, which isn’t all that uncommon, then, suddenly the idea of some heaven light years away doesn’t all that helpful, to, the dead, nor to, the living, those left behind, those who mourn…

    The mystery probably in fact cannot be successfully or satisfyingly captured or minimized in some witty ditty or one liner. I should think with good reason but that’s as far as I can go.

    I’m waiting on the implementation of Vatican II as far as this goes…

    To the questioner I would say, first, be open to listening and to prayer. Then see whether you are able to enter into the universal prayer of the Mass with GUI or with something else…Assuming, where you are, there are alternatives…I admit, it might be quite a task…

    I can see why one would send something to Fr. Z, why? Because if you approach locally and say, Why? you are liable to get your head chopped off. Metaphorically speaking. You know, bring in your chant, leave with it ripped to smithereens, maniacal laughter…scratching your head because you still don’t get why…

  29. Henry Edwards says:

    It misses the point to argue about whether “Gather Us In” is good music, or whether it’s sacred.

    The point is that it’s not liturgical music, which by definition consists of the texts of the Mass itself.

    While it’s true that Sacrosanctum Concilium 116 assigned Gregorian chant principal place (principem locum) in the liturgy, liturgical texts at Mass can be sung in other forms that constitute true liturgical music.

    Where as one could translate “Gather Us In” into Latin and sing it in the most exquisite Gregorian chant, and it still would be no closer to liturgical music that what you heard in the round assembly hall last Sunday.

  30. papaefidelis says:

    As a master of trivia, I think that it ought to be noted that the theme song for “Gilligan’s Island” has the same metrical structure as “Amazing Grace” and the words are, therefore, interchangeable. Try it, if you don’t believe me.

  31. Dave N. says:

    Scott W. essentially has the right idea. The problem really isn’t that “Gather Us In” is bad music per se (this is a matter of taste about which there will be endless debate without resolution)–the issue is actually a problem of genre. Of Scott W.’s choices, I pick “D”; the tune for “Gather Us In” would fit right in with a Broadway musical. Now there’s inherently nothing wrong with the form “Broadway musical” either–I think some musicals are great–it’s just that a musical, a rock concert, a TV theme song, or a pop single on the radio are all part of commercial ventures designed for entertainment. The Church is not and should not be a commercial venture designed for entertainment. So the use of musical forms from those genres or music that evokes those genres are not appropriate for church. To anyone familiar with it at all, there’s nothing that screams “den of thieves” more than the commercial music industry.

    The same could be said about music that typically appears at the various iterations of “teen Mass” or much of what flows through the airwaves on EWTN radio, for that matter. They choose their music from generic categories like: “alternative rock hit” or “contemporary feel-good tune,” consciously working to imitate the commercial music industry I guess in order to somehow seem relevant.

  32. This post is about the best and most concise explanation of the reason for chant over against “Gather Us In.” Thank you.

    The song is a magical Protestant Incantation. It ‘commands’ and ‘shapes’ the encounter with God to OUR expectations, sentiments and present condition and does so without real reverence.

    This is about the best and most concise exposition of the problem with “Gather Us In” itself. (Besides that it just stinks.)

    Would someone please be so kind as to give me the exact places in Vatican II and the GIRM in regards to polyphony and sacred music?

    I am not in a position right now to dig through the GIRM, but herewith relevant paragraphs from Sacrosanctum concilium:

    54….steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

    115….Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training.

    116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

    120. In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.

    121. The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from Holy Scripture and from liturgical sources.

  33. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    Wait. So you’re saying you don’t like hot dogs? Armour hot dogs? What kind of priest doesn’t like Armour hot dogs?

  34. papaefidelis says:

    “Where as one could translate “Gather Us In” into Latin and sing it in the most exquisite Gregorian chant, and it still would be no closer to liturgical music that what you heard in the round assembly hall last Sunday.”

    I think Henry Edwards has hit the nail square on the head.

  35. papaefidelis says:

    What kind of priest doesn’t like Armour hot dogs?
    Fat priests, skinny priests, priests who visit Knock!
    Smart priests, older priests, even some not orthodox
    love hot dogs….

  36. Jordanes says:

    Apart from the fact that “Gather A Sin” is musically rotten, it places the focus on US instead of God. The point of Mass is to worship God, to look to Him and learn of Him and receive His grace. Instead, with “Gather A Sin,” we start right off thinking about ourselves. Okay, we acknowledge in the song that, sure, God is good, but the tenor of this song (and others like it) is that He’s good because He is gathering a sin, I mean, us in, not because “good” is just what God is.

    It’s the Mass, people — it’s about Him! It’s not about us! He is the point of it all, not we ourselves and what we do.

  37. Jeremiah says:

    I’m curious on the thoughts of Fr. Z et alia on my attempt to begin a move back: I am composing an English plainchant mass based on the corrected translation. While I made add some harmonization, it is literally putting the words to music, with no repetition or embellishment of the words. It will be something that can easily be accompanied by organ or piano, or sung a cappella (preferable).

    It is not going to be as beautiful as the Latin, but I get the sense that it will be a nice way to boil the frog in the pot, a it were. Get people used to the musical style, and then suddenly when you switch back to Latin on occasion, it feels somehow familiar.


    Also, I’m attempting to teach myself to sightread plainchant based on the instructions at the beginning of the English edition of the Liber Usalis. Does anyone know of any other resources for learning to read plainchant?

  38. benedetta says:

    Funny the chicken dance…another analogy… what Cotton Eyed Joe is to the 7th inning stretch…

  39. Centristian says:

    In a perfect Church in which all parish music directors have excellent taste, I don’t see that the use of hymns along side the propers and at the conclusion of Mass presents a problem. Unfortunately, however, they are seldom used along side the propers; they usually replace the propers, outright.

    Furthermore, our hymnology in the Catholic Church is so pitiful that hymns usually represent something akin to tragedy. That’s not merely an observation of modern Catholic hymns, mind you; the pre-Conciliar gems I recall from my Lefebvrist days were often just as ghastly as the stuff out there, today (“Daily, Daily, Sing To Mary”, “To Jesus Heart All Burning”, “Bring Flowers of the Rarest”, &c, &c, &c). In my opinion, bad hymns are not a modern phenomenon, but a Catholic one.

    As though it isn’t unfortunate enough that Catholic composers cannot seem to write decent hymns in the English language, they have to then go and ruin perfectly good hymns from artists of other traditions who can. The best hymns are typically “Protestant” but it seems we can only sing those hymns after some idiot has re-written them using inclusive language or dumbed-down English. Suddenly, a once venerable piece of music becomes akin to a filet mignon that someone has poured ketchup on.

    I don’t believe that I have ever heard the hymn “Gather Us In” but I have and continue to hear plenty of examples of just how inept we Catholics are when it comes to composing hymns. Perhaps the best solution, after all, is to just give up. We certainly aren’t getting any better at it as the years go by.

  40. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Time is a great editor. There were probably some real stinkers written during the fifth century. Fortunately we don’t have to endure them. The worst of what’s been written in our lifetimes is still in circulation. As others have noted, the problems are multiple. The texts of chant are often verbatim quotations of Sacred Scripture or are well-informed by Scripture and Tradition and maintain the focus of us worshipping the Most High. More recent texts, which sometimes quote phrases from Scripture, often are about the singer more than about Him to Whom all glory, honor and praise ought be addressed. The texts of the chant fit with the Scripture readings and the prayers. In many cases the entrance antiphon (as it is called in the Ordinary Form) can serve as a something like a thesis statement for the day. Musically speaking, chant developed as an organic musical expression of the text and is not likely to be a distraction. Contemporary music is much more sensual.

  41. Tradster says:

    Just to express an opinion regarding chant. I love Gregorian chant, although not so crazy about polyphony, and play it every chance I get. But I have to agree with criticisms of those points in the Mass where the choir repeats nearly every other vowel 15 or 20 times while we all sit and wait. I just want to scream “get on with it!”. If only those instances were shortened it would be so much more beautiful.

  42. The texts of the Mass, given to us in both Forms of the Roman Rite, are the prayer of Christ in His Church; of the Bride to Her Bridegroom. Psalms; Scriptural texts…all are the Word of God.
    How can we replace God’s Word with something composed with dubious intentions?
    Beautiful music is not enough; God’s Word is supreme.
    Even if it’s chanted in a recto-tono (a monotone, if you will) manner.
    The Sacred Liturgy is “given”, not made.
    We have a long way to go, I’m afraid.

  43. MissOH says:

    Also, I’m attempting to teach myself to sightread plainchant based on the instructions at the beginning of the English edition of the Liber Usalis. Does anyone know of any other resources for learning to read plainchant?

    Check the Chant Cafe blog and the CMAA site (Musicasacra.com) for some good resources. Also, at http://www.renegoupil.org/ you can access the musica and pdf’s of the chants for the EF from the Liber as well as the simplified Chant Abrege and for the OF Latin.

  44. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Vernacular chant Mass setting? Great idea! http://www.jogueschant.org has scores and MP3s to help figure out square notes. They’re not hard.

    Catholics don’t have great hymns? Balderdash. Exsultent, Veni Creator Spiritus, Tantum Ergo and Salve Regina for starters.

  45. ndmom says:

    “I never cease to be amazed at the competence of the older generation, who were brought up with the old Mass, in Gregorian chant, even after so many decades”

    I’ve had exactly the opposite experience. At the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Notre Dame’s campus, we chant the Sanctus and Agnus Dei during Lent. I have seen a number of older folks — in their 60s and 70s — who have to fumble for their “worship aid” in order to get the words and music right. But they have no trouble singing dreck like “Gift of Finest Wheat” from memory as they head up for communion.

  46. Nathan says:

    Centristian, your post reminded me of the pithy statement that 1960s satirst Tom Lehrer said: “The reason that folk music is so atrocious is that is was written by the people.” Agreed, we English-speaking Catholics do have a long history of sentimental hymns, a number not very deep. I also agree that we should keep the “ditties” out of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as much as possible, and (in the OF) avoid the substitution of the texts of Holy Mass with anything.

    That said, I don’t think we can overlook the role that “ditties” play in popular piety. My mother-in-law (+RIP), God bless her, did not seek to understand liturgy or theology or go intelllectually deep into the Faith she learned as a girl. She did, however, sing “Bring Flowers to the Fairest” and the other hymns she had learned as a girl to get through the day and as her way to pray. I think that the tunes that get stuck in our heads or we associate with a time in our lives are a real part of how Catholics live their lives every day.

    As the Church restores her liturgy, I think we all need to pay some attention to that and try, according to our vocations, to provide those sorts of little things outside of Holy Mass, such as hymns, that may not be theologically deep but can provide a daily association for people to our Faith. The fact that a sentimental yet devout “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother” can be replaced in that role by “Sing a New Church Into Being” is a bit frightening.

    In Christ,

  47. Banjo pickin girl says:

    MissOH, there is a pdf file on the internet I found a long time ago called something like “the idiot’s guide to square notes.” It has everything you need to know.

  48. albinus1 says:

    I never cease to be amazed at the competence of the older generation, who were brought up with the old Mass, in Gregorian chant, even after so many decades

    My mother certainly sang some Gregorian chant when she was in choir in parochial school (I know because she told me). But what she is really nostalgic for are songs like “Mother Dear, O Pray for Me”, “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother”, etc. — stuff that Thomas Day in Why Catholics Can’t Sing calls “19th century Irish parlor ballads,” essentially the religious equivalent of “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.” And I don’t know of any Catholic parish, traditional or otherwise, where one can hear them nowadays. But that’s the church music of my mother’s Catholic childhood, and she gets wistful every time someone mentions it.

    I like “Gather Us In.” It is singable even for the unmusical among us

    Interesting. The aforementioned Thomas Day compares “Gather Us In” to a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song in terms of its difficulty (as an indication of its utter unsuitability, in his opinion, for congregational singing). Perhaps it all depends on the tempo at which one takes it.

  49. chironomo says:

    Aside from it’s uncomplimentary similarity to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, Gather Us In fails the liturgical music test on all points. I actually did use the song as the “Gathering Song” for our Diocesan musician’s retreats and while it is a vexxing tune to sing (it isn’t easy to sing, either for the musical or non-musical… the author has probably simply learned it by rote after many repetitions), it’s at least more appropriate for such non-liturgical occasions if it simply must be used sometime!

  50. chironomo says:


    An excellent Power Point tutorial on chant notation (and modes, etc…) is available at..


    I have used this in seminar settings to teach basic chant notation, but it is also great as a “self study” resource.

  51. AnAmericanMother says:

    henry edwards, papaefidelis:

    Somebody has already given it a shot:


    It’s awful in Latin, too.

  52. digdigby says:

    Hymns? Love ’em but not for my worship. THEY do it SO better anyway. vide:

  53. I don’t find the tune to “Gather Us In” to be all that bad. In fact, I find it rather catchy, in a guitar-slinging, barroom-drinking-song sort of way (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The problem rises with the words as a statement of belief. Worse than that is HOW it becomes clear by the fourth verse:

    Not in the dark of buildings confining,
    Not in some heaven light years away,
    But here in this place the new light is shining,
    Now is the Kingdom, now is the day.

    Now, if this is what I believe, why the h*** did I get up early on a Sunday morning to sit in a “dark of buildings confining” hoping for a place “in some heaven light years away” when I could have slept in late?

    Just sayin’.

  54. Not in the dark of buildings confining,/Not in some heaven light years away,/But here in this place the new light is shining,/Now is the Kingdom, now is the day.

    That does seem to flirt with the idea of disbelief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Living Heart of every Catholic Church (even when all the lights are out). But then, the guy that wrote this is not Catholic.

    Another advantage to chant, by the way, is that it aids the memory. You will much more readily recall the Gloria or the Credo in Latin if you know them in at least one of their chant settings.

  55. AnAmericanMother says:


    The ‘hundred year test’ is a good one. By then, most of the trash has been taken out. Even the Episcopal Hymnal (one of the best) still has a certain percentage of dreck, but the Victorian dreck is gone, and the ‘contemporary’ multiculti stuff will go too.

    I’ve read Thomas Day’s book, and Jeffrey Tucker’s too for that matter (and attended one of his seminars). There are good musicians in the Church – excellent musicians for that matter (our music director is one of them – our music is amazingly good).

    I don’t understand why the good stuff doesn’t get more traction. Perhaps a lack of music education in the seminaries — perhaps a lack of the musical snobbery of the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians (especially the Episcopalians) — perhaps a lack of willingness to do the legwork and funding that’s necessary for good music.

    In my former (Episcopal) parish, the joke was that the music director told the Vestry what he needed for his budget, and everybody else fought over what was left. It wasn’t far from true — the choir was a 30-member powerhouse that was by audition only (including regular singers – you re-auditioned each year, and it wasn’t a done deal by any means). We sang at Spoleto, we toured, we made CDs, we were on the radio . . . all that kind of stuff. And we sang the 11:15 a.m. mass every Sunday, plus Vespers and occasional services and so forth. The children’s choir was a big deal – audition also.

    I can tell you that trash like “Gather Us In” not only wasn’t sung — it was laughed at. Our music director did a ‘cocktail lounge version’ of some tacky hymn (can’t remember which one) that had us rolling on the floor.

    The funny thing was, we were singing real Catholic music while the Catholics sing “Gather Us In”. The hymnal is full of old German and Scandinavian Catholic hymns thanks to the genius of translator Catherine Winkworth, we sang Anglican chant and Gelineau psalms, and we sang all the old Palestrina and Byrd and Tallis and Victoria that the Catholics have abandoned wholesale.

    It beats the heck out of me — I don’t know what the problem is. The parishioners don’t seem that different to me as far as education, taste, socioeconomic status, etc.

  56. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Beyond the aesthetic argument, the lyrics of “Gather Us In” reflect a flawed theology of the Eucharist:

    Here we will take the wine and the water
    here we will take the bread of new birth
    here you shall call your sons and your daughters
    call us anew to be salt of the earth.

    Give us to drink the wine of compassion
    give us to eat the bread that is you
    nourish us well and teach us to fashion
    lives that are holy and hearts that are true.

    Let’s take a look at this last two stanzas. The Holy Eucharist is not bread & wine. It is the the Precious Body & Blood of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. The Church has taught this doctrine fro time immemorial: after the words of institution, the elements of bread & wine no longer exist. Catholics have died in defense of this doctrine. To refer to the Eucharist as bread and wine is at best sloppy sacramental theology, and should not be sung at Mass.

    Furthermore, the “here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us anew to be salt of the earth” orders God to do certain things on our behalf. That is not the proper attitude for Christian worship.

  57. Gail F says:

    Ohio Organist, if you read this will you contact me directly at sgfinke@fuse.net? Thanks.

    Gather Us In as a G&S patter song? Really? I have always heard it sung as sort of a drone (and now that I’ve said that, I can imagine it as a drone on bagpipes, something I did not need to imagine). I can’t even imagine it fast enough to be a patter song. Plus it doesn’t really… patter.

    I have a lot of sympathy with this writer. I know people who really do like many of the songs I consider awful, and there are some songs we sing at church that are GREAT to sing at home if you change the tempo and belt them out. But for all the reasons above and more, they are not suited to use in the liturgy.

  58. albinus1 says:

    Gather Us In as a G&S patter song? Really? I have always heard it sung as sort of a drone (and now that I’ve said that, I can imagine it as a drone on bagpipes, something I did not need to imagine). I can’t even imagine it fast enough to be a patter song.

    Interesting. I’ve usually heard it done at a breathtakingly brisk tempo. Of course, it’s easier to keep up that sort of tempo on guitars than it is with an organ.

  59. benedetta says:

    Interesting that we can easily analogize something like GUI fitting in easily at a venue such as party or ball game.

    Remember how in public school p.e. curriculum students were required to learn how to square dance? Everyone learned it, we all did it, but it didn’t make us more folksy. And at parties or night clubs today one doesn’t break out the square dancing and I’m sure no one remembers anyway.

    Communal prayer is something different. Very different. People certainly are gathered, but it is not totally just like every other social occasion. Prayer is not to entertain, and it’s not even really about our edification either, nor is it to affirm ourselves and our immediate circle for we can do all of that and not need to go to the church for this.

    As it has been said “No one has ever seen God…”

  60. Alan Aversa says:

    I am musical, and I find chant easier to sing than modern “pop hymns.” I have heard stories of entire illiterate congregations singing chant at Mass before Vatican II, so it indeed is possible.

  61. Henry Edwards /Dave N: I agree it’s a problem of genre / appropriateness primarily.

    There is a secondary, but crucial, problem re aesthetics. The “West” has undergone such a huge cultural upheaval in the last 50+ years that we are effectively unconnected from our roots. So the aesthetic experience of the old stuff is often like the aesthetic experience of the music (or art, or whatever) of an entirely foreign culture.

    And I am not really sure that it can be recaptured or reversed — cultures generally don’t work like that, they’re more like living entities.

    So I’m not really sure what the answer is. Use chant more, I guess, but I’m afraid it will never and can never have the effect on people* it did centuries ago.

    *On a significant number of people, that is; yes, there are always exceptions. But I think the TLM will never be other than a minority in the Latin Church (barring the abrogation of the NO, which strikes me as incredibly unlikely) for this aesthetic reason… it can only really appeal aesthetically to a minority of modern people.

  62. Xmenno says:

    The saddest part of this whole discussion is that I will have “Gather Us In” running through my head day and night for at least 48 hours!

  63. Brad says:

    Gather Us In is passe in a world where “easter us home!” exists.

  64. tgcomposer says:

    Concerning the sacredness of Gregorian chant, there is a very famous old wood cut drawing of Pope Gregory writing down some chant. Hovering above him is a white bird signifying the Holy Spirit and that the chant was given under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think you could say that about “Gather Us In.”

    Note to Jeremiah who was looking for information on learning to sight read chant notation: You might want to check out “The Parish Book of Chant” published by the Church Music Association of America. It has a “Guide to Singing Chant” in the back of the book which you might find helpful.

  65. dcs says:

    I don’t find “Gather Us In” to be particularly singable. But then many other modern hymns are not singable either.

  66. Gabriel Austin says:

    At one playing of Gather Us In, I was repulsed when I offered my hand to a lady to waltz in the aisles.

    It seems to be overlooked that many of the songs in the new church song book are copyright. There is a lot of money involved. At one point my ears perked up when I heard the 23rd Psalm read as “The Lord is my Shepherd / I shall want for nothing”. I wondered whose was the tin-ear that ruined one of the most beautiful lines in the Bible. Then I bethought me that it is now probably a new copyright.

    The reader who began this discussion – I say it most respectfully – shocked me by writing that he comes from Methodist tradition and yet finds little problem with the cocktail lounge music that is proffered in Catholic churches. Whenever I hear a beautiful hymn, I check the hymnal. Sure enough it is a Protestant hymn – lovely singable melodies. We need an Isaac Watt.

  67. Charles E Flynn says:

    Every time I hear “Gather Us In” I have to suppress the thought of what it sounds like if performed on a kazoo. Oddly enough, no such effort has ever been required for any Gregorian chant.

  68. twele923 says:


    Not exactly a kind parody, but is that ever really the point of parody?

    All the same, I find myself agreeing with the commenter above who suggested that chant will never really catch on again in a culture that can trade one secular music fad for another so quickly. Of course, liturgy is no place for secular music fads, which would serve only to remind us of what we heard on the radio last week and further distract us from God. We have to understand that if we make a concerted effort to restore chant to liturgy, we’ll be making ourselves openly counter-cultural as a Church community. No bad thing to do, but prepare for the fallout from those members of the congregation who would be made uncomfortable by such “anachronism” or “stubbornness”. Such a change would require catechesis and not a little musical training for the congregation; the changeover would encompass much more than merely the week’s musical selections.

    On a related note: How do we feel about adapting chant melodies to English translations of the original Latin texts? This might be the most effective way to ease chant back into liturgy, and such arrangements do exist (and, if my info is right, the chants for the Ordinary are being fully revised for the new translation and included in every Roman Missal [formerly Sacramentary]). Which brings up one more point: these changes need to include, be endorsed by, and even appear to be inspired by the pastor, who might make a good-faith effort to chant some Mass himself – in English, at least in the beginning – to shore up the congregation’s confidence.

  69. amenamen says:

    Gordon Lightfoot likes hot dogs, too:

    The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
    of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee.”
    The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
    when the skies of November turn gloomy.

    Gather us in, the fat and the skinny,
    Gather the kids who climb upon rocks,
    Gather us in, the tough and the sissy,
    Gather the sick kids who have chicken pox.

  70. PostCatholic says:

    Tantum Ergo can be set rather nicely to O My Darling Clementine.

  71. benedetta says:

    abiologistforlife, I agree that chant doesn’t carry a cultural resonance in the U.S. for the reasons you state. Still I don’t know that this necessarily means that we in the U.S. with a lack of any unified cultural heritage should be in the position of dictating, for the universal Church, the stylistic tastes of the 1970s and 1980s as sacred musical prayer. Nor should we be reluctant to leave aside the shop-worn because the TLM will never become the prevalent form.

    It is a sad statement that sacred music should be so driven by marketing as just another aspect of U.S. music industry. Just because something sells doesn’t really mean that it’s good or that people prefer it, or that it’s singable and it also doesn’t mean that it’s grounded in scripture or truths of the faith.

    Many people notice the disconnect between what we say we sing to pray and what we seem to be really all about right now. If we can’t find the music to fit our intentions toward worship of God perhaps silence could be tried.

    We get the impression that this or that is all there is out there when in fact it’s much greater than we realize. It’s just not been given a chance.

  72. amenamen says:

    Perhaps the biggest problem with many of our hymns
    (not just “gatherusinthelostandforsaken”) is that no one would ever guess what the Catholic Church actually teaches after listening to the words.

    For example, a visitor might legitimately ask:

    do you people believe in life after death?
    (not in some heaven light years away)
    do you believe in heaven? or are you materialists?
    (here in this place, not in some heaven)
    does the Catholic Church forbid certain types of architecture?
    (dark of buildings confining)
    did you just tear down an old building with no windows and build a “glass cathedral”?
    or does Mass have to start right after sunrise?
    (now, new light is streaming, darkness is vanished away)
    to whom is the command “Gather-us-in” addressed?
    God? the ushers? ourselves? space aliens?
    if we are already inside the church, into what place are we hoping to be gathered?
    Heaven? (not in some heaven) here in this place? a space ship?
    about whom are we singing? God? the Holy Trinity? Jesus?
    (we, we, we, us, us, us, us)
    to whom does “we” refer? just the people in this building?
    (here in this place)
    is pride a sin? is greed?
    (the rich and the haughty, the proud and the strong)
    how are sins forgiven?
    (gather us in)
    what happens to the wine and water?
    (drink the wine of compassion)
    is the bread just a symbol of Christ?
    (take the bread of new birth)
    is it really the Body of Christ, or is it still bread
    (eat the bread that is you)
    that is not very clear: what is transubstantiation?
    (Gather us in)
    what happens to the bread?

    can anyone receive Communion?
    (Gather us in, gather us in, gather us in)
    do I have to go to Confession first?
    (Gather us in)
    do I need to go to RCIA classes first?
    (Gather us in)

  73. Fr. Basil says:

    \\As a preamble, music for liturgical worship is not a mere add on or decoration.\\

    This hits the nail on the head.

    Too many people see music in any form (including chant) as an “add-on” to Mass.

    But what do you expect from the man in the pew after over 1000 years of Low Masses? Of course, he’s going to assume that it’s the norm.

  74. ipadre says:

    Sing the refrain of “Here I am Lord”, then, sing the theme song from “The Brady Bunch”. They are just too close for coincidence.

  75. ContraMundum says:

    As with head coverings for women, Gregorian chant is not required.

    As with head coverings for women, there remain (non-binding) arguments based on tradition, fittingness, and aesthetics.

    Does a woman sin if she does not cover her head at Mass? Unless she is doing it for some strangely wrong intention, no. Does a priest sin if he permits hymns rather than Gregorian chant at Mass? Unless he is doing it for some strangely wrong intention, no.

    Of two permissible acts, is one better? In both cases: yes.

  76. Imrahil says:

    Father Z mentioned the wish of the Second Vatican Council. This is, of course, a legitimate point.

    My point is, I consider, also a legitimate one, as I’m neither a priest, nor normally a participator in the music-choosing, nor a Church official charged with liturgical supervision. Thus, while trying not to grumble if not with really good reasons, I judge quite personally what I like and what I don’t. I may think to myself of reasons for my taste, though.

    It is as a matter of fact a benefit of the TLM that, so to speak – while of course the participant does participate actuously – it doesn’t matter so much that everything is prayed, as there is one to for sure do the praying in the name of all. Thus, while gregorian chant, polyphony and – in my view – the festive Mass compositions of the classics (Mozart, Haydn etc.; but also Bach b minor Mass, though very long and he was Protestant) are somewhat standard for the TLM, we had in Germany also the so-called pray-sing-Masses where the priest prayed the one thing and the people just sang something generally fitting. I believe these are legitimate (as non-standard, though they might be heard often enough). While it seems to me, in the Ordinary Form what isn’t to remain unprayed must be prayed by or in front of the whole people.

    Anyway, there seems to be a lot of music which is not gregorian or polyphony. Leaving the question of new songs aside, all that Church hymns can as a matter of practicality only be preserved in mass. And frankly, as a German I don’t want to be rid of my good old Schubert Mass. “What is the place to turn to when grief and pain oppress me? Whom announce I my delighting when joyfully beats mahy haheart? To Thee, to Thee o Fahather cahome I with johoy ahand sorrow, Thou sendest yea the plaheasures ahand healest evry pain.” Or these march-style [one bingo for the stereotype] hymns like “A House of Glory’s watching far over all the land: built from eternal rohohock by God’s the Master’s hand (two, three, four): God we’re lauding Thee, God we’re praising Thee” etc which was written and composed at the midst of the Kulturkampf.

  77. albinus1 says:

    How do we feel about adapting chant melodies to English translations of the original Latin texts? This might be the most effective way to ease chant back into liturgy, and such arrangements do exist.

    I don’t think I’ve ever yet encountered a Catholic parish in the US where the congregation didn’t know the standard Gregorian Chant-like setting of the “Our Father” in English. Not only that, the people always sing it with gusto, even at Masses where the music is otherwise execrable. So it can be done. The key seems to be creating familiarity with the music among the members of the congregation, and that will take time and patience, as well as a willingness on the part of music directors to realize that they can’t introduce a bunch of unfamiliar stuff all at once if they want people to take to it.

  78. albinus1 says:

    The saddest part of this whole discussion is that I will have “Gather Us In” running through my head day and night for at least 48 hours!

    Yes, unfortunately, “Gather Us In” is the “Copacabana” of church music!

  79. EWTN Rocks says:

    Fr. Z, thanks to you and your readers I now know why Gregorian Chant is so important to the Mass! Unfortunately, I do not recall hearing it during Mass at my parish, and I’m frustrated now that I realize the importance.

    I have to admit that I love Gregorian Chant and listen to it when praying at home. I actually would like to download more but wasn’t sure where to look for the best online resource – any suggestions?

    O.k., admission #2: there is one song (not a chant) that I love to hear during Mass…I think it’s called Hail Mary, Gentle Woman. The last time I heard it I was so taken by it that I actually had tears in my eyes. However, I realize now why chant is more appropriate.

  80. dcs says:

    Does a priest sin if he permits hymns rather than Gregorian chant at Mass?

    There are hymns and then there are “Gather Us In” and other hymns by the Hagen-Haas-Schutte axis of pablum. I’m not sure that allowing hymns like these is not a sin (and I say that with my tongue only partly in cheek).

  81. ContraMundum says:


    Point taken. “Look Beyond” has got to be at least a venial sin.

  82. Christo et Ecclesiae says:

    Somewhere along the line, the devotions of the Church and the liturgy collided. There really shouldn’t be any hymns at mass. At a prayer meeting, feel free to sing Gather Us In all you’d like. (I’m big on Praise and Worship.)

  83. ddobbs says:

    I am in agreement that Gather Us In is a catchy tune but grossly inadequate for liturgical worship. I have noticed that many readers of this blog hold Gregorian chant and polyphony in very high regard (and rightly so) but I have noticed a disdain for almost all music used in liturgy that is not plainchant or polyphony and I disagree with this perspective. I have been a Catholic Music Director for over a decade and am currently the Music Director at 3 Parishes in Atlantic Canada. I would like to make a few observations based on personal experience. Firstly, I am at the front of the line of those who say there is no music more beautiful that polyphony especially when used during liturgy. I will often joke to friends that the aroma of incense or the soaring melodies of Palestrina make me “feel” holy. Joking aside, I think they are ‘supposed’ to have that effect of drawing our minds to higher things. In the same token I have also noticed a few other things regarding this style of music.

    It is alot easier to listen to than to sing along with. I will often have it playing softly in the background during my prayertime, and only rarely will I sing along. Plainchant is a little easier to sing, but at the same time, it is not acessible to most people. The fact of the matter is that most catholics do not understand Latin, and even if the translation is on the same page, they will often not know which words corresponds together. I have been to prayer meetings where the people will sing a certain song, and then repeat it in a different language e.g. French. I know what the words mean because we just sang the words in english a moment before but something changes when I am no longer using my mother tongue. I am no longer focused on directing each word to God, instead, I am trying to “think in French” and pronounce the words properly and am usually relieved when we switch back to english.

    Every Lent we use Latin Mass parts at one of my parishes, I go over them every Sunday before mass with the congregation; they have the words they know what the words mean, and after a few Sundays most people are singing along fine. However, I have numerous people tell me how grateful they are when easter rolls around because we switch back to english. I do not believe that polyphony lends itself well to full active conscious participation by the average congregation. That type of music was written to be listened to, particularly back in the middle ages when the choir would sing the Sanctus all throughout the Canon while the priest prayed quietly and the congregation either listened or prayed a rosary or looked at the stained glass windows etc.

    And sometimes beauty itself is distracting. Some cathedrals are so ornate that while they demonstrate the grandeur of God, is is very easy to get distracted by all the intricacies of the decor during the liturgy when everyone is supposed to be focused on the mass. I would argue that the same is possible and often likely regarding polyphony. Take the time after communion, sometimes a Choir will sing a song so beautiful that it moves the congregation to tears, but at the same time it is distracting them from giving thanks to God because the beauty in that case is distracting.

    I am certainly not advocating we rid our churches of beauty, far from it, I am merely suggesting that plainchant and polyphony have difficulties associated with them as well. As per hostility against all things modern. Most things in the liturgy have secular origins. Latin was the ordinary language of the world when the church was founded. During the middle ages when the church adopted the organ and polyphony, those things were the modern equivalent of secular popular music. I am not suggesting that we should be singing Bryan Adams or Brittany Spears during the liturgy, but there is some modern Christian music that I believe does lend itself well to be used tastefully during liturgy. Some of these songs are a lot more singable for most people i.e. some songs by Matt Maher, Josh Blakesly and Chris Tomlin to name but a few. At one of my parishes we have a Lifeteen program, and we use some of this more modern music during mass. Out of all the churches in the city, it more than any other mass regularly attracts new people of other faiths, fallen away catholics, old and young alike. And they say that what initially drew them back to mass was the music. This modern music is ‘familiar’ to them just like polyphony was ‘familiar’ to the people of the middle ages. This music seems to be more effective in evangelizing than polyphony or plainchant.

    My wife is a youth minister and we have been working with teens and young adults for a long time. As a point of reference, we also have a choir at one of the parishes where I work and they primarily sing polyphony and sacred hymns during mass. The choir is excellent, but I have noticed that very few young people attend that mass, and when I ask them, its because they cannot relate to the music, they much prefer the music at the Lifeteen mass, and thats the one they attand and the one they bring their friends to.I believe, stongly in fact, that polyphony and plainchant should be used in liturgy, particular on solemn occasions, and especially at the Vatican. However, I believe that some modern music also has a place, particularly in places in need of evangelization.

  84. If anyone is still reading the comment thread…

    Lost in the discussion of musical style is the question of what texts actually ought to be sung during Mass at the entrance, offertory, communion, etc. — the propers of the Mass.

    The Mass calls for the singing of sacred texts — usually from the Psalms, scriptural canticles, or Gospel passages. The thing about sacred texts is that they are the inspired Word of God, not the word of [insert name of lyricist du jour].

    There is an effort to put an English translation of these proper texts to simple chant melodies, the fruits of which will be released by summertime. It’s called the Simple English Propers project, spearheaded by the Church Music Association of America.

    But if your parish won’t accept plainsong in any language at this point in time, set the texts to another style they’re accustomed to while doing the catechesis on what proper liturgical music is. Or at least search for music that is Scripture-based — that is, music that uses the actual words of Scripture and not words that are loosely based on Scripture.

  85. Imrahil says:

    @Christo et Ecclesiae: Point taken, but with a “but”. It is possible to state this “Mass is this and praise is that” division. It has arguments on its side. It has other arguments on the contrary, viz. that the Mass is the summit of all worship and thus also of all forms of worship. Read: of worship not intrinsically unfitting for Mass; but I wonder whether there exists any legitimate worship unfitting for all parts of Mass. There does exist legitimate worship unfitting for the liturgical season.

    But to “enlarge” Mass with forms of worship seems to have been decided for in the tradition of the Church. In a revocable part of the tradition, of course. I grant that the underrepresentation of gregorian chant, polyphony and the like is a maldevelopment. But I do think that they aren’t the only music liturgically accurate.

    Besides, there was a time when not only the texts but also the music was fixed and unchangeable: the gregorian chant (and no polyphony). There are arguments for that, and these did appear at the Council of Trent. But the Council of Trent, under the impression of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, decided to the contrary.

  86. gtbradshaw says:

    This post/thread is pretty one-sided.
    Ddobbs, thank you for trying to at least vocalize some concerns that crop up on the parish level.
    I know GUI stinks but simply lamenting/berating/castigating all that is not polyphonic generally isn’t helpful.

  87. @benedetta: I didn’t mean to imply that”we in the U.S. with a lack of any unified cultural heritage should be in the position of dictating, for the universal Church, the stylistic tastes of the 1970s and 1980s as sacred musical prayer.” I was just expressing qualms about the practicality of actually bringing Gregorian chant back in the way that it would become something that the average Catholic valued/expected/etc.

  88. benedetta says:

    ddobbs, Music for parish in the context of urban area has resources which most of the rest of the country simply do not have, either to effectuate a good lifeteen Mass or chant. But that too need not mandate the endless Haugen. Nor do the vocal complaints of certain parishioners who seem be angrily predisposed against. Just because a few feel entitled to vocalize doesn’t mean they speak for everyone. And even if they did “everyone” in the Church is something which is very much continually in flux. I mean from moment to moment.

    I find the “Latin for Lent” thing very weird. Why should this be the case. How about Latin for Advent…or Latin for Pentacost?

    abiologistforlife, I was taking your point a step further. I agree that the US hasn’t any unified cultural heritage. But I am saying that the leap to saying the universal Church should celebrate Mass with the music of the 1970s or 80s US doesn’t follow from that fact.

    I certainly don’t deny that there are practical steps. As I point out to the other commenter, the resources available in urban areas are different than in other places so that is one practical aspect. I suspect that convenience, and not the will of the people, is behind much more than we realize. Few people are trained in organ these days (and it was never a common thing) and so it’s not as if an outpouring of parishioners get together and say wouldn’t it be great if we could wheel a grand piano up onto the altar… Though probably not really a lot different from the steps required to implement a lifeteen rock band Mass. If someone were to outline the practical steps and substitute chant for rock group I don’t think it would look incredibly different. Nothing happens by magic or without a little effort, leadership, direction, confidence.

    If it’s Tomlin versus the Haugen or the Mahar versus the Haugen, well, let’s refresh and update, by all means, in with the Tomlin and the Maher and many more. Let’s do it. At least those guys believe in the faith and aren’t talking out of both sides of their mouths, on the one hand, urging to buy, and on the other mocking and criticizing the faith and explaining why because the Church is so wrong and evil one has to belong to something else. Fine. We don’t have to have the chant if people are afraid to sing in Latin and can’t get a grip on polyphony (just a big word). And it’s true that Americans don’t sing which correlates to the lack of heritage…Or go with Christian spirituals from the days of slavery, how about that. And you know what else you don’t need a lifeteen or a rock band to sing the “God of wonders beyond our galaxy, You are Holy…” in the church. You don’t even need any instruments at all. Have seen old ladies on occasion join into this at Adoration, whole heartedly…

    As I’ve said the universe is much much bigger than the Haugen…

  89. nanetteclaret says:

    What is “Gather Us In” all about? I did a quick analysis and found:

    we, us, our = 24 times
    you, your = 6 times (who is “you”? It is not capitalized. It could be anyone.)
    God = 0 times
    Jesus = 0 times
    Holy Spirit = 0 times
    Holy Trinity = 0 times
    Blessed Sacrament = 0 times

    CONCLUSION: It’s “all about us” and our demands: “gather us, call us, give us, nourish us, teach us.” Please and Thank You? Not there! Where is Adoration and Praise to the One Triune God? Also not there!

  90. Joanne says:

    To the LW:

    Wow, so happy that you have come into the Catholic Church!

    Others here have raised good points, I guess, about the appropriateness of songs like Gather Us In for the Mass, and whether or not they are theologically sound (agreed that “not in some heaven light years away” sounds dismissive of the idea that we should be trying without fail to attain heaven). And I must note that I choose to assist in the Mass at a parish where Gather Us In would NEVER make it to Mass but – I like alot of Haugen, Haas, Schutte, etc tunes as well. I don’t know, was the intention of the writers to make, as one person suggested, campy music? Or as someone else, not on this blog, has said, songs in which sacred words as used as double entendres? I hope not. I guess I give them the benefit of the doubt.

  91. benedetta says:

    Since the ncr/Bishop Morris thing accusing of Temple Police/Wanderer perhaps we should look further…even in the vast suburbia and beyond where there may in fact be adequate or better resources, in terms of musical talent and technique, why the insistence on the Haugen there as well? If the argument is that one needs so much musical talent in order to “do something (anything) different”, in places where the resources do exist, why is it still always necessary and paramount? One wonders if there isn’t in all reality some other sort of temple police on patrol…to ensure that the Haugen is sung, over and over again, no matter what. And this sort of temple police can’t really cite to canon law, document, or, just about anything it seems, as people here have parsed the sentiment of GUI (and other ditties) to back up their enforcement of the law…seeing as how you can’t verify against the basic, true sources of the faith, what you have left is, whim and arbitrary choice…there’s that word again…because some people, whom you may or may not know, want it, and that’s all you need to know. Now, if we’re talking Stalinist type mentality, which approach, the one that falls back on the deposit of the faith, knowable to all, transparent and capable of verification, or, the one dictated by some shadows who remain nameless?

  92. benedetta says:

    And if it isn’t the Haugen then you are permitted to take a break for the ex-Jesuit Schutte…It seems like the songbook is quite limited and close-minded, intolerant…

  93. benedetta says:

    So, you must sing to affirm Mr. Schutte, and Mr. Haugen, to increase their profits, but, it is illegal to be clearly and openly, resistant to the culture of, the death…?

    Perhaps since we have collectively sinned against our Creator who has bestowed us with life and blesses us to cooperate with that life, in our neglect to fully and actively resist the culture of death in all forms, we should just be silent. I am sure that Mr. Schutte and Mr. Haugen, when they composed their tunes, didn’t intend that we support the horrendous millions who have been slaughtered in their own wombs, undesired by all except God…But now that it seems the 70s did not bode well for our generation, as so many are not in fact here to sing with us, because they are dead, we ought to silently reflect on what has happened.

    Not all can be Gathered In. They are gone…eternally, not welcomed…clearly, not all are welcomed, no matter what we sing, as if holier than thou.

  94. benedetta says:

    Btw anybody know how that prolife dialogue is going with Obama? How’s it looking? What are the fruits of the dialogue? What, no dialogue? Well when is the summit scheduled? Hope it’s going well for all, getting all the goodies everyone wanted and everything. Then, once those have been handed out, I guess bin laden’s been bagged, once everyone gets what they want, then, would we be able to have the prolife dialogue? Hope that wasn’t one big scam…

  95. Out of place says:

    I am an Anglican Christian, so I understand my comments may be irrelevant. Nonetheless, I’ll venture this: I consider myself very friendly to the Roman Catholic Church. I highly value the things that this post promotes and prefers. I would prefer to be in a worship service created under these sensibilities and standards.

    However, I don’t believe or feel about this issue the way it is discussed here. The predominant view seems very Roman but not very catholic.

    I sat in the thatched-roof church of first-generation Tumphuan Christians in northeastern Cambodia and hears them sing the first Tumphuan “hymn”, written by a blind old lady. The song was translated for me and went something like this:

    “I am so glad that in 1999 God sent the missionaries to tell us about Jesus. Now we don’t have to kill our water buffalo anymore when the mediums say that our ancestors demand it.”

    And so on. The majority Khmers are disdainful of these minority hillbillies, and they would probably assess the Tumphuan “culture” as crude and devolved. I assume they are right, and I don’t care. The Gospel does and must find its expression in every culture. Jesus will be confessed as Lord in every tongue. It is not true that all cultures are equivalent or that all expressions are equivalent. On the contrary, some are manifestly superior. But when we see Christians pick up the cultural tools that they find at hand and use those tools to praise God and to give expression to their faith, we should rejoice (even if we must also sometimes cringe) that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord of all humanity.

    One other point: I’ve heard this hymn “Gather Us In” but I don’t remember it that well. I don;t really mean to defend it. However, the critics of the text had better make sure that their method wouldn’t consign some of the Psalms to the dustbin. Not every song has to say all of the truth. The church’s music as a whole should say all of the truth, but some songs undertake only a piece.

  96. I know GUI stinks but simply lamenting/berating/castigating all that is not polyphonic generally isn’t helpful.

    Of course it’s helpful. Articulating a view that dissents from monolithic liberalism is always helpful.

    I do not believe that polyphony lends itself well to full active conscious participation by the average congregation. That type of music was written to be listened to, particularly back in the middle ages when the choir would sing the Sanctus all throughout the Canon while the priest prayed quietly and the congregation either listened or prayed a rosary or looked at the stained glass windows etc.

    Listening is full, active, conscious participation, and listening to sacred polyphony or chant fosters the proper interior dispositions for Mass, and especially for Holy Communion. To find out whether that’s true or not, all you have to do is consider whether you are more recollected listening to Palestrina or Bernadette Farrell.

    As for the rest: prayer cannot distract from prayer, nor contemplation from contemplation. It is possible to participate in the Mass by praying the Rosary during Mass with the intention of uniting your prayers to those of the priest. As for looking at stained-glass windows, it is altogether fitting to look at stained-glass windows that beautifully depict the life of Christ or scenes from Scripture: for centuries, these windows were the catechisms of the illiterate.

    Besides all of which, I challenge anybody to make the case that during the Middle Ages, which produced multitudes of great saints, the average Catholic did not have a far better understanding of the Mass than we have today. I submit that after decades of Mass in the vernacular, with the priest facing away from God and set to popular music, we understand the Mass less now than ever.

  97. catholicmidwest says:

    Church isn’t about a performance as every church musician should know, but what they usually fail to realize is that it’s not about a performance by musicians OR THE LAITY. It’s about worship of God, and music is one of the modes that can be used for worship of God and that’s all it is. It’s there to focus attention on the Lord and augment the liturgical action, and it’s there as a sort of prayer. When it fails to do that or be that, then it’s merely a distracting sideshow and shouldn’t be there. At. All.

    People who insist on burdening us with their “talents” over and above the meaning and intent of true liturgical music need to audition for American Idol or the like and get it out of their systems once and for all, so we can be in peace. Sorry, but that’s my real opinion on that.

  98. Tom Ryan says:

    Here’s why it’s better. Granted the video is within the context of execrable deep fried Southern American Protestantism, but follow it through and you’ll see it’s even more relevant to us.


  99. catholicmidwest says:

    Good liturgical music ought to be tunes that everyone knows; things that it seems like you’ve sung a million times and you love it because they remind you of home. The lyrics should never change.

    Good liturgical music should be, in a way, like the Hail Mary. It should be something that pops into your head in times of trouble, and in times of desolation as well as in times of happiness. Good liturgical music ought to be a form of prayer.

    This means there isn’t much room for innovation, and that’s fine. This should be like the “family yell,” the perennial sound wherever Catholics are found, a murmur that never goes away. It should be like the old Credo that I’ve remembered for 50 years from my Catholic school days. [Yes, I went to Catholic school, but I converted much later. I never forgot the music however. It was unforgettable, etched into me somewhere deep inside. That’s how it should be. This is why Burger King-like ditties, such as “Gather Us In,” strike me as being desperate noise.]

  100. catholicmidwest says:

    Anita, you said, “I submit that after decades of Mass in the vernacular, with the priest facing away from God and set to popular music, we understand the Mass less now than ever.”

    I would agree with you, with comments.

    Regardless of the fact that there is more technical information available than ever, most people understand things far less comprehensively than they used to. People just surf through everything on display to make money and gain influence now. They just download crap without giving it much thought. Thought takes time and effort. As a result, many people don’t know much as a rule, regardless of the fact that we live in a pedogogical era, and that’s actually considered okay. We’re always viewing sights and sounds at max volume, trying to show each other this or that, but we’re just surfing factlets. There is as little understanding as there ever was, and probably more, as any glance at the news can confirm. This extends to the church as well. It’s rampant, and liturgical things don’t fare any better than anything else.

    Add to that the distraction of the priest’s personality, the “participation” which is anything but, the psychological dynamics of distraction from goofy music and so on, and you have a disaster. Church can be a 3-ring circus in some parishes and that’s not worship in any sense.

  101. TNCath says:

    I think any “hymn” that has the term “this place” in it–“Gather Us In,” All Are Welcome–are immediately suspect. Their lyrics are meaningless, and their melodies banal. And yet, they survive? Why? Because nobody at the top (i.e. the bishops) want to deal with it, and quite frankly, many bishops and priests subscribe to this homespun liturgical feel-good populism.

    It’s really too bad the bishops didn’t call for a review of liturgical music to coincide with the implementation of the new translation of the Mass.

  102. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t like hymns in general. I used to be a protestant and I’m not sure how many Catholics realize that a lot of them were snatched and refurbished for Catholic use around the 60s and 70s. Some of the ones that were Catholic before that are hopelessly sappy. Sorry, but true.

    I don’t know why we can’t separate liturgical music from devotional music. There is a place for both in the life of the church. Namely, liturgical music should be used for the liturgy; devotional music can be used for other events, at home, on the radio, prayer groups, etc. Used correctly, this sort of thing can be very profitable for peoples’ faith, putting an appropriate tune on the lips no matter where you are. Reminders of faith, etc.

  103. catholicmidwest says:

    PS. Every time I hear “Amazing Grace,” I hear it through the filter of my deep-south protestant upbringing. Heard that way, it is more beautiful then I’ve ever heard it in the Catholic church, even though it’s a sort of personal anthem for me of my conversion to Catholicism from Protestantism, which came in midlife after much doubt and struggle with faith.

    [Which is to say, I don’t really hear any of you after the first few bars; instead I hear a cappella in 4 parts, southern American voices singing it like they mean it. Which they did. I just didn’t get it til I pieced together the whole thing, through the Grace of God, and that meant being Catholic.]

  104. catholicmidwest says:

    Amazing Grace is devotional music, BTW. Not really liturgical.

  105. APX says:

    is some modern Christian music that I believe does lend itself well to be used tastefully during liturgy. Some of these songs are a lot more singable for most people i.e. some songs by Matt Maher, Josh Blakesly and Chris Tomlin to name but a few.

    Which songs specifically were you referring to? I did a listen on YouTube to these writers, and I couldn’t find anything that is easy to sing, nor remotely appropriate for liturgical worship. Perhaps I missed the songs you were thinking of. What I heard sounded more like my evangelical protestant roommate’s music she listened to.

    we also have a choir at one of the parishes where I work and they primarily sing polyphony and sacred hymns during mass. The choir is excellent, but I have noticed that very few young people attend that mass, and when I ask them, its because they cannot relate to the music,

    They can’t relate to the music? This is liturgical music, not emo. Anyway, the purpose of liturgical music isn’t to make congregants feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Gregorian chant and polyphony are actual prayers and sacred text. When one reads them in English, it only makes sense to use them rather than some warm and fuzzy feeling contemporary song.

    For example, whenever the Sprinkling Rite is done in the NO that I attend, almost always the song, “Rain Down” is sung throughout it rather than an antiphon. Honestly, I don’t know what the NO appropriate antiphon is because I’ve never heard one sung, but I know right now in the EF the antiphon Vidi Aquam is being sung, which in English is,

    I saw water coming forth from the temple
    on the right side, alleluia:
    and all those to whom this water came
    were saved, and shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

    V. Give praise to the Lord, for He is good:
    R. For His mercy endureth forever.

    V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost:
    R. As it was in the beginning, is now,
    and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

    Who could possibly think that sacred text such as this should be replaced with some meaningless contemporary touchy-feely song about us?

    Contemporary music in liturgy detracts from the sacredness of the Most Holy Sacrifice on the Altar. We as Catholics don’t go to “praise and worship services” on Sundays. We go to Mass for the Most Holy Sacrifice. We don’t go for the music; we go for the sacrifice that happens on the altar every Sunday. This is a concept that many Catholics don’t know. Even I recently started to understand why we go to Mass. Priests need to preach this! People who hear it from priests need to pass it to those who don’t understand! Corny ditties in Mass need to be reprobated!

    they much prefer the music at the Lifeteen mass, and thats the one they attand and the one they bring their friends to.

    Great. Can’t they do that in one of those Youth Rallies instead??? And while they’re there, teach them about why we go to Mass every Sunday?

    However, I believe that some modern music also has a place, particularly in places in need of evangelization.

    It’s a false evangelization, though! It’s not Catholic. It’s not what we are! That’s not our Catholic Identity!

    D’you know what really grinds my gears? This nonsense that in order to get the youth and young adults back into church the Church needs to “reach out to them with contemporary music that emotionally moves them.” I don’t need to sit in Mass and sing some nonsense about “the wine of compassion” or “the bread of new birth” or how “We are question. We are creed.” in order to keep attending Mass. I need a Church that is orthodox in Her teachings and a reverent and orthodox Mass to attend on Sundays. It doesn’t have to be the EF, nor does it even have to be in Latin. Just give me something reverent and orthodox, along with a priest who fully believes in the Sacrament of Penance, and I’ll be happy.

    For the record, I’m a young adult, and a revert at that. I got nothing out of going to Mass. As a little kid, I used to keep track of “how much longer until the end” by the four hymn sandwich. I used to wonder why the pope’s Mass wasn’t like the Mass I attended every Sunday. I used to watch in awe at how beautiful the pope’s Masses were and get bored out of my mind at my Mass on Sundays.

    Once I was old enough to work, my parents let me stop going Mass on Sundays so I could work. It wasn’t long until I was a Christmas and Easter Catholic. Eventually I started looking into returning to Church, but it just didn’t do anything for me. I knew a bit of the theology behind transubstantiation, but I started to question if it was even true because the Mass environment didn’t support this belief that Jesus was really there. I quit going to church again.

    Then YouTube was invented and I started watching the Eastern Orthodox Masses. I was going to convert over into Eastern Orthodoxy for the simple fact that they’re worship was reverent and solemn and resembled more of what I saw on TV when the pope said Mass. No one told me that we had “our own Catholic version” of such reverence.

    Enough with trying to appeal to the young people at Mass by lowering it to level of secular entertainment. Teach the youth and young adults why we go to Mass every Sunday, as well as what it’s about, and what it isn’t about.

  106. Luvadoxi says:

    Just my opinion, but when I was Presbyterian and Lutheran, before my conversion 7 years ago, I sang in many choirs, including one at St. Olaf College. (*Good* music, by the way, even the times I didn’t personally care for the style.) I can’t sing Gather Us In. I mean, I really have trouble singing it. The way the melody bounces all over is confusing, especially the way it goes down at the end of the stanza. And it’s just *bad*, people. Really bad. Haugen/Haas et al. do have some beautiful music–even some of the standard pieces are good when performed well (I happen to *love* the Gloria from the Mass of Light, especially at Easter Vigil). But Gather Us In just astounds me. I just stand there in horror when it’s sung, which is way too often in my stuck-in-the-70s parish.

  107. JKnott says:

    Well said and God bless you APX!

  108. Henry Edwards says:

    Actually, the treasury of great Catholic hymnology comes not from either Mass or popular devotion but from the Divine Office. Consider, for instance, that Aquinas wrote the great Eucharistic hymns Pange, lingua (including Tantum ergo), Sacris sollemniis (inc. Panis angelicus), and Verbum supernum (inc. O salutaris hostia) not for Mass or Benediction (where they’re often heard) but as the hymns for the various hours of the Office of Corpus Christi.

    Now that parish Lauds and Vespers are becoming more common (as Vatican II asked), my current concern is not so much with inappropriate hymns at Mass (which I simply try to avoid) but with those who are unaware that the Liturgia Horarum prescribes a specific hymn from the Church’s treasury for each hour of the Office for each day, and assume it suffices (just as they see at Mass) to simply pick a likely selection from the hymnal. Not knowing that whereas the Psalms provide the body and bones of the Divine Office, the classical hymns in many ways set its specific spirit for each appointed Hour of each day of the Church calendar.

  109. Imrahil says:

    Dear @APX, I do want to insist that you’re wrong, definitely wrong, if you call evangelization by pop-style music a false one, only for the fact that the music of general Catholic tradition is a different one.

    That being said, that such music helps evangelization is to me a guess only (though a probable one, given World Youth Days) and not knowledge. I myself would argue anyway that music which confers sound Catholic theology, fosters an appropriate devotion, doesn’t push itself through at the exclusion of real tradition, and is wished for by a considerable number of Catholics, has a place in devotion and, consequently though that consequence is a point of discussion), in Mass. Well, that’s an opinion. But what is not opinion to me is that a change in music style doesn’t make an evangelization a false one, although it be “otherwise” an evangelization to Jesus Christ, including becoming Catholic or starting to attend the Church if already one, and believing Catholic dogmas.

  110. Mundabor says:

    To the new Catholic, may I try in this way:

    One can be used to, say, coca-cola and other similar beverages. He might be very satisfied and never drink anything else.

    If so, the first contact with truly excellent wine will, possibly, leave him with a “what’s the fuss” experience. This, because he hasn’t taken the time (or had the possibility) to educate himself to the good wine, learn to taste it and appreciate its infinite nuances.

    After a while, though, exposure to the fine wine will sharpen his ability to recognise good from bad wine and allow him to fully appreciate the good one. At that point he’ll wonder how he could ever think that Coca-cola – good as it may be in its place – might be the top.

    Jesus deserves no less than the best wine (and the moat solemn liturgy; and the most beautifully ornate churches; and the most reverent attitude, & Co.). and we must take time to learn to appreciate the beauty of proper music as we take time to let the meaning of the Mass sink more and more in our consciousness.

    I never can avoid the thought that solemn music and liturgy try to uplift us to the Lord, whilst banal songs and bad liturgy try to get Him down to our noisy and shallow party here below…



  111. catholicmidwest says:

    Absolutely there is a place for devotional catholic music, however, it’s just not in mass. Liturgical music should be used in mass.

  112. APX says:

    Dear @APX, I do want to insist that you’re wrong, definitely wrong, if you call evangelization by pop-style music a false one, only for the fact that the music of general Catholic tradition is a different one

    I call it false when someone is trying to use our Mass to evangelize and does so with contemporary pop-music as liturgical music. It has zero basis in our Mass. It is not part of our Catholic identity. If someone wants to go evangelize with pop music, go ahead. Just keep it out of Mass.

    Furthermore, the vast majority of what is being sung during Mass isn’t even theologically sound.

    On a side note, it never ceases to amaze me that churches are ridiculously strict with what brides may choose to have played during her wedding processional and recessional, but pretty much anything flies during Mass, even if it is theologically unsound.

  113. catholicmidwest says:

    APX, you said, “…..Furthermore, the vast majority of what is being sung during Mass isn’t even theologically sound.”

    You’re 100% correct there. A lot of it is sheer baloney, if you really understand what the Church has historically taught and what’s in Scripture.

    The liturgical music in Mass has been somewhat supplanted by devotional music which doesn’t belong in Mass. Ditto devotional actions for liturgical actions. It happened around the time of Vatican II and there are reasons for this. If you read some well-known Catholic books published around that time and associated with the liturgical so-called reform movement of the 20th century, like “Razing the Bastions,” you can find pretty good explanations of why it happened. The powers-that-be in the Catholic church became very worried about being squeezed out of relevance in Europe by the Communists and other rapidly moving cultural changes. They analyzed the situation (badly by the way), and concluded that they had to assert themselves publicly differently, ie. with a more personal emphasis, more participation, more personalism, more this and more that. The liturgical and historical functions of what Catholics do were played down dramatically, nearly forbidden. The net effect is that they ended up throwing themselves bodily at exactly what they feared most, sort of like a person who peers over a cliff with so much rapt horror that they fall in. It was stupid; they should have known better. Communism didn’t take over the world; how could it have? The culture doesn’t change the basic nature of man and salvation; how could it ever have done so?? But apparently these were questions they didn’t ask themselves, or at least didn’t ask themselves seriously enough. So now we are stuck with this mess we have to clean up, sooner or later.

  114. catholicmidwest says:

    You know, if you’re trying to compete with something, making yourself into a copy of your competition pretty much guarantees that you’re going to lose. Why? Because you demonstrate that you are dispensable enough to DISAPPEAR behind your competition, therefore dispensable enough to disappear from the public, period.

    If you perceive that you have competition, you have to make your own properties more desirable than your competition’s. Which properties? Well, precisely those your properties your competition can’t lay claim to!

    This is why church functions, ie youth groups and the like, should not try to look like anything else. This is why the Catholic Mass ought to resemble nothing else, and ought to have its own properties completely intact, with the language intact that says what it teaches, which is what no other group has either the grounds or the cajones to claim.

  115. benedetta says:

    Out of place, I appreciate your points very much and it’s important to consider what you have said.

    Gather Us In though is not akin to what you witnessed in Cambodia nor is it some sort of coded rendition of a psalm.

    Perhaps these tunes when composed, the 70s, 80s U.S. had some genuine if innocuous sentiments. It is true that a smattering reflect a biblical text. In fact, Haugen is composed with Mass acclamations though he does not apparently respect Catholicism and says, quite openly, as much. With that one might look into the profit angle or aspect as well. Just because something has the greatest percentage of market share in the U.S., as we all know, does not make it, good, worthy, virtuous, healthy, constructive.

    However there is no groundswell from the people for this now in 2011 and in fact many find that what is sung is disconnected to our intentions. Perhaps it is difficult to tell what our intentions are in present day U.S. and perhaps we don’t really feel gratitude and spontaneous praise towards our God. Maybe we don’t know what to do. Maybe we are confused. In that case silence should suffice. And then after a time of listening we could wait on the Lord and see.

    Then there is the problem that the Haugen is wielded as a weapon in the culture war so that, little else is permitted for the congregation to pray (sing). It’s unhealthy, inauthentic, exploitative, and, on the wrong side of the culture war…It is employed to underscore our “choice” and not really at the end of the day to gather us all in (as a mother hen?). Not all are welcomed to be gathered in. Like I said, maybe silence would be an option for us.

  116. Henry Edwards says:

    CMW: This is why the Catholic Mass ought to resemble nothing else

    This is why the first Catholic Mass I attended–as a college student over a half century ago–effectively determined my future as a life long Catholic. It was utterly different from anything I’d ever seen. I did not then know a word of Latin, but was mesmerized by the beauty of this strange Mass–in sight, sound, feel, and smell.

    If it had resembled the Protestant services I’d known, I’d surely never have returned for another Mass. But as it happened, I insisted that the person who invited me to that first one, bring me back to another the very next day, even though having invited me that holy day she’d not planned on coming back again the following day. After my second Catholic Mass in two days, still not knowing a word of Latin, I was totally hooked.

    The only thing about the vernacular Novus Ordo I’ve been completely happy about is that it came later. I’m glad we still have converts, but if my first Mass had been the typical one today, I’d surely still be a Methodist. (I haven’t been inside a Methodist church in many years, but I understand that some of them do the Novus Ordo (essentially) better than we do.)

  117. catholicmidwest says:

    Same thing here, Henry. I was a pistol in the 8th grade and my parents sent me to Catholic school to “straighten me out.” While there I was still a pistol, but I saw the strangest and most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was holy old Fr. Schneider of blessed memory, saying Mass reverently in Latin, with his back to me. He was wearing a fiddleback with golden embroidered letters and inexplicably holding something tiny and white high aloft. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I sang in the choir and I sang what I did not understand but I loved it. I’ve never forgotten it, even during the times in my life when I didn’t understand faith, couldn’t believe and couldn’t bring myself to say the creed. Thank God those days are over and I finally understood enough to get me here. I finally received my first Holy Communion when I was in my mid-30s.

    The Mass is really not like anything else. The Church is not really like anything else. It wears dirty rags and does not speak of itself well now, but it’s the same thing I saw then, only in hiding, which is wrong. Unfortunately other mischievous little girls might not be able to see the beauty in it as easily as I did. I don’t know what might have happened had I not seen it.

  118. benedetta says:

    Out of place, Just one other thing — when you say “better be sure” was that a threat, like, “or else”? Or else, what, exactly, that we’re going to “get it” because we don’t like certain things? Or is it not a free country after all…

    At any rate if people really want to break the monopoly of the music of the 70s in 2011 while we await the implementation of Second Vatican, here’s an idea. Commit to attending local NO Mass one Sunday, you know, as is. Ladies, wear your covering or mantilla if you are so inclined. When you receive communion, do however you are moved including if need be on the tongue and whilst kneeling. Sit, in the front row with your large brood. Attired as usual for Holy Mass. Sing the Haugen and whatever else is placed on the program, with enthusiasm (whatever you can muster). After all, in the golden age of the 70s (may they forever be in our hearts) the country was young and bold and innocent. We will relive it and hope for the best. After the Mass, personally thank and greet the priest celebrant, the liturgist, and any other decision maker who influences the musical themes. With your embarrassingly large family. Offer to organize a rosary procession, quiet prayerful witness on behalf of the parish to the local death camp, and, emphasize how much you loved the Haugen Mass. Mention that you homeschool or are contemplating it. As a vocation. Call, email or write a note to follow up on all of these points. Mention how orthodoxy can embrace Haugen from here on out.

    I guarantee you, with a showing from support of the lepers and wanderers of the Church, the Haugen will be banned in no time.

  119. benedetta says:

    Out of place, Also I don’t agree with your assertion that some cultures are superior to others.

  120. Imrahil says:

    Well, apart from the question of what is theologically sound – and I’m by (the benefit of) assumption talking about theologically sound songs, as is, for instance, “Lord the Light of Your Love” or “You for me” or the like – there remains, if you force it, the question whether the Thing that is evangelized to is the Catholic faith, or is the Catholic identity.

    You can ask whether extra-Mass devotion doesn’t suffice for pop-style-music-based evangelization, or whether this is efficient at all, or even whether efficient evangelization (efficient per assumption) is worth bad music. But it isn’t false evangelization, even if you come to the conclusion that it is evangelization with unneccessary means, or without effect, or at too high a price.

    However coming to think of it, I agree with @catholicmidwest that pop-style music for the primary sake of evangelization must needs be ineffective. But there remains to use it for a less-valued reason, viz. groups of faithful wanting to do so. Primarily without ulterior motives. And we may then secondarily also hope for evangelization.

    On a couple of side notes,
    “it never ceases to amaze me that churches are ridiculously strict with what brides may choose to have played during her wedding processional and recessional”.
    Are they?

    “Communism didn’t take over the world; how could it have?”
    However it could, it was, as far as I see, not far from conquering; I kind of celebrate every 9th of November, among other things, that within Europe it was conquered itself. Thanks be to God; and on this earth also thanks to the United States of America, and the Nato armies that had been standing on the watch.

  121. benedetta says:

    Here is a quotation from Mr. Haugen:

    “First of all, although I am not Roman Catholic, I have a deep love and respect for and faith in the worship tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. My own hesitancy about joining the Church is not about its eucharistic theology, but rather around the unwillingness of the Church to commission, ordain and welcome all humans as Jesus did–male and female, married and unmarried, saints and sinners. I believe that the Church, God’s people and all of creation have suffered from this omission.”

    It is one thing to say, I prefer to belong to a Church which permits women to be ordained ministers. It’s quite another to say you, in your Church, are unwelcoming of all people. Still, buy my music and play it, incessantly. I get to call you unwelcoming and at the same time I will not turn down one dollar of profit. It’s a funny way of saying one loves and respects the Church.

    And you know I don’t propose an all out ban on anything really. I’m not saying every composer must be superhumanly perfect. Certainly in the Catholic hymn collection one can find hymns composed by persons who had inflammatory things to say about Catholicism in their time. Some probably legitimate, some not so much. For most, you probably had to be there to get the full context and effect. And with time the Church said well we can agree on this what is essential in this hymn and this hymn doesn’t tear down the faith by its words so. Would Catholics have been asked, concurrently, while the composer made inflammatory statements, contemporarily to sing, well, it would probably not have gone so well. And yet now apparently we having been simultaneously pronounced unwelcoming proudly sing GUI…?

    And if we are all about acknowledging our faults and failings then let’s do that. We are unwelcoming. We do not extend hospitality. We have not welcomed the stranger into being, always. And many other things. Confessions will be extended…until further notice…in our area…If we are unwelcoming there is a way to work on that particular sin. But if it’s about someone from another tradition trying to break our faith, then, count me out. Catholicism is not perfect, I think everyone is well aware. Nor is any other faith tradition even the ones who “commission all humans” whatever that means. While Catholicism is not perfect, this raging feminist believes that women have always contributed and been honored officially by this Church. Read JPII and understand that so much as the Catholic Church must apologize for sins of males towards females, or whatever it might be, it’s entirely the same for every other tradition, without exception. Because some traditions have female ministers presiding has not in the end made the adherents more holy for it or even more enlightened or less inclined to the sin to which we all tend.

    In fact that is just the point, that there is already a great diversity, whether you want to look over the very long history or the relatively contemporary one, there is more, much more, than this handful of hymns. But if all things are really relative or equal or just as good, then, why not, try out, truly all things…?

  122. eulogos says:

    I wonder what the Orthodox would say if you told them they could get converts if they just sang some of the type of music that Imrahil is saying is OK to use at a Catholic mass? No, I don’t wonder. I know what they would say. They would say that what the people were converting to wouldn’t be Orthodoxy, because Orthodoxy, is, precisely, the true worship of God, the right glorification of God. Orthodox doesn’t mean the true teaching, but the true worshipping, or glorification. Those two things are understood to be one thing. That is why Imrahil is so wrong and AIX is so right. People should NOT encounter what they are familiar with and comfortable with from secular culture, but something completely other, something that brings with it the breath of heaven. My husband and I went to a wedding where the couple had made an effort to find a priest who would sing the whole mass , and they hired a choir to sing Gregorian chant. My husband said he thought angels had come down from heaven to this little church in northern Pennsylvania! We ought to be trying to create that sense at every mass, that this is a window into heaven , something transcendent. If young people are coming to mass to sing music they are comfortable with, they may be in some way trying to approach God, but they aren’t really worshipping as Catholics, any more than they could be worshipping as Orthodox singing such music. The mass in any case is not an instrument for evangelization! Even the first part, the Mass of the Catechumens, which has a didactic aspect, is for the already evangelized. And the second part is directed entirely towards God. It is where we join the priest in making present the sacrifice of Calvary, and in offering ourselves united with Christ, to the Father. I hope I put that right, I found I couldn’t find the right words. At one point those not fully initiated into the Church would not even have been permitted to be there. Now we let anyone be there, but our choice of music to accompany, or better, with which to chant, the appointed words, should not be about them, but about what is most fitting for the worship of God. It should be what our Tradition tells us is most fitting for the worship of God.
    I tell people I will return to the Latin rite when I hear Gregorian chant in my local parish. Meanwhile I sing Slavonic chant in the Byzantine rite. I honestly don’t think it is as beautiful as Gregorian chant, and it isn’t always well done, but it is so clear that what is happening is an act of worship of God, solemnly carried out according to an ancient tradition.
    Susan Peterson

  123. EWTN Rocks says:

    Last Sunday, I watched EWTN’s broadcast of Feast of the Divine Mercy, which included the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy followed by Mass. As I recall, the hymns during Mass were good and reverent but as Mass ended, the choir began to sing “My God is an Awesome God”, and I believe those attending the service broke out in a rhythmic clap. I have to admit I was taken aback – it didn’t seem appropriate, but maybe that’s just me being overly critical. Any thoughts?

  124. Brian says:

    The problem with these comments is that they are all subjective. Haugen’s Lutheranism has the same weight as the lifestyle Mozart lead. Neither speak to one’s abilities or suitability to write for Catholic Liturgy. The church clearly allows for hymns to be used, so while it may not be your “cup of tea,” that’s really irrelevant. As for the interpretation of some of the lyrics, those interpretations are certainly up for debate. “Other things being equal,”Gather Us In” is perfectly suited for liturgy. Those who use it, are nourished by it, find different meanings in it, should not be dismissed or ridiculed nor should their Catholicism be questioned.

  125. benedetta says:

    I agree Brian but nor should it predominate when there are plenty of other options available, I think that’s all people are saying. If one were to rotate it somehow with all of whatever else is available, including chant, then, certainly it wouldn’t be encountered very frequently at all. We are not permitted to question it?

    And I’m sorry but the tone and nature of this entire thread stems from the fact that people have politely inquired and many here have been involved in different efforts and yet everyone is all too familiar with the phenomenon which dictates that this must be, period, no dialogue permitted. That is curious and that is what fuels the level of frustration that then is expressed through, humor, dark humor, and, cynicism…

    It’s not the people being nourished by it that is a problem, by any means, although it’s pretty difficult to find what other “meanings” there might be, in the “building confining” and “some heaven light years away”, it’s not veiled meaning or layered.

    The problem is that it is and has been, for quite a long time as a matter of fact, wielded as a monopoly. That it predominates does not necessarily relate to preference, whether we discuss in terms of, prayer, praise, worship, liturgy, doctrine, catechesis, appeal to young people, celebration, appeal to old people, aesthetics, taste, trend or fashion or tradition. It seems that people have asked, with no luck, for decades, and politely, waiting for the dialogue that never came on this one.

    I know many here believe that chant ought to be given, as Vatican II says, pride of place when it comes to the Mass. I am one of those who sings Haugen because I am not given any choice in the matter. But as to the decision makers, well, one could, as you say “question their Catholicism”. Given the stubborn refusal to incorporate, not just, chant, but, just about, anything else. I am for, everything although the majority here if attached to the extraordinary form would not support an array of possibilities as in a cafeteria. That’s understandable. And with that aspect too, perhaps not only ought the range of possibilities for the laity to sing in prayer in the NO Mass be greatly expanded, but, the possibility for praying the Mass in the Extraordinary Form should also be more widely available than at present. Just to underscore that indeed, all are welcome.

    I do not think that Mr. Haugen is a Lutheran but it really does not matter. Whatever he professes, it is well enough for him to choose it and he can be whatever he wishes and certainly still compose music for Catholics if he feels that is his calling. But, for this person to then to go on and attack Catholicism while also reaping profit seems strange. Why should people not be permitted to question it? And why should they be condemned as ridiculing people who like to sing it, just for questioning the apparent monopoly?

    I’ve wondered about it, innocently, as I expect so many others have, for quite some time now. The fact that one cannot receive an answer seems curious. There ought to be a simple explanation. It seems very tied to royalties, and marketing, and to some other forces at work right now but not, at the end of the day really connected to what people desire to pray. If people overwhelmingly have chosen it since 70s, 80s, 90s, and onward, then, one could say, well people are just crazy about this stuff and can’t get enough of it. But then, since there are a fair number who have scratched their heads, or asked about all the rest which exists, which is a vast array, why should these be scolded down automatically? There is something a little too comfortable about the settling in to scold people who question the Haugen which is curious. Still waiting to find out why the dominant market share.

  126. benedetta says:

    Fr. Z tagged this post “the future and our choices”. Do people really have choices? I wonder, what is so threatening about the simple wondering or inquiry which necessitates the immediate demonization as being this, that or the other thing? Since choices do exist why should they be off the table, before any dialogue or discussion? To me, this approach has already condemned people who are nourished by or pray a certain way or hear different meanings, before they have even had a chance to take part in worship and it is puzzling. It certainly doesn’t seem like a healthy kind of a dynamic nor is it especially, “Catholic”, meaning, in the most merciful, generous way imaginable.

  127. Imrahil says:

    Well, if it comes to the point that choosing some other music than tradition amounts to *heresy*, then I do want to insist that this isn’t the case. And if Eastern Orthodoxy thinks so – which is indeed a stereotype about them, but one which I wouldn’t dare utter in the presence of any of their faithful – then that’s obviously a point where it’s gone wrong. They have not gone wrong in highly valuing the rite, of course. Nor in wanting to stick to it. Nor in wanting to legally bind their faithful (which excludes the Latins) to the common agreement of sticking to it. Even the Raskolniki may have been right in resisting the Tsar. But the point is that the Raskolniki, if they did, weren’t right in abstractly resisting to what the Tsar commanded (three fingers instead of two for the sign of the cross, etc.) as if that was intrinsically heretical.

    I don’t say that some music isn’t better than others (and if you want to know it, I think gregorian chant and polyphony are better than Gather Us In) or that competent legislation may not choose what is to be used at Mass, or that this legislation needn’t be obeyed. But even if it is disobeyed, I want to speak about disobedience and (which is then, and rather only then, clear) lack of proper liturgical respect. I do for sure not want to call it heresy.

    The Catholic identity means, I have been thinking, allowing all that is Christian and not wrong. (Formally speaking, of “Christian” and “not wrong” one thing is superfluous in the definition. But you see what I mean.) It does not mean, or should not, allowing only what the Romans have got used to do. It can mean, and I don’t answer the question whether it should, unifying the rite of the Holy Mass in a way the Romans have got used to; but this is a secondary question and one of merely-ecclesiastical law. And on a side note, the “Ein Haus voll Glorie schauet” song I’ve talked about,written in the 1870s without origin even in the Daily Office to be silent of Mass, is round-about the essence of Catholic identity in music in Germany, and it’s somewhat followed by “Holy Lord we praise Thy Name” in this respect.

  128. bookworm says:

    I’m all in favor of more Latin, more Gregorian chant, and more of the “classic” Catholic music that people of my generation (late 40-somethings) have largely been deprived of. I agree that much of our musical heritage has been sadly neglected and needs revival.

    That being said, I don’t really have a problem with some of the songs that crop up on the “worst” lists of blogs like this and I don’t believe they should be banned or branded as heretical.

    I actually LIKE “Here I Am Lord” (based somewhat on 1 Samuel), “I Am The Bread of Life,” (which comes from John 6 and John 11) and “On Eagle’s Wings” (whose lyrics are taken directly from the 91st Psalm). I do not have a problem with so-called “self worshipping congregation” songs when the lyrics come directly from Scripture and it’s obvious that when we sing them we are QUOTING something that Christ Himself or one of the prophets said.

    I draw the line, however, at songs like “Ashes,” “City of God,” “Anthem,” and, of course, “Gather Us In” because the lyrics are not based on Scripture and promote obviously heretical ideas — the best example I can think of is “Ashes” which claims that we “create OURSELVES anew”.

    Perhaps it’s just me and my overly literal Asperger-ness, but I think the words, far more than the melody or meter, determine whether or not a song is appropriate for Mass.

    Still there needs to be more of a balance between the classics and the contemporary in most parishes. We don’t have to toss out either one completely, just try to have a more balanced diet of both and perhaps the problem of bad music will take care of itself as people are exposed to the better stuff.

  129. Lepidus says:

    Sorry, bookworm, but I’ve looked through a bunch of biblical translations – sinking so far as to look at the Good Newsie and New World – and there is no EAGLE in Psalm 91 anywhere.

  130. benedetta says:

    Exactly more balanced is needed. Not banning just diversity.

  131. catholicmidwest says:


    The communism that we feared was actually 2 things, both of them completely defeasible.
    One of the things was economic which doesn’t work because communism takes away initiative completely. To eat, a black market is born and communism must look the other way or fall. So either way it falls. It just requires time.
    The other thing was totalitarianism, which has never worked and will never work for a very simple reason. For every idea, there is a counter idea which is held by someone tightly enough that they will fight for it. All the force in the world cannot contain this. Never did, never will.

    You may give thanks for the fact you didn’t have to endure the pain & sacrifice that occurs when a society has to work its way through this the hard way because they’re too stupid as a herd to see it ahead of time. But Europe was never really in danger of becoming communist and staying communist for any really significant period of time.

  132. catholicmidwest says:

    You said, “Out of place, Also I don’t agree with your assertion that some cultures are superior to others.”

    I do. I don’t think that there’s any question that Christian society is superior to say, ancient Mayan society. They practiced human sacrifice over and over and over to appease their gods and get a good harvest. I’d go out on a limb and say that Christian society is also superior to some Asian societies and also some African societies.

  133. catholicmidwest says:

    You said, “As for the interpretation of some of the lyrics, those interpretations are certainly up for debate. “Other things being equal,”Gather Us In” is perfectly suited for liturgy. Those who use it, are nourished by it, find different meanings in it, should not be dismissed or ridiculed nor should their Catholicism be questioned.”

    One more step in that direction and you’re almost standing in liberation theology. Make no mistake, words have meanings, and those meanings can be sorted into logical categories. Some of them ARE consonant with church teaching and some definitely ARE NOT. That is the issue here.

  134. Out of place says:

    Benedetta asks: ‘when you say “better be sure” was that a threat, like, “or else”? Or else, what, exactly, that we’re going to “get it” because we don’t like certain things? Or is it not a free country after all’?

    What I said was, “the critics of the text [of Gather Us In, or any other disfavored song] had better make sure that their method wouldn’t consign some of the Psalms to the dustbin.” I don’t know how that could be a threat. Maybe I don’t understand your point or question.

    My point was simply that if someone posits a rule for approving or disapproving a hymn text (e.g., “To be good, a hymn must praise God more than it describes the singer’s feelings or situation”), then he should look to the Psalms, to see whether perhaps some of those divinely inspired Hymns, which the Church retains as being of the first order, in fact violate his supposed rule. (Does Psalm 38, for example, pass this rule? Psalm 70? 101? 137?) If so, then the posited rule would appear to be invalid.

  135. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t know that any kind of lay criticisms could consign any part of scripture to a “dustbin,” out of place. I’m pretty sure they don’t have that kind of power. It is what it is.

    “Gather Us In” sucks because it’s ambivalent about meaning regardless of the fact it has cherry-picked a few words out of a psalm in order to borrow some legitimacy, which after all is pretty easy because most Catholics don’t know squat about Scripture anyway. It also sucks because the tune is a ditty with all the beauty and complexity of a “Happy Birthday” rendition howled by an inbred hound dog. You’d think the Catholic church could do better in its choice of songs than Burger King, but maybe not. I find it amazing.

    PS, Out of Place, it’s not nice to be a taste commie. People don’t like taste commies. I can hate “Gather Us In” if I want to hate it. It’s only a song. And yes, this is still a free country.

  136. benedetta says:

    Catholicmidwest, not to go all clintonian but maybe it depends on what the definition of culture is (is is…) or society. The Mayans practiced human sacrifice. Though under the thumb of the culture of death ours may perhaps not be so highly evolved. We are highly technological. I don’t tend to think of Christianity as a culture because I think that Christianity is and was a total game-changer when it comes to all cultures in all times and places for eternity. That some may still not know Him does not detract or change the fact that “the strife is o’er the battle won”, for all time, no matter what. One cannot even compare, as is the relativist insistence to various other religions, cults or practices. And whether or not your regard the Dalai Lama or Ghandi as wise men and teachers still Ghandi is dead, the Lama will die and be replaced, Confucius, dead…Yet Jesus is alive. No mere wise philosopher or teacher did this or has since. Which is why in all circumstances and situations people are quite attracted to Him as the way, the truth and the life, and willing to leave all and risk ostracism by their cultural milieu.

    And agree with your other points btw. On the intrawebs, it’s pretty apparent that people have been expressed their tastes for, oh, years. It’s exactly as you say, expression of opinion by the laity will never “relegate to the dustbin”. If there truly is open-mindedness and tolerance, mutual respect and all of that, then, at some point (I couldn’t estimate in terms of, years?)…at some point, there would be some direction, some pastoral leadership on it…

  137. ddobbs says:

    What do you think of Chant/Polyphony with Liturgy in Africa and Asia? I would love to be a fly on the wall at a NO mass celebrated by Cardinal Arinze in Nigeria for example that was attended by Strict TLM folks along with all the Nigerian Catholics. The church has always incorporated culture into faith and liturgy. The music, movement and even postures are completely different in an African Catholic liturgy. They sit during the reading of the gospel for example, because for their culture that shows respect. I don’t think we can rubber stamp music and say it has to be the same way everywhere regardless of culture. The church uses the phrase “all things being equal” but things are not equal when you the culture is different.

    African music in liturgy is very rhythmic and uses drums, djembes, congas etc; not all all like the music sung in the Sistine chapel. We are viewing things through the lens of our own experiences and culture. I’m sure African’s prefer the music they use, otherwise they would use something else. Thats why the church does not say Gregorian chant / polyphony / organ are infallibly the best for every liturgy. As per comments regarding orthodox and/or eastern liturgies and their music. Their music is very beautiful but it is intricately caught up with their culture and history. Music in Greek orthodox liturgies sounds ‘Greek’ as does Russian music in Russian Orthodox Liturgy. They would not change their music because anything else would be foreign and strange and not in keeping with their tradition and culture. I would argue that even youth culture of today is vastly different than 10 years ago let alone even more different their their parents and grandparents notion of culture. I think the church would do a disservice to all cultures if she were to enforce a rule that states “All music in liturgy must not be from your own cultural history unless you are of Western European origin.”

    Lets not forget, polyphony itself was banned by the church for a long time – it was considered secular and banal. Also, certain modes of the organ were deemed “too cheerful” and thus not appropriate for liturgy. The church even hesitated to allow the singing of harmony. Fast Forward to today when polyphony is the ‘unofficial’ music of the church. I think music itself needs to be judged on its own merits and suitability for liturgy. Making blanket statements does not help anyone.

    Finally, we all agree that “the Church exists to evangelize”. In this day and age the Mass is often the only intersection between faith and people’s ordinary lives. Very few schools, hospitals and businesses are truly “Catholic” anymore. Faith is no longer the central tenet of life and culture. If we say that Mass is only for feeding the chosen faithful and the rest need to be evangelized first before they can come back, then sad to say, we will be waiting a long time and our churches will only get more empty. Obviously the central tenet of Mass is the sacrifice of Christ himself to the Father on our behalf and then being fed and nourished by Him. However, that is not to say that the faithful should not, must not, or even can not be evangelized during mass. I would say that for many of us we experience evangelization or even conversion itself as a result of attending a mass well celebrated either TLM or NO. And Good music is a way through the holy spirit evangelizes.

    I agree that the organ takes the place of pride during liturgy, but it rubs me the wrong way when people say the organ must take the only place. The hebrews have many words which we would translate as Praise, but they have different meanings. Just like I don’t ‘love’ pizzza in the same way as I love my Mom. One of those words of praise which appears all throughout the psalms is “Zamar” which literally means ‘to pluck the strings’. And nothing against Organs, but the last time I checked, Organs don’t have strings.

  138. jflare says:

    Someone mentioned how a LifeTeen Mass frequently brought in new people, while another Mass with Latin did not. A key question comes to my mind: Did the people who felt attracted to the music at the LifeTeen Mass stick around for a long time, or at least more than did the people who came to the Latin Mass?
    It’s one thing to bring in a new bunch of folks who’re coming to see what it’s all about; a neat music scene can certainly make it fun and bring them back for awhile. It’s quite another matter, though, to teach someone the essentials of faith enough to bring them back to the Mass for life and persuade them to convert.
    I can honestly say that, for the most part, I avoided “teen activities” that the Church or school sponsored like the plague. Why? Because they never took us seriously. Except for those occasions when someone would provoke discussion with a proposal of some “progressive” concept, I can’t remember even one occasion when a youth event ever dealt with something serious, something with great depth.
    Might explain why I went through Boy Scouting instead; I ultimately discerned the program wasn’t as spiritually fulfilling as I would’ve liked, but at least they dared to assume that you could do something besides “have fun”.

    ddobbs, I don’t know if anyone would deny that Africans use rhythm, etc in their culture much more than do we, currently. On the other hand, I’d ask this: Should the Church refuse to enable people in Africa to learn the Church’s historical Chant merely because it’s not systematic to their native culture?
    I would suggest that the Church most definitely SHOULD provoke African Catholics to learn the (Eurocentric) Chants of the Church. How can we be a universal Church with a universal language if we can’t even learn the language and practices proper to the traditional celebration of the faith?

    BTW, your comment reminds me a great deal of something that I heard in college. During an “intercultural communications class”, another student commented about how “whites ain’t got no rhythm”, to which the instructor commented about “white rhythm deficiency syndrome”. In retrospect, I think the professor lost what little respect I had for her with that exchange. Maybe she didn’t mean intend it, but if she’d been interested in fostering genuine cultural exchange, she could easily have reminded this other student about limericks, the Victorian era–which the US celebrated almost as much as England–and various other forms of speech and expression.
    She didn’t.
    I think she intended to promote a secular view of the world, but she came across to me as a determined, die-hard racist. I did what I needed to do to get an “A” in the class, but I never respected that professor or the University’s administration ever again.

    Why do I bring that up?
    Perhaps to emphasize the virtue of a Church which celebrates unity with a common tongue and manner of celebration?

    I’ve read many arguments in this commentary that provide somewhat better rationale for the loathing I’ve heard for some of the Church’s music from these past 40 years. I’m inclined to agree that there IS a difference between..legally permissible, good, better, and best.
    For all that I personally like several works from the 70’s (or so I begin to think), I’m inclined toward relegating those to non-Mass circumstances, but vigorously promoting the tried and true Chant and polyphony for Mass. Yes, there’re some duds in the latter too, but they’re rather less obvious in today’s world than when they were written.

    Seems to me some of the current music suffers from being too new to be part of the “culturally accepted” framework.

  139. benedetta says:

    ddobbs, You make some interesting points. Most of your arguments are the ones already frequently encountered in discussions such as these. So far my inquiry as to why the dominance of 70s church music to the exclusion of whatever else has not been answered. Why the militant insistence on Haugen?

    If the Mass exists to evangelize then more and more Haugen from the 70s or even the 80s doesn’t necessarily accomplish the task. If this were so then since it has been utilized since that time, in that period, parishes, schools, vocations, all the statistics would be in the black. As an evangelizing tool it hasn’t really achieved much.

    In light of that fact then one could ask again (again) well why not try out something (just about anything it seems) different…one could say, perhaps more, reverent, more sacred. Something of depth. Which challenges and at the same time comforts. Transcendence. Pretty much all studies of what attracts young people include these elements. I am not saying that it must be chant. But again, seeing as how Vatican II says pride of place then one would expect that chant or reverent NO be much more widely available.

    In African culture, as you point out, the sitting shows respect…perhaps in American culture today the showing of respect is not a value, or if it is there is no consensus as to how to show it communally. I don’t hear a lot of discussion about how best to show our respect (or reverence for that matter) and if people ask about tangential topics which may relate to the showing of respect such as decorum at Mass, or the need for quiet or silence in the sanctuary these are often belittled or attacked (temple police and all that). Further, if people are moved to demonstrate their respect (or faith) by receiving communion on the tongue, whilst kneeling, this too is very much attacked, in so many different ways, including all of the tools of group psychological manipulation and bullying. One wonders why in the U.S. then, where we do in fact pride ourselves on our tolerance and our diversity, different expressions of respect or reverence, even spontaneous ones by the people are just immediately condemned. Shouldn’t these be at least shown some, um, respect, if we can’t all out celebrate this diversity?

  140. AnAmericanMother says:

    Just my two cents about the “LifeTeen Mass”.

    I travel a good deal, so I’ve attended various parishes all over the Southeast, mostly in the remote countryside (dog trials) but also in medium sized towns. Since LifeTeen Masses seem to be put in the Saturday Vigil Mass slot in most parishes and that’s when things are over for the day at a dog trial, I’ve attended more than my share. Just counting up from memory, maybe 15 different parishes in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

    My observations:
    1. Very few “teens” at any of these supposed “teen” Masses. At one in particular, my 22 year old daughter was the youngest person there, and the average age of the congregation was around 60. If the teens are attracted to the music at these Masses, why aren’t they showing up?
    2. The music at these Masses is not “contemporary” in the sense of “music that is popular with the young people right now.” It is either 60s-70s folk/rock, sort of amorphous semi-rock semi-pop with a superimposed religious flavor, or just bad 20-year-old hymns from “Glory and Praise” or “Gather”. Why would teenagers be attracted to any of that? It’s not “their” music.
    3. The musicians by and large aren’t able to handle the music competently. They seem to get a couple of notches past their level of ability regardless of the genre . . . the folkies can’t keep their guitars tuned or carry a tune, the rockers don’t know more than 6-8 chords, the keyboardist can’t play the hymns. My husband is an old rock guitarist who actually played in a band in his misspent youth, and I’ve played piano since I was a kid and kept it up reasonably well. So we can tell good from bad in popular music.

    None of this is doing the supposed target audience any good. If they know anything about music they’re sitting there despising a rotten performance. If they don’t know anything about music they are not being edified or inspired by bad material poorly performed.
    And nobody is going to be inspired to come to church when they feel they’re being condescended to. What are we saying by promoting this stuff? “We think you are too stupid and ignorant to be given chant, polyphony, traditional hymns consonant with our liturgy and our tradition. So we will give you trash because that’s all you’re fit for.”

    Do good and if you can great music to the glory of God – That may be just simple chant or hymn tunes, but do it well, to the best of your ability – and they will come.

  141. AnAmericanMother says:


    I hear the multicultural argument fairly often. Here’s my problem with it:

    Sure in other cultures there are different traditions, such as sitting to show respect, or dance as worship, etc., that are not in and of themselves bad. But we are not in those cultures!

    The parishes where that argument is put forward the most are trendy suburban parishes that never saw a member of any of those cultures. It’s sort of a pick-and-choose cultural tourism that uses the customs of Borrioboola-Gha as an excuse to institute exotic practices of their own that really have nothing to do with any real customs anywhere. They debase both the purported cultures of their origin and the traditional culture here – which by even the multi-cultis’ lights should be just as valid as any other.

  142. Henry Edwards says:

    Wow, 140 comments! But I wonder how many there would be if the discussion had been limited to liturgical music. Instead of questions of style, taste, quality, personal preference, etc.

    Liturgical music consisting solely of texts of the Mass of the day set to music–whether it be Gregorian chant or African folk style. That is, either the propers (introit, communion antiphon, etc) or the ordinary (Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus, etc).

    Otherwise, it’s just not liturgical music. Makes no difference who (if anyone) likes it, or whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.

  143. AnAmericanMother says:

    Henry Edwards,
    Amazing, isn’t it? Music’s a real hot button issue.
    I understand what you’re saying, but we’re not anywhere near there yet — at least in your typical OF parish.
    We’re going to have to move in that direction gradually, and getting rid of the pop culture trash is a good place to start.

  144. benedetta says:

    AnAmericanMother, It is curious as you have said:

    “2. The music at these Masses is not “contemporary” in the sense of “music that is popular with the young people right now.” It is either 60s-70s folk/rock, sort of amorphous semi-rock semi-pop with a superimposed religious flavor, or just bad 20-year-old hymns from “Glory and Praise” or “Gather”. Why would teenagers be attracted to any of that? It’s not “their” music.”

    Do we still wear leisure suits? I guess in some places the 70s are always in style.

  145. robtbrown says:

    Henry Edwards says:

    Liturgical music consisting solely of texts of the Mass of the day set to music–whether it be Gregorian chant or African folk style. That is, either the propers (introit, communion antiphon, etc) or the ordinary (Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus, etc).

    If by liturgical music you mean sacred music, then I disagree. IMHO, it makes no sense for the music to be defined by the words. If Salve Sancta parens, the Introit for the Sat votive mass of the Virgin Mary is set to the music of a Sousa march, does that make the music liturgical or sacred? I think not.

    IMHO, there are two reasons for the superiority of Gregorian Chant:

    First, it is democratic (SC. no 22, ACTIVE PARTICPATION in the liturgy both internally and externally. It doesn’t take a trained voice to sing it, and someone can appreciate it without senses conditioned to Bach. Although some sing better than others, it’s really better that someone not have a trained voice. I don’t buy the argument against Chant that no one knows Latin. As people begin singing it, they will begin to be familiar with the language (years ago we met a kid on the train in France who had learned English by listening to the Rolling Stones). And of course, the existence of Latin in Catholic education is driven by its use in the liturgy.

    Second, it inclines the participant (singer or listener) to recollection (SC. no 22, active participation in the liturgy both INTERNALLY and externally).

    The first is found in songs like Gather Us In but not the second. Most of the contemporary songs used at mass (Hauken, St Louis Jesuits, Joncas) are constructed with a very narrow range of melody (unlike Greg Chant, which rises and falls) and so are very narrow and superficial emotionally. I find these songs offensive. They incline one to recollection about as much as singing Happy Birthday.

    The second is found in Palestrina but not the first. Palestrina definitely communicates a sense of the transcendent, but it’s performance music intended for people who sing very well.

  146. robtbrown says:

    I forgot to add that the Missa Luba, African music that I like, can hardly be considered music that inclines someone to recollection.

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