ASK FATHER: Is attending a Rock Mass sacrilege? A mortal sin?

From a reader…


I am writing you because of what I believe concerning a ‘teen mass.’ A few weeks ago, I was not able to make it to Mass in the morning. Someone had told me that a particular church had a Mass that was not a rock music mass. I went there early to go to confession, and after confession, the practice “music” began, and so I left, and prayed with my missal at home.

It seems to me that attending a a sacrilegious mass, such as a teen rock mass, is a mortal sin, objectively. It is also scandalous for someone to see me there, as they may think that I am ok with such an evil abuse.

The next day, I went to confession to my priest (in case I was wrong about it being sinful to go to a rock mass). When I asked him, he simply told me that he understood my dilemma, and did not weigh in on it being worse to go or to miss.

Anyway, I posted about it in a forum that I sometimes go to, and everyone is going off about how I am putting my thoughts above the Churches teachings and so forth. Does the Church not have definitive teachings on reverence? I know that it was, at one point, only ok for instruments that mimicked the human voice. Anyway, your insights would be quite helpful to me personally, and also to my conversation ongoing right now… Thanks, and God bless!

Reason #9 for Summorum Pontificum, Authentic Tool of the New Evangelization.

For a sin to be mortal there are both objective and subjective factors that must be evaluated.

The objective factors are relatively simple and they are the same for everyone. Sacrilege is grave matter and would ordinarily be an objective factor for mortal sin. The Church has not made a definitive ruling on what sort of music would render Holy Mass sacrilegious. (I have my views.)  Wise and holy priests and bishops have given us guidelines. The Church herself has said taught that our treasured Gregorian chant and polyphony are to be preferred to all other forms.  That puts an official stamp on those forms.  It seems to me that the farther musical forms depart from those two the more… dubious they are, in the very least.  Rock music is a distant departure from Gregorian chant, as is jazz.  Ergo….

And yet, mirabile dictu, the Church has not definitively said that it is forbidden for sacred liturgy.  The Church also hasn’t definitely condemned stupidity or bad taste.

I would avoid a Rock Mass, as I would open petrie dishes of Ebola virus.   I would avoid a Polka Mass, a Hip-Hop Mass, a Country Western Mass, and a Siberian Throat-Singing Mass as if they were cultures of Naegleria fowleri, the Brain Eating Amoeba. 

That said, if I found myself – unwittingly and unwillingly and yet unavoidably – having to attend one, I don’t think I would confess that I had committed sacrilege.

Sure, I suppose one could just walk out, but … were one to stay, and then to offer prayers and sufferings in reparation for the insult to Our Lord and to the Holy Angels present, and to Good Taste, one could also resolve then to do everything in one’s power to eradicate such horrific things in the future and guide confused souls into better paths.

I remember many years ago we use to say that the true reform of sacred liturgical music would begin when the last guitar was busted over the head of the last pop-combo member.  It’s hard to imagine that this has continued for so long.  I guess this sort of thing is like having rude neighbors with an especially obnoxious mynah bird by their open window: the pets you hate seem to live forever.

Pray for the people who perpetrated that awful experience, asking God to help them to an encounter with true beauty and transcendence.  Ask God to raise up in them a sense of religious horror at the travesties they have in the past perpetrated and inflicted.

Meanwhile, so that others can do some penance in solidarity with you… straight from 1966!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Pò sì jiù, Self-absorbed Promethean Neopelagians, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TopSully says:

    “The Church also hasn’t definitely condemned stupidity or bad taste.”

    Good thing or I’d be in the confessional every day…

  2. Genna says:

    I found myself in the same position a few months ago. Without foreknowledge I attended an evening Mass which turned out to be a teen rock Mass. The instruments and players were all in the sanctuary. None knelt during the Consecration. In the Lady chapel where the Sacrament is now reserved, teens lounged on chairs and didn’t kneel at all at any time during the Mass. All I could do was try to pray and offer it up.

  3. APX says:

    I don’t know how anyone could have thought the second video was a good idea. I would have found the breaker box and flipped all the switches to put an end to that quickly. No, seriously. I would do that. If that didn’t work, I’d set off the fire alarm to evacuate the church.

    Why would any priest at that time permit such an atrocity?

  4. barre218 says:

    What about recorded music at Mass? There is a priest on the military base where I work who hits play and a recording will start for Holy Communion. Is that permitted?

    [Recorded music is actually forbidden.]

  5. rroan says:

    We praise you … (yeah!!!!)
    We bless you … (oh yeah !!!!)


    Is this the same Peter Cetera who later went on to form Chicago?

  6. rroan says:

    Ahh the information was right in the video re: Cetera. I was too busy banging my head during the first listen to notice.

  7. Fr_Sotelo says:

    She could attend the rock mass and sit at the back of the church, but go with those special ear phones all the kids wear now to listen to music from their smart phone. While the music is being played in church, she can be plugged into Palestrina or Mozart with the volume turned up, thereby drowning out the modern stuff in favor of music she can pray with.

  8. Someone please be the Garrigue says:

    “Sure, I suppose one could just walk out, but … were one to stay, and then to offer prayers and sufferings in reparation for the insult to Our Lord and to the Holy Angels present, and to Good Taste, one could also resolve then to do everything in one’s power to eradicate such horrific things in the future and guide confused souls into better paths.”

    But Father… the writings of the saints are full of warnings against overzealous mortification.

  9. Southern Baron says:

    “Rock music is a distant departure from Gregorian chant, as is jazz.”

    I don’t know, Fr Z; what about modal jazz? [No.]

  10. msc says:

    Unpleasant, yes; unaesthetic, yes; but sacrilegious? I’d like to understand why the writer thinks it would be sacrilegious. And no, I would not attend one myself. But I don’t label what I don’t like sacrilegious. Rock music, per se, is not more distant from, say, Renaissance polyphony than is Marty Haugen.

  11. Imrahil says:

    What msc said.

    (Though I personally wouldn’t say unpleasant and unaesthetic, per se, either; only the combination of the music with Holy Liturgy might fall into such a category.)

  12. Father P says:

    Nothing new under the sun. The Church Fathers dealt with people wanting to put hymn texts to pop songs. Ordinaries written in operatic style. As one-on-one of my liturgical profs said: guys remember the Gregorian have we are the best examples of the form. There were the Gregorian equivalents of “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” that have been lost in the trash bins of the 5th century. This too shall pass.

  13. Father Flores says:

    It seems the men on the altar are wondering how they got there and I can almost hear their inner monologue trying to reassure them “This is how you connect with people. This is how you connect with people.”

    You know, in the days before YouTube, I would’ve been skeptical that this had occurred. Now, with a few clicks I can see an altar as backdrop for a bad music video.

  14. chantgirl says:

    msc- Perhaps the music of Haugen is sacrilegious ;) Only slightly kidding, folks.

  15. acricketchirps says:

    msc, you’ve answered your own question, I think.

  16. iteadthomam says:

    My parish was recently hijacked by Teen Acts and I was forced to suffer through a rock band mass. I made a critical comment about it later and was called, by a fellow Catholic, a Pharisee for daring to criticize the rock band mass. If I wanted rock band masses, I would have stayed Protestant. I came to the Catholic Church excpecting holiness and transcendence only to end up around Catholics who are sometimes more Protestant than Protestants.

  17. Mike says:

    Alas, my parish has a “youth Mass” with roto-toms, saxophone, and mostly sentimental dreck. I have attended this Mass, always with a silent and pentitential “You deserve so much better, My Lord!”

    My the Holy Spirit send us a Pope one day who will crack the bat down on all this nonesense.

  18. Mike says:

    That should be:

    May the Holy Spirit send us a Pope one day who will crack the damn bat down on all this garbage.

  19. NBW says:

    The “Mass for love” in Perth is an excellent example of the terrible collision/ confusion between Traditional Catholicism and Vatican II.

    So sad.

  20. Gerard Plourde says:

    The question about modal jazz peaked my curiosity. It’s interesting that even Dave Brubeck (who died a son of the Church) largely used polyphony for his choral Mass (“To Hope”) .

  21. Thank you Father.

    msc, I was not worried about me committing sacrilege, so much as just committing a mortal sin for going to a Mass that, as far as I can tell, is sacrilegious. A mass done so irreverently seems to be sacrilegious, regardless if the Church never denounced such music in the Mass.

    The lack of reverence can be injurious to faith. Maybe my faith would not be tangibly harmed, as I am well grounded. But, I am about to be married (in the Old Rite, in Mexico City!!) I would see it as a duty to make sure my children never attend such a Mass growing up. I believe it is evil to have an irreverent Mass. I believe it is mortally sinful for parents to expose their children to irreverent liturgy purposefully.

    I know I may be wrong. I do not think that I am wrong, though.

  22. Andrew D says:

    Last Monday for the Immaculate Conception, I had to find a Mass that worked around my work schedule. Went to a Novus Ordo parish and was absolutely appalled. The priest started off the Mass be asking all the visitors to stand up and introduce themselves (I did not partake). The music was horrid: it was loud, show-toonish and had not the slightest trace of reverence. Seriously, the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were like something you’d hear in a very bad, off broadway play. Women Eucharistic ministers dressed down for the occasion were dispersed to distribute Our Lord to outstretched hands of people dressed in jeans and sweat pants. About a quarter of the people left immediately after Communion and when it was all over, I think I was the only one that stayed to say a post-Mass prayer. We’re not supposed to leave Mass feeling angry but that’s exactly what happened in my case – regrettably it had to be on such a glorious feast day.

  23. pfreddys says:

    From all that I have heard and seen a ‘teen Mass’ , if they would give the teens what they want, should be the Traditional Latin Mass.

  24. AnAmericanMother says:

    My “teen Mass” story –
    When my parents were alive, they were Episcopalians and we always went to church with them. That meant that we had to go down to the next town and attend Sunday evening Mass, which around here seems to always be billed as the “Teen Mass” –
    Since it was also the Last Chance Mass, there were a good number of people there, but except for 3 Goths whose age it was impossible to identify under the gross makeup and drippy black clothes (but good for them for coming to Mass – so long as they weren’t there with some nefarious intent), my 24 year old daughter was the youngest person there.
    Anyhow, the “music” was provided by a screechy lady of uncertain age (and voice), a dude with a grey beard and ponytail and a tambourine, and an off-duty priest who had a guitar. I won’t say he PLAYED it – he couldn’t even TUNE it. My husband, who is a classical guitarist of solid worth, was about to go over the pew in front of him, “FATHER! just let me TUNE it!”
    They sang junk off ditto sheets – words, no music – repetitive three-chord quasi-rock with what my husband calls “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend” lyrics. It was just so bad that you had to laugh. But it got worse.
    During the Sanctus, the priest’s cellphone went off in his pocket, and it was playing some sort of mariachi music, complete with “Arriba! Arriba!” He was frantically trying to get to his phone, but his guitar was in the way. Meanwhile, the guy with the ponytail started playing his tambourine along with the cellphone, and the screechy lady kept on screeching the words to whatever they had been singing. It was hilariously awful. (I did confess laughing at a priest in Mass the next time I went to Confession).
    The priest on the altar serenely ignored the whole affair and went on with the Consecration. He must have nerves of steel.
    Don’t get me wrong – I really like these priests, they are Franciscans and good holy men – even though their sermons sometimes look like a cheerleading session and their theology can be a bit off center. But they really BELIEVE (and I can’t say that for every priest).
    But their musical taste is abominable.
    We did not leave because it was just a matter of musical taste (or lack thereof). I would not join that parish or at least not attend that service, but I wouldn’t leave the Holy Mass.

  25. Matt Robare says:

    I think rock music could be written and played reverantly enough for a Mass, but the thing about Traditional Sacred Music that I, a man not gifted by God with any sort of musical talent, ability or comprehension whatsoever, have noticed that some more knowledgeable people haven’t is that Traditional Sacred Music can be sung by people like me. It requires no special education or training to be passable.

    I attend normally attend Mass at St. Paul’s in Harvard Square, which has the only boy’s choir in the country, but when the congregation is called upon to sing, we can all keep up with them. Meanwhile, the pop music at other parishes I’ve found is very difficult to sing and requires training, ability and talent. A band like Queen might have been able to do a good rock mass, when Freddie Mercury was alive, but I don’t know about any others.

    Of course, the Catholic Church is already rockin’: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

    And TheLutheranSatire already did this:

  26. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Would playing such music on such instruments be mortally sinful for someone who knew what the Church actually teaches on the subject of sacred music? What about planning an “eclectic” Mass, mixing Palestrina, Haugen and whoever composed the stuff in the video-clips?

  27. yatzer says:

    AAGGHHH!!!! That is the stuff I walked out on as my 19 year old self. I wasn’t yet Catholic, and that kind of thing certainly certainly didn’t encourage it any.

  28. jflare says:

    Weeellll…having watched portions of both videos, I now understand some of the idiocy related to the Novus Ordo. I get the impression that this occurred before the Novus Ordo was implemented.

    Watching the second video, well, I’ve seen some odd things in videos, but this was..different. It looked and sounded like a rock concert that tried to transfigure itself into a holy Mass, but only made partway. It’s almost like a living Dali painting: We wind up with a rock concert set that imposes itself on someone’s idea of a church’s sanctuary. Or perhaps the other way around. Whichever way you choose, neither concept–rock concert nor sanctuary–truly wins, but they wind up visually fighting for attention.

    No wonder the priests looks rather displeased!
    Whether the Church has ruled on this or not, I find it tough to say that something like this does not insult Our Lord.
    Mass does not intend to present Him as a some sort of rock and roll freak.
    Anyone who would theoretically “meet Christ” in this manner will have a terribly rude awakening when they attend a regular Mass.

  29. MrsMacD says:

    Rock music can be considered sacrilegious because it was designed by the devil to rouse the lower passions. Have you ever seen people dance to rock music? Even little children will make sexual moves without knowing it, when listening to that stuff. The only place I, as a married woman, have any business raising lower passions is in my bedroom, so what about teenagers? That’s how it can be considered sacrilegious, evil, wrong and far worse than bad taste, an occasion of sin. Since when should Holy Mass be an occasion of sin?

  30. Canon 1248, paragraph 1:

    “A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on
    the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation.”

    We are obligated to attend “a Mass.” One could reasonably infer from this “a valid Mass” inasmuch as if the activity were so far watered down as to no longer exhibit the properties of validity it could no longer be called a “Mass.” Still, the requirements for validity are actually quite low. We are not obligated to attend “a good Mass,” or “a reverent Mass,” or “a dignified Mass.” We really need to be very careful about imposing our own tastes, however good and noble they may be, over the actual requirements.

    I would not attend a rock Mass at 9 AM on Sunday if I had any reasonable hope of finding something better. If I hadn’t gone by 5 PM Sunday, though, I would swallow hard, try to find an obscure corner where I could sort of hide (in such a case, the unused choir loft may even be available if not roped off or locked) and do my penance. God knows I have sinned enough in my life to deserve penance, and if that is the way He wills me to do it, then that is the way I will do it.

    I will also add that if one sits through such a liturgy and has doubts about the validity of the consecration, one need not and perhaps should not receive. If the Mass actually is not valid, one who had no better alternative still has done all he can do to fulfill his obligation.

    Finally, keep in mind that the celebrant could be stuck with the rock Mass himself and may be grinding his teeth as he has to sit through it. You could get a really good, orthodox homily from a dedicated priest who has no control over where he is assigned or what Mass he has to offer. God uses imperfect instruments to achieve His ends, and there may be a day when He forces someone into such a Mass to hear a good homily that that person really needs that day– or perhaps there is some other reason.

  31. jasoncpetty says:

    Nice Benedictine arrangement in that second video.

  32. Hey Father – Perth WA is where I live!

    Which is why I am not remotely freaked out at the ‘Rock Mass for Love’, as I recognise the church in the background as the interior of St George’s ANGLICAN Cathedral, St Georges Terrace, Perth.

    I’d seriously doubt that what’s taking place at the altar is a Catholic Mass anyway; it looks like the old Anglican rite to me.

  33. xgenerationcatholic says:

    Um, if this was a Sunday and I went home and prayed rather than go to a rock mass, I think I’ve committed a mortal sin for missing mass. I want all masses to be holy, reverent, in Latin and everything, but if I don’t get what I want that doesn’t give me the right to skip Sunday Mass, does it?

  34. ChristoetEcclesiae says:

    Wow. Those were … horrific.
    Odious, maybe. Heinous, even. Certainly profane.

    “Penance in solidarity,” Father? Mission accomplished!

    Andrew D., on the 8th, from your description, you must have gone to Mass at a parish I am thinking of near me. I’m very sorry. It helps a great deal to keep one’s eyes lowered, but I don’t know what to do about the sound.

    Not long ago, I went to another evening Mass with multiple guitars where, at the end of the rockin’ Sanctus, the lead electric guitarist let go with a prolonged solo improv that kept climbing the scale. It was so over the top that the priest at the altar actually laughed out loud, then collected himself, turned and told the guitarist that it “was great,” and to “keep it up,” it just “took [him] by surprise.” He giggled again, then went on with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was truly bizarre.

  35. AnAmericanMother says:

    Matt Robare,
    That is the dirty little secret that the “contemporary music” crowd hope nobody will notice. Their music was originally written for solo-and-band, and was never intended for “audience participation” but for the band and (especially) the lead singer to do riffs on.
    It is difficult to sing and *impossible* to sight read. After 40 years in auditioned Episcopalian choirs and 10 years in the Catholic Church with an absolute genius of a choirmaster, I still cannot sight read that junk – too much syncopation, too much holding across bar lines and bizarre leaps in the melody. And of course it is never sung as written in performance.
    Both plainchant and the old four-square strophic hymns are very easy to sing. I had never of course read Gregorian/Solesmes notation before swimming the Tiber — but it was very manageable (with a good teacher) and once learned it contains much more performance information than your standard staff notation.
    Monsignor Pope at his blog has a post called “Dust on the Hymnal” in which he explains it all.
    But basically, chant is breath-based so singing it is as natural as breathing.
    And the old 4/4 and 2/4 hymns have good poetry (the example he uses, IIRC, is “O Worship the King, All Glorious Above” – has a nifty internal rhyme scheme and the music fits the words naturally). So it’s all easy to sing even if you’re not a singer.
    Which I thought was the *purpose* of all this fooling around trying to encourage “audience participation”. But I’ve finally realized that’s not the purpose.

  36. Faithful to the Core says:

    In my travels, it has been not uncommon to find myself at a mass that is truly awful for some reason (or many reasons). What I tell myself in those masses is that, if Jesus can stand it, I can. As bad as many masses are, it is very rare for a mass to be so wrong that the consecration doesn’t really happen. The good news is that many of our seminarians are looking for reverence, holiness, and a sense of the sacred. When they become pastors, there will be far fewer of these liturgical travesties

  37. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Matt Robare saying “Traditional Sacred Music can be sung by people like me. It requires no special education or training to be passable” and “the pop music at other parishes I’ve found is very difficult to sing and requires training, ability and talent” not only struck a chord of recognition where various examples of modern – hymns? devotional songs? – with (to my sense) often far from easy rhythms are concerned, but also got me thinking about John Gardner’s well-known setting of “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day” – and, indeed, that – ‘carol’? – generally.

    Does one have different standards for ‘carols’, devotional songs, etc., than for liturgical settings/music proper, and such well-established songs as “Salve Regina”? And what about when they become in some sense ‘established’ – such as in the Benson & Milner-White (et al.) “Lessons and Carols”? (E.g., is that part of the “patrimony” in Ordinariate perspective?)

  38. Bea says:

    Where does a Creole Mass fit into all this?
    Fortunately my TV has an on/off button.

  39. Grumpy Beggar says:

    APX says:
    . . . I would have found the breaker box and flipped all the switches to put an end to that quickly. No, seriously. I would do that. If that didn’t work, I’d set off the fire alarm to evacuate the church. . .

    lol – thankyou for the smile, on a very serious subject (I’ll keep it in mind- just in case).

    Thank-you also to Mike and to AnAmericanMother for sharing those painful stories , but more for what you say about the guitar not being the notorious instrument it’s made out to be when it comes to liturgy. These kind of celebrations give the guitar an unwarranted bad name ; when for example, if a car runs into something, do we blame the car. . . or the driver ?

    I am a musician, and played professionally for a good portion of my life- soul, rock, blues, pop,R&B, fusion (sometimes confusion), folk – name it, I probably played it . And I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve assisted the liturgy of the Mass (particularly for patients in long-term and palliative care- but not exclusively) over the years with a guitar and sung – in English, and in French (and even in Latin with hymns such as Panis Angelicus [one of my all-time favourites] ) but not the way that is being described in the combox. And I remain reluctant to do it now except when the need is real : I have seen so many – too many , um (ahem) guitarists of the genre AnAmericanMother describes totally butcher hymns and liturgy all in one grinding swoop. There is a way to do it properly (not butcher it – acommodate it), but the entire art consists in facilitating prayer and the very best way to do that is to make sure you aren’t distracting the faithful in any way whatsoever.

    “The Lord is our Saviour.We shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.”

    Even with my background ,I’m afraid I can’t stand these folk guitarists at Mass who get on the acoustic guitar, and . . . well, 8 seconds later the way they have their rhythm hand chugga-chugging away – you’d swear there was a freight train rolling by, and you’re totally convinced the hymn is just about to commence with the words , “All aboard !?” As someone who loves and knows the guitar thoroughly, I would confess to being 96% painfully disillusioned by the liturgies I’ve attended where a guitar was playing that wasn’t in my hands. ( I think it might even be a partial cause of what made me Grumpy in the first place) But it still isn’t the guitar’s fault.

    On a different note: Guys, we have to check our sources . Granted, some of the members of our. . .um, music therapy self-help group here, have shared their totally real liturgical nightmares with us from personal experience , but, every time we see a food past its best before date or notice a weird smell , you can’t go automatically blaming it on the Novus Ordo indiscriminately : You see – the two videos in the original post ?

    Well the first one isn’t a video of a Mass – it’s a picture with an accompanying audio track. The album does have tracks with liturgical titles, but also appears to bear the written indication that :”Although not intended for use at this time in the Roman Catholic liturgy, this music is offered as an example of what some young people find to be a meaningful expression of worship.”
    . . . which probably means it was never used for liturgy.

    I also did some digging on the second video, and it would certainly appear the “Historic Rock Mass For Love, in Perth Australia” wasn’t even Catholic at all. From the sources I could find It was presided over by Anglican Bishop John Hazlewood (who did this more than once apparently) at St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Perth.

    So the videos themselves don’t substantiate a thing about rock Masses in the Catholic Church. . .

    Now, no in-fighting, or I’ll go and tell Mom !

  40. Look, the question of what is appropriate music for Mass is not a matter of taste. That is pure relativism. There are objective standards. There was a time, still within living memory, when it would have been a no-brainer to declare rock ‘n’ roll at Mass as sacrilegious. That it no longer is is a sign of our decadence.

    To tolerate rock music at Mass is to forget (or maybe disbelieve?) that the Mass is Calvary.

  41. barre218 says:

    Could you please tell me where it’s written that recorded music is forbidden? According to the USCCB “Sing to the Lord”
    “93. Recorded music lacks the authenticity provided by a living liturgical assembly gathered for the Sacred Liturgy. While recorded music might be used advantageously outside the Liturgy as an aid in the teaching of new music, it should not, as a general norm, be used within the Liturgy. 94. some exceptions to this principle should be noted. Recorded music may be used to accompany the community’s song during a procession…Occasionally, it might be used as an aid to prayer, for example, during long periods of silence in a communal celebration of reconciliation. However, recorded music should never become a substitute for the community’s singing.”
    Personally, I think it’s a distraction, and there aren’t so many people at daily Mass that we’re kneeling in silence for long periods of time. However, this excerpt makes it sound like it isn’t forbidden.

  42. Sonshine135 says:

    I sat on my hands believing what everyone told me- that “Vatican II did away with that.” For 5 years, I belonged to a “rock band parish”. I watched as this continuously irreverant rock and roll, loud drumming, clap trap caused my kids to think that Mass was happy-fun time, and parishoners went to the Mass for the show. Eucharistic adoration? Never had it. Sacred Chant and Polyphony? In your dreams. This continual irreverance nearly cost me my faith. I was so empty from this sickening display that I almost stopped going to church altogether.

    So yes, pray for these people that they wake up from the OCP/GIA Matrix and find real music from CCW. The sooner we can take every Spirit and Song and Heritage Mass Book and burn them in the church yard, the better.

  43. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Nothing new under the sun. The Church Fathers dealt with people wanting to put hymn texts to pop songs. Ordinaries written in operatic style. As one-on-one of my liturgical profs said: guys remember the Gregorian have we are the best examples of the form. There were the Gregorian equivalents of “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” that have been lost in the trash bins of the 5th century. This too shall pass.”

    Really? We don’t even have a clue about the music, itself, until about 800 A. D., when the earliest Western music notation was written down (or, rather, the notation was made explicit in a book that got preserved). In fact, there were no pop songs during this era or before. Heck, the early Christians burned all of the books in the Library of Alexandria because they considered them too heathen. No one would have thought of making scandalous music. The earliest example of which I know occurs in the 12th-century. I mean, there was a real sense that if you wrote something scandalous, lightening might strike you.

    “Would playing such music on such instruments be mortally sinful for someone who knew what the Church actually teaches on the subject of sacred music? What about planning an “eclectic” Mass, mixing Palestrina, Haugen and whoever composed the stuff in the video-clips?”

    Mortally sinful? Doubtful. Venially? Probably. Believe me, I suffer this scruple all of the time. Some people know that I am a musicologist and my presence in the congregation might make this music seem acceptable if I say nothing. Ditto, if I play it. One is, in my opinion, cooperating in the sin of disobedience in the second case and bring silent in the face of it in the first case.

    The Chicken

  44. The Masked Chicken says:

    “The question about modal jazz peaked my curiosity. It’s interesting that even Dave Brubeck (who died a son of the Church) largely used polyphony for his choral Mass (“To Hope”) .”

    Actually, a great deal of contemporary jazz is modal in its origins. I have played modal jazz. It does not sound appreciably different than regular jazz, with its, “blue notes.” Now, the 1:00 Jazz Ensemble at North Texas State at Denton, arguably the best collegiate jazz group in the country, has a recording with at least one piece in twelve-tone jazz. Now, that is really interesting.

    As for using jazz elements in the Mass, well, there is something called, Third Stream Jazz, which is a fusion of jazz and legit music. Brubeck comes to mind. So does Count Bassie. The problem with Jazz is that it is purely secular in its current incarnation. Back a hundred years ago, when there were still elements of the Negro Spiritual in it, it, actually, might have been closer to being acceptable, being, then, considered closer to folk music. I was thinking about this last night (or was it the night before?), but of all of the seasons, Christmas comes the closest to using music of a folk nature. That is how it should be, in my opinion, because the pronouncement of the Nativity was made to the common folk, first. Perhaps the most famous Christmas hymn, “I wonder as I wander,” was a fragmentary singing by an Appalachian little girl that caught the ear of the man who incorporated it in the song. Let us have lavish music fit for a king; let us have poor music fit for our want, but please, let us not have rich music that knows not its own. I am afraid that much modern pop music for Mass is the equivalent of the rich Valley Girl wearing jeans with holes in the legs so that she will feel closer to the poor. It is pure show and no substance.

    The Chicken

  45. The Masked Chicken says:

    Sorry. That should be Duke Ellington, not Count Bassie.

    The Chicken

  46. Ahhhh…but who can (sadly) forget:


    Thought we had gotten beyond this rubbish. Guess not.

  47. CAR says:

    Back in the late 60’s, while I was waiting for my friend, she asked me to attend with her a folk/rock Mass combo. She pointed out to me that I’m going to love it and things have really changed in the Church for the better.

    While I sat in the back of the church, I kept asking myself, “This is Catholic–ugh–no way.” Even I knew better, and I wasn’t even a Catholic. I wasn’t happy about it then and the same holds true.

  48. Sebastian says:

    A suggestion from a former youth director, go to mass, pray hard, smile. Be an example of traditional Catholicism and a model of the new evangelization. Not the kids fault, don’t blame them. They wont know any better if you scowl and walk out. Merry Christmas.


  49. AnnTherese says:

    I’m pleased and grateful to have this opportunity to stand up for our teens! I led a high school youth choir for many years, and was part of one when I was in college. For me, I learned more about the Mass from that experience than any other. As a choir leader, I regularly taught the teens about Catholic liturgy, Scripture, the Church year, theology, and Church history– as well as how to conduct oneself when in front of the congregation, [Why should they be in front of the congregation?] and how to effectively and confidently lead a congregation in singing. I always found the teens to be respectful, reverent, courageous, sincere, and very generous and joyful with their gifts. I wouldn’t consider these “rock” Masses– but I’m guessing that term is being applied to all “contemporary.” Our choir’s repertoire included both contemporary and traditional music. Not once did I hear a complaint from a congregant or priest about the type of music or the quality; [So?] the feedback was generally about people feeling “moved” and “energized” by the music- [You realize that that’s not the purpose of sacred music, right?] – and that it contributed positively to their spiritual experience of the Mass. They expressed gratitude and pride in the young people for the time they devoted and their participation in a ministry role–and the energy and reverent presence they observed. It was a privilege to serve the Church with these young people. [Somehow “energy” is the goal. I’m jus’ sayin’… ]

  50. Charlotte Allen says:

    That second video fascinated me: the combination of rock and extremely traditional church furnishings (the six candles for high Mass, for example). The video was obviously made before the fad for throwing out everything in the sanctuary swept over Catholic churches. The last gasp of traditional parish Catholicism.

  51. AnnTherese says:

    Fr Z, Thanks for your comments, and I’d like to respond. The youth were in front of the church because that’s where the pastor put the organ and choir. We would have been equally as happy in a rear choir loft, or anywhere. But since they were in front of church, I gave extra attention to appropriate posture, attire, behavior, etc.–and they met all expectations, looking every bit as reverent as any adult choir I’ve seen. Then, I don’t believe that sacred music that is moving or energizing is a bad thing, do you? It does not need to be the goal. If the music is good, it might have that effect. [No. It is not enough that music be good. It must be sacred and appropriate for the moment in Mass and the feast or season of the year.]
    So… God reaches different people in different ways during the Mass. God can even use music sometimes to touch people’s hearts. I think that’s why the Psalms are songs! [It is not the purpose of sacred liturgical music to “touch people’s hearts”, whatever that means.]

  52. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The first purpose of sacred music is to “sing wisely” in order to praise and pray to God, in a fitting manner that gives Him glory.

    Sacred music often does have a didactic character and an uplifting character. But what it does to humans is secondary to how it allows them to praise and pray to God, in a fitting manner that gives Him glory. If it doesn’t give Him glory first and foremost, it’s not set apart and dedicated solely to His service — which is what “sacred” means.

    Chicken – You know perfectly well that popular music never stopped being made, at any time since humans invented music. All the late Roman and medieval literary sources are clear that mothers continued to sing to babies, young men continued to serenade their sweethearts, Emperor Charlemagne tried to get every sung saga on paper, and the Irish lords and people employed the services of poets with their musical bands, lesser bards with their musical bands, solo harpers, lesser instrumentalists, singers, (and on the lighter side) professional musical burpers and fartplayers.

    Did they use this music in church? No. Was it written down in (church music) notation? No, not usually. Did it exist? Yes.

  53. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: carols and “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”

    Carols were primarily for outside church, so mostly nobody had regulations. When carols or villancicos were used in church for the Office, obviously they had to be not irreverent in church, but there was a lot of leeway. If you use carols as a hymn at Mass, you have to be a little more picky.

    Gardner’s setting sounds challenging to sing, but it doesn’t sound much like the original melody. Which is a shame, because I can’t think of a prettier. It’s a good, mysterious little carol about the Bridegroom and the Bride.

  54. CruceSignati says:

    But Father, but Father, they say “peace to MEN of good will” in the first video! They hate women as much… well, as much as you hate Vatican II!! ;)

    Actually, I recently attended a Mass with my family, and they had a harmonica to go with their guitars and Haugen. I asked my sister afterwards, “So, how did you like the Western?” Later on, my parents were raving over how great it was that harmonica player could “use his gifts to serve God, and lots of people like that sort of music.” However, I don’t know a single person that can focus on the Holy Sacrifice with a harmonica.

  55. AnnTherese says:

    Since we’re discussing sacred music, I meant “good” sacred music that’s appropriate, etc.– sorry to not be crystal clear. No matter– we won’t agree on music. [That’s not at all apparent. We will agree when you come to see that some widely used music today is not appropriate for our sacred liturgical worship.] My original point, actually– was to support and shout out an Alleluia to teens who are willing to give their all to be music leaders at Mass– with the time, effort, skill, and commitment it requires. To imagine that people conclude their music is insulting to God–that is really insulting to our youth and the gifts God gave them; and maybe doesn’t give God much credit. [What is truly insulting is to think that young people are not capable of doing something much better than they are asked to do.]

  56. Grumpy Beggar says:

    I’m of the belief there is definitely a place in the souls of the young for God’s message that can be conveyed through whatever type of music they happen to be listening to; if someone will take the time and be courageous enough to put it clearly in the lyrics. To deny it, would be to shun a valuable venue for reaching them – as far as we can tell – reaching young Catholics and others. These tools we use , are the tools of our time. They have to change with the trends.

    But the Mass is timeless. And churches are designed the way they are more to shut the world out for a while, rather than let the world come barging in like a circus with all the latest acts. The Mass is not and never has been a form of entertainment – as Anita Moore OPL says, it isn’t a matter of taste.

    Rock music (especially live), can be an assault on the ears – solely by the sheer volume we play at. And, by nature, it has most often been associated with rebellion – particularly against the status quo , and, on a personal level against one’s own parents. Having those roots, places it in a very uncomfortable proximity of the spirit of rebellion . . . we know who that is – right ? If not, here’s a hint : “Non Serviam”.

    I guess I’m blessed to have had Catholic parents – even though theirs wasn’t perhaps a model marriage, I was still given solid Catholic formation from a very young age. Playing in rock bands at high school dances and being the same age as the students you were playing for was somewhat of an accomplishment – so I thought. But the first time, I ever played a benefit gig with that band – (with all proceeds going to charity) in the basement of a Catholic church . . . it never felt appropriate to me – right from the first blaring chord played. I had attended Mass roughly 3-4 hours earlier just upstairs and these blasting amps in the basement were still too close – maybe because I kept thinking about Who was present in the tabernacle one floor up. Every time I tried to turn up the volume, I had this image of my guardian Angel doing the head in his hands routine while exclaiming, ” Dohhh!”

    There is a place for rock music in evangelization , but that place belongs outside the liturgy – especially the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice , which “ is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.” [CCC 1382]

    Forgive the pun here , but if someone is hellbent on getting into a Catholic church and cranking out some rock songs with a band – even outside the liturgy (not talking about church basements now -but how about the nave of a basilica [ maybe, in one particular case, even during the liturgy]? – yup ) , to me, it’s an indication that their thought process has to be a little messed up. There’s an inordinate desire there, and several of the screws on the cerebral-to-spiritual translator are definitely not torqued down to specifications.

    In these here parts, there are several very prominent Catholic Church venues which for some unknown deranged reason, get designated as performance venues.

    . . . So just to let you know that despite the 2 videos in the OP not involving a Catholic church – it does happen in catholic churches , although in the particular case I’m citing, it isn’t clear yet according to what I could dig up whether the “Mass for the Dead” was performed during a Mass or not , however there is a video showing the Kyrie being performed by the rock band which also includes footage of a celebrant-type looking personage in chasuble walking somewhere on the side (but I’m not linking it – bugs me even to look at it – I don’t think it would be such a suitable Christmas present for anyone else here) – but be assured, the abuses do happen in Catholic churches.

    A couple of links below though to verify (*not vérifier) – ironically – it really would prove difficult to word it better than the secular media did in this case: “An unforgettable event where the sacred meets the profane.” . . . indeed ! . . . What I wouldn’t give to know what St. Joseph would have to say about this in nice simple terms.

  57. AnnTherese, you know what?

    I would love to shout out an Alleluia to teens who are willing to give their all to organise Rosary processions and Adoration vigils, evangelise their peers, bring a friend to Mass, enter religious life, pray silently and often, attend the Sacraments, dress modestly, use devotionals like the scapular and Miraculous Medal, try to live chastely, use social media to fight against the hateful culture of death they see all around them, work hard, save their money, marry good potential spouses, and raise large Catholic families.

    Young people – even teens – can do all this, and more. I see it around me, and I rejoice.

    And we have NO ‘youth ministry’ in our parish, no ‘youth Masses’, and no ‘youth choir’, for which I thank God daily – and that isn’t often enough.

  58. Having been involved in diocesan music for over 25 years, I have had many discussions about music at Mass. Some people have actually said to me that this [bad, contemporary, irreverent, heretical text, unsingable meleodies] new music is what brought them into the Church.

    If this kind of music brings anybody into the Church, I have to wonder “what church do you think you joined?”

  59. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Suburbanbanshee,

    You wrote:

    “All the late Roman and medieval literary sources are clear that mothers continued to sing to babies, young men continued to serenade their sweethearts, Emperor Charlemagne tried to get every sung saga on paper, and the Irish lords and people employed the services of poets with their musical bands, lesser bards with their musical bands, solo harpers, lesser instrumentalists, singers, (and on the lighter side) professional musical burpers and fartplayers.”

    I know that. Folk music has never disappeared from Western music, because singing is part of the human condition. I was dealing in my earlier post with the idea that in the early days of the Church that sacred text was being set to pop music. Folk music did not entry into the Church in a direct fashion until after the Protestant Reformation. It is true that it entered in a backhanded fashion as the basis for parody Masses in the 16th-century and even earlier in the Medieval polyglottal motet. Charlemagne would have never thought to incorporate folk music in the Mass. As far as getting the sagas on paper, he got the words on paper, not the music. Any music before 800 A. D. is lost to history because there was no notation. I can’t say with absolute certainty that no folk music snuck into Masses from 100 to 800 A. D. because local churches, until the Carolingian period, had a lot less consistency and more autonomy than modern times. Still, there was a heightened religious sensibility that argues against the practice. Which raises the matter that one reason that folk music is so easy to use, today, is that our relationship with God has changed from being a relationship with the Wholly Other, to a relationship between best buddies. Singing to The Other requires music appropriate for The Other. Folk music is of us; appropriate Church music is of Him.

    The Chicken

  60. The Masked Chicken says:

    “So… God reaches different people in different ways during the Mass. God can even use music sometimes to touch people’s hearts. I think that’s why the Psalms are songs!”

    This is a very Protestant perspective on hymnology, but, it is not without some Catholic sentiment, so, perhaps AnneTherese might be given a little leeway. Fr. Z. might excoriate me for bringing this up, but the famous passage from a Book 10, chapter 33 should be quoted in its entirety (Pine-Coffin translation), since it covers both sides of the argument:

    “I used to be much more fascinated by the pleasures of sound than the pleasures of smell. I was enthralled by them, but you broke my bonds and set me free. I admit that I still find some enjoyment in the music of hymns, which are alive with your praises, when I hear them sung by well-trained melodious voices. But I do not enjoy it so much that I cannot tear myself away. I can leave it when I wish. But if I am not to turn a deaf ear to music, which is the setting for the words which give it life, I must allow it a position of some honor in my heart, and I find it difficult to assign it to its proper place. For sometimes I feel that I treat it with more honor than it deserves. I realize that when they are sung these sacred words stir my mind to greater religious fervor and kindle in me a more ardent form of piety than they would if they were not sung; and I also know that there are particular modes in song and the voice, corresponding to my various emotions and able to stimulate them because of some mysterious relationship between the two. But I ought not to allow my mind to be paralysed by the gratification of my senses, which often leads it astray. For the senses are not content to take second place. Simply because I allow them their due, as adjuncts to reason, they attempt to take precedence and forge ahead of it, with the result that I sometimes sin in this way but am not aware of it until later.
    Sometimes, too, from over-anxiety to avoid this particular trap I make the mistake of being too strict. When this happens, I have no wish but to exclude from my ears, and from the ears of the Church as well, all the melody of those lovely chants to which the Psalms of David are habitually sung; and it seems safer to me to follow the precepts which I remember often having heard ascribed to Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who used to oblige the lectors to recite the psalms with such slight modulation of the voice that they seemed to be speaking rather than chanting. But when I remember the tears that I shed on hearing the songs of the Church in the early days, soon after I had recovered my faith, and when I realize that nowadays it is not the singing that moves me but the meaning of the words when they are sung in a clear voice to the most appropriate tune, I again acknowledge the great value of this practice. So I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.
    This, then is my present state. Let those of my readers whose hearts are filled with charity, from which good actions spring, weep with me and weep for me. Those who feel no charity in themselves will not be moved with my words. But I beg you, O Lord my God, to look upon me and listen to me. Have pity on me and heal me, for you see that I have become a problem to myself, and this is the ailment from which I suffer.”

    The Chicken

  61. The Masked Chicken says:

    Yikes! That was Book 10, chapter 33 of The Confessions of St. Augustine. Sorry.

    The Chicken

  62. The Masked Chicken says:

    All that being said, neither pop, folk, nor rock music were even imagined in St. Augustine’s definition of appropriate music for Mass.

    The Chicken

  63. AnnTherese says:

    There seems to be an leap or assumption here that youth choirs or youth Masses EQUAL rock music. That might be based on some experiences. Mine have been different. As I said earlier, the choir I directed sang/played both traditional (including Latin, chant, Taize, old hymns) and contemporary music, such as, songs by Haugen and Haas (which I know, some of you do equate with rock!–or simply despise). Of course (!?!) some music isn’t appropriate for Mass–who here is not saying this?! But we definitely disagree on “some!” :) “Our God is an Awesome God,” for instance, is just downright embarrassing in any setting, but never ever belongs in Mass. I’d say the same for most “praise and worship” music. My opinion, grounded in liturgical documents. [Like Sacrosanctum Concilium… which requires that Gregorian chant and polyphony be preferred to others.]

    Phillipa, your response to me felt a little prickly! I agree with you–I also would applaud teens doing all those things you mentioned (we just happen to be discussing music in the Mass). I don’t agree with you about youth ministry being a negative. (Geesh! I erased “evil,” but it seems like that’s where you were going.) But youth ministry is sure badly done at times. Usually when it’s handed over to people who have no education, theology, training, and get by on their “Jesus rocks!” mentality. Gotta love their enthusiasm–but that doesn’t necessarily make them effective at their job. “Good” youth ministry (a whole other discussion…) can be a marvel to behold in how it sparks/nurtures/strengthens the faith of teens–even, at times, growing vocations to priest/religious/lay ministries.

  64. Chicken, the Library of Alexandria was burned by invading Romans BC.

  65. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Of course it isn’t only misguided efforts to accommodate youth or inappropriate music that can lead to musical abuses during the liturgy. As Fr. Z was alluding to earlier, a musician can cause a distraction at a Mass or liturgy without even playing a single note : If the musically-oriented liturgical contributors place themselves anywhere between the faithful and the sanctuary so that they impede/restrict the view of the faithful, they easily become both an obstacle and a distraction – no matter how appropriate the music might happen to be.

    At a Catholic location I linked earlier. There had also been ongoing abuses in the past in the Crypt Church section, directly implicating the organist – these aren’t rumors, they were Masses I attended myself on occasion. They have a pipe organ system in the crypt church of that shrine which would blow even the loudest rock band right out of the water volume-wise (and they have a much larger organ upstairs in the basilica church [shudder]) . Anyhow, for an entire summer one year, one particular organist who was hired to play during the Masses seemed intent on making that point clear to everyone. He/she (hidden from our view) would play the entrance and recessional hymns so loud, that a lot of the faithful were in so much pain they actually pressed their hands over their ears until he/she was finished . . . all the appropriate music – at precisely the appropriate times, but played at a devastatingly inappropriate volume . . . not unlike a kid who gets his first electric guitar and then cranks the amplifier all the way up to see how loud it goes – and likes it !

    Yet another recurring incident which comes to mind – involving another (at least I hope it was another) organist 7 or 8 years later in the same place who played appropriate music at an appropriate volume but used to like to play music during the Eucharistic prayer – in the background all the way through , but in particular, during what was supposed to be the silence directly following each Consecration of the species : He/she would be noodling away on these little melodies. . . BIG TIME distraction by a low volume melody and, something which is not permitted.

    I think that would probably constitute the only two periods in my life where I felt compelling urges to destroy a pipe organ.

  66. Ben Kenobi says:

    I’m personally amused that the best ‘youth’ music dates from the 50s and 60s.

  67. ManyMacarons says:

    Great post to re-post.

    I had varied experiences growing up (thank God) my parents church hopped either because they were finding a parish they could fit into etc or mass times weren’t conducive to whatever they’re lives threw at them. Anyway, I sure did appreciate the eye opening at a young age! It was Always a pleasure to go to the Monasteries or Byzantine masses (as a kid!!) they were my favorite. Consistent and the music was soo much better or non existent which made it nice to focus. Believe me, that’s hard at 6,7,10 whatever age…
    I didn’t know all the reasons for this at that age..why they varied so dramatically. I didn’t like it in my teen years…and in my young adult years being stuck having to attend certain masses because of Christmas get togethers or trips taken. When I could drive and choose which mass to attend I was always finding myself in search of the Holy and Reverent Masses. It just “fit” me better… I went out of my way to drive hrs just for that special mass and when I was working in DT Los Angeles stuck in rush hour forever to which I’d navigate my way to a decent mass in Atwater or one in Chinatown. Sometimes waiting an extra hour for it to start! The Mass has always been important to me and I’m finding it much much harder now that I have children!
    Ugh. I’ve since moved and masses that are good are hard to come by. One would have to drive 1 1/2 for good and 3 for a Great one! My Husband and I are really struggling with a “simple paying job” and a Great parish or a Good job with an hour plus commute to a Good parish. It gets tricky when “community” is added.
    Hopefully our prayers are answered sooner than later as I’d like to raise our children in a loving wholesome parish.
    I’ve had it with masses at random when traveling, we make it a point to research that before going to a new spot while traveling. My stomached turned when I had to go to a parish that had the priest rallying the congregation to vote for Obama just because of immigration reforms. Had he not been privy to the Abortion stances? It angered me soo much I was feeling this pull to stand up and talk back. As a Hispanic myself, I at least know …we are called to be Catholic first and everything else later. How had he not been taught that in seminary?! Catholic first.

    With that said my Husband & I have brought up this question to ourselves plenty of times.
    How on earth did people just follow along with the Reforms of Vatican II?!? (Which we all know has seen since then clown masses, dry ice masses and everything else under the Sun)
    My Husband says he would have lost his faith and I have said I would have joined the Byzantine, Coptic or some such order no short of SSPX if we had lived through that in our tenderest of years.
    Does it really come down to people did what they were told to do & didn’t question authority?!
    Hadn’t most of our Catholic brothers & sisters in the past witnessed Crusades waged, Reformation and Revolutions with defiant cries? I just can’t seem to make sense of why most just keeled over and took the soul beating. Is it easier to see when it’s blatant?

  68. KateD says:

    If there is any validity to the information presented in Eric Holmberg’s documentaries on the subject, the very definition of the original term “Rock ‘n’ Roll” would seem to imply that it is incompatible with the Mass.

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