Music in the Liturgy

I’m a music lover and there are many kinds of music I love very much, but not all kinds of music are suitable to all situations.  I’m writing here of music in the liturgy.  There has been a lot written from the Vatican about the importance of music that is appropriate to the dignity of the Mass and serves as prayer and worship which is our role in participating in the Mass.

Sadly, the music so often in use is banal, lacking in theological depth, even heterodox, and either impossible to sing or so repetitive that it is hardly worth singing.  There is music written from every period of the Church. We have two thousand years of worship music, most of it from the second thousand, but still, that is a LOT of music.  Even with the normal loss of songs which were not as good as others, there will still be a lot of really great church music which stood the test of time.  Then WHY must all the music come from the past 20 to 30 years?  Three decades of mostly offensively bad music and that is what we are forced to sing each Sunday.

This is a major issue for me.  I love to sing.  I love songs with LOTS of theological depth.  I love chants which hail from the distant past and which faithful believers sang in the Mass and imagined they were singing with the angels of heaven.  I love to reinforce my faith through singing a song where the lyrics repeat a theological truth about a mystery of God.  Such music, singable, theologically deep, filled with meaning, is a strengthening influence to the singer.

I love a lot of instruments.  I love the piano, organ, violin, guitar, banjo, mandolin, autoharp and tambourine.  I’m trying to learn to play the autoharp and like a lot of people who play the autoharp I enjoy gospel songs–but as much as I love many of those songs, most of them fail the theological depth test and I would sing them around a campfire but do not want to hear them at Mass.  There is a lot of great music (like most folk music), ideal for guitar and autoharp but NOT ideal for the Liturgy. And as much as I love my autoharp, it is not as good or as dignified an instrument as the organ.

I love to sing.  Much of the songs I sing at home are likewise not appropriate for Mass even though I love to sing them.  By all means enjoy the music at home, around the campfire, when caroling, at camp–but for Mass, lets have music that reminds the hearer that at the liturgy we are also facing heaven, and present at the cross, and united through time and space with every other believer who has worshiped or ever shall worship.

The directions from the Vatican are clear that chant is supposed to be given “pride of place” in the Mass.  That should mean that DVD’s and sheet music should be in the hands of all choir members so that they can learn the old, beautiful music.

Teach the people to chant so that all are able to participate in it.  It is no more difficult to teach a “new” song which is old than it is to teach a “new” song that was written yesterday.


Music in the Liturgy — 1 Comment

  1. This is an excellent point. In Eastern Orthodoxy, we don’t have this problem so much because in our Liturgy, our “new” songs are usually just rearrangements of songs about 1000+ years old. 🙂 And even so, we debate whether these new arrangements are suitable or are too showy of the human element, instead of giving proper awe to God.