Catholic “church music” grew out of the tradition of the Psalms. The
music performed during Mass is a form of prayer–a very special form
of prayer, as the Bible shows that both angels and men sing praises to
God. The traditional music of the Church represents,
not only the highest expression of the European classical tradition,
but something extra-human. Humanity alone is incapable of creating such astounding beauty without the cooperation of the Author of beauty.
In LITURGY AND CHURCH MUSIC (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger at
the VIII International Church Music Congress in Rome, November 17,
1985.), Pope Benedict XVI makes clear his criteria for liturgical music:
truly appropriate to the worship of the incarnate Lord exalted on the
cross exists on the strength of a different, a greater, a much more
truly comprehensive synthesis of spirit, intuition and audible sound.
We might say that western music derives from the inner richness of this
synthesis, indeed has developed and unfolded in a fullness of
possibilities ranging from Gregorian chant and the music of the
cathedrals via the great polyphony and the music of the renaissance and
the baroque up to Bruckner and beyond… For me, the greatness of this
music is the most obvious and immediate verification of the Christian
image of man and of the Christian faith in the Redemption which could
be found. Those who are truly impressed by this grandeur somehow
realize from their innermost depths that the faith is true, even though
they may need to travel some distance in order to carry out this
insight with deliberate, understanding.
Frankly, the hymns sung in the Catholic churches in my corner of the world are not living up to the pope’s standards. In my opinion, substandard church music contributes to a lack of reverence and sacredness in the Mass. Far too often, the hymns bear 1970s and 1980s copyrights. This
music isn’t necessarily bad, but it bears striking similarities in both
style and theme to the Coca-Cola jingle, “I’d like to Teach the World
to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)”.
The first Catholic church I ever attended was a tiny parish in Hurt, VA. Fr.
Knott, a scholarly man who was led to convert to Catholicism by his
study of classical church music, began each Mass by singing the Divine
Mercy Chaplet. The atmosphere was one of reverence,
but also of something more…something different was happening there,
something extraordinary. God was present, and man was worshipping Him in the manner instructed by Him, singing in unison with the angels.
Contrast that with the large Catholic church that I occasionally attend in Pinehurst, NC. Often,
during communion, only the refrain of a simple modern hymn is sung ad
infinitum by the handful of people who actually bother to sing. I
gather from watching religious events on television that such hymns are
supposed to be sung while joining hands with those around you and
gently swaying back and forth. I wouldn’t recommend
attempting to hold hands with anyone in Pinehurst–-if you get between
retired yankees and their tee times or restaurant reservations, they
will run over you. At least a third of the parishioners exit the church immediately after receiving the Eucharist.
Beyond watered down hymns, a new threat is becoming disturbingly pervasive. Modern
“praise and worship” music–-the rock and pop influenced inspirational
music that has become popular at Protestant youth rallies and radio is
becoming increasingly accepted in Catholic churches and even in the
Mass, especially around college campuses.
Protestant writer and editor of World Magazine, Warren Smith, in his recent article, “God, Mammon, and the “Worship Wars”, reveals some troubling information:
that when a congregation sings Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is
Our God,” no money changes hands. But when that same congregation sings
“God of Wonders,” written by Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd, both men –
and their music publishing company, get a small payday. Why is that?
Because “A Mighty Fortress” is in the public domain, but “God of
Wonders” is owned by Hindalong and Byrd and both they and their
publishers have an economic self interest in seeing that these songs
are sung and played in churches around the country.
phenomenon… can be traced to an organization called Christian
Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). CCLI collects fees from
churches and then pays the copyright holders – keeping a percentage for
itself, of course. The size of the copyright fee depends on the size of
the church, but a 500-member church would pay about $300 per year.
Currently, approximately 140,000 churches are CCLI license holders.
That means that $40- to $50-million per year is collected and
re-distributed to copyright owners.
It’s probably no
coincidence that the CCLI’s founding in 1984 corresponds more or less
with the beginning of explosive growth in the contemporary Christian
music industry, and with the growth of worship music in particular.
Now, a kind of unholy trinity exists that has turned the ministry of
Christian music into the industry of Christian music. Christian radio
promotes the songs, the churches use them in worship, and CCLI collects
fees for the copyright holders.
attended Liberty University I began to see how modern “praise and
worship” music has thoroughly infected religious institutions. It was on the school radio station, played at every event and convocation and played at every church service. It was taught to students in the music ministry program almost exclusively. Unfortunately,
people who attend Catholic colleges and universities tell me that the
situation is much the same for Catholics who wish to work in youth
I fear that we
may be nearing a time when our priests and ministers may be more
familiar with “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” than Handel’s “Messiah”.
“praise and worship” music does not measure up to traditional church
music, and it certainly does not reach the standard outlined by Pope
Benedict XVI for liturgical music. The incursion of such music into the church is subversive. This music is Christian in theme, but only vaguely so. It
is homogenized, pasteurized, watered down emotionalism meant to make
people feel good rather than the reverent, divinely inspired music
meant for praising God. This music is little more than the average secular pop song, with the word “lord” substituted for “baby”.
If you enjoy listening to it, fine; but don’t bring it into church. Pope
Benedict XVI also said in LITURGY AND CHURCH MUSIC, “…rock music is so
completely antithetical to the Christian concept of redemption and
freedom, indeed its exact opposite. Hence, music of this type must be
excluded from the Church on principle, and not merely for aesthetic
reasons, or because of restorative crankiness or historical
The remedy is simple–the
direct Biblical command, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the
teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
(2 Thessalonians 2:15) Tradition is the anchor that will keep us from
being swept away by cultural trends.