PopeWatch: Music


The Pope thinks some Church music is terrible:


Certainly the meeting with modernity and the introduction of vernacular languages into the Liturgy has raised many problems: of musical languages, forms and genres. At times, a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of the liturgical celebrations. That is why the various actors in this field, musicians and composers, conductors and singers in scholae cantorum, and those involved in the liturgy, can make a valuable contribution to the renewal —especially in quality — of sacred music and liturgical chant. To facilitate this process, we need to promote proper musical formation, also for those who are preparing to become priests, in dialogue with the musical trends of our time, with organizations representing the different cultural spheres, and with an ecumenical attitude.

Go here to read the rest.  In the US one of the main problems is that most  of the songs sung seem to be locked in time in amber to the late sixties and the late seventies, usually coming from the wretched Saint Louis Jesuits.  Go here for a good overview of the problem from 2009.  Bad Church music is only a symptom of the willingness of too many Catholics to put up with junk that fastens like barnacles on the mass.  Until the laity insists on better, nothing will be done.
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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. “You will know them by what they do.” Everything a person does bears some of who he is. To impart holiness the author of music and writing must have holiness to impart holiness to others. Only this way can holiness be shared and spread about the world. Sacred music raises up the heart and mind to God. Sappy music drains the soul of holiness. There can be no ecumenism in sappy music, as all people search for Truth.

  2. No kidding. The trouble is, your parish diva doesn’t, the parish council doesn’t, and the pastor doesn’t. I was told a tale about a music professor, a specialist in early music, who was hired to improve the music program at the local novus ordinary parish. He failed completely and quit in frustration after an interim period of time. It might just help if the pastor does not regard the music directrix as having a property right to her job a la the Bourbon civil service. In the case of that parish, she’d never recruited a choir much less trained one and played the piano one service a week with musical selections courtesy Oregon Catholic Press. About 85% of the selections were composed after 1965. No one sang, either.

    It’s not that difficult. Three women in the balcony, one man in the sanctuary, the former chant the ordinary, the latter the propers. You’ll never see it anywhere, of course.

  3. Art, I was on our “Parish Worship Commission” (where my primary task was to say “no”) for nearly six years when I presented multiple Catholic Church documents which described what the Church thought was necessary and proper music and chant for Mass. We took a vote and surprise, surprise, the Church lost. I was stunned. It was all very Protestant. That was the last meeting I attended.

  4. We are early risers. However, a main “attraction” of 7:30 AM Sunday Mass is there is no singing.

    “Holy God we praise thy Name . . . “

  5. I understand Oregon Catholic Press sends suggestions regarding music for the Sunday Mass. Unimaginitive or unadventurous music directors seem to go along passively. Either too busy, too lazy, or whatever. Saw hymn boards at 2-3 churches that had the numbers still up from previous Sunday. there were 2-3 songs that were the same at different parishes. The worst thing about the music is since it is derived from folk and pop and other instantly learnable genres, it is also instantly dislikeable. Think about any pop tune you once liked and now hate because of overexposure. Catholic parishes have a playlist of perhaps 30 or so songs that you will find played in any parish on any weekend. Usually be Haugen, Haas, etc. etc.

  6. They’re not too busy. The Anglican parish I grew up in had a youth choir and an adult choir with about 30 members total. The choirmistress managed at least two evenings a week. The hymnody I was not attached to, but it was head and shoulders above anything you hear in a contemporary Roman-rite parish, and the congregation actually sings.

    Keep in mind that Ukrainian parishes do a handsome job with a limited repertoire of traditional music (St. Josephat’s in Rochester had a set of stapled photocopies that the (all female) choir was thoroughly familiar with. A Roman-rite service based on plainchant (where only the propers varied) would be less time consuming then OCraP’s selections. They don’t do it because they just don’t feel like it.

    What gets me is that about a dozen years ago, the Diocese of Rochester did a survey of parishioners about their preferences in music. The results were as follows: 24% favored strictly traditional, 18% favored strictly modern, 29% favored a mix, and 29% did not care or did not like music. The Diocese of Syracuse is right adjacent. How often do you have services of each type? Well, you have strictly modern, a mix, and no music each about 1/3 of the time. The mix is typically 75% modern, 25% traditional. A strictly traditional service is rare, and to my knowledge found in the Diocese at that time only at indult masses and at St. Malachy’s in Sherburne, New York. Not more than 10% of the parishioners in the diocese live within 35 miles of St. Malachy’s. It’s nearly the most isolated parish therein.

  7. Mary De Voe.

    True statement.
    “You can’t give what you don’t have.”
    If the music isn’t inspired to raise hearts heavenward or lead one into deeper realms of contemplating then leave it behind. The,…I….Me…..Us….Is the sixties and seventies schlock that took the focus off of heaven and God, and reflected a false praise of MAN.

    Man isn’t great! He’s a mess.

    The powerful hymn’s of our grandparents and their grandparents are inspiring because they focus on Christ, The Holy Spirit and Marion devotion. At That First Eucharist…Faith of our Fathers…Sing with All the Saints in Glory..And Marty Haugen’s, My soul in stillness waits ….Marty’s being a recent addition compared to the others.

    Is it a matter of taste?

    To a point, maybe. I only picked out a couple off the top of my head.
    The Latin Mass and the hymns that mingle with the incense is my favorite.
    Chant is mentioned by Pope Francis.
    I’m happy to see that.

  8. The biggest thing that bothers me about the music is that it doesn’t worship God. it might or might not be good musically, but is not pastoral in the sense of ministering or giving an education about what we are about as we gather there. The songs are not pastoral and often not really liturgical at all- more of a campfire song, which can be humanly appealing but more about the
    we-ness of us and less about the majesty of God.
    We talk about “gathering us in” “companions on a journey breaking bread and drinking wine”, and going to “Make a Difference” because we are “many parts but we are all one body” Our songs are all about us!
    We should enter his courts with praise and thanksgiving ( psalm 104) Holy God We Praise Thy Name!
    Recently at mass we sang the melody of Pange Lingua- but the words were social justice.

  9. I have not heard a really first-rate organist in a Catholic Church since the late ‘80s – That was Olivier Messiaen at the sainte-Trinité in Paris.
    Perhaps, Olivier Latry (a great improviser) qualifies, but he is primarily a teacher at the Conservatoire, who plays occasionally at Notre-Dame-de-Paris and there is Johann Vexo, who has recorded performances on many historical organs throughout France.

  10. I have not heard a really first-rate organist in a Catholic Church since the late ‘80s –

    Of the last three novus ordinary parishes I’ve attended, one had no organ and the organ in the other was never used. They had an upright piano on which the music directrix played greeting card text set to music.

  11. Art Deco wrote, “They had an upright piano…”

    I don’t mind betting that Messiaen would have given a better performance on an upright piano than most parish organists could manage on the best pipe organ ever built.

    I once heard George Malcolm, play Bach’s Italian Concerto on a harpsichord, as an interlude before mass at St Mary’s, Cadogan Street in London. The church was crowded to the doors with students from the nearby Royal College of Music; the applause was deafening; it rose to a crescendo, died away a little and then rose and swelled again for a full five minutes (which is a very long time), mingled with cries of “bis” and “encore.”

    Malcom was a fine organist, too, and I recall him playing Bach’s “Sheep may safely graze” (or as he called it in conversation afterwards, “the Butcher’s Funeral) at Brompton Oratory at the wedding of a friend of mine. It was a Saturday and the wedding guests had to struggle through the crowd standing in the aisles, who had come to hear Malcolm play, in order to reach their reserved seats.

    There is no doubt people appreciate good music and will flock to hear it.

  12. There is no doubt people appreciate good music and will flock to hear it.

    That’s nice, but I’m not interested in the Mass as a setting for fine chamber music or organ recitals. If the music is ‘good’, that’s gravy. Music that’s congruent with the service and not left over scores from Hallmark Channel productions would be acceptable. Plainchant, please.

  13. Art Deco wrote, “Music that’s congruent with the service…”
    And every age, except our own has produced it; to take only the Requiem, listen to Mozart’s or Cherubini’s, that Beethoven wanted for his own funeral. These were followed by Berlioz, Fauré and Verdi. We even have Saint-Saëns, not a believer, but who, in his own words, knew “how to respect what is respectable,” and produced a truly touching Missa pro Defunctis.

  14. And every age, except our own has produced it;

    They’re not producing anything new, and that’s regrettable. You still have an enormous body of music from which to chose, dating back at least to the 10th century.

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