What’s turning off young Catholics? Lousy music

So says a leading lay Catholic in Scotland.


A leading Scots lay Catholic has claimed the music sung in churches is “lousy” and is the reason why young people have stopped going to Mass.

Joan Dillon, a Masters graduate of RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), also claimed music at Mass was “more rooted in pop music than in sacred traditions” and was often “so bad it distracted people from the true purpose of worship”.

She said 25 pupils from state schools currently learning Latin through the study of sacred music were the future lifeblood of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

Speaking prior to the launch of Scotland’s first Academy of Sacred Music (AOSM) in Glasgow tonight, Ms Dillon, its founder, told The Herald: “There has been some pretty lousy music sung in Catholic churches and that is where things have gone wrong, why congregations are shrinking.

“It need not be so. As a parent myself it seems to me young people are being brought up immersed in the negative messages of modern music via MTV, a lot of which is demeaning.

“They need the transformative power of sacred music to balance that, but instead they are getting banal, happy-clappy stuff at Mass. Sacred music can lift young people up and help them embrace more noble ideas, yet it is not sung in many Catholic churches in Scotland.”

Ms Dillon said the poor standard of church music stemmed from Vatican II, the Second Vatican Council convened in 1962 by Pope John XXIII which led to Mass being said in English rather than Latin. Her support for sacred music echoes that of leading Scots composer James MacMillan, who Ms Dillon has invited to be patron of the new academy.

Mr MacMillan was commissioned to write new sacred music for masses in Glasgow and Birmingham during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britian in 2010 and caused controversy within the Catholic church when he claimed, in a letter to The Herald, the trend for “touchy-feely-smiley-dancey folk” worship had “repulsed” young people and “put them off going to church in their droves”.

In his address tonight at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, Mr MacMillan will repeat Pope Benedict’s message that “the world needs beauty in order not to sink into despair” and that music is the most spiritual of the arts.

Read more. 

My two cents: I’ve lost track of the number of children’s Masses I’ve attended that include guitars, tambourines and trilling choruses of saccharine folk hymns that you never hear during any other liturgy. Why do we have to condescend to children?  Why do we “sing down” to them and give them cheap, simple-minded songs instead of beautiful hymns?  Do we think they’ll be bored?  The only thing this does is re-enforce the idea that church music is blandly indifferent from anything else they might hear on a long car trip to the beach.

God knows, I’ve got mixed feelings about the new translation of the Roman Missal, but it does achieve one important objective: it tells us We are in Church now. We’re praying. We are worshiping Almighty God. We aren’t just talking. It seems to me our music should achieve the same end. It needs to take us to another place– spiritually, emotionally, psychologically.  As they wander outside into the world after Mass, people should feel like something has happened.  The world is a little bit different.  The people within, putting on their coats and streaming toward the parking lot, are all a little bit different.  They should feel it.

They should feel like they’ve been to Church.

Browse Our Archives