Why Won’t Catholics Sing Hymns?

I don’t mind the odd mystery in church, but there’s one I can’t seem to solve. Why is it that Catholics won’t sing hymns at Mass? I have to admit it, the Protestants have this fantastic tradition of singing hymns. They’ve got their great gospel choirs, gospel quartets and little singing groups.

They’ve got this whole tradition of singing their hearts out for Jesus, so why, despite my best efforts do Catholics refuse to sing? Why do they remain with arms crossed, mouths closed and hymnbooks resolutely remaining in the pew?

Here are some of the proposed answers, but I don’t buy any of them.

1. Catholics don’t sing at Mass because the hymns are all goopy, modernist, sentimental trash about walking on the beach with Jesus and eagles and ‘gathering together’. These hymns are usually unsuitable to be sung by a congregation, and nobody knows them, so people just don’t sing. Partially true, but not all the contemporary hymns are awful, and for goodness sake, why don’t they know them when they’ve been sung over and over again since the 1970s? After all, at least they are easy to listen to and not difficult theologically or linguistically. So why won’t they sing?

2. Catholics don’t sing at Mass because the hymns are all archaic, incomprehensible, overly theological Victorian lyrics put to thumping old hymn tunes that nobody likes and nobody knows. Just the opposite to number one. They don’t sing modern hymns, but they also don’t sing the old hymns. They don’t know them? Come on. Not even old standbys like ‘Now Thank We All Our God’ or ‘Alleluia Sing to Jesus’?

3. Catholics don’t sing because they’re all Irish and the Irish considered hymn singing to be a Protestant, Anglican Methodist sort of thing so they reacted against it and never learned to sing hymns at Mass. Nonsense. Not all American Catholics are of Irish descent and why would a cultural argument which was perhaps appropriate 50 or 100 years ago still remain in America today? Besides its not just the Irish American Catholics who don’t sing hymns. Nobody does. Are we to believe that the Irish revulsion at hymns somehow infected the Mexicans, the Poles, the Italians and the Nigerians?

4. Catholics don’t sing because singing is a girly, arty farty kind of thing for sissies and Catholicism is more manly. Errr. Then why don’t the Catholic women sing either?

5. Catholics don’t sing hymns because they still don’t know how to participate at Mass. They think  Mass is something you go and watch like you do a play at a theater. Maybe, but then they do tend to respond to the people’s parts of the Mass pretty well and they often sing the Mass setting well.

6. Catholics don’t sing hymns because they’re a hard hearted bunch who don’t really love Jesus. Hmm. No doubt that applies to some Catholics, but not all. In fact most of the people I know who go to Mass regularly love Jesus pretty much. Sorry, that won’t stick either.

7. Catholics don’t like to use books and hymn sheets to read words. They like to respond with the stuff they have memorized. That’s why they’ll sing one verse of ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ or ‘Holy God We Praise Thy Name” but nothing else. That’s interesting. Maybe we should just sing the same four hymns over and over until they memorize them. But is that really the case? They are happy to pick up the bulletin and read it (often during the homily…)

8. Hymn singing is essentially Protestant. Catholics have an instinct against it. That instinct has to do with the nature of liturgical worship. They sense that the hymn somehow doesn’t fit with the action of the liturgy so they just instinctively opt out. They don’t mean to be negative or not to participate, they are just participating more by listening and watching and paying attention to God’s presence in a nice contemplative, laid back way. So what’s wrong with that? Hmm. Maybe you’ve got something there. Then again, maybe you don’t. Maybe what you think is them being ‘contemplative’ is not contemplative but complacent.

9. Nobody ever taught these people how to sing. They’re shy. They’re insecure about singing. Protestants are brought up with singing hymns all the time. They’re used to it. Nonsense. Everybody can sing. I mean there are a few people who sound either like a cat scratching a chalkboard or a drunk bullfrog, but most people can sing. Look around at the ball game. People sing the national anthem and pep songs well enough.

10. Hymns are emotional. Catholics don’t like public displays of affection. They’re more reserved and they don’t go in for all that ‘me and Jesus’ emotional stuff. C’mon. The hymns they do sing are very emotional–sentimental even. Take the Lourdes hymn or Hail Holy Queen. These are emotional and Catholics sing them well enough, and the modern hymns they do like (Amazing Grace and Eagles Wings) are very emotional.

11. Catholics know deep down that the Mass is not the place to sing hymns. Their refusal to sing is their unconscious way of telling the priest to stop foisting hymns on them all the time and to simply have the choir sing the Introit, Gradual and Offertory and have a decent organ with a fine organist play grand music to walk in and out by. Now that would be radical! Scrap the hymn singing schtick altogether and do what the rubrics say? Actually have a choir or schola to sing the Introit, the Psalm, the Gradual and the Offertory? If we did that you know  what would happen?

Everyone would say, “Father I really miss not singing hymns at Mass. When are you going to bring hymn singing back…”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02816243030572765014 dmw

    Catholics don't sing because they've not been catechized about Christian worship. They simply don't know what the worship of God is, that the worship of God is supernaturally (and naturally) necessary for human fulfillment, or that 'religio' is a sub-virtue of justice owed to God Himself. They don't realize that the Mass is not about oneself but about The Other!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17769849280709294032 Kensy

    Catholics in other cultures, e.g. India, Nigeria, Latin America; do in fact sing and sing very heartily indeed. It seems to be an Anglo-Saxon thing (or people who've been inculturated into the Anglo-Saxon model). That said, the English sing far more than the Irish do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18121158394600137195 Marcel

    I think it goes beyond worship to something even more basic. Who is God? Who am I? Why do I exist? These questions and others can't be adequately answered by most Catholics. Therefore, we need to help them encounter God and enter into a relationship with him. We also can't expect them to vigorously praise a God they don't know, until we introduce them to Him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07592851515207841008 Christina

    Well, when I've asked people they've said it was because they "sing badly". If you think about American culture, we don't sing EXCEPT at church or maybe the brave at karaoke bars, and even then you're expected to be a wonderful singer or to keep quiet.Most groups don't get together to sing, apart from birthdays and that's usually just a quick tune which is being replaced by a marching song. Also, they don't sound like the perfectly in tune singers on the radio (who have been adjusted in the audio lab) so they don't feel capable or qualified to sing. I've often been told I have a beautiful voice, but I hear the misses and become shy.So asking people to sing at Church is pulling them WAY out of their comfort zone, and since it's not exactly required, they don't.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03774215903844646617 paul

    "So asking people to sing at Church is pulling them WAY out of their comfort zone, and since it's not exactly required, they don't. "You hit the nail on the head with that comment. I do sing at mass despite not having a great singing voice but it's not easy if I'm the only one in my area of the church who is singing. Another problem that I've run into in my own parish is that our church got a new musical director a couple of years ago and he has a golden voice. Unfortunately it seems that he takes the singing so seriously that he continually tries new hymns which not many of us know and he hits notes that none of us can hit so he sometimes sings hymns that are just inaccessible to many of us. So we're either trying to keep up with him or we're learning a new hymn on the fly only to not have it repeated at any subsequent masses since he has moved on to other hymns.Anyway I once heard a priest say "Be a fool for God." Well my singing sometimes makes me feel foolish so I try to make sure I forget myself and concentrate on doing it for God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17683997133292184115 Rob

    I vote for option 11. I understand the entrance hymn and exit hymn, but why do we have to sing hymns during the Mass?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02458766108881869613 Helene

    I don't have an answer for you, but I like a lot of your choices. I'm just thankful that my parish has a 7:00 am Sunday Mass and there is NO singing. Well, except for the one deacon that likes to sing the alleluia before the Gospel.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11928789850539075687 Robin

    I'm for option 11 as well. Yesterday I was forced again (for the millionth time) to endure "Eat this bread, drink this cup" during Holy Communion. It's a near occasion of sin for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05386528571935481548 LaJuan Tallo

    As a church musician, I can tell you that not everyone can sing! But I always say, "The Bible says, 'Make a joyful noise unto the Lord…"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11740482509910163332 Gail F

    I don't know the reason! I used to sing all the hymns, no matter how sappy and/or stupid, because it was pretty obvious from the fact that there was singing going on that everyone was supposed to be singing. And why stand around doing nothing?Now I often do not sing because I simply can't stand the songs. But my parish mostly does sing, so perhaps it is not representative. Now I really wonder how those nice old ladies can sing all songs about how great we are (or, alternatively, how mean and oppressive we are) without noticing anything odd is going on!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08328106429517495001 Mark

    I have observed at my parish that lots of people sing the "easy to sing old Hymns" on the rare occasions that they are included in the day's mass. Few people sing the contemporary music which I refer to as "religiously themed songs". They seem to have been written for singers, not congregations – with complex time changes, bridges that differ greatly from the body and notes too high. Most people are contented to listen to the choir sing these. I prefer the old stuff. I can focus on God rather on the quarter rest; half note; triplet; too high for my voice.Also… people applaud at the end of the "going forth song". When I was a kid going to the Methodist Church, I remember singing "Aaaay Mennn" at the end of the hymns, and no clapping.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01469622835449220113 Dymphna

    My question is why do church people keep trying to force us to sing? Clearly we don't want to. So why not leave us in peace? On and about the Irish, in a way most of us are Irish which is a problem. You could be descended from Germans or Slovakians but were probably taught by an Irish American nun, had an Irish priest or had an Irish woman who ran the CCD class.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03536498352145437416 doughboy

    I try to sing during the processional and recessional, even if it's that Haugen crap (and every Sunday we have at least ONE of his. This past Sunday, every single song was his :( And I'm not the best singer, but I feel beholden to at least open up & croak and enter into the verses mindfully, giving it to God. Cuz that's what it's about, right? Giving our praise to God regardless of how we feel about the asthetics? And I like dmw and paul's comments. "Be a fool for God." Good stuff.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02487748842744745860 StevieD

    Number 9. The way to overcome it is to do what a London parish used to (this was however when there were lots of priests about). They sent out a priest with a few hymn books who would hand one to anyone without one and would wander about giving anyone not singing a hard stare while singing loudly himself. People were so terrified of being singled out by the roaming priest that the roof was often at risk of coming off. The first time I ever sang in church was then, as a teenager, and I have loved doing so ever since. Terrify them into it and they will find that they love it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12543778974085045141 Lynn

    I guess I'm just lucky that my parish sings, especially at the Saturday evening Mass. Of course, we also heard a homily this weekend about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so we're a cut above average already :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02937909444925394325 Paul

    I used to never sing hymns at Mass, for your reason #9. But I have mostly gotten over that, and now I try to sing most of the time. I still sometimes don't sing, but for different reasons than before. One of my reasons is your reason #1; I refuse to sing hymns in which the lyrics are God talking to us, or which border on heresy. The other reason I sometimes don't sing is that sometimes I am too busy keeping my kids from killing each other to think about getting out the hymnal and looking up the hymn. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00401320931083843046 K

    FYI strictly my personal experience, I partially subscribe to #1 myself. I sing heartily, so that people sometimes turn around and look at me, when we are offered traditional hymns that were written with congregational singing in mind. All the technical reasons you cited. Also, most of those songs are older and less heresy-prone. I abstain from singing Haugen-Dazs-and-Shoot-Me ditties. Sorry, that's how I think of them. I have observed that I am not the only one with this preference … the singing on the traditional hymns usually seems more hearty … Second also, I don't sing during the "offertory," as I am usually busy at that time. And I don't sing during Communion, as I am much more productively occupied at that time … heh. Another poster suggested basically ditching hymns except for processional and recessional … I could go for that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14313101159848740722 GOR

    Why don't people sing? Maybe it's better that some don't! My daughter 'doesn't have a note in her head' as we used to say – or rather she has a lot of notes in her head but they're all the wrong ones!Fortunately, she doesn't try to sing in church. You would not want to be beside her if she did. I've heard cats that sounded better… A 'Joyful noise'…? Nothing joyful about it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01199305067706476999 Elgar

    All of the comments are missing the main reasons. Many years ago Michael Day wrote the books, "Why Catholics can't sing and 'Where Have You Gone Michelangelo–The loss of soul in Catholic culture." Both of these are worth a re-read and will answer the question. Protestant churches usually hire a competent organist to lead the singing. The idea of a song leader is a V2 innovation that obviously doesn't work. Also, traditional and newly composed hymns by real composers who understand the human voice add to their success.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09191243600729346776 Deacon Bill

    I wish I knew the history of hymnody so as to understand it in light of chant which Mother Church is encouraging us to value once again. Seems like a worthy outline to have available when the faithful ask us about the changes will be going through in a few months.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15359701232026574828 KBernadette

    #11. Have a great choir singing with a massive pipe organ so I can't hear myself, and I will gladly sing along with the introit, gradual, and offertory.In fact I do, at my TLM parish, I also sing the Gloria and Credo.But Marty Haugen? Never!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00639369749327986414 Shaughn

    Fr. L,Thank you for sending up Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. I go through serious withdrawal when I go long periods without hearing Hyfrydol, myself.I find RC hymnals baffling, myself. We have one hymnal, and it's the same one in every church: the 1940 Hymnal, and it's just called The Hymnal. I've been in multiple RC parishes in multiple AF bases and civilian parishes and found a wide variety of hymnals, lectionary books, etc. Does it work? I can't say. There's only been 30-40 years of it to soak in the bones, rather than 400+ years of Anglican hymnody, Prayer Book, etc. It's really unfair to judge it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01199305067706476999 Elgar

    Correction: Thomas Day, is the author of those books. I feel as an Anglican we are on different planets when it comes to worship. Fr. Dwight, I ask your opinion on this topic?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09508033779758406137 Sue

    Interesting. We don't have this problem at my Japanese parish at all, thankfully. In fact we sing most of the liturgy as well, and I am moved by it every single time. It's so beautiful! I guess we fall into that "other cultures" category that Kensy referred to. I have visited other parishes that are not as impressive in the music department. Even in those parishes it seems that most people at least give it a try – one of the pluses of a group-think culture, I guess!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13286473562825025419 CPT Tom

    I suspect the reason many don't sing is that much of the "contemporary" praise music is pitched too high and is not written for most people to sing. I have noticed that more Catholics will sing the "moldy oldies" (many of which were "borrowed from Anglican or Lutheran sources) because they are in a better key, familiar and are infinitely more singable. I find it ironic that many of these older Protestant hymns are actually more orthodox than most of the newer Catholic hymns that are in use today.

  • http://lxoa.wordpress.com/ lxoa

    Father absolutely right about the Irish. The arguments adduced in Thomas Day's appalling book 'Why Catholics Can't Sing' are ill-informed and poorly developed. This book has enjoyed extensive and undeserved influence, particularly in the blogosphere, where its arguments are repeated uncritically. (Incidentally it's always baffled me why anyone would esteem the "head of the music department at Salve Regina College in Rhode Island" as some sort of authority on any aspect of Irish ecclesiastical history.)The defining event of the Irish Church in the 19th century was the Synod of Thurles (the first national synod since the 12th century). It dealt with reforming Church discipline and liturgy, including music. For instance, Decree No. 38 of the Synod prescribes that "no singing is to be carried out in the churches unless it is solemn and Ecclesiastical in nature. The Rectors in seminaries must ensure as a primary responsibity that their students are well instructed in chant so that they may properly learn the sacred ceremonies." Decree No 39 specifies that only Latin is to be sung in Solemn Masses and "neither is anything to be found outside of Mass in churches unless it is contained in the approved Ecclesiastical books".Church Music throughout Europe was at a low ebb generally at the beginning of the 19th century but the Liturgical Movement of Dom Guéranger was far from having passed Ireland by. The Maynooth historian Prof. James MacCaffrey identified some significant factors in the reform of Church Music in Ireland: the foundation of the Irish Society of St Cecilia and its monthly journal Lyra Ecclesiastica (1878), the endowment of a choir at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin to be trained in plain chant and classical polyphony, and also the work by the Commissioners of National Education in promoting Sacred Music in the primary and secondary schools. I would highly recommend Keiran Daly's scholarly book on Catholic Church Music in Ireland, 1878-1903 published by Four Courts Press. Maynooth Seminary (which has had a special chair of Sacred Music since 1888) always maintained a high standard in music (and still does, albeit to a much lesser extent). Up until the 60s children in Ireland were regularly taught Gregorian Chant in schools, often with competitions to make it fun. See for instance: http://lxoa.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/1932-international-eucharistic-congress-hymn-book/http://lxoa.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/liturgical-reform-in-ireland/Shane

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01199305067706476999 Elgar

    I find that "Praise Music" and most hymnal revisions are all pitched ridiculously low. As an organist this drives me crazy. There is an appropriate key for most hymns. So much of the praise stuff, OTOH, is unsingable so it really doesn't matter where it is pitched.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08260409954819632293 Janlo

    Shaughn said: "Thank you for sending up Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. I go through serious withdrawal when I go long periods without hearing Hyfrydol, myself." — LOL. As an ex-Anglican RC I still have my own 1940 Hymnal and make "joyful noises" at home.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00193824591144487151 defuriosmontanis

    The fact that Catholics won't sing hymns is, in fact, Catholic (in the literal sense) in itself; the problem surfaces in other parts of the world as well.Here we are from Austria: In any parish you care to select, at mass, the congregation is divided in one part that is singing (or at least trying to sing) and one part that doesn't. I have no sound explanation for this. Personally, I like to sing (not only in church) and, consequently, I am considered a bit eccentric. The majority of the general population seem to view music as a) something done by other people for b) me to listen to. The fact that most human beings are musical, at least to some extent, is one of the great unknowns of today.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05886802551729745956 jeff

    I play and sing the music for the Saturday Vigil and I am trying to introduce a few decent hymns as best I can, but the problem remains–few, if any, people sing.I'll proffer my theories about why.Reason 1: Absolutely. The Haugen/Haas crap is EMBARRASSING to sing! Just imagine if someone from work or the football club were to see you singing along to that drivel? Urrrrghghh!!Reason 8: Maybe to some extent, but it's not the primary reason. Not even tertiary.Reason 7: I'd pay it some credence, because you can hear some people singing the very familiar ones.Reason 9: I'd give this an equal first with #1. I have a strong voice and can hold the tune with confidence. When standing in the pews I have noticed that the people around me are a bit braver and will give it a go when I pipe up, but will largely keep silent if I refuse to sing (I won't ever sing "Gather your People", "Come to H2O", "We remember how you loved us" to name a few!)This, however, doesn't explain why Protestants do sing. I am confident if you got all the "singers" together from around a city and into one parish and only sang good, solid, orthodox hymns with singable melodies then new members will adjust and start singing–BUT IT WILL TAKE TIME. Old habits die hard. IT is not helped by the fact that people move around parishes so often, diluting the good effect that such a dream parish would have.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09147884706080768351 Deacon Ed

    Catholics don't sing because they don't want to worship God that way and resent anyone telling them they must.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09147884706080768351 Deacon Ed

    For what it's worth, I would offer another reason: the laity do not see Father actively engaged in singing, with his hymnal open and vigorously belting out praise in song and so they follow his lead.I think the same holds true about contributing to the collection. I once attended Mass in San Francisco and for the only time in my life when the collection was taken. the ushers first went to the altar where the celebrant took his envelope from his pocket and placed it in the basket.My guess is that when people see the leader of worship at Mass participating in the litugy – whether it is by tithing or by singing during Mass – then the people will follow his lead.So, Fathers, make joyful noise to the Lord!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02082723705687057148 justamouse

    …in our parish we sing? We don't have a formal choir (well, not the services we go to, I think the 9 and 11 mass have children's choir) and we DO have a cantor. But yes, we sing. It's an older hymnal, one I remember from when I was a kid. And sometimes we even cry as we sing. Coming from a long background in Protestantism, singing the hymns is so refreshing to me. No focus on ME, all focus on Him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Suburbanbanshee

    It's not so much pitch as tune construction. Older hymns go high, but they walk you up there in a civilized fashion. :)But yeah, there's just a lot of badly written songs in the modern side of the hymnal. The more I learned about songwriting (just from the secular end – hymns are really a different art), the more I could see how lazy and stinkeroo some of those songs were. I still don't know how on earth some of that stuff gets published. Seventies hymns may have been severely misguided, but most of them at least had some kind of songwriting chops.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Suburbanbanshee

    That said, a lot of Victorian Catholic hymnals also included plenty of stinkers. But they were singable stinkers. There was also an expectation that kids would learn how to sing using the examples in the hymnbook, so they often had some sort of musically didactic feature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06783088995172601340 Arimathean

    I think 9 is on target – they're insecure about singing. Today, nearly all Americans are insecure about singing unless they grew up in a church with a tradition of signing hymns. Whereas a century ago people routinely sang for fun at home or public gatherings, today singing is considered a special talent for a few gifted professionals, and anyone who doesn't think he can sing as well as the artists he hears on the radio won't even try to sing.This idea comes from discussions with my colleague Scott, who majored in music and now plays in several local bands. He said that since his family did not go to church as a child he did not grow up singing. Among his fellow musicians, the only ones who sang as children were church-going Protestants. Everyone else thought of music as something you hear on the radio or in a concert.I think the Catholic Church is suffering from bad timing. Catholic worship was overhauled at exactly the moment when most Americans came to view music as something to listen to, not something to participate in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17691145638703824456 kkollwitz

    I agree with Arimathean, and hope that YouTube and karaoke will over time make people comfortable with public singing again.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14100728648574074611 Nathan

    Father, I think Dymphna's comment is onto something. While I don't think you can ascribe the Catholic resistance to hymn singing to a single reason, there is an element of "forced fun" when good, earnest people (both priests and musicians) try and over-encourage singing.A related, perhaps counterintuitive, issue, IMO, is the use of cantors (song leaders) behind a microphone. In some respects, if you have a PA-driven voice singing over the congregation, it takes away some of my motivation to sing. After all, somebody else is filling in the volume!Growing up backwoods Methodist in the rural South, no one thought of a cantor/song leader or of leading hymns over a PA system. As I remember, when my Uncle Bent Lester (who informally led because he was loudest) was ill, we felt as if we had to fill in for him.Likewise, at the TLM I attend, people sing (although not in the same numbers as Methodists) without a cantor, and I sense a greater need to sing as well becase the "space" isn't filled up.Maybe that's part of the reason.In Christ,

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00159541603126407072 Bernard Brandt

    I don't know much about why Catholics don't sing. I have been in church and professional choirs for the past 35 years, and I don't sing at Catholic services because, quite frankly, I am embarrassed by the poor quality of both the texts and the scores of the music.I have no problems with Gregorian chant, polyphony, and decent modern hymnography. I can find those at most trad Prot services. I much prefer Orthodox hymnography, which has been written by saints, monks and nuns.But in comparison with the real thing, On Eagles' Wings or The Mass of Creation just doesn't make it for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01199305067706476999 Elgar

    And the likelihood of it improving with the revised sung settings of the new Propers of the mass looks discouraging too. Check this out:http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=0711-carroll

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16142633311407145793 Wine in the Water

    How about, "all the above"? And I would add one more:The dominance of the low mass before Vatican II. Our contemporary "middle mass" – not a low mass with almost no singing, but not a high mass with everything – is, if not an innovation, a significant change of pace. Catholic culture for so long developed with music at mass only rarely and then usually for special occasions with a special choir. So, not only were hymns a novelty at your standard Sunday mass, music itself was a bit of a novelty.And I think you've hit the reason why this is such a difficult problem: there are just so many, independent reasons. No one solution is going to solve the problem in every parish, we're lucky when one solution can solve the problem in a single parish at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08392208502784140044 FSW

    Another "like" for Dymphna. (Sorry … too much Facebook lately.)And another issue … perhaps one that choirs and priests may not be aware of. Many of us, because of life circumstances, go to different churches on different Sundays or holy days of obligation. There are many reasons … work, family preferences, etc. If one church sings one Gloria one way, and another sings it another way (adding flourishes and extra text along the way), it can get darn confusing! The hymns themselves … oh, yes. That's an issue. I remarked rather sarcastically to my kids one day, "It feels like it's more "Church: The Musical! and less like a Mass." Many of the lyrics of modern hymns seem rather forced to me, and the music seems bland and uninspiring. I thought I was being curmudgeonly until I heard of someone who called the modern hymns at Masses a Catholic version of the show "Glee". I have to agree with that one.I might utter heretical implications here, but really, I wouldn't mind a "Musical" approach to Mass IF the composers looked back to musicals and borrowed a few tricks of the trade. Simple verses in an easy key to sing, a catchy "hook", etc. Think "Godspell", only more restrained, perhaps (though I admit to belting out "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" at home frequently and in not so-restrained a fashion when I think no one is listening). Mix it up. If you notice in the "Godspell" example, there are slower, more thoughtful hymns and rollicking faster ones. While I doubt you would want to see me do my rollicking version of "Prepare Ye" in public (really … you probably don't), perhaps choirs who do not mix up old and new material during a Mass already might want to consider doing so. Even if people respond to the traditional hymn more often, it's a start. Chants might be a possible approach, as well. Most chants are pretty simple to grasp, and don't require being a music virtuoso to sing.And the lyrics. May I respectfully offer another point of view? Many of us Catholics struggle with our faith, for many reasons. Many modern (and quite honestly, some traditional) hymns, both old and new, imply that I do certain Christian actions all the time. I can't sing that. It isn't true right now (even though it ought to be, and I'm trying to make it so), and I will not lie to myself, my fellow parishioners or God. Perhaps including a well-written hymn or two that respectfully ASKS God to increase our faith or make us a better person, rather than states that we are already where we should be in our faith, thanks, might be an interesting idea. Lastly, may I suggest that priests and choir members actually LISTEN to the parishioners and try to work with them? Please don't judge us or think that we are automatically wrong in our viewpoints on hymns, and our opinions are insignificant. Work with us, and fashion some sort of compromise musically. As you can see here, not all parishes are the same. Please appreciate … or at least tolerate … the unique qualities of your own parish, even if your fellow Catholics drive you mad when they either lip-sync or don't sing at all during Mass. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08392208502784140044 FSW

    Correction … "there are slower, more thoughtful SONGS and rollicking faster ones."I've got hymns on the brain now. Sorry!

  • http://none Highwaves

    People don’t sing in church because the songs are too high and as someone said written for trained singers. We sing a cappella in our chapel of 40 to 50 people, the range is right and they do sing. While visiting my nephew out of state, he began singing and then stopped. When I asked him afterward if he had stopped singing because the notes were too high, he said yes.

  • Stephen Galanis

    As a Reformed Evangelical Protestant, I suppose I took for granted that Catholics sing. After all Scripture seems to talk about singing as a natural expression of one’s faith:

    “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
    make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
    with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.” – Psalm 98:4-6

    “Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.” – Psalm 100:2

    “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” – Ephesians 5:19

    “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” – Colossians 3:16

    And there are many more verses in the same mould. And we English Protestants have a far richer hymnody than English Catholics. That Catholics don’t sing is symptomatic of much deeper theological issues, such as who or what the Church is, and how one is saved, and what the focus of a church service is. It’s prayerful and solemn to be sure, but not exactly joyful.