On Awful Catholic Music

John Zmirak rants here about the sappy, dreary hymns sung in so many Catholic churches.

What he doesn’t get into (because he’s too busy being witty) is the reason for such excruciatingly bad Catholic music. The reason is (with apologies to the Holy Father) the dictatorship of sentimentality.

Catholics in English speaking countries (and maybe everywhere else for all I know) have drifted into sentimentality because they are too afraid of embracing the full blooded, supernatural, dogmatic religion we call Catholicism, and the rot began with the clergy who came out of seminary full of the modernistic critical theories about the Scriptures and the faith.

They couldn’t believe that sort of thing in the modern age, so they concocted another gospel which was all about being friends with Jesus and hanging up felt banners with words on them, and making the world a better place and the church a happy fellowship sort of group therapy session.

The music is a bad dream, but when you consider that the music matches the theology the nightmare is even worse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    The Byzantine rite can also have sappy music (if the priest allows it- it is not even our modern-day habit)— but in general the music (mostly chant) is hard-core because of our theology of always remembering Jesus' sacrifice. So, in many Christmas carols, we will have mention of the cross. It might be strange, but it is impossible to have a sappy lullaby when the crucifixion is remembered as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02255768515424127925 J2

    http://www.crisismagazine.com/2011/the-next-translations-to-trashGreat article by Anthony Esolen…"The Scandal of What We Sing" ‎"… a fair description of what composers and editors of hymnals did to Catholic church music in the 1970s and ’80s."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12818758967031726602 Chuck Shunk

    Just today, the priest began "The King of Glory" for the closing hymn, and I immediately thought of Stephen Colbert's liturgical dance, and had a REALLY hard time not bursting out in laughter. I managed to hold it in till I cleared the doors.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15496407277695910607 Ron Rolling

    Yet it is precisely this sentimentality that makes it a challenge for those involved in church music to assist in reforming the liturgy. Too much emotional attachment and not nearly enough spiritual satisfaction.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08906131174326742939 Patricius

    A lot of this might have been avoided when the vernacular liturgy was first introduced if the singing of the proper chants of the mass had been insisted upon.

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

    As I recall the music was shanghaied by a fifth column of folkie liturgists around 1970. More like a revolution than a transition. Maybe it was like the day when everyone woke up in the Scepter'd Isle & discovered they weren't "Roman" Catholics anymore.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03097572935671785197 A’ine

    Trust me, the Roman Catholic Church has not got the market cornered on sappy sentimentality. Us Protestants have equally sappy sentimental songs. "In the Garden" is one of them, and that so-called hymn is older than I am (I'm 35). Sometimes the lyrics aren't the only irritating and sappy part…the music can be rot as well, both to play (I'm a church musician) and to hear/sing. Other personal "favourites:""There's Something About That Name" by the Gaithers (no offense to Gaither-ites); "Beyond the Sunset"; and the tune of "Love Lifted Me" (something about singing the words "I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore" to a very chipper tune always irked me).Personal all-time favourites (real favourites):All Hail the Power – Diadem; Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah; Immortal, Invisible; I Heard the Voice Of Jesus Say-Vox Dilecti and Love Divine All Loves Excelling – Blaenwern.The Gettys are modern hymn writers who are able to write lovely music and meaningful lyrics: How Deep the Father's Love For Us and In Christ Alone are 2 favourites. See What a Morning is another of theirs that I like.I like your articles on crappy church music! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17258658563903375468 mister corduroy

    Catholics of the 70s were at the forefront of "Jesus Music". Any priest, seminarian, or layperson with a guitar was putting out an album. Most of them were uber hokey. Could Marty Hagendaas be the Catholic Bill Gaither? I would much rather sing a Chris Tomlin song borrowed from the Protestants than anything out of the Gather "hymnal".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13799205755327115647 Sister Lori

    I find that most people can't handle reading the Duoay-Rheims or King James versions of the bible–so we updated all the versions to create better understanding and easier reading…how can we expect the people to sing hymn with the same outdate language? Just today I read in a discarded Catholic school bible for religion class…Good News bible with Deutercanonicals-apocrypha…about Gabriel speaking to Mary…guess what? no reference to "Hail Mary, thou hast found favor with God"….which is where our own prayer comes from? Easier reading they say? Easier singing too perhaps?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02809651586349621296 Athanasius contra mundum

    I think that in the English speaking world we have are so surrounded and immersed by the Protestant culture and ecclesiology that when VII came many people seized the opportunity to become more like our Protestant neighbors during the Mass.Most people are honestly too lazy or trusting to read for themselves and realize what VII really says.

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

    I'm with Priest's Wife, bring back the chant. I've done the Protestant Hillsong's praise and worship with full band and lights route. No. Just, no. that has no place as Mass. Perhaps after in the community center for entertainment. Chant, please.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17814899666244618561 Brent Stubbs

    Justamouse,I am with you. Amen.

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

    Did you all know that one did not have to be Catholic in order to hold the position as Director of Music for a parish?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07263542784578068419 Beadelia

    For me, the missing element is beauty, the kind of beauty that does not intrude itself into worship but aids in worship by lifting the heart to God. While on the road to Rome, I wondered if I could really bear to leave behind the beautiful hymns of my Protestant tradition. The church where we attended an outstanding RCIA course had a group with guitars and drums who were supposed to be leading the music but were actually performing it. They were loud enough to loosen my fillings, harsh, and unmelodious. I'd just be really getting into prayer and feeling especially close to God during communion (catecumens were not dismissed there but could go up for a blessing) when Katwang! Bongetty Bong Bong CRASH!–the peace was shattered. Now we are in a parish with a wonderful small choir that really does its best to lead the congregation in "praying twice," but many of the hymns in our book don't rhyme, barely scan, and are virtually unsingable, so a lot of people just give up in defeat and don't try. It should be a clue to the publishers and selectors of church music that when one of the few great old hymns included in our missalette is chosen, the congregation responds to the beauty of the music and joins in with joy and enthusiasm. I did buy a copy of something called the Adoremus Hymnal, and don't understand why it isn't used universally. It's Catholic, and it's wonderful! Can anybody tell me why it isn't also used?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11269658775154001442 war eagle

    I read his article and am saddened by his attitude. The songs that he trashed have moved me to tears, calmed my nerves and given me peace and courage in the face of possible death. Not all of us could qualify for a monastic choir, but we would like to raise our voices in praise of God during the Mass. I am a retired Marine and life long Catholic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12858120820470784593 Anneg

    Fr d, our music director told somebody they try to "do" music everybody "likes". I think that's the problem. It's not supposed to be a performance. War eagle, I like some of those songs, too. Some move me as well. They just aren't appropriate for mass. Chant is actually pretty easy to learn. I don't sing well, but, just get a chant cd, listen to it, look up the prayers they are singing and you will be singing along in no time. I know a Marine can do it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06354592772973677609 The young fogey

    Thomas Day explained most of this. Among English-speaking Catholics the rot set in long before the council, when the long persecuted Irish, who long couldn't have High and Sung Masses in nice churches, instead brought over their Low Mass with devotional hymns (which often sound like 1890s pop music). The legitimate liturgical movement was trying to fix that by promoting chant, etc., then the council killed it. So what you had/have in a lot of parishes is the same (quick, because that's what most people including priests want) Low Mass junked up with hymns, but now the hymns are bad ’60s-’70s folk-pop knockoffs and the liturgy less orthodox and less rubrical so now the priests and the syrup are out of control. (Now largely fixed with Pope Benedict's new, orthodox, accurate translation.) It's also very feminized, another reason men hate church.Re: the Byzantine Rite, I've noticed that Slav Greek Catholics often have hymns, often to Polish and Slovak tunes, when censing the church before Liturgy and at Communion, but the Russian Orthodox might use a hymn only during the priest's Communion. Otherwise, yes, mostly chant, which is great. The liturgical movement was interested in the East.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08614980841770654358 eross

    Gregorian Chant—bring it!I don't know if I can sit through too many more funerals featuring "On Eagles Wings." Will someone shoot that bird.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03846547501253855220 Gina

    You want better music? Fork over some bucks. Nuff said.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14313217028906922715 Nick

    As The young fogey correctly indicates, ecclesiastical schlock in any art form is not a modern invention. In her research on Catholic hymnody in America from about 1870 to 1920, my wife found that the same battles over music were going on back then. Representatives of the old Liturgical Movement directed much invective at bad music, churches that stubbornly refused to give up bad hymnals, the musical culture of nations which did not conform to liturgical directives (Italy and Austria were given particular dishonorable mention), etc.The only innovation I would claim for our day is that the schlock tends to be more blatant.

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

    You gotta feel empathy especially for all those converts from Protestant backgrounds with exposure to powerful and dignified music and liturgies–thinking Anglican and Lutheran specifically. I watch The Journey Home and this comes up all the time. It's almost like these folks are living in a constant Purgatory when it comes to the music aspect of your typical RC worship experience.

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

    You hit the nail on the head! "Sing a new church into being, one of something, something something…" It means nothing. Years ago, when I was still coming back into the Church, I got an album by Fr. Stan Fortuna called "Traditional Catholic Hymns." I was literally THRILLED by the words of some of these songs. This one: "Strength and protection/May thy Passion be/Oh precious Jesus/Hear and answer me/Deep in thy wounds, Lord/Hide and shelter me/so I may never, never part from Thee." I mean — !!!! And this one: "Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh, our great High Priest; Thou on Earth both priest and victim, in the Eucharistic feast." Again — !!!!!

  • Bill M

    Special hates – “Earthen Vessels, “Let us build a City of God,” “One Bread One Body” and “Eagles Wings.”
    Favourite “Oh God of Earth and Altar.”


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