Why is “Christian” Music so Awful?

A friend of mine used to quip, “When you’re talking about Christian music it’s pretty safe to substitute ‘bad’ for ‘Christian’.

Who hasn’t had to endure a Christian rock band or sit through a worship with some aging trendy strumming a guitar and inflicting folk music or light rock on everyone?

Why is it that so often Christian music is so awful? I think there are a couple of reasons. The first is that the musicians and their audience mistake a worthy message for talent. Then they get a martyr complex if they’re criticized. “You’re obviously not very spiritual if you can’t enjoy my music!  The second problem is that the audience are often either totally uncritical or they haven’t the ability to criticize intelligently. Too often the audience actually like the crap that is being dished up. The third factor is that market forces are usually not in play. Market forces often have a surprisingly sharp and salutary critical effect. Market forces weed out the junk, but in the Christian market they’re doing it for love, not money, so no one is telling them to get off the stage ’cause it won’t sell.

These are all the practical problems. There is, however, a deeper problem. Christian popular music is almost always pretty bad, but  the problem with most “Christian” music is that it is secular music with Christian words. In any decent art style and substance are supposed to match up. The meaning and the media are supposed to harmonize.

Most “Christian” music is taken from the secular world. Whether it is the music of Broadway musicals, Country Western, Las Vegas ballad crooners or light rock or heavy rock and roll it’s secular not sacred. When you then add sacred words to the secular music there is a natural disconnect. That’s why so much Christian music (even when it is well written and well performed) doesn’t really work. Oh sure, people might like it. They might even have nice feelings about Jesus by listening to it, but the secular music was designed to produce certain types of feelings, and why should those warm sentimental feelings or hard emotional feelings be linked with worship?

We might like listening to Christian country Western or a sweet Broadway type ballad about Jeezus or we might get all hyped up listening to Christian rock, but is it worship? Is it really inspiring us to draw closer to God? Is it really deepening our spiritual life or is it just music we like which makes us feel good and it makes us feel even better because it talks about Jeezus too? Forgive me for being cynical, but think about it. The worst example is Christian Rock music. At the risk of sounding too puritanical, rock and roll music was, from the beginning highly sexualized, laden with rebellious, heavy and nasty rhythms linked with the drug culture–designed to alter consciousness and demolish self restraint. The acid rock and heavy rock was also obviously linked with an occult and demonic sub culture.

So you want to put cozy Christian words to all that? To my mind that’s like putting a gospel tract inside a porn magazine.

The same criticism applies when the musical style is not quite so bad as acid rock. You name the popular secular style–the music wasn’t written to deepen prayer, lead to worship or open the soul to the sacred. It was designed to produce shallow emotions about love and romance at best, and lust and sex at worst. Pope Benedict XVI comments on this in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. He acknowledges that down through the ages this has been a recurring problem in the church. Sometimes the hymn writers put Christian words to beer drinking songs. At other times they adopted the popular operatic style. Now they adopt light rock, hard rock, and virtually every other secular style.

The antidote is to be more aware and appreciative of sacred music. There is a kind of music that on its own–even without words–is designed to open the mind and heart to the sacred. Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony which evolved from it–is the music of worship. Especially in the liturgy this is the music which we are supposed to use because the music lends itself to worship. It opens the heart and mind to a new dimension and reveals the spiritual aspect to our lives in a way that secular music with Christian words does not. That’s what sacred music is. What is required is catechesis about this music and an effort to appreciate it. Truly sacred music is an acquired taste. It takes some effort. It also takes some effort to produce it at a good and worthy level.

The problem in most mainstream Catholic parishes is that they’ve had nothing but crap music in church for as long as anyone can remember. The people actually think its okay because they have never heard anything else. They take on board the blend of muzak, Broadway tunes, folk music and light rock thinking that this is all there is. Then if they ever do hear Gregorian chant or sacred polyphony they hold their ears and say, “Geesh, why does Father want to bring in all that gloomy music? We’re outta here.” Alas. Its true.

Does this mean that Christians should listen to nothing but Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony? Is that all we should ever use in the liturgy? The purists would say so. But I’m of the opinion that we have to work with what we’ve got. We have to meet people where they are and move on from there. Chant and polyphony are the foundations of the music we should use. In addition to this we have the library  of sacred hymns (and there’s enough there to warrant another blog post completely) the worthy ones of which will serve to complement the words and actions of the sacred liturgy.

If that doesn’t please you–I guess you can always enjoy Jesus is My Friend…

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  • Fred Otto

    Your point is generally true, but there are several songs by U2 that totally refute your thesis with music and sound that is completely trancendent both lyrically and musically. Such as “Gloria” The chorus “Gloria in te Domine / Gloria exultate” translates to “Glory in you, Lord / Glory, exalt [him]” with “exalt” in the imperative mood, a reference to Psalm 30:2 (in te Domine, speravi). The song also contains references to Colossians 2:9-10 (“Only in You I’m complete”) and James 5:7-9 (“The door is open / You’re standing there”).
    Another U2 song is “40″ The Lyrics are a modification of Psalm 40. I waited patiently for the Lord.
    He inclined and heard my cry.
    He brought me up out of the pit
    Out of the miry clay.

    I will sing, sing a new song.
    I will sing, sing a new song.
    How long to sing this song?
    How long to sing this song?
    How long, how long, how long
    How long to sing this song?

    You set my feet upon a rock
    And made my footsteps firm.
    Many will see, many will see and hear.

    I will sing, sing a new song.

    You can hear these songs easily on you-tube

    • Just Sayin’

      I heard U2 live once in Belfast. A lot of ranting and noise; little musicality.

    • WSquared

      I dunno. When we worship during Mass, there should be room for sacred silence– silence, as Pope Benedict XVI tells us over and over again quiets our minds so that we can better hear the voice of God. From my experience, I don’t exactly find lugubrious Broadway tunes and pop music after Communion anything but distracting.

      But other than that, Fr. Longenecker does have a point in “working with what we’ve got.” The Church Music of America website has some things to say about that, and they have some new compositions showcased during one of their workshops, one of which was a contemporary composition based on “I Saw Water (flowing from the right side of the Temple, Alleluia)” for Eastertide. The CMA website in general has some good res0urces and discussions on the place of chant and polyphony in the liturgy.

    • Ben

      @ Fred Otto: I’m not sure how you can hold the position you espoused in your comment above: how can Father’s point be “generally true” and yet have ONE POINT “totally refute” his thesis (capital letters were for emphasis…I don’t know how to italicize)? Aren’t you saying (just in different words): “I agree with much of what you’re saying, Father, but because of this one example, I withhold full consensus?” In general, one exception should not disprove an entire thesis, but I think that Father’s point applies even to your exception: regardless of the lyrics, those U2 songs still have the rhythms and tempo of rock music.

    • Dan Walker

      I agree with you. The Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ own words straight out of Scripture. I like it sung in classical style. I like the classical style of the music video at http://www.wallacesisters.com which is also on YouTube by the Wallace Sisters.

  • http://www.nickalexander.com Nick Alexander

    I simply disagree w this thesis. Sure, some Christian rock sucks, but a lot of great Christian rock exists. You just need to know where to find it (hint: use the roster of the annual Cornerstone Festival as a starting point, not what passes for radio).

    Some of Phil Keaggy’s output succeeds at both being praise and rock (Crimson & Blue). But great Christian rock isn’t limited to praise; there’s seering social commentary (Resurrection band), a reaching for poetic transcendance (Daniel Amos), or plain old goofy fun (All Star United).

    I also am an ardent fan of Gregorian Chant and polyphony. The key is to encourage artists to reach their fullest potential–to not settle, but to also not bury their talents. This rise in quality is something far more likely seen today than twenty years ago or earlier. Some Christian bands are so good, they’ve been recognized and heralded in the secular community (Switchfoot, Sufjan Stevens, etc). And lastly, the very best Christian album so far this year, perhaps of the decade, is based off a requiem mass (David Crowder Band’s Give Us Rest). Give it a listen.

    • Bill

      christian rock sucks period

      • Chen

        If you think that then you’re missing out. Listen to Newsboys, MercyMe, Building 429, Sidewalk Prophets, and Jeremy Camp… just to name a few.

        • WK

          Ha! You just named 5 of the artists that prove the point that it sucks!

    • Michael Miller

      Well said, Nick.

    • Stefan

      Kudos Nick. I remember I had a HUGE wall up against Christian ANYTHING music, and U2 and a WOW 2000 CD changed all that, because the variety and messages helped me realize that there is something about song and music that can change the heart of man. God looks at the inward man not the outside. Even REALLY horrible music played with heart can change the atmosphere; we are spiritual beings, and if we are open to God’s holy spirit to work us over, then he will. I will research these artists you mentioned. May God rock your world brother :-).

  • http://www.thinveil.net Brandon Vogt

    If you haven’t read this analysis of the video above, titled “The Inexhaustible Poetics of Sonseed”, you owe it to yourself (context: it was posted on April 1):

    http://www.bywayofbeauty.com/2012/04/inexhaustible-poetics-of-sonseed.html#more

  • William

    100% spot on!

  • Bryan

    Personally, I think the connection between the beats and style of secular music and sex/drugs/degradation are overblown. It makes the error that because something started with a certain use or intent that it MUST be inextricably wed to that intent and only that intent. I don’t think that need be the case. Does that mean I believe all forms of music and all choices of instrumentation or composition are equally conducive to worship? No. But Christian music is broader than just “worship music.” I think the reason most so-called Christian music (hate that term anyway) sucks is because it lazily mimics mainstream trends rather than tries to be original and creative in its own right. And you’re right about the lack of constructive criticism in the genre.

  • http://petersbarque.blogspot.com/ The Ordinary Catholic

    Father,

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the lack of good, liturgical music. I understand that some people like what is passed off as sacred music, but when it begins to feel more like being entertained rather than being led deeper into the worship of the Eucharist, then it’s time for a change. There are some songs I really like, but not in a liturgical setting. We have centuries of good, sacred music to choose from and once we begin to incorporate some of these time tested pieces into our liturgy, then I truly believe that modern, musical artists will step up to the plate and be inspired to create new, more sacred pieces that will one day find themselves into our Church’s musical archives. Give them the setting, the inspiration and they will compose. Thanks for the article.

  • Steve

    Here’s a solid talk on the history of music with quotes from Plato & others & the roots of ‘rock’ http://www.audiosancto.org/sermon/20100724-Raising-a-Holy-Family-Amid-the-Culture-of-Death.html

    :)

  • BoomerVF14

    It seems like we’re mixing arguments. If we’re talking about music during the liturgy, I completely agree it should be kept sacred using chant/polyphony/organ. But I can’t agree with Father’s sweeping indictment of Christian music in general just because it uses forms and instruments that are misused by those of no faith. Recall, the Pope outlawed polyphony in 1322 for virtually the same reasons Father Dwight is attacking Christian rock. Great subject though and I’m glad this is getting attention… my church needs some gentle nudging in this area too.

    • http://ephremhiphop.tumblr.com Brother Mark

      I agree, there is a very important distinction here. I believe that the majority of “Christian music” is not actually designed for public worship as much as for personal consumption. A lot of music, by Christians, even Christian Rock, is not even designed to be used for worship, even by non-denominational christians. Some of it is in such sad taste, as an attempt to profit by creating a “Christian” knock off of a popular brand. Some of it is much more genuine, enjoyable, and even inspiring, I suppose in more the way a good sermon or spiritual reading is inspiring. Yet, there is so much Christian rock that is not intended in any way for public worship, and I don’t think that could be understood in the article. It is as if it is all broad brushed dismissed because it is not sacred enough. I do not know that much of it even attempts or pretends that it is supposed to be at all.

      Also the secular/Christian dichotomy is problematic. It is, for Christians, who create music for their own subculture bubble where they are fear being contaminated by the content of secular music. It is fake, for the most part. Yet, in the past, you find references to God, or spiritual presuppositions that permeate throughout much secular music, like blues and jazz, in past eras, whereas today it is almost altogether forbidden. In the case of some musicians who happen to also be Christians, are able to weave their spirituality in their lyrics, without being as corny. All I can say is that there are so many layers to this that are not even considered.

      Unfortunately, Gregorian Chant is a hard sell. I do believe that if many people heard the Easter or Pentecost sequence, their emotions would be stirred, more than their intellectual capacity to grasp the theological or profound significance of the hymns, at least for non-Latin speakers. It may be that emotions are given the primary criteria in attempts at sacred music these days, but I don’t know that it is possible to dismiss them altogether as sacrilege.

  • Ryan

    I’m not sure I agree fully with this. I will admit that not all Christian music on the radio is award-worthy, but if the message and the lyrics are theologically accurate, then the underlying rhythm and beat shouldn’t make a difference. There are lots of pagan themes that Catholics adopted or co-opted to help make our faith more palatable to the target audience ( i.e. the Christmas tree, Easter eggs/bunny, etc.) how is this style of music any different? The Christian music I am not a fan of is the stuff that promotes poor theology such as the once saved, always saved message or salvation through faith alone. But there is enough good stuff on the radio, at least here in Dallas, Tx, to keep me happy. When the “bad” stuff comes on, I can use it as a teachable moment for my children.

  • Doubledad

    I agree with Boomer on this one. When I was an atheist listening to U2, the spirituality of the music spoke to me and led me to investigate the themes in them. I was very surprised to find that they were Christian albeit Calvinist. But their music is an example of humans wrestling with God in the best sense and brought me closer to the Truth. I found it very honest and compelling and not as souless as most commercial music which I attributed to their faith. Finding bands that can use rock music to turn the human heart toward God is extremely rare however.

  • Peter Brown

    Father, I’m thinking that the music appropriate to Catholic *worship* is a proper subset of appropriate Catholic religious music, which in turn is a proper subset of music that it’s appropriate for Catholics to listen to or make. Your claim above–if I’m understanding you right–is that the music appropriate to Catholic worship is Gregorian chant and polyphony, with some hymns. While I think that’s more limiting than necessary (as well as too culturally specific, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms), I can certainly agree with you that chant and polyphony are the foundation of our liturgical music, and that we’d be *far* better off with respect to liturgical music if we *did* stick exclusively to chant and polyphony (with maybe some hymns thrown in).

    Your secondary claim about liturgical music–that the test of good liturgical music is whether it’s *worship*–is excellent. Much of the wreckage of Catholic music in particular over the last few decades is surely the result of confusion on exactly this point. If there has been (and still is) confusion about what constitutes worship, isn’t it only to be expected that there’s confusion about what music works to support it?

    Where you get off track, I think, is where you claim that Christian music is particularly worse than secular music today because market forces produce good music. Market forces, after all, gave us the (unfortunately unintentional) self-parody of Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show. Market forces made Britney Spears a star (at least until she self-destructed). Market forces gave us boy bands, from the Backstreet Boys to the Jonas Brothers. And, on the other side, market forces have given us CCM as a big business (which it is).

    I’m not even convinced that Christian music today is all that much worse, on average, than secular music–but that’s too big a subject for a combox.

  • Irenist

    I agree that chant/polyphony/organ is what works best for Catholic liturgy. But when I’m looking for “Christian” music on the radio or while futzing around the house, I’m often grateful for the wonderfulness of Gospel music: modern, vivacious, and deeply Christian.

  • Lisa

    I agree with your view on liturgical music. However, I love listening to Christian rock music while I’m in the car. Some admittedly is really bad, but the songs that are good are really good. Some songs my six year old son requests and sings along with. You’ll be happy to know that my son’s favorite songs are from church. He says his favorite is the holy holy holy. :-) He sings it at home all the time.

  • Peter

    I don’t know that I would use too broad a brush, Father. I have heard Evangelical music, played well, that is edifying and worshipful. I have also heard a lot that was grotesque. I’ve heard the “worship team” at a local Evangelical Mega Church turn “All Creatures of Our God and King” from a glorious hymn to an horrific scenario that can barely be endured.

    But, I would turn to our own Church for truly disturbing, how shall I say this nicely?. uh- Crap, yeah that’s how I’d say it – CRAP.
    How about the monstrous “Sing a New Church Into Being” – how about not! How about we keep Christ’s Church and stop trying to invent a unisex cacaphony of kooks? How about “One Bread One Body” which is completely heretical, not to say banal and gross.

    I understand the Holy Father is trying to rectify this situation but until he does I will have to choke down the bile every time we “Chant” “Morning Has Broken” or honky tonk piano All-lay all-lay all-lay loo hoo yah, All-lay, all-lay loo hoo loo yay =lah, All-lay, all-lay you lah………….Oh where is my Dramamine!????

  • David Thomas

    But our parish liturgical dancers have a hard time choreographing for Gregorian chant.

    • Peter

      That’s because Gregoroain doesn’t have a beat! I suggest “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede. The opening lines: “ooga chaka, ooga chaka, ooga, ooga, ooga chaka” are just the ticket for liturgical dancers. And hopefully some of the dancers are mid 50 y.o. guys with a beer gut, they really look great in a leotard (proper liturgical colors, of course – or rainbow striped always works).

  • Blake Helgoth

    Fr.,

    I think that the reason that ‘Christian’ music is so bad is that it comes off as an evangelical marketing scheme. Bands that produce music to be sold in the ‘Christian’ market usually take music from the culture, add a Christian message and, bam, you have ‘Christian’ music. There is a world of difference between Christian bands and bands or musicians that happen to be Christian. If a musician is Christian in their core, then of course that comes out in their music. There are great groups that have great music and a Christian message in their lyrics as well. I am thining of groups like U2, Kansas, Mr. Mister (yes, from the 80′s), Jars of Clay, Third Day, Kings X and many more. They do not use music as a means to evangelize, they write from deep inside and out comes something of beauty, harmony, expression that is deeply Christian. Other use music as a means and thereby denegrate it. It calls to mind what B XVI (when he was a Cardinal) had to say about producing music to be mass produced (A New Song). Some forms of music are intrinsically better than other, but that does not therefor make other forms bad. Folk music can sometimes be deeply spiritual as can jazz, rock, pop, etc. For that matter, classical music can be extremely secular and even anti-Christian. Music for the Sacred Liturgy is altogether a different conversation. Sacred music is different form secular music. Christian lyrics do not make a peice of music or an arrangement of noise sacred.

  • Jen

    Yep, I have to agree with the other commenters, Fr. Dwight. I can’t clean my house to Gregorian chant. I need somethin’ peppy that will get me movin’, and I don’t want to listen to lyrics about sex and break-ups all the time. Christian music fits the bill quite nicely, and I have a few favorite artists I like well enough. I don’t have to be afraid that my kids will hear the lyrics. I can put it on in the car while we’re running our errands, and at least I know it won’t fill the kids’ ears with offensive garbage.

    In the liturgy, absolutely we need sacred music and pretty much nothing I hear in Mass anymore qualifies. I can’t stand most of it. I would love, frankly, some silence in place of the crap we sing at Mass.

    P.S. Have a listen to Fernando Ortega’s “Give Me Jesus”. Beautiful! Worshipful!

  • Patrick

    “Market forces weed out the junk…”

    Father: turn on your radio to any commercial radio station and you’ll hear that market forces do not, in fact, “weed out the junk”. I’m not talking message, here, either: I’m talking these pop songs are just not very good most of the time, even though the people singing them sound like they’ve got a nice voice.

    “Market forces” generally just ensure a product is minimally acceptable to masses of people. As applied to beers, you get Budwesier rather than a nice, meaty stout (which some people would find revolting but I like): that isn’t “weeding out junk” so much as “weeding out particularity in taste”.

  • MackerelFan

    Lousy catechesis and deteriorating repertory have gone hand in hand. And as in so many aspects of the “contemporary” approach to liturgy, church music has become very self-referential, self-absorbed, and self-congratulating. There’s too large a portion of the hymnal you could categorize as “Aren’t We Swell?” Between those factors, hymns are having a harder and harder time stringing together two theologically solid thoughts about God.

  • Janet

    Best Christian music CD ever – Bill Cantos’ “Embrace the Cross”. This is Christian music for everybody who would never ever listen to Christian music. It is just wonderful.

  • jedesto

    This last Fall, on the first Sunday in Advent, as our parish began using the new Engligh wording of the Roman missal, we were introduced to–and still have–new, ghastly musical settings for the parts of the Mass that are sung (or not) by the congregation. I have visited two neighboring parishes who use the same ones. Less-than-good-liturgical-music lives! These new musical settings are at least distracting, at least to me. They remind me of a cheering section at a sports event. I know that “de gustibus non est disputandum”, so I suffer them — and I do mean suffer, — but not gladly.

    • William

      You must be referring to Dan Schutte’s new Mass setting. Its only saving grace is that it’s scored too high for most of the congregation and they don’t sing it.

  • http://totalbionic.com Doug

    I agree with Father concerning the liturgy…I can’t find a parish with traditional music, so I prefer to go to “quiet’ Mass with no music…at least it is more worshipful. The current liturgical melodies are like a Disney animated soundtrack. Add to that most of the congregation waving their arms with priestly gestures and holding hands with the Our Father, which is in violation of the postures as prescribed in the GIRM, and you have what is simply a really non-reverent, non-dignified worship experience…lately everyone has started clapping at the end of Mass like they have been to an entertainment event as opposed to a holy meeting with God. Very sad, very sad. Five hundred years of the greatest composers in history, writing sacred music for the Church, and this is what we get. The Holy Father has decried this on more than one occasion, but as with all things in this country, music, Mass abuses, and worse, and we get what the bishops have allowed to happen.

  • Patrick

    I’d like to hear a cover of “Jesus is My Friend” by Madness or maybe General Public or UB40. This video looks like it’s from the 80s era. The bassist/lead singer was just aching to break out and shout, “One Step Beyond!!!” LOL.

    Great article Father. I agree – let’s keep our worship music sacred.

    • alex

      lol I could totally hear that. loved madness and ub40

  • Christopher Hunt

    This is so right! Hearing heavy metal, or lusty tunes set to Christian lyrics is… distasteful. That said, I do think it has a place in modern society. It can be a bridge from secularism to spirituality. It served me in this way. Now-a-days I listen primarily to classical music, Catholic radio or political talk radio. When I smoke a cigar, I enjoy well done secular music. Mostly folk and jam band, with some 80s rock! I would rather our youth listen to Christian pop rather than kesha or Katy Perry for sure though.

  • http://www.thelyceum.org/ Luke Macik

    Dear Father,
    See the article about the students at The Lyceum (a classical Catholic school grades 7-12) who have discovered the treasury of sacred music:
    http://www.chantcafe.com/2012/04/beautiful-polyphony-from-lyceum-schola.html

  • filiusdextris

    What I like/don’t like -
    I think Christian radio is awful. In the ideal world, I’m not ready to sweep under the rug everything that’s not chant though (perhaps you’re not saying that). There are several Negro spirituals that really move (my favorite: What Wondrous Love Is This). I also like some old-timey hymns (As I Went Down to the River to Pray). Beautiful Christmas favorites with text or not (Greensleeves, The Seven Good Joys of Mary). I even have one Christian folk tape that I like that treats all the modern issues in an orthodox manner (though not appropriate for mass).

    My fix for the problem -
    For me, I think Christian musicians needs to keep it simple. A cappella or, at most, one instrument that doesn’t distract from the sonorous human voice. King David had his lyre and composed magnificent hymns with them. Above all, get rid of the electronic noise and sing normally – otherwise I turn the dial.

    • Rachel

      Psalms, chapter 150
      1Hallelujah!
      Praise God in his holy sanctuary;
      give praise in the mighty dome of heaven.
      2Give praise for his mighty deeds,
      praise him for his great majesty.
      3Give praise with blasts upon the horn,
      praise him with harp and lyre.
      4Give praise with tambourines and dance,
      praise him with strings and pipes.
      5Give praise with crashing cymbals,
      praise him with sounding cymbals.
      6Let everything that has breath
      give praise to the LORD!
      Hallelujah!

  • Joe

    @Jedesto: If we can cheer for Tebow (or any favorite athlete) then we can cheer for Jesus…I doubt he minds. From scripture I’m sure of this: he prefers a childlike heart and faith over a multitude of legalistic “religious” sensibilities all day long. If after cutting through the veil of
    proper forms and methods, your heart isn’t like a child’s, all the meticulous mannerisms mean nothing.

    • Scott W

      The beauty of traditional sacred music is that it makes you like a child in the relevant sense: full of wonder, simplicity and gladness. It helps transform you with time.

      • William H

        Well said, Scott!

    • http://themightyambivalentcatholic.blogspot.com/ Steve

      Well stated Joe!

  • TeaPot562

    Does anyone know that “O Sacred Head Surrounded” – sung on Good Friday – was composed by J.S. Bach, and at one time would have been considered “popular” music?
    Admittedly, Handel’s Messiah is far too ornamental to be sung as part of the liturgy, but it can be a source of inspiration.
    TeaPot562

  • Bender
    • Roger

      THANK YOU! I have been looking for this quote for years, I was under the mistaken impression it was from the other great philosopher of our time, Homer Simpson.

  • http://fireoftheirlove.blogspot.co.uk/ shadowlands

    I disagree with you Father, so much so, I’ve put a post up to defend guitars. (Don’t worry, I still love you though ;) ).

  • http://petersbarque.blogspot.com/ The Ordinary Catholic

    “O Sacred Head Surrounded” may have been considered “popular” music at the time of it’s composition, but the point is, it was and still is conducive to worship. It’s not simply a matter of popular music (including modern, Christian music) being good or bad, but whether or not it is appropriate in a Mass (liturgical) setting. Putting the words of a psalm to the music of “In-a-gadda-da-vida” doesn’t make it anymore appropriate than singing the words of “Love Me Tender” in Gregorian Chant.

    • WSquared

      Well said. The first time I ever heard monks sing Evanescence songs and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” in the style of Gregorian chant, it made me cringe. And that’s putting it politely.

  • Andrew Lomas

    I think it is generally agreed amongst students of this sort of thing that Rock and Roll music derives from two main sources. 1) blues music; and 2) gospel music. Gospel music in turn comes from Afro-American interpretations and reformulations of traditional Protestant hymns. So rock and roll descends in part precisely from a context of religious worship. And this is reflected in some of its typical rhythms; the ‘uplift’ progression of many hymns is also present in much rock music. This musical history is also reflected in the lives of many of the early rock and roll stars. Aretha Franklin was the daughter of a pastor, who began singing goespel and always preferred it. Al Green and James Brown both eventually returned to their relgious roots and became ‘Reverends’. Fortunately to get an understanding of these connections, you don’t have to read many boring tomes: you can just watch “The Blues Brothers”, where it’s all made clear!

    Concerning one of the most commercially, critically, and artistically successful rock bands of the last thirty years, the Christian rock band U2: The lead singer and main lyricist, ‘Bono’ or Paul Hewson, was born of a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, and has declared himself to be equally at home at a Protestant hill-side revivalist meeting, and in the back pew of a Catholic church. Two other members of the band were born Catholics. Moreover, in their native Irish context: though the band denounced the use of violence by both sides, they were always in favour of an end to English rule of Northern Ireland, and so were counted as Catholics. Pope John Paul II met the band–famously, he tried on Bono’s trademark dark sunglasses–and if the Pope doesn’t consider this ‘devil music’, neither need we!

  • Steve

    Growing up in a Mennonite church I came to love the hymns that a small congregation could belt out in four-part harmony. There are so many,many of them. I often wish that the Catholic church, to which I converted, would adopt them. Purged of theological errors, of course. On another note, I think it might have been an episode of the Simpson’s, a character commenting on modern Christian music suggests that all you need to do is take any secular song and substitute Jesus for ” baby” Gregorian chant, though beautiful is not likely to invigorate Catholic music, a new age of inspired composition is needed.

  • http://www.concernedforlife.blogspot.com Julie Culshaw

    What about gospel music? it is not traditional like Gregorian or the traditional Anglican hymns, but it certainly is inspirational.

  • Howard

    As a concrete counterexample, the musical genre of Handel’s Messiah or of Haydn’s Die Schöpfung is not specifically religious, but I defy you to deny their quality.

    The problem with bad music is not whether it’s sacred (and, yes, not everything in sacred music — even Gregorian chant — is quality), secular, or “Christian”. The problem is it’s bad music.

    By the way, as distasteful as much of the “Christian” music is, I’d be hard-pressed to find any as distasteful as a Catholic priest speaking dismissively of “Jeezus”. Surely you can find a better way to make your point.

  • Thomas R

    I might be repeating some things, but certain elements of rock music may derive from the Pentecostal tradition. And some from African-American culture, not just their sexual desires. Now Pentecostalism is not our tradition, nor is it one I entirely relate to, but the ecstatic is an element in Catholic history I believe. And Catholicism being universal things that derive from African-Americans or even African pagans I think should be acceptable. Or at least as acceptable as some Christmas customs that descend from paganism.

    In certain cases I find rock music, well the older or softer kinds not hard-rock, to give me a joy that does make me think of my gratitude to God. It doesn’t, usually, fit the contemplative aspect of the faith I enjoy but it can fit that joyful aspect. Sure some of its origin might be troublesome, just as jazz being “born from brothels” is troublesome, and I wouldn’t want rock to be played at Mass. Still I think a person could be drawn to the passion and energy of rock for positive goals.

  • John H.

    Favorite line about “Christian” rock.

    Can’t you see? You’re not making Christianity better. You’re making Rock & Roll worse.” ~Hank Hill

  • Ken Bolin

    I would recommend to anyone interested in this topic a message given by Dr. Don Wyrtzen entitled “Five Movements in American Church Music”. Whether you listen to the audio or watch the actual video, it speaks directly to some of the points brought up here from the perspective of a man of faith who has worked in Nashville and teaches music, albeit at a Baptist seminary. He gave the message during my final year as a student at Dallas Seminary, and I am currently enroute to the Catholic Church as part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

  • Randy

    I am sure that back in the day they complained about Palestrina and Byrd about polyphony!

  • http://www.nelsonmusic.com Brian J. Nelson

    Thanks, Father for this fine post. I am a committed Catholic and a classically trained composer and ponder these issues a great deal myself. Some thoughts follow to contribute to the conversation.

    I think at the very heart of this problem with “Christian” music is a more or less complete loss of the notion of “ethos” in most circles in society. This was a doctrine–arguably simply an observation–on the part of the Greek philosophers, particularly Plato in his Republic, that was later taken up by the Church in the very early centuries. Ethos simply states that music has the power to form character and should be used judiciously in the education and formation of individuals and society. Consequently, the choice of music (and by extension, its composition) for various occasions is of vital importance.

    In our day we take a basically nominalist view of these things. Nominalism–which had its early heyday with Ockham who also had a great influence on the Reformers–states than things really don’t have essences. We can still still affix names to individual things and even groups of things, but this is a mere linguistic convenience. Ultimately, they don’t have a core of reality to them that makes them what they are, they merely have names. The implications of this are less than obvious for everyday life, because we instinctively know and want things to have natures. Thus, what ends up happening when we internalize a nominalist view of things, including music, is that we think we can make something what it is (or is not) by giving it a name that we like. Gay marriage would be a classic example: even though the difference between and complementary of the sexes is obvious to anyone, and marriage between a man and a woman is as old as history, we think we can make something utter alien to marriage be “marriage,” simply by using the same name.

    We try to do the same thing with music in our day, and for the best of motives in the Christian world: The music has pious, Christian words, perhaps taken from the Scriptures themselves; the music is used in worship and private devotions; the music is sold in Catholic bookstores and reputable Catholic online retailers. Therefore: it must be Christian. But we forget that music itself is also a language, with a vocabulary and a content, fully capable of communicating a message of truth or error. Moreover, music, as we all know, and as recent brain science has verified, bypasses the rational processes and goes straight to the heart.

    So, what happens when the words are Christian but the music is communicating something profoundly different than, or even opposed to those words? The answer is that we introduce a conflict into the listener at a very deep level, and one that can’t be sorted out so easily because of the powerful, unmediated way that music communicates, as just mentioned above. To illustrate this point using another art form, imagine the following scenario:

    Its Good Friday and its been a powerful Lent for you. You’ve been meditating on the supreme and perfect sacrifice of Our Lord and drawing closer to Him. On this most solemn day, you have resolved to make the Stations of the Cross. You are traveling, so you look up the nearest Catholic Church and go. You walk into the Church and find the first station, and there is Jesus being condemned to death by the Sanhedrin. You look at His face and it has been painted with great care and detail….in the likeness of Elton John. You walk a few stations down to the Fourth Station where Jesus meets His Mother, and there She is — painted in the likeness of Lady Gaga.

    Now I think we can all see how wrong this is on a number of levels.To begin, we are importing the images of very worldly, secular people into a sacred space and using them to represent the two holiest people in history. Moreover, these music stars are people who are –without judging the state of their souls — promoting a life style utterly inimical to the Gospel.

    My point here is that we can do exactly the same thing with music, but it is actually worse, because, again, music bypasses the rational process and goes straight to the heart. In a sense we are defenseless against it.

    Here are a couple of other links that might be interesting to readers along similar lines:

    Msgr. Pope’s recent post about the power of music:
    http://blog.adw.org/2012/04/where-words-fail-music-speaks-amazing-video-of-musics-power-to-awaken-a-sleeping-soul/

    A fine summary of magisterial statements about music and its role in the Liturgy in particular:
    http://www.matthewhoffman.net/music/

    A good summary of the Church Father’s thinking on music:
    http://biblicalspirituality.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/ancient-fathers-on-instrumental-music-by-david-vanbrugge.pdf

    An example of the problem, perhaps, and some discussion including a post from me along slightly different lines than the above:
    http://marysaggies.blogspot.com/2011/03/scott-hahn-rocks-with-matt-maher.html

    Thanks again, Father, for stepping up to discuss this important topic and God bless
    you in your ongoing ministry in the Church.

    Brian J. Nelson – Composer

  • Stuart Buck

    I’d agree with those who say that there’s plenty of good Christian rock, you just have to look in the right places. For example, you should check out Deas Vail (“servant of God”). The lead singer has this boy-choir-ish tenor voice, and their songs “Atlantis” and “Shoreline” are just beautiful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=215a2CI-OlM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJrBFx6YpWI

  • SeraphicFather

    I disagree with the premise of Fr. Longenecker. Why is it wrong for a secular melody, as such, to be used in the sacred message of the Gospel? Do we stop Thomas by saying you can utilize a pagan philosophy in the sacred science of theology? I would say the church, and all Christianity for that matter, should be open to and lay claim upon what it desires from the ‘secular culture’ to bring forth the message of the Gospel to our people. Christian rock may not be to the taste of Fr. Longnecker, but he can’t objectify his taste to a standard that the church must bear as proper and true. This music speaks to a whole generation in a way that has drawn them closer to God and His church and that should not be ignored or underestimated.

  • Stuart Buck

    I left a comment that is in moderation.

  • Jack

    One of the reasons I left the Baptist Church and became an Episcopalian when I was in college over 40 years ago was that the music was so dreadful in the former.

    It’s also why I became Orthodox instead of a Latin Catholic when I realized the Episcopal Church was not the church I thought I was joining.

  • Dave

    John Michael Talbot has produced very good contemporary Catholic music, although I don’t know that I’d exactly call him popular, or ‘Christian.’

    Still, I don’t think he’s appropriate for Mass (but certainly far superior to Haugen or Haas.)

    Dave

  • Ann

    I am in total agreement with this article. I cringe at some English Masses, and have stopped going to a few churches during the week because of their so-called music. “Pie Jesu” seems to be mandatory for every Catholic funeral these days. The music in no way reflects any of the liturgical readings. Oregon Catholic Press in particular has pushed these types of “feel good” songs for years. Some who write these songs have admitted that they use Broadway Show Tune codes to write the music. OCP also has some fine Christian and Catholic hymns that emphasize our worship of God. That’s why I like the Latin Mass and Gregorian Chant. When one attends such a Mass, one KNOWS she is there to worship God Almighty, not to attend a service that makes one feel good, warm and fuzzy. Plus…we have the opportunity to stay after Mass and do a proper Thanksgiving for receiving the Holy Eucharist, instead of joining in on “Let there be Peace on Earth” or some equally inappropriate folk song. I remember when this type of music invaded the liturgy in the 1970′s, allegedly to attract the youth. The young people were smart enough to realize they could hear much better down at the local pub or coffee house, and exited the Church in droves.

  • Linus

    Amen to all that with !!!!! Additional problems are that the Bishops don’t seem to care, our pastors don’t seem to be inerested, the music directors definitely aren’t interested so how do you get people off the dime?!!!

  • Therese

    As a twenty something Catholic, I have to say I LOVE modern Christian music with guitars. It is the only Christian music I am interested in listening too and I know how happy Jesus is to hear me praising him to that music. It was the relevance of that music along with authentic Catholic teaching that brought me back into deeper relationship with God and made me realise Jesus can relate to people of my generation too. Nothing worse than hearing a really loud annoying organ blasting at the back of the church!

  • Pingback: Why Should The Gregorians Have All The Good Music? « theophiliacs

  • http://www.concernedforlife.blogspot.com Julie Culshaw

    I don’t think people cringed at the music that was written two or four hundred years ago. This is just someone’s imagination trying to draw a parallel. The truth is that most of the music used now in church consists of four chords, three notes, repetitive lyrics, and little reverence.

  • Nick

    Not sure if my last post went through, but here is the link again for THE HIDDEN HAND BEHIND BAD CATHOLIC MUSIC:
    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=4265&CFID=56760368&CFTOKEN=84980899

  • John Felcyn

    Is it St. Agustine who said that in liturgy “He who sings prays twice”. The point is that in any music used in litugy it should bring us into prayer, i.e., raise our minds to God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). If the music produces this effect, it is good liturgical music, if not, it is junk.
    I grew up on Gregorian Chant and traditional church music. I loved it and still do love it. I have also experienced contemporary musical idioms in liturgy, which brought all those present into a deep, worshipful and moving experience of God’s presence. Some present have had a first time conversion from a sinful life. Is that music “Crap”?
    If the musical idiom of contemporary music is what youth are steeped in, why can’t we Christianize it to bring those youth into a lasting relationship with Christ. (Not to exclude traditional church music.) I have witnessed this idea in action at the Stuebenville University weekends for youth each summer. Go see for yourselves and access the spiritual impact on the young people. For something that is labeled “Crap” there seems to be substantial good.

  • http://www.smalltalentmusic.com Deacon Chuck Stevens

    While I mostly agree with you Fr. concerning liturgy, I can’t say I agree when it comes to music that I would prefer to listen to outside of liturgy; as so many others have posted, I would rather listen to something when I’m driving, working or puttering that keeps me mindful of the Lord at all times, rather than ‘pop’ music that tells us how we should look or act or speak in order to ‘fit in’ with the present culture – and sometimes , whether it be something upbeat or quick or even meditative or reflective , then why not? Yes, some ‘Christian music’ is lousy, as is loads of ‘Secular music’ – the point is, to listen to both with a critical ear and separate the wheat from the chaff – not toss the whole lot!

  • http://www.corsanctum.com Stephen Tefft
  • john felcyn

    Hey moderators, what happened to my contribution?
    John Felcyn

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Its up. Sometimes I get too busy to approve new commenters immediately.

  • alex

    Wow. How judgmental without having had the experiences some of the posters have.. I must say I am a little surprised at you Father. I listen to Hildegard von Bingen (12th C. Catholic music) on Pandora almost daily, as well as other liturgical chant music including Byzantine and Gregorian. Also, love classical Mozart, etc. Just discovered Aram Khatchaturian and just downloaded Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scherezade. Gorgeous stuff! In graduate school I sung with a choir as one of four sopranos all over Germany and all we sang was sacred music. I will never forget singing the Ave Maria during rehearsal in a very dark 12th century church in some small town. And I wasn’t even Christian at that point. So musically I think I am pretty well rounded. But I also absolutely love some Christian alternative rock. The band “Red” has some of the most achingly beautiful songs about the inner struggle between holiness and the flesh. Sometimes you can’t tell that the song is Christian but I also agree with the theory that for some people this type of music can be an an important bridge away from seriously profane secular Pop music to the sacred and can assist in CONVERSIONS, (you know turning from the world to the Lord). Sometimes people need these bridges desperately but don’t even know it until they get zapped by the Holy Spirit when hearing a certain song. For example: the RED song “Not Alone” about being in the arms of Jesus and looking up and seeing that “love has a face” makes me cry and leads me into deep PERSONAL worship/contemplative prayer at home in my room. Not for church obviously but I dare you to try listening to this song by “RED” and not feel deeply something beautiful for God. In live concert this band has pyrotechnics and is very edgy. I recently saw them with the Newsboys who are also great. The guys in RED may have tattoos and bald heads but if you go on their website and listen and read you know that they LOVE Jesus and give Him all the credit and thanks for their, granted, “alternative”, musical talents. I’d rather my boys listen to RED than Hollywood Undead. Try it Father, you might like it! I am serious. Then email me. You can find official RED videos on YouTube. I wouldn’t want RED playing inside my church but I will go with the Youth group to a Saturday show ANYTIME, and I am speaking as a 53 year old post-punk ex-homeschooling Catholic mother of six who only met the Lord in 1995.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      As I said in my other comments, I have criticisms of some popular Christian music, but have nothing against people listening to inspiring Christian popular music if they like it. I don’t think it should be part of the liturgy.

      • alex

        I totally agree, did you listen to RED? :)

  • Tim

    Fr. Ripperger has a great homily on this topic on his website: http://www.sensustraditionis.org/multimedia.html (Scroll down to his “Homilies given by Fr. Ripperger in Tulsa”) Well worth the listen…

  • Gloria

    Seriously … All Christian music is bad … how narrow minded … it sure touches my heart!

  • HouseHaunter454

    I listen to secular muzak like Melvins, Sabbath, and Bonnie Tyler; Christian music is s**t especially the “hymms” we strain our way through in the Liturgy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mjkosowski Marysia Kosowski

      Sabbath, rock on!

  • Edward Britt

    I haven’t seen anyone mention the Christian Rock band Petra. They were mostly popular in the 80′s and 90′s. IMHO, they are the greatest Christian Rock band ever. If you don’t know them, they have lots of stuff on youtube. I haven’t seen John Michael Talbot mentioned here either but his music is mostly meditative, quiet and worshipful.

  • Diego

    I think this post is totally off the mark, because it mixes issues that ought to have nothing to do with each other. This post illustrates why (non-liturgical) Catholic music receives so little support from Catholics. It’s one thing to talk about sacred music for the liturgy, it’s a totally different thing to talk about music you listen to in your car, on your ipod, at a youth rally, a concert, etc. Most popular Christian music has no place in the liturgy, so to even argue against “Christian music” on the premise that rock music, country music, broadway musicals have no place in the liturgy says absolutely nothing about rock music, country music and broadway musicals except that they have no place in the liturgy. Then to go on to conclude that non-liturgical Catholic music of different genres can serve no purpose in evangelizing the wider culture and society and only serve to stir up emotions and feelings to a useless end just makes no sense. All art forms, sacred and non-sacred, touch the emotions and the feelings, so to dismiss a song, a painting, a play, a symphony, just because emotions and feelings are involved to me doesn’t prove anything. When I sing a hymn or a chant during Mass I might often experience emotion or feelings–what does that have to do with the place, importance or role of sacred music? Are those feelings and emotions “good” while the feelings and emotions I might experience driving in my car listening to Danielle Rose or Matt Maher “bad”? Feelings are irrelvant here, Father. As Catholics, in order for us to bring about an authentic renewal in our sacred music we must start making distinctions between what is music intended for the liturgy and what is music not intended for the liturgy. And Catholic artists of non-liturgical music have to stop thinking that in order for their music to be validated and supported by the Church it has be sung at Mass. I believe that like other forms of art such as painting or sculpting, lots of different musical genres can be imbued with Christian content and used to bring the Gospel into the culture at large, but a discussion about which genres can and can’t be used or how far to push the limits should be one that has absolutely nothing to do with sacred music and the liturgy. Until we can make those distinctions as Catholics, sacred liturgy will continue to be poor and non-liturgical Catholic music (“contemporary Catholic music”) will not get the support from Catholics that Christian music gets from non-Catholics.

  • Gabriel Austin

    I believe much of the problem lies with amateur composer who do not kn ow how to rid their ears of tunes heard in popular music. But not only amateurs. Nerve screeching is such as “Joyful Joyful” sung to the arias of Beethoven’s Ninth. Or recently a “hymn” set to the lovely tune of the Shenandoah. How often are these new hymns set to the rhythms of a walse or the fox trot.
    In an ecumenical spirit would it not be better to sing more of the Episcopal hymns or the Baptist or Methodist hymns? The Wesleys and Isaac Watts knew how to compose hymns.
    Ned Rorem remarked that the effort to attract young people to church with rock & roll music and the like would fail because they could hear better at their concerts and in their dance halls. And besides it is difficult to write good rock & roll music; else the composers would be out selling their songs to the record labels and not to hymn book publishers.

  • http://www.crossed-the-tiber.blogspot.com russ rentler, md

    Regarding the video “Jesus Is A Friend of Mine”. I first thought it was a cheezy fundy band. Turns out it was a parish worship band from Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Brookyln. I have written to Sal Polichetti the bass guitar and lead singer. He’s still rocking and rolling and doing theater in upstate NY.
    I sent my Catholic music cd to him but never heard from him. Hope he’s still in the Church.
    But he’s right, Jesus is a friend of mine!

  • Noel

    I am among those trying to begin where we are (OCP feel-good Catholic Contemporary with some good hymns and a few chants) and get to where we ought to be, displaying the full riches of the Catholic treasure chest of chant, psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. My first recommendation: The Chabanel Psalms from Corpus Christi Watershed. My next stop, the Vatican II Hymnal from the same source. I troll the entire spectrum of Christian music looking for well-crafted, good music married to texts with orthodox theology embedded that are not doggerel. Sometimes I find this in an old hymnal, sometimes in a contemporary Christian song, often among lesser known Anglican composers, but not outfits with one foot in the world and one in the Christian recording industry.

    What many people don’t realize is that what people sing is what sticks in their minds with the catchy tune, and ultimately, what they believe about God and themselves. If the music is all about ‘Jesus my buddy’, then there is no sense of God’s majesty, no awe. If the music is all about acceptance without self-examination, the result is a heart hardened against repentance.

    First, look for good texts. Then, look for music that fits the norms of musical composition. Why is the church satisfied with bad workmanship? It wasn’t always like this. We had Palestrina and Byrd. Does the melody have a single high point? Is harmonized well? Is there good voice leading? Music has its standards like any other field. Bad music is bad music, in the church or out, on purely technical grounds.

    If the music is designed for a congregation, is it singable? I didn’t say ‘easy’, but singable after reasonable rehearsal. Will it wear well after many hearings? Is it designed for the congregation to sing, or does it take a Cantor, screaming out the athletic melody line and the congregation only coming in on a bland refrain?

    And…take a look at the composer’s life. The text usually give the game away. St. Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Adoro Te Devote’ (I like the 1940 Hymnal translation better than the Hopkins paraphrase) vs. the Schutte ‘Table of Plenty’. As one of my choristers blurted out, ‘There’s no Jesus in it.’ No. No precious blood, either. But what do you expect from someone who has left his order, his priesthood and now, for all intents, his faith?

    And that brings me to the matter noted above about how money is driving a lot of this. Believe me, it is. Why are the throw-away Missals and support books full of music printed decades ago? Why is the work of men who are not even Catholic any more still being published? Simple answer: the music was heavily promoted, people liked it because it was catchy and upbeat, they never grew past it and so, it makes money. In the Protestant world this has been going on for at least a generation, and that’s where we Catholics have been borrowing our music and our expectations. We now have congregations whose pinnacle of musical thought is ‘On Eagles Wings’ and ‘Christ Be Our Light.’ The only way this will change is if musicians begin to quietly slip in truly lovely music.

    Our choir in a small-town parish has done Kevin Allen’s ‘Motecta Trium Vocum’ (check him out on the web and at ccwatershed.org) to congregations so silent a pin would sound like a hand grenade. They sense the wonder, they don’t know why, just that it’s beautiful. At one funeral there was an audible sigh after we finished. Same thing with little pieces by Healey Willan or Columbkille Simms, a short anthem by Christobal Morales. While still giving them the music they love…for now. New favorites will come.

    If you want good music, good devout composers, you’re going to have to (1) find some, (2) support a company that publishes their work. Again, check out ccwatershed.org. It’s a beginning.

  • Pingback: More thoughts on “Christian” music | Nelson Music

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  • Ed medina

    I appreciate Fr. Longenecker’s opinion of spiritual music, however from the perspective of being part of the music ministry in my church, I would consider on what authority has this opinion been formulated. His opinion might as well go on to include the language that we use to communicate the Mass and the sharing of our faith and love of our Lord. Why do we have the option to speak English? Has Father not formulated an opinion on that? Music is art that communicates. Our music is to communicate and support our church to deliver the Lord’s message to the Body of Christ. If a music minister does not offer his message with love, respect and ultimate reverence to our Sacred Lord then he has no place in the ministry and with that point I can agree with Father. However, Father’s “opinion” should take into consideration those that share their love of the Lord through music may actually share in the same level of integrity, that is both learnedly and spiritually, that he claims to have.

  • Michael

    Dear Father,

    Thank you for your excellent post! Permit me to comment on one of your final points, specifically: that the reintroduction of Gregorian chant will drive some away. Perhaps, but I trust you agree that when we raise the bar, people will notice and the final result will be that many more are drawn to a more integrated, solemn, beautiful liturgy.

    One other observation: as has been mentioned by a few commenters, it seems to me that perhaps the fundamental problem with music at Catholic Masses is the misuse of amplification. This is another subject, I know, but if all music were acoustic, as it is in the Anglican usage (if I’m not mistaken) many problems would take care of themselves. Or, at least the groundwork would be begun.

    Mr. Day, in his book, why Catholics Can’t Sing, the Triumph of Bad Taste, goes into this problem. Father, you are our champion on this, please press for an HHS Mandate against using mikes on musicians at Mass!!! Or something… God bless you and happy Feast of St. Mark!

  • Matt

    I saw this and had to drop my little bit…. when it comes to art the beauty is in the message, or emotion it creates… normally. However, getting away from the music part (I’ll get back to it), lets look a a piece of a water fall, expertly painted. You can almost hear the water splashing in the pool below it. Does that evoke any emotions? It is a pretty thing to look at, but does that make it art? Yes, I would say so. It gives people enjoyment to see it. Now lets say, for example, I paint a canvas red and call it, “Red Canvas.” Is it art? Is there beauty? Are any emotions evoked? What if we change the name of the piece? Lets call it, “Massacre.” Now what happens? Are emotions evoked? Is there a battle played out in your mind? Both the water fall and “Massacre” are art in their own rights. There are obviously other mediums, think about spoken word. Some is just pleasing to hear, other pieces are full of emotion, and are meant to cause uneasy feelings. Everybody knows Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, is that not art? On the other side of the spectrum, Dr. Suess. Easy to read, not much emotion in most of his work, but there is such a simplicity that his poems are quite beautiful. When it comes to music, the roots of whatever genre are always pulled into question. Rock came from bluegrass, rap and hip hop came from blues… honestly… who cares. When is the last time anybody said, “Hey lets put on the Dillards, it’s just good driving music!” I don’t think so… music however, can just be that pretty painting. Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is an entire genre of music made for the sole reason of getting people to dance (enjoy the painting). Technically the music is perfect, it is made with nothing but synths, drum machines and loops timed out to form mathematically perfect beats and grooves. My point is, what difference does it make if you change the medium? wether you use piano, guitar or organ, the music will be the same. If it is good music it will last, if it isn’t, it will wither out and die. Look at the Baroque period, music changed drastically within these 150 years. I believe we are in a new kind of Baroque period now, only semi forced. Music is changing with such a rapid rate that bad music can’t keep up. Johnny Cash, Tupac and The Clash may very well be our lifetime’s Bach, Monteverdei and Vivaldi.

  • Ashley

    I disagree with this article. Not “all” christian music is bad. I know many that are really talented artists… and the whole “why add christian words to secular sounding music” The devil is just a copier, music orginated from God and the world just perverted it. But I believe christian artist that can still rock are taking back what the devil has stolen. If you really wanna go to the “roots” of music it’s in heaven. :)

  • Last word

    How come I never heard the name of Jesus mentioned even once? What gives? What about the “blood of Jesus?”

  • Alex

    Toby Mac just topped the overall charts for the best album of 2012. How many non-believers can you reach that quickly?

  • jay newman

    Lets say I agreed with the premise of this article, just for the sake of debate. Lets say there is actually a distinction between music that is “sacred” and music that is “secular”. I believe that all music belongs to God… or as gospel singer Mavis Staples says, “The devil ain’t got no music”. But I’ll set that aside for a second and play along with the distinction being made. Perhaps there are genres of music that are simply incompatible with sacred content. That said – you could hardly call rock n’ roll incompatible musically. Now, rock music has evolved and turned into a lot of different things. But to say that it is inherently connected with an over-sexualized, drug laden culture is just being ignorant of Rock history. The roots of rock n’ roll are gospel music. It all came from black culture in the American South, predominantly in the church house. I’m not talking about lyrically, although that was a part of it too, but the birth of rock n’ roll came from the blues and gospel of the Southern delta region.
    So, would you then argue that black gospel music is itself not “sacred” music? While it may not be intended to put the hearer in a meditative state like Gregorian chant, it is absolutely meant to draw the hearer closer to God. It evokes joy, celebration, and yes the grooves usually move the hearer to become a dancer as well. It is uniquely capable of getting inside the human soul – what’s more sacred than that? But sometimes when it gets in your soul, you don’t want to sit there with your hands clasped. Sometimes you gotta get up and dance and let the truth of the Gospel inhabit every fiber of your body.
    Now, its another thing to say that Christian artists haven’t captured this well. That would be a fair critique. But should we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Just because no one is doing it right or well, should we just dismiss the whole concept? I say no. And I say you should check out an artist named Sean Michel. As one commenter above mentioned, he was on the roster for Cornerstone Festival. And I think he’s a guy, with his band, that gets it right. Check it out and see if you don’t amend your position slightly.

  • Evan

    Ever hear of the band Theocracy? Great Christian epic power metal that has done more for me spiritually than anything ever. Deep introspective spiritual lyrics, soaring epic music with symphonic and progressive touches, and Matt Smith has one of the best set of pipes you will ever hear. Without a doubt the best Christian band that exists.

  • Linda

    There is a time and a place for everything, including Christian music. What appeals to some, does nothing for others. I am a traditionalist, and therefore prefer traditional hymnody. Others get into the beat and “noise” of more modern Christian music. Whatever floats your boat.

  • http://www.EdFuchs.com/ Ed Fuchs

    I write Christian Rock Alternative Worship music and it’s pretty awesome. Psalm 150, you know God loves Eric Clapton too and in heaven there will be no secular music. Music without lyrics is a neutral ground open to any interpretation it’s the lyrics that communicate words we understand in language. Music however cannot be defined by ‘secular’ or ‘sacred’ if I strum an A minor chord and sing a melody while my heart is worshiping God then my worship transcends music. If I start singing ‘I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moments gone’ then it’s just dust in the wind.

  • WK

    Hi. I agree that most christian music stinks, but I disagree with your why.
    First you start this article with a fairly logical and critical, if subjective, analysis of the problem, and then you jump into the typical, superstitious, illogical, fundamentalist reaction about mixing “christian” lyrics with “the devil’s music!” There is nothing evil about a series of tones being played at whatever tempo in a particular pattern. David Wilkerson used to go on about how it was “born in wickedness.” Well, so are we all. It’s not the compositions that are evil, it’s the application. I’ve seen Darrell Mansfield rock the house and I was in tears for the Spirit of God was there. Maybe the man has an anointing and maybe he has a gift.
    One of the problems with christian music, like you said, is that there is no market for competition and accountability. They’re all playing to a captive audience.
    Also, their passions are divided. You can’t be a worship minister of the sacred and be a pop star.
    Christian music is “the little big time.”
    And everything is produced in the same place by the same handful of producers and writers and players.
    The recordings sound like shiznit. Ok, I’m done.
    WK

  • Steve

    I am sorry friend but your thesis is way off base. I was brought up in a church that taught the only good christian music comes from old hymns and spirituals. I have found the truth. The truth is that God is alive and well! If God impresses upon someone to write a song that worships and praises Him then that is GREAT christian music. Period. God said make a joyful noise unto ME. He did not say that this joyful noise only has to have a piano or organ or it has to follow a set beat. By condemning new christian music you are condemning God and you will answer for it one day. I may not be a fan of rap music but I will listen to it if God inspired it. I may not listen to it daily but I am not going to say that it was awful, un-inspired, un-Christlike etc. Open your mind. Open your heart. Try to treat others like Jesus did (he accepted everyone, he didn’t turn people away because of how they looked, spoke, acted etc). Try to treat this music like God does…WORSHIPFULLY!!

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I’m not against new music. I’m against bad music.

  • Ecron Muss

    Finishing your blog post with that video, albeit funny, is really a cheap shot!

  • Chukkal

    I totally agree! My church just hired a new worship leader and his taste in music sucks!!!! Most of his songs are monotones that have no tune nor do they make sense. I’m sick of it! In the meantime, the piano sits silent while he strums on his guitar. I think he must enjoy hearing himself!

  • Lanny

    The Horrable trend in Music is happening in all denominations:
    We had a Senior Minister who was very educated in music and the arts he died a few years ago We very a Large Pipe Organ Know around the world had a big Choir and sang the same songs as in the Mass Ave Verum
    Handels Messiah Bach Widor.
    Now the hired a very young senior Minister who has given a lot of Power He is using Rick Warren’s Methods The Purpose drive church says get ride of choir and choir robe only bands .The Pipeorgan is silent No sacred music no chants we did have two servies One tradional and One Priase he has only one service now By the way the choir members ,Organist ,Choir Dirctor All left be casue of the Praise Music
    I pray that the Music of the centries will one agin fill the Great Cathedrals and Churches

  • Jesus On A Telephone Pole

    Perhaps those banal church tunes could be “spirited” up by melding old sitcom melodies as christian hymns. I can just see an Archie and Edith Bunker like duo at the church mic belting out a sacred tune to the melody of “Those Were The Days,” while the long haired, sandal clad bass player plucks only one open string with his amp’s volume is set at 10, and with every pluck of the bass string the chalice on the altar vibrates madly making Father Poopenschnal glare angrily at the bassist.

  • kayla

    i see what you’re saying, but you’re forgetting a major point. music, was and is, sound. it isn’t words, words are words. therefore actual music— melody, affects people in different ways. what i interpret from a melody may be something entirely different to someone else’s interpretation. we cannot just say that there is “one specific” way of channeling a more aware sense of God. what draws and moves me to God may not do anything for the guy next to me. that is my problem with christian music today. musically, it is so, so, so, so, so boring. and being made in the image of God, believing that all of the creativity in the world is just another facet of God, i would much rather hear christian music that is actually creative. THAT is what would bring me in awe of God. i understand where you’re coming from, but to say that rock (lyrics omitted because as i said, music is music and lyrics are just words) is inherently evil and thus can produce no other feelings than sinfulness in us, is false. i cannot know what type of music will produce what type of feelings in another person.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      What you have said is untrue. Sacred music produces feelings of calm, peace and a connection with beauty because it is composed and performed in a certain way. The heavy beat of rock music is designed to connect with the more physical passions and therefore lowers spiritual awareness. Music is not purely subjective, but can be analyzed objectively according to its structure and composition.

      • Dave in NC

        Absolutely correct Fr. Allow me to suggest to Kayla above e that she find a copy of Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere mei Deus and give it a listen. If she doesn’t come away with ‘feelings of calm, peace and a connection with beauty’ I would be much surprised.

        It’s Psalm 51 set to music.

  • Rob neiman

    It blows my mind at the stupidity of people who don’t get it… Music is music… there are just as many (or more) secular bands that suck even worse. I work in Christian music retail and it’s not just Amy grant and Michael W Smith.. I can find an album in pretty much any category that is just as good or even better than the slosh the secular market spouts. Everything from classical to speed metal and if you listen to TV movies and secular radio, you’d be supprized how much of it is christian music? Go hang out at a GOOD christian music store with people who know what it’s about and you’ll be shocked how much you will like. I do agree that some worship lyrics do suck and aren’t very creative… THERE IS GOOD TUNAGE FLOAING AROUND OUT THERE

  • Tim

    My primary concern is the use of Christian pop music in Mass and the use of the associated instrumentation for the Gloria, Agnus Dei, etc. My experience is that it distracts the congregation from the Mass and tries to center the attention on the band. That’s a BIG problem for me. From what I remember, Vatican II essentially prohibited the use of guitars and drums in Mass. Depending on the group, there may also be theological issues with the lyrics.

    The pop music itself, well, some of it good, some bad, some horrible and there are a few excellent groups. I agree that too many of them think a good message trumps mediocre music and it is just not the case. Bad music detracts from the message. Outside of Mass, I have no problem with the music genre and it helps some people to relate and find God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mjkosowski Marysia Kosowski

    I don’t buy into any of this at all. So just because I’m Catholic I can’t listen to symphonic metal or anything else that is written in dramatic minor keys, because rock and roll was “rebellious” and “heavy?” I don’t think so. And I should ditch the beautiful fantasy lyrics of these bands (i.e. Nightwish, Within Temptation) for a bland “Christian” themed equivalent? No way. What constitutes “Christian” anyway? I listen to a lot of world and folk music. What about the late great Ofra Haza, a popular Yemeni/Israeli singer? Many of her songs are about God…in Hebrew. And no Jesus in sight. Uh-oh, does that no longer count as “Christian” music? What about Natacha Atlas, who sings in Arabic and identifies as Muslim? What about Swedish folk band Gjallarhorn, that calls upon the mythology of their country as inspiration for their lyrics? What about Enigma and Delerium, who mix Gregorian chants with new age electronica and edgy subjects? What about Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, all about evil sorcerers and enchanted swans in the best fairytale tradition? Music is as old as the human race itself and just as rich and varied. Lyrics, like books, cover all areas of life. I’ll be the first to walk straight out the parish door before I give up all my secular music, thank you. The rest of the world doesn’t have this ethical dilemma. I’m Polish American. My roots are European, and we are traditionally a very Christian country. But no one in Europe would ever think that music had to be restrained and molded into safe Christian modes of expression. It’s madness. There’s too much richness in variety to be had. It seems to me that only certain Americans worry whether or not their music will lead them down the path of evil. I think it stems to the founding fathers of our country. The Puritans were strict and any songs they had were the churchy hymns like “Amazing Grace.” The rest of the world has a long tradition of secular folk music populated with secular and fantastical themes, which later evolved into secular pop and rock music. Seriously, people, lighten up and don’t stress. I do object to unnecessary vulgarity in my lyrics, but music is not evil.

  • kyle kopitke

    God is good and inspires good music. While I like Rock and Roll Music to pick up the beat for my exercise dancing, I also know that the Still Small Voice of The Spirit can better be found through soft music.

    Two Christian sweet songs that I wrote with my wife can be found during the last four minutes of my Indie Movie Musical Trailer; “Sisters Go Ye Trailer 2” on Youtube

    LeGrand Richards used to preach that we must use the advances in Technology to advance the Kingdom of God; satan will use the same inventions to destroy souls.

    We need more Christian Movie Makers and Music and Recording Artists; are Testimonies of The Christ as The Savior of the World, must be nurished daily. Yes we have the Holy Word of God, but music and movies are also important tools in our modern bag of Spiritual tools.

  • Ed

    I agree with the first three paragraphs which mention [1] mistaking worthy message for talent, [2] audience is typically uncritical, [3] lack of market forces.

    What I don’t agree with is that Christian words don’t work with the music. I think any words can work with the music so long as they’re written well, and by someone with a talent for songwriting. So perhaps the real reason is that the songwriters of Christian music don’t have that talent, and not the fact that Christian words don’t work. Furthermore, when you say “why should those warm sentimental feelings or hard emotional feelings be linked with worship” – not sure what culture you’re from, but worship very much involves hard emotional feelings, and to some degree sentimental feelings.

    In any event, a great first 3 paragraphs :-)

  • mjn004

    I would say you have some good points about bad music in the beginning of this blog, but I believe you have missed a few things from there on. first of all God is the creator. He has created us as diverse and amazing creatures in his image. look at all the different styles and types of animals plants, and so on. all the different kinds of foods he has given us. One of my sons does not like mash potatoes because of the texture but he loves french fries. guess what? that does not make mashed potatoes evil even though it may be hard for him to understand how there could possibly be anything good about them. It is so easy to take something that we don’t like or understand and think that God must feel the same way, forgetting how devise and amazing God is. How could God possibly love something we don’t. Have we forgotten that Jesus’s hung out with the scum and rejects of the time? Worship comes from the heart not from a music style. Religious leaders from the beginning of time have been trying to make there own rules on how we are to worship. The devil did not create rock and roll. He is not the creator. Rock and roll came from the church but many churches rejected it and the devil came in and stole it along with generations of youth. Don’t believe me look at where many of the founding rock and roll artists came from. Many of them had their roots in churches including Elvis. just Look at the whole Jesus movement and you will see rock and roll started in the church. If you really want to take the whole sacred music only theory then you truly should through away all worship music as we know it and go back to the traditional Jewish music of the psalms. I am sorry but that doesn’t do much for me, and I can worship to a lot of different kinds of music. No where in the bible does it say worship God with only one style of music. But we are instructed in all things give praise. when I think of how big and powerful my God is I get excited and it comes quite natural for me to write exciting songs that praise him for all that he has done for me. When I hear rock and roll I want to worship him. “Sacred music” and hymns do not really inspire me. yes I can still enter into worship with some effort because worship is an attitude and I am mature in my walk not being limited to only my style of worship and music. It would be very easy for me to say how can God be in sacred music. It is so boring and the God I know is not a Boring lame God. But I know that God did not make everyone just like me and for some people it is very meaningful and helps them enter into a wonderful worship experience. so let us not be the judge of what is pleasing to the ears of God. let us be free to be all the God has created us to be using our creativeness to praise God in all we do in many diverse and wonderful ways reflecting our God and creator!

  • Clay

    Yes, music which bills itself as Christian virtually ALWAYS sucks (and that is understatement). Totally agree on the “practical” problems with Contemporary Christian, very salient. I even followed you on the “secular music with sacred words” thing because that is USUALLY true.

    I fundamentally disagree on your history and analysis of Rock n’ Roll, but I think the main problem is that you seem to think that all Christian music must be appropriate for the Divine Liturgy. Yes, some forms of music are much better suited to the Liturgy, BUT religious people SHOULD encounter and interact with God in popular music. Popular music might be elevated to the divine, rather than trying to make the divine popular.

    There are some cases where the former happens.


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