Did they sing "God Bless America" at your church this weekend?

Did they sing "God Bless America" at your church this weekend? May 29, 2011

With Memorial Day tomorrow, we marked the occasion today with a rousing verse of “America the Beautiful,” segueing into “God Bless America” after the final announcements, and before the final blessing.  The flag was also dragged out from its place in the corner, and planted prominently beside the pulpit.  (Despite that, we heard grumblings about only singing one verse of “America the Beautiful,” as if that were somehow illicit or, at least, irreverent.)

All of which makes you wonder: is it wrong to express patriotism in church?

Writer Kevin DeYoung thinks so:

We should pray for service men and women in our congregations. We should pray for the President. We should pray for the just cause to triumph over the evil one. We are not moral relativists. We do not believe just because all people are sinners and all nations are sinful that no person or no nation can be more righteous or more wicked than another. God may be on America’s side in some (not all) her endeavors.

But please think twice before putting on a Star Spangled gala in church this Sunday. I love to hear the national anthem and “God Bless America” and “My Country, Tis of Thee,” but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples. I love to see the presentation of colors and salute our veterans, but these would be better at the Memorial Day parade or during a time of remembrance at the cemetery. Earthly worship should reflect the on-going worship in heaven. And while there are many Americans singing glorious songs to Jesus there, they are not singing songs about the glories of America. We must hold to the traditions of the Apostles in our worship, not the traditions of American history. The church should not ask of her people what is not required in Scripture. So how can we ask the Koreans and Chinese and Mexicans and South Africans in our churches to pledge allegiance to a flag that is not theirs? Are we gathered under the banner of Christ or another banner? Is the church of Jesus Christ–our Jewish Lord and Savior–for those draped in the red, white, and blue or for those washed in the blood of the Lamb?

In some parts of the church, every hint of patriotism makes you a jingoistic idolater. You are allowed to love every country except your own. But in other parts of the church, true religion blends too comfortably into civil religion. You are allowed to worship in our services as long as you love America as much as we do. I don’t claim to have arrived at the golden mean, but I imagine many churches could stand to think more carefully about their theology of God and country. Churches should be glad to have their members celebrate Memorial Day with gusto this Monday. We should be less sanguine about celebrating it with pomp and circumstance on Sunday.

What do you think?

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

51 responses to “Did they sing "God Bless America" at your church this weekend?”

  1. Here we played it at every mass after singing America the Beautiful for the final hymn — EXCEPT at the Spanish Mass— where God Bless America in Spanish was the closing hymn itself! Dios salve America! Everyone sang, nobody objected and they stayed till the priest was down the aisle. Immigrants oftimes love America more than anyone else! (as did my own immigrant parents….)

  2. Some hymns are actually prayers for our country, such as “America the Beautiful,” with its refrains asking that God shed his grace on America and mend her every flaw, etc., and “God Bless America.” I see nothing wrong with praying for our country, whether in speech or in song, on major national holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and Independence Day.

    On the other hand, the national anthem is not a prayer, nor is America. Patriotism is indeed a virtue, but patriotic thoughts which are not prayers should not be hymns at Mass.

  3. There is a very simple, very objective answer to this: hymns are not part of the Mass, or at least they shouldn’t be. Sing the Mass propers (Introit, Offertory, and Communion). Hymns, quite simply, are Protestant. This can be done either in Latin (the default) or in an approved vernacular translation.

    This is what the Church has called us to do for the last hundred years, and all we seem to get from parishes is disobedience.

    Problem solved.

    In the Prayer of the Faithful, it’s of course appropriate to pray for those who gave their lives for our country.

  4. Here in North Carolina, we sang America the Beautiful. I cried, just like I always do. On patriotic holidays like Memorial Day or Independence Day, our priest (a veteran) will also have us sing Eternal Father, Strong to Save.

    Why shouldn’t we? We’re praying for our country, and praying for those who protect our God given freedom.

    God Bless America!

  5. We sang “God Bless America” during the recessional. It seems to me that the words in that song and in “America, the Beautiful” are prayers of petition. When we sing we pray twice, or so I’ve heard. That seems to me to be a good thing.

  6. Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Byzantines, Franks, Arabs, Lombards, Spanish, French, English, American, all those nations, people’s and empires have come and gone and the Church remains. Not only that but the Catholic Church is not American, not even European or Latin or Jewish. It is universal, above nations, and race and even (dare I say?) patriotism. I served this country in the Army and Marines, and I am patriotic, but I do think that patriotism needs to be downplayed at the liturgy of the Mass.

  7. Tomorrow, on Memorial Day, we will celebrate Mass in our parish cemetery. At that Mass, on Memorial Day, when we are gathered for the day’s purpose (to remember the dead) we will sing either God Bless America or America the Beautiful.

    Today was not Memorial Day, it was the Sixth Sunday of Easter – a day which ranks high on the calendar for our prayer. I saw nothing in the feast or its scriptures to suggest patriotic songs (not even prayerful ones). We did include a petition in the Intercessions for those we remember on this holiday and for the safety of those who are traveling this weekend.

    As for moving the nation’s flag from its usual place and putting it next to the pulpit: I can’t think of any reason to do that on any day of the year.

    Deacon Greg: did your parish sing two songs before the blessing and dismissal and then yet another as the closing song/recessional of the Mass?

  8. One solution – sing “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. It feels patriotic but is really an eschatological hymn. Everyone is happy.

    Even better – sing the Propers.

  9. Fr. A…

    We did the two songs before the blessing and dismissal. Our recessional was: “Sing With All the Saints in Glory.”

    Dcn. G.

  10. I can understand the qualms some people have about patriotic hymns in Church. They associate patriotic hymns with a narrow-minded chauvanism
    However, Christ enjoins us to love our neighbor. And who are the neighbors we bump elbows with every day? Our fellow countrymen and women. So shouldn’t we sing of our love for the land God has given us and the people he has given us to be our neighbors??
    The hymn I have always loved is one that has really been deep-sixed : “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Noone wants to hear these days of God’s “terrible swift sword” that brought down slavery (and Hitler). Or of “God’s Truth Marching on.” Today many Christians are more likely to have the attitude that Pontius Pilate had: “Truth! What Is Truth????”
    Many Catholics today don’t even like the prayer to St. Michael: “Be our protection in battle-protect us from the wickedness and snares of the devil’
    Militaristic sounding music and prayers are just–oh, so politically incorrect.
    Yet, starting with the Bible, including the New Testament, military imagery has been part of our spritual patrimony in song and writing because of the evils that regularly assault and besiege Christians and society– Evils that we should be taking up spiritual arms against at least in song and prayer.
    Sometimes I think we have surrendered to Satan without a fight (oops!, bad word) these days.

  11. I don’t know what was done at the church where I work, although I suspect that the recessional may have been patriotic. America The Beautiful was the recessional where I worship.

    Although Deacon John above says that patriotic songs and chauvinism are associated, that is not the case for one and all. I like patriotic songs, but not in church. It is a rare moment that I want to act separately from the community, but I often find myself in silence as others sing. I struggle with it – being with the Body or separating. It is always tough for me to reconcile such things on these days.

  12. Every Pope from Pius X to Benedict XVI has re-affirmed that secular music (including patriotic hymns) have no place in Church, especially in the Mass. Why is no one here acknowledging this?

    Every Pope has also said (and the current GIRM affirms) that hymns are the least appropriate form of music at Mass. Rather, the Mass propers are to be sung, ideally in Gregorian Chant or Sacred Polyphony. Why is no one here acknowledging this?

    Patriotic hymns should be reserved for patriotic events like parades and firework displays. After all, it would be weird to hear a Eucharistic sequence at the Fourth of July parade, so vice-versa should also apply. Why is no one here seeing the logic of this?

    There is a bright line standard, and most of the answers here are pretending as if this bright line doesn’t exist.

  13. Ryan Ellis — What about “Immaculate Mary” — is it anathema because it says, “And bless, dearest mother, the land of our birth?” IMO, the bright line is a little blurred.

  14. “Hymns, quite simply, are Protestant”. Since when? They are songs in praise of God. Do Protestants own that? It is true that we have borrowed some from the Protestant tradition. But if you look in the music edition in the pews of most churches, you will find that many have sources listed such as “Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1774”; or “Psalteriloum Cantionum Catholicarum, 1710”; and one well-known Advent hymn has a 9th century source. Which would seem to indicate that Catholics have been singing them for awhile.
    As far as patriotic hymns, I don’t see anything wrong with them if they take the form of a prayer for our country, rather than simply an exercise in triumphalism.

  15. Liturgically I agree with all of you whomever knows Church Law, Canon Law, etc in saying no patriotic songs or national anthems during Mass.

    However, with the state our Novus Ordo Catholic Churches are in and that many people would not be able to convince their pastors this is innapropriate, if it has to be done, then do the national anthem on whatever day (July 1 for Canada Day up here, or National anthem in USA on July 4) as the CLOSING Hymn or after it.

  16. Why on earth would it be wrong to pray for your country and the men and women who so bravely defend us?

  17. Ray:

    Because everything has place. And its not prayer, its using the liturgy. No problem with praying or being patriotic. Just not in the Liturgy of the Mass.

  18. Corrected: Because everything has a proper place. It is not being patriotic or praying that it is objected, but using the universal liturgy of the mass for the patriotic display. Before the mass, after the mass, prayers of the faithful during the mass, all of these are of course good places to pray for whom the Church wants to pray. But patriotic hymns and flag display during the liturgy are not the proper place. But again, like everything else now days, it is to be debated and two camps will form and there will be no agreement. So whatever it is….

  19. Greg

    We sang Eternal Father, Strong to Save at this evening’s mass. Like other posters I do miss the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and find it most appropriate for this weekend of remembrance that began after the Civil War.

    Even better , when I searched the song online I found that the version in our hymnal is the US Episcopal church version –sacra blue — as it references the sea, land and air. I know others here disagree with me but I see God’s hand in the background when we share music with our Christian brothers and sisters.

  20. 1) the recessional at the 10 am Mass w/choir was “America the Beautiful” v1, 3. I am in the choir. it appears to have been an afterthought, perhaps “suggested” by clergy or a member of the parish who has the director’s ear. The pastor loves the choir. The director has followed him from prior parishes.

    There are people in the parish who will pay for something they consider desirable, such as the trumpeter during the Easter season. They get closely lsitened to.

    The director almost forgot to give us the music, but one member remembered. The congregation, as it is wont to do as a sign of affirmation, applauded.

    2) the homily, on the other hand, was by the retired NY police officer deacon (this is not in the NE US) who is also a airport chaplain, and the former “batman” of the retired bishop. imho it was over the line.

    the celebrant was the young assistant who worked in the economy for a decade before entering seminary. he is very self assured and an excellent communicator. there was no affirmation from him of the deacon’s message. if he had an opinion, I suspect he has the discretion to keep it to himself.

  21. We sang Battle Hymn of the Republic. I was surprised. I associated that with protestant songs, but it was there in the Catholic Hymnal.

  22. I concur with my colleague, Fr. Austin Fleming: yesterday was the Sixth Sunday of Easter, not Memorial Day. We continued to sing Easter songs, and we’ll continue to do that until June 12th, the feast of Pentecost. We had one intercession in the Prayer of the Faithful in which we all prayed for all those who gave their life in service of their country to serve and protect us all.

    I’m constantly trying to help all of our parishioners to remember that the Church is much, much bigger than the people who look like us. The Church is ALL of the baptized, no matter from which country they come. The Church is universal, so no specific symbol of national identity (i.e. American Flags) is really appropriate at the celebration of Mass.

    BTW….I’m as patriotic as anybody in the USA…And I personally presided at the celebration of 7 Masses for victimes of the 9/11 attacks, and was present at 10 other funerals/memorial masses for those innocent victims. However, I continue to ask people to pray for their enemies, as the Gospels ask us to. Not an easy position to be in.

    Today, we pray for ALL who have paid the ultimate price in the service of the ideals of freedom and justice.

  23. Church is about the only place left where one hears these songs. Being a good Catholic citizen means bringing the witness of one’s faith into the civic square through word and deed. With Christianity being chased from the square like an orphaned, bastard child, and the Culture of Death gaining ascendency, I think a little display of religious/civic integration in our churches is actually a good thing.

  24. I think Mr. DeYoung struck a fine balance.

    We may and ought to pray for those who offered the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our country. That is what Memorial Day is about. Tomorrow (well … today now!) there will be the opportunity to offer those prayers.

    Sunday was the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and there were no references to Memorial Day at our parish, either in word or song.

  25. Msgr Ogle — and who would they object to ? and what would have been done ? Is choosing the music a democratic process or it up to the properly trained liturgist to sing the appropriate music ?

  26. Our parish is E.F., so no patriotic hymns- just Paschal ones.
    We did, however, have some servicemen promoting ‘Wreaths Across America” in the parish hall during coffee hour.
    I agree on things in their proper places.

  27. I have mixed feelings. Normally, I’m all for keeping nationalism out of the Mass. However, I do have a soft spot in my heart for “America the Beautiful” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (the latter, I suppose, because my mom told me more than once that she cried when Andy Williams sang it at Bobby Kennedy’s funeral, and it’s easy for me to imagine how moving that moment was).

    Guess I can call “America the Beautiful” a prayer without much of a stretch. Not the case, though, with “Battle Hymn,” so maybe I should just play that one at home. But in any case, no, our parish did not feature any patriotic songs this weekend.

  28. Only thing changed in our parish is that our liberal New York pastor went from having prayers said about ‘our president’ in generality during the Bush administration to ‘please pray for president Obama’ which causes a groan each service. We live in a Conservative, military area.

    I agree, politics should be kept to a minimum in church.

  29. George…

    So we should only pray for people whose politics we like?

    A very conservative priest I know prays explicitly for President Obama (and all other elected leaders) at every mass.

    I think it’s appropriate — and much-needed.

    Dcn. G.

  30. We sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth” as our recessional. Not a bad compromise for sliding from 6 Easter’s emphasis on the promise of the Holy Spirit to Memorial Day. And it was nice to hear that, even given the choice of substituting “family,” everyone stuck to the “With God as our Father, brothers all are we” language of the original. I’m all for inclusive language when the older texts can be modified without losing meaning, but brotherhood is a word with very strong American associations from the abolitionists to the Civil Rights movement, and it has been an unfortunate victim of the word police.

  31. If it’s wrong to mention or pray for particular countries at Mass because the Mass is “universal”, wouldn’t it be equally wrong to have funeral Masses for particular deceased persons, or wedding Masses for particular couples?

    We are not disembodied, detached “citizens of the world” or members of our Church. Our national identity and the needs and concerns of our nation, like our family identity, our profession, etc. is part of who we are and I see no reason why it can’t be incorporated into our public worship, so long as we maintain proper balance between the universal/timeless and local/here and now aspects of worship.

    I know that homilies and general intercessions can often veer off into pushing particular political or social agendas but let’s not go off the deep end the other way.

  32. @ deacongregkandra

    No problem is that is the norm. But, when out pastor goes out of the way to drag Obama into homilies and praying for him specifically, it betrays a political bias that should not be there.

    We should not be endorsing politicians from the pulpit that encourage abortion among other anti-Christian ideology.

    That goes for both Republican, Democrat, and everything in between.

    If Bush was not good enough to be prayed for why is Obama?

  33. As I said earlier, patriotic hymns that are really prayers don’t bother me very much — although they do make me slightly uneasy. But certainly just as bad are MArian hymns intruding on the Eastertide liturgies. Perhaps “‘Tis the month of our Mother,” but the Roman liturgy takes no account of it on any Sunday in the month. So if “God Bless America” is inappropriate, so is “Immaculate Mary.” Yet we’ve had it and other Marian hymns on the Sundays of May before Memorial Day weekend.

    And while I’m at it, I’d like to hear Frs. Fleming and Vavrick’s opinions, as well as the deacons’, on the reprehensible practice which is insinuating itself in my parish and elsewhere of concluding the Prayer of the Faithful, not with a brief oration addressed to the Father through or in the name of Jesus Christ, but with a “Hail Mary.”

  34. Church is about the only place left where one hears these songs.

    You need to get out more.

  35. 37 Naturgesetz

    You said “And while I’m at it, I’d like to hear Frs. Fleming and Vavrick’s opinions, as well as the deacons’, on the reprehensible practice which is insinuating itself in my parish and elsewhere of concluding the Prayer of the Faithful, not with a brief oration addressed to the Father through or in the name of Jesus Christ, but with a “Hail Mary.”

    I really do not understand your complaint here. I have written or spontaneously orally composed many Prayers of the Faithful and have never used the Hail Mary as my closing. If I were in such a congregation that customarily did that, I might evaluate it as “odd,” but not “reprehensible.”

  36. I was a visitor at a parish out-of-state this weekend.

    The American flag was in the procession just ahead of the book of the Gospels. It was placed for the duration of the Mass only inches from the side of the altar proper. (No papal flag opposite I noted) Including during the consecration…obviously

    Then as a part of the opening prayer sequence the pastor invited the congregation to “honor our armed forces” by joining him in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

    There was also a huge banner of an airman, sailor and soldier in the clouds saluting a white cross suspended above the clouds.

    Frankly I was VERY uncomfortable with all of this. I thought that the whole episode smacked as a kind of soft idolatry and blasphemy.

    This all conflates what is “Ceasar’s” with what if “God’s”. We need to strive to always be vigilant to preclude such confusion as best we can.

    Hopefully service to country would not preclude service to the Gospel..but there are times when it might and disciples of Christ must not be clouded in their thinking when making such assessments.

    I registered by feelings on this all by keeping my hands at my side and my mouth closed during the entire Pledge.

    Sorry if anyone is offended, but I though that this pastor was going down a very dangerous path.

    Otherwise the mass was dignified and preyerful and the homily provided the the deacon was just fine…no possible confusion there!!

  37. Dcn. M…

    That does sound over the top to me. Especially including the flag in the procession, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Dcn. G.

  38. We had a petition for the military, those serving, those who have served and those who have died and that was all.

    I think that was appropriate.

    Maybe my view is skewed by being an outsider. Maybe it’s skewed by having grown up in Northern Ireland where the very identification of oneself with a country, be it Ireland or Britain was not always cause for pride but for bitter divide and often tragedy. Perhaps this experience has watered down my patriotism.

    I just feel that in the church especially our primary loyalty is to God and nothing else should interfere with that.

    That is not to take away in any way from memorializing in other ways those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, from this country and others in the pursuit of peace.

  39. @ George, maybe your pastor feels Mr Obama is in special need of prayer? Maybe more so than his predecessor?

    Maybe it doesn’t betray his personal politics at all?

  40. “Being a good Catholic citizen means bringing the witness of one’s faith into the civic square through word and deed.”

    In a parish church that I attend frequently there are two permanent wooden signs/tablets/banners affixed on either side of the sanctuary. You can see them at this link:


    The one on the right (from the congregant’s point of view) with the eagle and red and white stripes says “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”, and the one on the left, with the papal/Vatican crest and yellow and white stripes, says “Render to God the things that are God’s”.

    I’ve often wondered why those banners/signs are there. Are they a legacy of the World War II era? Or (my personal theory) are they a reflection of the fact that this parish is located in a state capital where many, if not most, households include someone who works for or has regular dealings with the state or federal government — and could therefore benefit from a daily/weekly reminder of where their priorities ought to be?

    In any event I think it’s an appropriate example of allowing the church building and its liturgy to unobtrusively reflect the identity and pastoral needs of the people who attend and the time and place in which the liturgy occurs.

  41. Can you imagine what would happen if those same banners were put in the state Capitol Building?

  42. Those banners in the state capital would be mixing religion and secular government, so they, IMO would not be appropriate in government buildings. However, in a church—aren’t those Bible quotes?

  43. I am doing some research on Chartres Cathedral for a Church History presentation. I came across this story of an American soldier, Col. Griffith Welbourne, Jr. who in World War II was responsible for convincing our troops to spare the Cathedral. (It was thought that the Germans were occupying the cathedral, just as it was believed that Monte Cassino was occupied by the Germans.) He singlehandedly went behind enemy lines and into the Cathedral and found out it was empty. He was killed in action in the gunfight to take the town on August 16, 1944 in the town of Leves, near Chartres.

    His descendants were not aware of his deed, since a plaque in his honor had his first and last names transposed. In the 1990s the mistake was rectified by a historian at Leves and a ceremony was held at the cathedral to honor him.

    Now, the reason why I am posting this story here: Part of the ceremony involved the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” – right in the cathedral. Quite appropriate, I would say.


  44. Holy Cow… they did it again before labor day (9/4/2011). I am Mexican and, honestly, this the first time I think: what am I doing here” in my own Church!!! By the way, I had never heard the congregation of the Church sing so loud

  45. Re: Gloria #49

    This week-end, we did not sing “God Bless America” as our closing hymn but did sing “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. . . ” a politically correct title for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

    Our new pastor — German heritage in his early 40’s — was one of the loudest voices.

  46. I’m surprised this thread is still going …

    In my parish, after the prayer after communion (and just before the final announcements) we sang one verse of “America the Beautiful.” When we’ve done that in the past, we’ve gotten complaints: “What? Only one verse? What’s wrong with you people? Why didn’t we sing more?”

    You can’t please everyone.

    Dcn. G.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.