A week ago, I wrote about a house liturgy I had the privilege to attend, and contemplated my experiences with good, moving liturgy, observing that I’m pretty lousy about praying and that it’s the community prayer of liturgy where I can truly feel prayerful –that is, when I’m surrounded by people who are praying along with me, in song, rather than looking at their watches, waiting for their Sunday Obligation to be over.
I’d been mulling this over since then. That group of friends is now planning on quarterly praise-and-mass nights. I remembered, too, a beautiful experience I’d forgotten when I wrote the initial post — when the young adults group I was a part of (until we all ended up with kids and the group faded away) sponsored some similar “praise nights” that consisted of, as I recall, a lot of “praise songs” and some shared prayer.
And now, “featured” at the Catholic Channel, is a blog post, “Why Catholics Can’t Sing And The Crisis Of Catholic Education,” which laments that “One of the few 70s-style liturgical tics I wouldn’t mind at all would be for the priest to go “Sing it! Can’t hear you!” etc. during the entrance & exit hymns for a few weeks until everyone is trained to actually sing,” and links to an article at First Things, “Catholics Don’t Sing Like Lutherans; blame the Irish,” which likewise laments the indifference of Catholics toward singing, from (quelle surprise) the perspective of a Lutheran convert.
So part of me thinks: is getting Catholics to sing at mass a lost cause? Is it more realistic to see if there are ways to create these “everybody sing together” experiences outside of mass, maybe talking it up among people I know who do like to sing? After all, I have some friends and acquaintances who sing in the choir. My son plays trumpet with the teen choir. Heck, Tom, who was one of those who led the young adult praise music group, is still around and involved in Scouts. (Sure, he’s expecting his 10th child, but they’re surprisingly busy with the parish anyway.) Could I talk the music director into having a go at it, maybe as an Easter or Pentecost event?
Am I too hung up on music? Should I just “let Catholics be Catholics” rather than resurrecting old, Lutheran frustrations? Is it none of my business whether the people around me open their mouths or not, and I should just stop being judgey?
but — it’s not as if Catholics are genetically incapable of singing. When it’s a familiar song, they’re more likely. And every now and again, one does happen on parishes where they do sing, and I wish I could relocate just to attend there. And the problem is, it’s a collective action sort of problem — if everyone does sing, then everyone hears the sound of voices singing, rather than just cantor or choir, and that’s self-reinforcing. But you really do need everyone to join in.
Could you nag them? Take requests? Identify the most popular songs and repeat them regularly? Would people sing more if you printed the songs on the worship aid, so they don’t have to get out the hymnals? How could you show John and Jane Parishoner the real difference that it makes, to their own experience of mass, for everyone to sing?