Anthony Esolen has a good moan here about some of the hymns he has to endure at Mass. Anthony is an English professor and noted translator of Dante. So he knows something about poetry. Why oh why are such awful hymns allowed in the Catholic Church?
I’ve mused on the bad music myself in this post, but one of the reasons music at Mass is so bad is because Catholics are ignorant of the great tradition of decent hymns. Before Vatican II they didn’t sing hymns “That’s Protestant!” very much, then after Vatican II everybody went crazy for the folk Mass and most of the faithful wandered about singing (or not) what was dished up for them. Priests weren’t trained in the traditions of sacred music, so they were largely ignorant of what was good, and the pressure was on them anyway from the people–some of whom felt good when they sang songs like, “I was walking on the beach when I felt the good Lord reach….for my hand.” It was easier to go along with those who actually had an opinion or preference, and so reigned the dictatorship of sentimentality. Sentimentality is often an artificial kind of manufactured emotion–sort of like artificial flavoring in candy. Go here for further thoughts.
There are some standards for good hymns, and they’re not actually too difficult to figure out. Some time ago I wrote a four part series on what makes a good hymn. Here’s the first part. Here’s part two, here’s the third and here’s the fourth.