UPDATE: Our parish has decided to replace our outdated "People's Mass Book" which has served us very well for 8 years, with the St. Michael Hymnal, 4th Edition. It has some very lovely Mass settings and you can hear some of them by pressing this sentence. You can also find the other settings which include a great array of traditional Latin Chant settings. The hymn selection is outstanding too and it has the antiphons for all Sunday Masses. This isn't a hymnal for all parishes but for traditional ones with pipe organs I think it is "nifty!" But by pressing this sentence you can hear some of the new settings in English which I'm thrilled with and we'll implement a few of them in this parish.
As well, the selection of the style of liturgical music since the 1960's has been driven by fads in culture that young people like. The thinking is that if liturgical music mimics popular music at a particular time it will keep young people in the Church.
The "Folk Masses" of the 1960's were meant to speak to the baby-boomer generation and keep us in the Church. We were the "now" generation; we were the future generation. We were the "hip" generation. We were the world! We were narcissistic too, weren't we? I do remember that "Folk Masses" were the most popular Masses for young people when I was a young person in the 1960's and 70's. I went to a very popular "folk Mass" at St. Mary on the Hill" in Augusta.
But therein lies the rub and the need for a sociological study on popular music's impact on Catholics as they age. Does it really keep them engaged in the Church for the long haul or is it simply pandering to the tastes of young people that is as fickle as they are?
I have no data to back this up, but in the 1960's prior to the council, up to 80% to 90% of all ages of Catholics attended Mass each Sunday. Then this need of liturgical musicians to speak to the "now" generation in a myopic way may well have contributed to my age group losing interest in the Mass because what we sang during the Mass and the style of singing was so banal, emotional and trendy. It had no substance; it had no meaning; it only had feeling and like "blowing in the wind" it was gone. There was nothing to stand on.
My experience with Folk Masses from the 1960's to the 1980's was that we parishioners and we priests loved to listen to it but we didn't always sing with it because some of it was hard to sing, too high, too low and all over the place and even verses of songs were different from each other. And the theology of so many of the songs were, well, Catholic Lite, vapid to be charitable.
I can remember comparing the congregational singing in my first parish in the 1980's. Our 9:30 AM Mass was the organ Mass with traditional hymnody. The Church was full with a great mix of ages. The congregation sang!
Our 12 noon Mass was the Folk Mass. It was packed and with young people and young families and a smattering of older people. It was less participative. At the 9:30 Mass, the choir sang in the choir loft. At 12 noon, the folk group sang from the front. Clearly the 12 noon Mass was more for the entertainment of the audience and the real presence of Christ in His Sacrifice, Offering and reception in Holy Communion was secondary as was true active participation in the singing of the Mass.
I would suspect if I could interview today that 12 noon Mass crowd and find out how many are still going to Mass each Sunday that I would find that only a small percentage does. If I could interview the congregation at the 9:30 AM Mass today, I think there would be a much higher percentage still attending Mass today.
But this all brings me to my final point. Why are we spending so much energy on singing music at Mass rather than spending all our energy on singing the Mass? Our Mass is not about hymns and anthems, it is about singing the Mass.
We need to look at the Mass as music for the following parts:
1. All the parts of the priest
2. All the parts of the Congregation: Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Responsorial Psalm, Gospel Acclamation, Creed, Offertory Antiphon, Sanctus, Mystery of Faith, Great Amen, Our Father, Agnus Dei and Communion Antiphon.
With all these parts of the Mass, there should be an Ordinary Time Setting for after Epiphany; an Ordinary Time setting for after Pentecost; Festive settings for the Christmas and Easter seasons; and somber, penitential settings for Advent and Lent. There should be "celebratory settings for special occasions such as weddings, feasts and solemnities" and their should be mournful settings for funerals.
A parish doesn't need too many settings of the Mass because having a repertoire that is ingrained in the parish will help the parish to know and sing the Mass.
Once that's down, then one should focus on "filler" music that could reflect the congregation who attends a particular Mass. I would say that there are three places for this filler music (at the entrance procession as an additional song after or before the Introit. At the offertory now called the Preparation of the Offerings and as a recessional. I would not have a problem with contemporary or ethnic music for these places if the congregation likes that sort of thing. But the Mass itself should unify everyone in a particular parish not divide them into sub-groups.