Tuesday, September 3, 2013


The following comment was made by a parishioner, anonymously yesterday, but I think that the person posting it placed it under the wrong post and no one would have seen it as it was an older post that she posted it on and did not really go with that post, but rather one of the ones I posted on Labor Day about singing the propers versus hymns with chants for Christmas Day. So here it is:

"Sadly, the choice of music is one of the things I dislike about Mass at St Joseph. I don't know the songs we sing and most are difficult to follow. I miss knowing and enjoying music at Mass. It's become a chore, not a pleasure. Our children don't know any church songs unless I teach them because they don't hear songs they understand or can easily relate to Mass. What is wrong with singing I am the bread of Life during communion? I used to sing songs from church the rest of the day after leaving Mass and it was such a glorious thing. Now, many times I stop singing in the middle of the song because the changes in pitch, etc make the music difficult and my voice ugly. I don't think I'm alone with these thoughts because I see many people around me doing the same thing. It would be nice to lift our voices in music. It's amazing how many I see singing along when its a rare, familiar song. I'd love to go to Mass one day and enjoy the music again."

MY COMMENTS: We selected a very traditional hymnal that has very traditional hymns, the Saint Michael's Hymnal. For some very odd reason, this hymnal and the one it replaced, The People's Mass Book, do not have "I Am the Bread of Life" which I like and most of our parishioners like.

When I came to St.Joseph Church in 2004 there was no hymnal, only missalettes that had music and the previous pastor only allowed certain hymns from the missalette to be sung apart from one or two that he personally led each and every Sunday.

When we obtained The New People's Mass Book, we began to expand our knowledge of hymns from the few that were sung every Sunday to more. Of course, this meant that we had to learn these new "traditional" hymns that most parishes know but St. Joseph didn't know because these were never sung for 30 years under the previous pastor's tenure. So this was jarring for a minority but not for most.

Now we have the St. Michael hymnal that has a few more traditional hymns then the previous hardback hymnal we have.

Of course the traditional Marian hymns are well known by St.Joseph and quite singable, but these are not appropriate for the Mass generally, because these are Marian devotional hymns better suited to devotions not the Mass.

Which brings me to my final point. Hymns are not the music of the Mass. The Mass, the official words of the Mass, and most of them I might add, is the music of the Mass.

Let's start with certain parts of the Mass, which is the music of the Mass:

--The official Entrance Chant (which is prescribed in the Books but unfortunately after Vatican II the aberration of omitting this is an option for the use of a hymn).

Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Mystery of Faith, Great Amen, Lord's Prayer, Agnus Dei

As well the official Offertory and Communion Antiphons which in the OF Mass, like the official Introit, can be omitted or substituted with something else, but not in the EF sung or spoken Mass.

Then the priest's parts are meant to be chanted too, beginning with the Sign of the Cross through the "Go in Peace."

Hymns are filler music and not at all integral to the Mass. In fact hymns came in as an aberration for the Low EF Mass on Sunday, what was called the 4 hymn sandwich, Opening, Offertory, Communion and Recessional. Nothing else was sung of the Mass,the hymns were a "stepping out of the Mass" to make the Mass a bit more solemn sounding on a Sunday when the Low Mass was said.

Now there are far more kinds of hymns today compared to prior to Vatican II when devotional hymns for vernacular devotions were chosen, what would be called traditional Catholic hymns for devotions with melodies that are quite familiar and singable since these were dragged to the low Mass prior to Vatican II.

Today we have contemporary sounds, even more unsingable than traditional hymns, usually contemporary sounding as it concerns any young generation of Catholics and thus open to become outdated as soon as the tastes of the young change.

Of course, the only way to make new hymns singable is to sing them frequently until these are learned.

Now I will admit that our new hymnal has some hymns that are quite difficult for congregational singing and our Director of Music has on one or two occasions chosen these and I too have cringed because I know if I can't sing it, no one else except the most talented in sight reading hard hymns can.

I usually ask that these not be sung again except as a cantor or choir piece at the Offertory or at Communion.

But the comment above hits the nail on the head. Music in the Catholic Mass today is completely misunderstood, there are many aberrations, too many choices for hymns and what is actually the music of the Mass, the Mass itself, is not what most think of when they complain about music at Mass--its the stuff that isn't the Mass that is complained about or that people want, like the person who commented above.


Gene said...

My impression is that people who make these complaints want the protestant sounding metrical/lyrical hymns from the Baptist or Presbyterian hymn books. I think it is good to remind them that hymns are not the Mass. Probably, some catechesis is in order regarding the theology of the Mass and that the hymns should reflect and support that.
Now, there are some really good protestant Christological hymns that beat anything in "Breaking Bread," and some of the other awful "hippie" hymnals and which are even more "singable." A few that come to mind (and which I do not believe would be in conflict with Catholic theology) are, "The Solid Rock," "My Faith Looks Up to Thee," "God of Our Fathers," "Blessed Assurance" (for the sweeter touch), even "Sweet Hour of Prayer," for all of its sentimentality, beats some of the stuff in these post-Vat II hymnals. Not "Amazing Grace" and not "Rock of Ages," as popular as they are, because they are hard core Calvinist in their theology.
Truly, "A Mighty Fortress" is one of the great hymns of the faith and I see no serious conflict with Catholic theology. It does appear in the St. Michael book, I believe, but with the words drastically changed. I guess they just couldn't stand that it was written by Luther. You can't beat this:

"And tho' this world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure, For, lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him."

rcg said...

This is one of the strange things that has happened to our Church in the last 50 years. The 'old' is really the new; what we call new is restoration.

I don't disagree with someone liking these sorts of tunes, I, too, sing some of them during the day. I do disagree about how easy they are to sing, versus real Liturgical music. But that is a personal opinion.

I still do not understand why the people who want that sort of music don't simply schedule the parish hall for after Mass and have coffee and pastries with singing of the 'old' hymns.

Templar said...

Well since this is a "complaints thread" if I see I am the Bread of Life, you can count me as one who will close the book and refrain from singing. I categorically refuse to sing such insipid music no matter how theologically sound they are. My Lord, we have countless worthy composers counted among the Bride of Christ, there's no excuse for singing something from 1971.
Now a little closer to my heart, I do wonder why when we do sing such time honored hymns as Te Deum we sing it in English and not Latin.

Lewis K. said...

There are several things simultaneously occurring within this issue. I will comment on only two here. They are familiarity and duty.

Firstly, any study of metrical hymnody will reveal that common hymn tunes rarely exceed the span of an octave for the very reason to be instantaneously singable to the untrained voice. There are tines with greater spans, but not many. Composers invariably have lay congregations in mind when composing hymn tunes. If you can't sing it, and do so easily, then it won't get sung often enough to fulfill its intent. What the parishioner was complaining about was familiarity and their individual voice register. Different peoples voices break in different places. This is why different keys are used in printed hymnals. If a person thinks their voice grows ugly in the midst of a hymn, it is usually because they dislike where their voice breaks on the key being played. And, coupled with unfamiliarity, meaning the singer must consciously, actively, actually engage the words and tune, protests arise.

The second is duty. We have our parts in the ritual and prayers of Most Holy Mass. They are prescribed for us. Extemporaneous prayers and ejaculations, a figurehead of our daily interactions, are out of place in the communal gathering where the Expiation of our sins is offered. Again, the familiar is challenged. Therefore, our parts are become our bounden duty. Our discomfort, if any arises, should be viewed as something to be purgated, if you will. We do not come to Most Holy Mass just to recharge our spiritual batteries. When details, such as the music or even the Celebrant's accent are complained against for sake of familiarity, then there are deeper issues that need be resolved.

Hymns are not for people. Unfortunately too many refer to the singer directly as subject, and God follows indirectly. Hymns are for God and His Saints.

Gene said...

Lewis K., Ah, that is why the choir director at one of the churches I pastored always announced, "Hymn number (whatever), lowered an octave for congregational singing. I don't want anyone left out."

Anonymous said...

"He who sings, prays twice."