"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A comment on Devin Rose's Frightening Article

Frightening to me anyway. It is titled "Time for Catholic Praise and Worship?" Thank God for the question mark Devin. As one commentor put it:
"The Ring’s whisper is drawing you near… Do you need an intervention before you put it back on and turn invisible?"

Here is one of my comments in response to this comment:

Restless Pilgrim said:

"What has to be done to get Catholics to sing?! Traditional music or contemporary music, I don’t care which!"

That not caring is part of the problem. It cannot be both. It is not a choice between equals. It is not a matter of taste. If Catholics were actually given their traditional music, they eventually would begin to sing again. But they rarely are given the opportunity, and so they feel lost when the chance to sing chant comes.

Have you ever been to a modern art museum? Stinks right? Well that is not merely your opinion. It actually is objectively bad art. That is why it stinks. Compare the modern art to real art, and imagine nearly every parish in the nation having almost nothing but the modern stuff, and wondering why the people don’t seem to like their art. That is the current music situation. Most of our liturgies are absolutely dominated by 1970's show tunes style music. It is objectively bad music, and ironically it is often hard to sing in a group anyway.

Give them their Catholic music and they will sing! Just like Protestants have their Protestant music, and they sing. Btw, the reason you can go into a huge megachurch and hear everyone singing loudly/getting into it, is because they choose to be there and not the other 40 local Protestant liturgical options from Anglican to Pentecostal. Catholics do not have this option. We have ONE liturgy from which very specific music has grown, and unlike Protestants, who choose an ecclesial community whose liturgy produces the type of music they prefer, Catholics can either stick with what the Church has given them, or force the Protestant music onto the mass. The square Protestant peg will get shredded as it goes into the round Catholic hole, and then we wonder why Catholics don’t want to sing. It is not that they don’t want to sing, it is that they are Catholics at a mass and not Protestants at a Sunday service. Each style is suited to each liturgy, and has grown organically out of each liturgy. When I was a Presbyterian, we sang Wesley hymns in 4 part harmony on Sunday morning. It was beautiful. That is their heritage, rising naturally from their liturgy. The Church has given permission to use their songs, if we want, but it must be in THIRD PLACE behind chant and polyphony. (this is from Church documents, not my opinion)

Currently, even the nicer Protestant hymns are in third place behind 1.) Marty Haugan show tunes,
and 2.) "contemporary" folk or happy-clappy!

I assume we can all agree that the chant and polyphony that has grown out of the mass over thousands of years (and even traditional Protestant hymnody) is objectively better than “praise and worship music”? But perhaps someone will argue that some people like the P and W music, so let’s use that music to draw them/make them comfortable, etc. Now to Devin’s main thrust in the article, I know he must be thinking “Hey dude, I was not talking about music in the mass though.” Ok, fair enough. But why use a foreign tradition to introduce someone to your tradition?

Put another way, why use an inferior foreign tradition to draw someone to your tradition? Watch the above video of “Gather us in” by Haugan. That song has a place. It’s place is in a Protestant liturgy, or around a campfire! The words of the song, the music itself, and the instruments likely to be used (guitar) are totally inappropriate for mass according to the clear teaching of the Magisterium. So why have a service outside of mass that tells the participant “we are Catholics who really like this Protestant liturgical music, and we like to sing it outside of mass as opposed to our own liturgical music which is much richer and deeper and in the long run more emotional, but for some reason we would rather skip all that and sing this disposable stuff.” The clear implication is “this is the music we really like, and we want it at mass”. Otherwise why not sing from the vast storehouse of Catholic music that we have, that is specifically Catholic, ancient, and objectively beautiful? Shouldn’t we put our BEST foot forward when we are showcasing the Catholic faith to people? Why in the world would we use the scraps from the Protestant table to showcase Catholicism? Protestants have seen the scraps, they want the Church.

It is as if a great king wanted to show his wealth to a visitor, and instead of bringing him into the vault and blinding him with the huge mounds of bright gold and jewels as far as the eye can see, he meets him at the city gates and shows him a fancy carriage and some Russel Stover chocolates- gifts which a neighboring king gave him. “Really, believe me, I’m super rich, really I am, trust me!” The visitor can’t help but think “If he is so rich, why not just show me?” Catholicism is the rich king, and Protestant hymns are the gilded carriage. The sickly sweet chocolates are praise and worship songs. Why would we have a meeting at the city gate (in the basement of the Church) to hand out these chocolates when we can invite everyone to the storeroom (mass) to see the treasure?
One last point. Even if this idea of a service outside of mass was great, lets first get the music inside mass fixed before we start focusing on the outside.


  1. Good points David. I would be interested in seeing whether, if Catholic music returned to its beautiful origins, Catholics would sing more.

  2. Edit: I started writing and couldn't stop...sorry:

    Devin I don't think it's that easy. I'd love to hear a live Byrd's Mass for 4 Voices, but I'm not going to be joining in singing because it's serpentine, polyphonic, endless-knot beauty, not a congregational setting. Certainly it could not compete with "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" choruses for just getting folks to vocally participate.

    There are a lot of just plain sociological reasons why Catholics aren't "into it" relative to protestants: the parish system, obligatory Sunday mass, attending for cultural/family reasons, heterogeneous congregations.

    Like you said, you have to volunteer for something to meet the intentional folks (cause that's what evangelical church is: voluntary)

    Changing "worship styles" can't change these facts. If you live in a metro region, you can choose a mass more tailored to your preferences, and the more homogenous the mix, the more "into it" (according to their internal criteria) people are probably going to be. Among many others there are two "destination masses" in Kansas City where equally into-it people go: an FSSP parish and a "gospel Mass". Each group says to themselves, wow, what we have here is really great. Everyone is really reverent/loving. Our special liturgy really fosters reverance/community.

    But lets say you have your typical vanilla parish and the singing is horrible.

    Here's my rules for improvement:

    1. Disband the choir. Get the people that enjoy singing back in the pews.

    2. Remove as much performance aspect from the cantor as possible. Make them wear a cassock. Stick them in the back or least facing sideways. No facing the congregation.

    3. Limit your repertoire to the most basic, basic English chants and hymns.

    4. I'm not certain about this rule's efficacy, but I'd definitely try it: if you're going to sing a hymn, sing all the verses. One of the reasons evangelicals have hearty singing is that they often do it in big blocks of time. 20-30 minutes of it. That's a lot harder to ignore or mumble through than a 30-second Gloria. It creates a culture of singing ..."hey, this is something we do".

  3. Chad,
    Awsome, awsome points. I dont know if you have read the article "how to start a garage schola" but if you havent, I recommend it.
    I love the title "destination masses"...
    Perfect description.
    I drive 45 minutes past 10 Catholic churches attend a destination mass parish. If I were to go to the nearest Extraordinary form mass, It would be an hour drive. My parish has a wealthy congregatin with a very reverent Novus Ordo mass. Always at least ten altar BOYS, lots of smells and bells and beauty, top notch doctrine laced sermons er uh.. I mean homilies. And the music is generally not distracting for a N.O. mass. The FULL CHOIR helps! ;-)

    But yeah, it is a destination mass. Not every parish can do this. Half the congregation drives past many Churches to get there. In that sense, we are a sort of ghetto. And I feel bad about it. But with impressionalble children, and with my own proclivity to blowing a gasket upon hearing "On Eagles Wings" while recieving the Blessed Sacrament or seeing a grown man wearing shorts in Church, or seeing an altar girl, or having someone grab my hand during the Our Father etc..., I feel I have no choice but to go to a "destination" parish.

    I like your plan. I think for things to change in the vanilla "Marty Haugan creation Mass" parishes, which must be 80-90% of our parishes), the Vatican will need to get involved in some way. Making every Catholic Church a "destination parish" is just not even feasable. We need a hand from above to pull us out of the quicksand.
    I think a first step would be to MANDATE latin chanted ordinaries during at least Lent and Advent, if not year round. The current rule is interpreted that we should have "some exposure" to chant, which usually in practise means none. It will take a change to the missal itself I think to right the ship.

  4. Devin said:
    "I would be interested in seeing whether, if Catholic music returned to its beautiful origins, Catholics would sing more."

    Never have I been more "emotional" and bowled over in Church as when I was at a local Catholic mens group once (Catholic Man Night),


    only 20 or so guys in the pews for a benediction with the Blessed Sacrament... and the whole group (except me... the new convert)is singing/chanting Pange Lingua in it's full on latin glory. I felt like I had time-traveled and was singing next to Aquinas at a monestary.

    It was simple...

    These were working class guys that were from dozens of parishes, not just "destination" parishes. No trained singers, no special anything. Their only "training"? They had chanted it before.

    It was intense...

    My knees would have buckled at the beauty... if we werent already kneeling. My desire was to join in. And unlike singing four part harmony well, I had the instinctive feeling I could learn to chant quite well if the normal guys around me had mastered it so well. Turns out.. that is one of the reasons chant is used! Anyone can do it and it encourages participation!

    I dont think we need to speculate if they would sing more, I think there is probably empirical evidence out there to back up my anecdotal experience.

  5. I was received into the Church in one of those reverent NO parishes with Ordinary chants in latin. It's always packed and I still love it there.

    It's usually just my 6-yr-old son and I going to Mass so I'm pretty flexible which parish we attend. Usually go to the Anglican Use in town, but I like to visit other parishes often depending on what time we get out of the house in the morning!

  6. About a year ago, on Dave Armstrong's blog, there was a big fuss over Michael Voris's criticism of Amazing Grace. Voris said that AG should not be used in Catholic worship services becase it's a Protestant hymn with Protestant theology. Dave Armstrong went ballistic over Voris's criticism of AG and people like me who defended it. I merely pointed out that AG was a Protestant hymn with Protestant theology. I also pointed out that our Church has a 2000 year history of music, so why do we even have to bother with borrowing music from a heretical tradition? David Armstrong labeled me a Pharisee for my observations abot AG.
    It's sad, but the only time I get to hear traditional Catholic msic is around Christmas and Easter time. I hope I live long enough to see all of the happy-clappy crap by Hagen and others and the Protestant garbage thrown out of the missalettes, and our good Catholic music inshired in their place!

  7. Man I love Voris. And he is exactly right. Amazing Grace is not at all appropriate at mass.

    "how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed..."

    Can a Catholic read that and agree with it in a certain sense... sure. But that is not the sense in which it was written! I have sung AG a dozen times in my old Reformed days, and back then I would reflect on the theology of that song as being explicetely sola fide. Same with A Mighty Fortress. Are the words horrible... not really. But it is a song written specifically against the Church. Why do Catholics even need to go there? Certainly not at mass, and certasinly not in the LOTH, which I have seen it in there.

    It is disgusting really that Catholics would not just add these songs on as a footnote, but SURPLANT the glorious Catholic music of our tradition with them! It is the Twilight Zone!!!

  8. David and Chad:


    Haugan and Haas hippy music is even more out of place, if that is possible, with the beautiful new translation of the Mass. It went from nails on a chalkboard with the previous "translation" combined with that music to nails scratching my face off with the new translation. Majestic, reverent language with irreverent music is like cookies with lemonade.

  9. Devin said: "I would be interested in seeing whether, if Catholic music returned to its beautiful origins, Catholics would sing more."

    We need a Catholic Forensics Lab, a CSI or CDC, becaise that scenario is so viral.
    Here's the real answer: "some" Catholics would sing more."
    Here's the Thomas Day answer: "Wouldn't make a snowball's difference."
    Here's my answer: "Don't worry, be happy. Invite all, program well, and que sera."
    If the simple structure of a Gloria refrain is too difficult for RC's with undergrad and grad degrees to assimilate in a couple of month's time, it becomes a matter of want rather than will.
    And we who are DM's need to be cool widdat.