Dear Bishops: Are You Listening?


Regina Magazine recently asked their readers an interesting question about musical preferences for Mass. At their Facebook page the online magazine (whose slogan is Interesting. Intelligent. Catholic.) specifically polled those 35 years and younger, asking:

Do you like folk/rock music at Mass? Why or why not? What do you prefer?

Within the first few hours nearly two hundred comments were left. The responses were nearly unanimous and might surprise a few people.

One reader told Regina:

“Nope. I like folk and rock, but not at Mass. There’s better places to listen to that music than a church. Gimme Gregorian chant or polyphony any time.”

Another commenter said:

“No, please, no rock or folk. It’s not conducive to the conduct of the sacred liturgy, the forms don’t match the content, and often are bad examples of the genre by secular standards. I like chant propers (introit, etc.–as set for each mass by the missal itself!) with polyphony for the unchanging mass parts and the occasional motet. It seems to me the best reflection of what both forms of the mass require as laid down by the rubrics. I am 34, but have pretty much always felt this way.”

One commenter named Anna said:

“I ‘just’ turned 35… can I still answer??? Rock music, never liked it or thought it appropriate. Folk sounding music, there were a couple of songs that I liked…. But once I heard Sacred music, the Latin, the Chant…. I just can’t listen to anything else during Mass. Sacred music, has ruined anything else for me.”

A reader named Antonette responded by saying:

“24 year old answering- nope! I like the traditional choir and organ. I had a traditional mass wedding too. I don’t care for modernism in the Catholic Church- if people want modern and “cool” music, they can join a non denominational church. Mass isnt supposed to be a rock concert, it’s supposed to be a time of quiet prayer and traditional praise.”

And finally, a twenty-something reader named Ginnie captured the overwhelming tone of the comments by succinctly stating:

“Save it for concerts, the Mass is not a concert. And this is coming from someone who loves folk and rock of all kinds.”

Taking these responses into consideration, the question we should respectfully ask our bishops is this: Are you listening?

The young are hungry for tradition. They long for beauty. They are seeking beauty which is transcendent. They want the sacred restored.

Who is listening to their voices?

We do know that the Diocese of Marquette is responding. What started under (then) Bishop Alexander Sample in 2013, continues today under Bishop John Doerfler.

As I  have written about before, Bishop Doerfler’s 2016 pastoral directive Instruction on Sacred Music in Divine Worship seeks to restore sacred music through several concrete directives:

  1. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Ordinary parts of the Mass in English that are found in the Roman Missal, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year.
  2. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the KYRIE, SANCTUS and AGNUS DEI from the Missa lubilate Deo, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year.
  3. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Communion Antiphon in English to a very simple tone that everyone can sing, and the Communion Antiphon will be sung at every Sunday Mass. A hymn may be sung after the Communion Antiphon while the congregation is receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
  4. A Diocesan Hymnal will be used to ensure the musical quality and doctrinal integrity of the Sacred Music. The hymnal will include a broad repertoire of hymns from classical to contemporary.
  5. The Diocesan Director of Sacred Music will provide annual, regional workshops for parish musicians to assist them in the implementation of these directives. He will also assist music teachers in Catholic schools to implement Sacred Music in the school curriculum and at school Masses. Finally, he stands at the service of parishes upon request to help implement Sacred Music in other ways.

However, restoring sacred music to its proper place within the Mass shouldn’t be unique just to Marquette. After all, it is simply the humble and faithful response of clergy and laity to Holy Mother Church.

From Pope St. Pius X’s 1903 Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the liturgical movement of the twentieth century consistently sought to restore Gregorian Chant and Sacred Music to its rightful place (pride of place in the words of Vatican 2) in the Roman Rite.

In other words, it isn’t simply that young Catholics hunger for sacred music; the Church calls for it. Therefore, the obedient realization of the authentic liturgical movement of the last century (the one that can be traced back to the French Benedictines among others) should be occurring in every diocese, not just Marquette. Period.

Do not be afraid to share this information with your pastor and, more importantly, with your bishop. When the sensus fidelium reflects the consistent teaching of the Church, you know that the movement is authentic. Restore sacred music to the liturgy.

Dear bishops: Are you listening?

(Photo credit: Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Posted on March 12, 2017, in liturgy. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. While I don’t disagree that rock music does not belong at Mass (I’m so glad we have a Latin schola!), I question whether a poll of readers of Regina Magazine is really signalling a trend since the readers of this publication will likely be those who are orthodox and prefer tradition in the first place.

    • I don’t claim it’s an exhaustive sample. It is a sample however. ALL of these examples reflect an overall movement on the part of the youth toward tradition. And we all note that our bishops have enacted inauthentic change (at times in the past) based on little to no sampling.

      Let’s not dismiss any of these voices, particularly when they are in chorus with the will of the Holy Ghost.

  2. Franklin P. Uroda

    I love Gregorian Chant only when it is sung to a Latin text. The Chant was created for the Latin language without musical instruments (organ). I understand each and every word of Latin, and have no need to read a translation from a handbook (Missal), in fact some of the melodies (with the Latin) are so riveting, that they have become part of me. I used to sing in a Latin Schola and enjoyed every minute of it, well, except when the congregation didn’t sing correctly. IMO, it’s a mismatch to put the Chant to any language except Latin. Sounds comical and grates on my nerves. On the other hand, I also love many of the melodies that have been composed for English texts used during the Holy Sacrifice and Divine Office.

  3. As a 25-yr-old church musician who plays both the organ and piano, as well as directs a choir and serves in a worship band, I strongly disagree with the sentiment of this polling and this Bishop’s ideas. Contemporary Christian music and worship music is not taking something away from the liturgy but rather enhancing it, just as polyphony enhanced the chant. The music produced by contemporary songwriters such as Chris Tomlin and Hillsong is music given to the church for such a time as this. This is the music and the mode of worship the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to the church precisely because the laity have begun to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and not merely relied on the priest to get them to heaven. In addition, I agree that taking a poll from readers of a magazine called Regina is self-selecting to get a specific response. After all, there are less and less young people in church, and those that do return only do so after becoming married and having children, if that. The church needs to learn from its brothers and sisters in Christ in the Protestant side of Christianity and utilize all aspects of God’s creation and not just those developed by Bach or monks.

    • Aquinasadmirer

      A pastoral letter re: liturgical music from Bp. Sample has this key passage:

      Church teaching emphasizes that the music proper to the Sacred Liturgy
      possesses three qualities: sanctity, beauty, and universality.

      So, the good bishop is pointing out that we have standards that our liturgical music must meet.

      The third of these three is the one that is likely the easiest to determine. If you were to play the music to a person who does not speak the language of the song written, would they identify the music with the other two qualities listed.

      For example: A non-christian Japanese person (which is 99% of the population) knows Palestrina or Byrd is Christian music, and not likely not simply for entertainment. They recognize its beauty and its sacred qualities. This is even more obvious for chant.

      If it’s written in a genre associated with something other than a liturgical setting, it becomes more clear if you pull it out of a particular vernacular language, and apply it to the universal church.

      Hollywood movies use this music when they want us to be “at Mass”. Even they know it, but somehow many of our bishops seem not to.

  4. Brian, you’re seriously saying to give credence to a poll that has built in bias simply because there’s nothing else to compare it to??? As a scientist, I take strong exception to that. And I repeat, a poll of those inclined to prefer tradition tells nothing about the overall preferences of the general populace. It goes against good rules of practice for sampling to get the best unbiased results possible and in fact increases the likelihood of bias.

    • Missy, what I am saying is that a question was asked and readers responded. It was not a scientifically conducted poll. That’s self-event. It does show, however, that engaged Catholic young adults long for more than simply 1970’s/1980’s pablum. It is no more or less valid than when a bishop tweets out a question to his flock seeking feedback.

      Why is this concept so hard for you to comprehend? And I’m asking that sincerely.

    • Missy, just to further clarify, the statement in my article: “The young are hungry for tradition. They long for beauty. They are seeking beauty which is transcendent. They want the sacred restored. Who is listening to their voices?” isn’t simply based on this one question, but from a multitude of factors such as healthy dioceses, vocations among traditional orders, increasing attendance of the young at traditional masses, etc.

      • Just to be clear – I attend a parish run by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest. We are all TLM, all the time, including all faith formation. I’ve been involved in church music and liturgy since my college days and I follow closely what’s happening in liturgical reform. But I find it ludicrous to use an unscientific Facebook poll of readers who are biased to prefer the traditional to use as evidence to write to anyone’s bishop and cite it as evidence that young Catholics are hungering for chant. Better and more believable to use evidence of growth at traditional parishes, traditional orders, etc. Real numbers rather than a poll that really has no meaning.

      • Here’s an analogy: why should any bishop meet with the faithful, field questions, or hear their concerns (which is purely anecdotal), when they can rely on formal surveys or scientific polling to give them the information? Because real folks and real responses count for something. Should this question posed by Regina be the only reason? No. Can it be the catalyst, particularly when the faithful are echoing the very thing the Church has instructed regarding sacred music throughout Her history? I think so.

        Great conversation Missy. I appreciate your comments.

  5. Rose Mary Perez y

    No folk or modern music in Mass for me, I prefer silence or Gregorian.

  6. I must reluctantly agree with Missy: a survey done by Regina probably will not turn heads very well. I have come to embrace no small degree of tradition myself, but I have three siblings who either don’t care or might well object to more traditional norms.
    It’s wonderful to hear that Regina ran a survey and could collect some 200 comments favoring traditional Chant. Sadly, with a name like Regina, …people with more “modern” sensibilities likely won’t look twice, too traditional. I suspect if National Catholic Reporter ran the same survey, they’d get hundreds of comments expressing a loathing for Chant. Sadly, a bishop must consider those opinions every bit as much as the traditional perspective.
    I recall hearing that the bishop of Marquette had taken these steps and being happy he had done so. …I also recall thinking that he would take immense flak in his diocese for doing it. I have not seen another bishop make this effort; I suspect many bishops do not wish to endure yet another liturgical battle.
    Granted, I do not have Mr. Baltz confidence in more contemporary music; I didn’t 25 years ago when I was a teenager or young adult either. Even so, most of my generation seem to have taken the view that music at Mass should be somewhat “relevant” or “entertaining”, even if nobody can honestly define what that means.
    I suspect any bishop who takes the steps that Marquette’s bishop did will face…not much short of mutiny…in some places. They certainly didn’t take easily to the new translation a few years ago.

  7. “Contemporary Christian music and worship music is not taking something away from the liturgy but rather enhancing it, just as polyphony enhanced the chant.”

    When I was 16, I might have agreed to some extent with this view. Now, I cannot. This view does reflect a fairly typical Christian perspective; such does not mean it’s a well-educated Catholic view.
    I enjoy a rock concert by Matt Maher or others as well as the next person. I enjoy being part of the crowd, singing praise to God as a member of a large group of people, swaying or clapping to the tune at times. It’s fun, mildly inspiring, and generally healthy. Much alike to a sing-along around a campfire. Those who attend these concerts certainly should enjoy the message and the crowd. That’s what these pieces were written to encourage; they do it well.
    They are not, however, suitable for Mass.
    For Mass, we need to focus less on being a community of people who happen to believe in Christ’s message, focus more on our need for God’s grace. Less horizontal or human focus, more vertical or mystical focus. Polyphony may, at times, entertain to a degree, but it’s most honestly written as a form of prayer.
    It’s fine for a piece of music to most distinctly remind us of how much we all, as a crowd, wish to be closer to God. It’s another need entirely for a crowd of individuals to sing as a crowd, but place a greater emphasis on our individual need for God’s grace.
    Thus, a piece by Victoria, Tallis, Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven would be wiser, contemporary music should receive less emphasis.

  8. Was the Diocesan Hymnal spoken of in Bishop Doerfler’s pastoral directive ever compiled? If so, I would like very much to consider it as an option for my parish.

  9. I don’t care for the modern music our church does at mass. I prefer to attend a daily mass because there will only be the entrance song and at the end. It’s sad to say that the music drags on , as I give credit to the good hearts of our choir – but the music is off putting. Something must change in the music.

  10. Today, the instruction was to sing the refrain during the communion – Taste and See – horrible drek. I instead, refrained from singing altogether.

  11. Was the Diocesan Hymnal spoken of in Bishop Doerfler’s pastoral directive ever compiled? If so, I would like very much to consider it as an option for my parish.

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