Bishop Serratelli: Why Some People Don’t Sing in Church

You know how it used to be – and now I’m stereotyping but I think not too inaccurately – that the Protestants had good pipe organs and paid organists and choir directors and hard-bound hymnals and fantastic congregational singing, and Catholics had low-budget music programs with a lower cut of musicians and dismal congregational singing? I know, I know, the history is complicated and the causes are many. But the stereotypes came to mind as I read Bishop Serratelli’s musings on why some Catholics don’t sing:

Some suggest that the frequent introduction of new and unfamiliar hymns inhibits people from singing in church. People still belt out Tantum Ergo and Holy God. These hymns were part of the repertoire repeated again and again in Catholic worship before the Council and they are still remembered. But, today, people are constantly handed missalettes with new selections each season. This constant change does not promote the necessary familiarity with words and melody that make it easier to sing along. People like to sing what they know.

Others suggest that the increased professionalism and prominence given to the music ministry may work against congregational participation. No longer in the choir loft, the music ministry is now more visible. In some churches, the music ministry awkwardly overtakes the sanctuary, even obscuring the congregation’s view of the tabernacle. So professional, at times, is the music that people are more inclined to take it as a performance to be heard and applauded when finished.

Reead the rest here.


  1. What is the vocal range required for congregational singing? Altos, tenors and basses all have a lower range than sopranos, but it seems that the soprano range is the default!

    What is the volume of the accompaniment?

    What is the tempo? Is the tempo consistent?

    Does the choir sing what’s on the page in the hymnal?(From the notes in my choir hymn book, it’s apparent that a previous director edited the words and even some of the melodies on many of the hymns!)

    Does the choir feature a star performer who dominates the proceedings?

    What are the acoustics? Can people hear other people around them singing?

  2. “People like to sing what they know.” People were once handed the “new selections” of Tantum Ergo and Holy God We Praise They Name, yet they became the “Golden Oldies” of comfort and familiarity. Yet, we know what familiarity breeds.

    1. Did those selections become Golden Oldies because they were within the ability of most people to sing? I find the setting of the Pangea Lingua we use on Holy Thursday to be literally painful to sing; my voice is strained before we’re half way around the church! I know there are other settings that are more singable!

    2. Familiarity leads to liking! This is an extremely well established social science principle. It is particularly well established with regard to music. It is the reason for payola scandals where DJ’s were paid to play music more frequently on the radio in order to increase the music’s popularity.

      The bishop is very right on this issue. Being asked to sing unfamiliar hymns is probably the number one problem in our parishes with regard to people singing.

      There is not only the problem of the publishers promoting new music all the time, there is problem of people selecting the music for reasons other than its familiarity, e.g. it fits with the readings, etc.

      Choirs have a completely different experience of the music than the people. Generally they practice a piece several times and come to like it before they sing it at Mass. The people are generally not given any opportunity to practice and become familiar with the music. No wonder when they find out no one else around them knows the music that they just let the choir, which seems to know the music, do the singing. If this happens too much in a parish, I have seen a culture form in which the people do let the choir do the singing, but that does not have to happen.

      I disagree very much with the bishop on the issue of increased professionalism in music ministry. Increased professionalism is a real help if the choir is dedicated to having the people sing, if they choose music that is familiar for most the hymns, and practice any unfamiliar hymn before Mass, and have their music practice before Mass in the church were people can come early and become familiar with the music.

      When choirs do support the people, it is helpful to have a full choir at every Mass rather than have a special “choir” Mass with reduced musical ensembles at other masses. That gives a strong message that music is important at all Masses, and gets away from notions of having the choir perform at one Mass.

      1. JR –
        Much of what you say I agree with. However, I cannot avoid suggesting that if, as you say,’familiarity leads to liking’, then congregations should (according to this ‘social science principle’) come to like chant, Bach, Palestrina and Benjamin Britten, as well as a repertory of hymns chosen (wisely!) to fit the readings if they are heard often enough to become ‘familiar’. If this is not happening, then I suggest that another dynamic is at work: namely that the childish, grumpy, complaints of a few consistently spoil what most others may well like or be indifferent too. Too, it may be because ‘the people’ are said not to like many things that, given more than a cursory effort, they may well come to like. Not to mention that many of their leaders (musicians, even!), in unadmitted ignorance, feed ‘the people’ plenty of negative memes. This is a ruthless cycle. How unspeakably tiring it is constantly to hear ‘the people can’t do’ what they very well CAN do with a little bit of patient effort, encouragement, and persistence! (Not to mention that all important ‘father wants us to do this’). Don’t you ever get tired of singing yet again the few hymns that ‘people know’? Don’t you ever ask ‘why are we singing this at today’s mass’??? The vocal chords of Catholics are not any different from those of Anglicans or Lutherans. It’s just that they belong to a Church which allows them, even teaches them, to become atrophied.

      2. MJO-
        Both yes and no.

        Yes, completely unfamiliar repertory should be able to be introduced if done very, very slowly over a five to ten year period), e.g. introducing only one or two new songs a month. Take advantage of the payola tactic by using these new songs several times a given month so they go quickly to the top of the chart in familiarity and liking .

        Since familiarity is as much about hearing new music as singing it, let people hear it several times by the choir first. There are various ways of doing this, e.g. some choirs practice before Mass in church.

        Don’t you ever get tired of singing yet again the few hymns that ‘people know’? No, not really! People “habituate” to music that they like. It does not produce the same highly favorable response as early on during its courtship of our nervous system. Assemble all the hymns that people know and like, use them a lot establish high expectations of singing hymns they know and like.

        The new music pieces should in fact go to the top of chart and be liked more than the habituating old favorites. Do not continue to use new favorites as often as the old favorites so that habituation that is occurring to old favorites does not occur to the new favorites.

        As more and more new music pieces are added there will be less need for the old favorites. If people habituate to old favorites by singing them regularly for a year or two, they will become “dishabituated” if they do not sing the old favorites for six months or so. They should respond again with renewed liking for these old favorites.

        Treat these old favorites as “generational culture music” and find places in the liturgical year for all these old favorites. The organist at one of my former parishes learned a few Polish hymns for the 5% of the parish that knew Polish. So several times a year it was the old time parish again.

  3. This is such a non-starter issue if for no other reason that bishop’s sources are “some” and “others.” Worse yet, this sort of proffering a small litany of conditions as circumstantial “evidence”, seems to imply a least common denominator, one size fits all solution.
    Reminds me of the pointy haired boss in the cartoon “Dilbert,” this sort of uninformed fence-sitting management style. Perhaps bishop could start with one notion that one would think he’d have an in-place exegesis at the ready: the various meanings of the word “professional.”
    I recently asked a rabbi (giving a talk at our church) about the upshot of the RCC sanctioning the tetragrammaton from books and liturgy and whether that, in point of fact, mattered to Judaism of all stripes.
    His answer (he was of the Reform branch) was more or less “Meh, we never had a concern about that.” That’s just one more anecdote riding the bus (bites the dust.)

  4. Because I am fascinated by the question posed in the title, I was taken aback at the end of the Bishop’s musings where he seems to say this was not the real question to be addressed:

    In giving reasons why many people do not sing in church, perhaps we are actually answering the wrong question. Should we not be asking the more fundamental question “Why should we sing in church?” How really important is our singing when we come to worship God? Isn’t it enough that we say our prayers?

    In a word, no. It’s not enough that we say our prayers.

    I prefer the sentiments of the Psalmist who led the assembly in singing, “Sing a new song to the LORD, for he has done marvelous deeds” (Ps 98:1) and “Sing to God, praise his name; exalt the rider of the clouds. Rejoice before him whose name is the LORD.” (Ps 68:5)

    The shift from speaking to singing is like the shift from black and white photography and video to color. The words express meaning, and the music gives it greater depth and feeling.

    What greater lament could there be, than when the psalmist wrote “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat weeping when we remembered Zion. On the poplars in its midst we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for the words of a song; Our tormentors, for joy: “Sing for us a song of Zion!” But how could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?” (Ps 137:1-4)

    As painful as these words are to read, they are even more evocative when sung.

    No, good bishop, it’s not enough just to pray the prayers. Just read the book of Revelation, where heaven is depicted as filled with song.

    1. The post ends “To be continued…” so I think the bishop is asking those quotes to stir discussion (or at least private thought). I think he wants people to answer as you did, “No, it’s not, and here’s why…”

      I certainly don’t think the bishop would answer “yes” to his last question!

  5. One wonders if the good bishop has a paid diocesan director of music. That would make a difference. One also wonders if he has ever experienced a good European cantor at work. I was at a wedding today where a large non-singing body of people was transformed into a singing assembly in three minutes by a skilled and experienced song-leader working with them before the celebration began. This is not exceptional. I do it myself frequently.

    1. A warmup before Mass would make a nice transition between the meet&greet and sacred time. I know many prefer that to be a transition from ordinary space to sacred space, but it can be done across time as well.

    2. “…people was transformed into a singing assembly in three minutes by a skilled and experienced song-leader working with them before the celebration began”

      Suggesting that it was impossible to pray in the church before Mass begins. I find warm ups before Mass begins to be unfortunate but any perceived need for them makes His Excellancy’s point.

      1. Could have sworn that eucharist is a communal action and that proper preparation by the community is a graced moment vs. private prayer. Realize that liturgists have debated and argued this for years – those who condemn any type of *welcoming* e.g. as promoted by Robert Hovda but it really does come down to the specific community and not going to either extreme. Another excellent ars celebrandi teacher always started fully robed and on his knees in the front pew in silence before walking back to start the procession, music/chant. But, a cantor could easily gather the folks with a simple musical introduction followed by silence and then the procession. It can be both/and rather than either/or. Eucharist primarily is communal prayer – not private prayer. Another reason for separating the eucharistic chapel from the sanctuary and main body of the church.

        (Jordan – again respect what you say below and know of plenty of examples of this happening in parishes e.g. early, mostly quiet mass) but not sure that this doesn’t just continue many of the liturgical problems we continually discuss on PTB…..where does this stop? you start to have OF, EF, blends of OF,EF; you have TLM; even folks who espouse a silent canon, etc. It really does begin to focus on what is not primary in celebrating the sacrament as a community)

  6. I’ve said this before here, but it bears repeating: the best way to get people to sing in Church is to promote all forms of singing. Make sure there is music performance at all grades in your local schools. Support your local community choruses and groups. Maybe have a family sing-a-long some night?

    Our parish has one Mass featuring family choir – the members rehearse just before Mass – making one less trip to juggle into a family schedule.

  7. I just can’t sing. I sound like a car with a bad transmission. I just say the sung responses quietly. If I try to sing, I get unwelcome glances from those around me in the pews. It’s just not worth it. I used to hang out with for a schola for a time. I enjoyed listening to the schola practice and discussing the history and meaning of the chants, but that’s the extent of my rather passive musical education.

    I’ve gravitated to parishes where the cantor does not stand in the sanctuary. I have no problem with a cantor working with a congregation before Mass on a hymn or gradual/responsorial psalm. It’s just that I find the presence of a cantor in the sanctuary during Mass to be highly distracting especially when Mass is said facing the people. It’s almost as if in certain cases the priest-celebrant is competing with the cantor for attention. I suspect that this isn’t a desirable situation, but sometimes this is my perception. I also suspect that I am not the only Catholic who harbors similar sentiments.

  8. In my previous parish they had the same Worship III hymnal for 20 years (have the new one now) sang the same Gelineau psalm refrains year after year and had an expansive repertoire of hymns that everyone knew and sang with gusto. There is something to be said for stability and learning what is in your hardback hymnal and keeping the same hymnal for a couple of decades and avoiding throw away hymnals and missalettes that have music. I’ve been in parishes for 26 years where the choir and cantor sing from the loft and all the parishes had congregations that expected to join in on the singing and did/do.

    1. The Congregational Church where I began my career had used the same hymnal since 1948…and that was simply a revision of the previous one from the 1880’s (copies of which were still boxed in the choir room!). Not only did the congregation know the hymns by heart…they knew them by number!

  9. The key word in Fr McDonald’s post, IMHO, is *hymns*. Hymn tunes were designed for congregational singing. People THINK of Glory & Praise music (and other contemporary music) as more singable, but — except for the refrains — they are not. Much “newer” music has odd intervals, syncopated timing, and verse-by-verse variations that make them very difficult for the average congregation to sing. There is a reason why Lutheran and Episcopal congregations have been well-known for their singing — they sang HYMNS. Evangelicals and Pentecostal congregations sing well, and sing gospel and syncopation well, but their worship is generally more lively, with voice and movement (talk about full, conscious, and active participation!).
    Some exceptions: our congregation uses Mass for the Life of the World and Mass of Glory, both of which have a gospel-type rhythm, but our people sing them pretty well.
    And even though many musicians are tired of it as music, the best assembly singing I have ever heard is with the Mass of Creation.
    A couple other cultural reasons I think contribute to poor singing at Catholic worship. There is less singing, period. At ballgames, everybody used to sing the National Anthem; there were featured soloists only for playoffs or major events. Now, every game has a soloist. People rarely sing along. Music is a consumer good — it’s what you hear on the radio or download for your iPod/MP3 player (some of us still buy CDs). And this movement to music as a consumer good was happening about the time that the renewed/reformed liturgy was asking people to sing more at mass (most Latin masses I attended were very low — mostly silent, rather wooden and pedantic). The history of Catholic congregations singing hymns and doing liturgical music was pretty sparse to begin with, and it was being encouraged at precisely the time music was changing from something groups did, to something they listened to.

    1. I have visited many churches where congregations sang “contemporary” hymns with much vigor and enthusiasm.

    2. Ann;

      A good observation. Hymns are specifically composed for congregational singing by a group of diverse and generally untrained voices. That’s what they are. Important to note also is the different ROLE of music in Catholic liturgy and protestant worship where the singing of hymns is a distinct part of the worship. There is nothing else going on while the singing takes place…the Pastor stands at the pulpit and sings the hymn (all verses) with the congregation (this was the practice at the UCC where I was organist for a number of years). In the Mass, we have to overcome a LONG history of no singing by the faithful, and build what we can on the very briefly established principles of singing during Mass while other things are going on.

  10. Keep in mind that Bishop Seratelli serves in the northeast and my sense has long been that New Jersey and other places tend to be about a generation behind the midwest, south, and west in terms of liturgy.

    Bishop Seratelli might have been right in 1975, but those days are long over outside the American northeast.

    When I completed my graduate degree in 1988 there were two full-time DMM’s in the whole of my home diocese, and rather than hire me for an associate position in the chancery’s liturgy department, they chose to leave the position vacant.

    Many, but not all, Catholic easterners want good liturgy and music, but they see it more as an entitlement that drops in their laps rather than something they will need to promote with effort, much less money. With the emphasis there on “much less.”

    1. “…my sense has long been that New Jersey and other (Northeastern) places tend to be about a generation behind the midwest, south, and west in terms of liturgy.”
      Agreed – compare Rochester NY to Lincoln NE., Birmingham AL, and Phoenix AZ.

  11. I agree with Todd and Stephen. As an adult convert to Catholicism, I have lived in seven states and worshipped in many parishes. When compared with the Protestant traditions with which I am familiar, Catholic parishes are more likely to rely on volunteers with limited musical training and high variable vocal gifts. The single paid music liturgist in many parishes is a pianist or organist with neither the time nor the education required to direct a solid choral music program.

    There are admirable exceptions, of course, often in cathedral parishes, wealthy suburban parishes (like mine), and university parishes. However, even in these parishes the paid talent sometimes is disproportionately directed to the traditional masses, however defined, with the contemporary masses left largely to volunteer labor.

    Based on my own experience, some parishes are much more willing to introduce new hymns and mass settings than are others. Some parishes have a practice of introducing only a few new songs in a season. I see this variation as the result of local decisions, not a function of 20th century reforms.

    Of course, in some parishes the golden oldies are the work of Inwood, Joncas, Haas, Landry, and Haugen, and these “old” hymns and mass settings are belted out with gusto. Tantum Ergo hasn’t been heard in a generation in such parishes.

    With respect to those who feel otherwise, a strength of Roman Catholicism should be the ability to offer an appropriate range of options for music liturgy. If a parishioner will drive an extra 15 miles a week to be an active member of a parish in which Holy God is never programmed and music liturgy is the responsibility of professionals, I would hope that wouldn’t cause any great distress.

  12. After many years in a number of parishes, I still wonder about how to answer this question, but I have some conclusions.

    It doesn’t help for parishes to hire as ministers and directors people who are content to perform before the people.

    It doesn’t help when the musicians raise their own decibel level and effectively sing for the rest of us.

    It doesn’t help if there is no set repertory, or if it is hard to know from the song plan whether there is a repertory or not.

    It doesn’t help if the musicians alone choose what will be sung.

    So what does help? How does our congregation come to own the psalms, hymns and songs we are singing? Perhaps through familiarity and repetition, though ours handles well the changing antiphons of the responsorial psalm. Perhaps by having the responsibility thrust on us, as when our place of worship suffers an occasional power failure. Perhaps by rehearsal – which is what happens now when the musician plays the responsorial psalm antiphon before we begin to sing it. And perhaps by bringing to life a sense of our common priesthood, that we are all celebrants rather than spectators at a clergy show. It’s a process, it comes very gradually, imperceptibly maybe, and we have to want it. Many Reformed congregations want it and have it. Even an impersonal megachurch can have it as long as the performers keep their songs familiar.

    1. Sadly, this is exactly right. The tendency to boil down liturgy to sorting out what’s “necessary” and what’s not “necessary” is an epidemic.

      1. Liturgical minimalism is widespread and runs contrary to the whole of SC in my opinion.

    2. Agreed. There is seldom catechesis about “why”, either. We really have to start with the kids, teaching them that singing/responding at the liturgy is a “Yes” to God, while not externally participating (at least if it is a conscious “no” rather than being caught up in things) is a “No” to God.

    3. re: Bruce Ludwick, Jr. on June 24, 2012 – 9:30 am

      Bruce, I’m glad that you recognize that not singing at Mass is not always a conscious decision to reject liturgical musical participation. Rather, some people are extremely introverted or shy. I realize that the majority of human beings are extroverted. Even still, a minority exist who don’t latch on to a what some might call visible liturgical enthusiasm.

      I sincerely regret my earlier comment about cantors, since many who read PTB are church cantors or musicians. Thomas Day’s depiction of a cantor in Why Catholics Can’t Sing is uncharitable. Still, my experiences resonate with his to a small degree. Introverted persons will not be roused to sing even if the cantor and choir sing louder. In fact, this gesture will result in even more introversion. The same might also be said for an insistence on “greet your neighbor” before Mass and even the congregational pax.

      I respect that the liturgical movement has rightly desired, and has largely succeeded in, placing the sung Mass as the norm for Sunday worship. Even in the EF movement, a sung Mass or even solemn Mass is the principal Mass in many churches. Still, I am convinced that the low Mass has endured time because of clergy and laity like me. Yes, the low Mass is an liturgical aberration designed for medieval chantry Masses and not Sunday parish worship. Still, perhaps the Sunday low Mass could be reintroduced with minimal singing led by the priest (sung greetings, a few ordinary chants, sung blessing and dismissal) and rebranded the “quiet Mass” (I prefer ‘INTP Mass’ ;-). Perhaps this could be a fair compromise.

      The idea of a sung Mass with hymns for every Sunday Mass is laudable but not realistic given the diversity of human temperaments.

    4. John Anderson is right on the money.

      In my neck of the woods, music happens in the Mass regardless of whether or not anyone in the congregation sings. Even when they do, the over-amplified cantor drowns it all out anyway.

  13. I hope that Jeffrey Pinyan is right, and that Bishop Serratelli will have a second installment that champions and encourages singing at Mass, following on his ending this (first?) segment on a decidedly downbeat note.

    The bishop of Paterson is after all former chairman of the US BCDW and currently chairman of ICEL.

    His rather lame defense of the 2011 Missal at USCCB meetings — Rome wants it, and soon — as well as his discourteous, to use a fairly mild word, responses to some of Bishop Donald Trautman’s well-stated and well-founded concerns leave me not altogether sanguine. Trained in Scripture, yes, but as far as liturgy, it sometimes appears that there is not much there there.

    (Please note the spelling of the bishop’s surname.)

  14. As a convert from the Episcopal Church, I’m confused as to why it’s thought that congregations don’t sing because new music is always being thrown at them. In the Episcopal Parish where I grew up, we used the Hymnal 1982, had a well trained volunteer choir made up of men and women and schooled in the Anglican tradition, a beautiful organ, and since we didn’t have a choir loft or a “quire” in the sanctuary, the choir occupied an area of the church slightly to the right of the sanctuary where the organ was. Not only was the choir rather large for the small sized parish this was, but new music was sang every Sunday. Not once do I remember singing in Church and remembering a hymn from several Sunday’s beforehand. The music was changed up pretty regularly, and still the whole congregation sang.
    At the current Catholic Cathedral I attend, however, the music, to be honest, is absolutely dreary. I’ll be brutally honest. The cantor isn’t anything special. If anything, he needs to be put in a choir, and not have a solo position. Not only that, but we sing the same hymns every single Sunday, and STILL, no one sings. It baffles me as to why an Episcopal Church, which changes the hymns it sings every Sunday, can still get a lot of their congregations to sing, while a Catholic Church uses the same music every Sunday, and still no one sings. It’s enough to make me truly miss the Episcopal/Anglican liturgies of my youth.

  15. I agree with Brigid that one of the issues is the range in which we expect people to sing. I was working with a very talented musician one time preparing for a funeral. He made the comment that “This is the key the composer wrote it in and this is the key I’m going to play.” If the music is too high, the people in the pews are not going to sing it.

    I think another issue is that music in the Catholic Church is treated as background to some other action. I was amazed the first time I attended church with my husband when the pastor said, “Let’s stand and sing . . . ” The congregation stood up and sang the song (every verse!) just to sing the song. They were able to give the music their undivided and prayerful attention, and sang with gusto. My pastor can’t even stay in the sanctuary for 2 verses of the closing hymn. Intentional or not it says the music is not important.

  16. Thank you Bishop Serratelli for stirring in us why some Catholics don’t sing. To answer your question about whether Bishop has a full time Diocesan Director of Music, he doesn’t. For the past seven years I have served and continue to serve in this capacity on a per diam basis. When Bishop told me he was going to write this article I was really curious about his reasoning. He raises some valid points. We have in our diocese, and I’m sure in most diocese’ musicians whether professional or volunteer who think the “latest and greatest” music is what everyone wants to sing. There is some truth in our big music publishers continually churning out new music most of it of poor quality – I think and can only guess this is how they continue to make money and be profitable. There are parishes where people are being entertained by the cantor, choir with a microphone for each singer, etc., you get the picture, so why should people sing? Bishop Serratelli raises some excellent points and I can only wait to further comment when the second half of his article is published about “Why we should sing”.

  17. The bishop, methinks, has an agenda in mind. One designed to prepare us for further reforms. There may be parishes where people don’t sing well and no doubt for a variety of reasons. In our parish the praising of God in song ranges from good to terrific. We have a repertoire of hundreds of psalms, hymns, Mass parts, and inspired songs. The musicians do not keep placing before the people selections they think are “neat”, rather music that is singable and appropriate. It makes a difference that as their pastor I love to praise God in song and do so well.

    1. That’s the key, Fr.JF; and I note that if the music director chooses something that I can’t sing, then more than likely not many others will be able to sing. I then tell the MD not to use that again.

  18. Ah hah, FRAJM, we part company (briefly) from your dictum above. You have consistently praised your DM for her absolute acumen and professionalism many times publicly. But now you cut her off at the knees based upon YOUR ability to sing something congregationally upon first hearing and attempt to sing? And then YOU decide the merit of any future benefit to be gained or not from any new repertoire to St. J’s, presumably including Mass Ordinaries?
    I’m sorry, I think you have mis-spoke and misrepresented your intent with those words. And, as you likely already know, the oft-decried options in the GIRM don’t just segregate or scaffold heirarchies of music for service, they allow for the evolution of the learning and acquistion of repertoires that ALL may enjoin eventually. The choir can take up the singing of a more demanding hymn on behalf of the congregation that, given time, will become familiar and taken up by all. If we all followed your mandate, THAXTED would never make the cut with either “O God beyond all praising” or M.D. Ridge’s amazing Paschal text “Three days.”
    I’ve never had to work under such a mandate because A. We’re not talking about Matt Maher/Steve Angrisano/Sarah Hart ditties here, we’re talking about trust that I won’t put out just dormitory cafeteria meat and potatoes alone week after week; and B. the pastor knows that I KNOW there is merit to every choice I take time and discretion to make. Our friend Paul Inwood has a lovely hymn for Advent citing the Baptist’s cry that has a medieval/renaissancte “feel” that can only be used so many occasions per cycle. I believe it worthy to provide it nurture over time rather than to relent to “On Jordan’s Bank” out of convenience alone.
    Finally, knowing your DM as you do, trusting her as you do, do you invite her counsel about the content and choice of topics addressed in your homilies and extend to her any influence or veto in those matters?
    This clerical-laity thing ought to be mutually respected from the perspective of both disciplines and expertise. Don’t mean to rant.

  19. john francis robert – no one at PTB has picked up the dear bishop’s last name and proper spelling yet?

    Agree with many comments – if you hire a DM who only wants to compose and do choir at the main liturgy (1 or 2) then the parish total liturgy is severly compromised. My experience is that the folks gradually stop participating because the message is to attend and listen to the choir, etc. This also has a negative impact when trying to introduce new music (choir is too large, processes in every Sunday, too loud, and at only one/two services) – e.g. latest craze on introducing antiphons.

    Simply, professional DM needs to plan music at all liturgies that is consistent and involves choir at all. Need to always make choices based upon liturgy first, congregation focus and ability to learn and remember, involvement of more than just choir (agree w/Paul Inwood – a good cantor can quickly motivate, educate, and encourage participation, why isn’t this used more frequently prior to the service?). Find that a broad range of musical choices (not just traditional; not just organ; not just guitar, piano, etc.) works best. Introduce a hymn for a season; use during the season rather than one time, one Sunday; same with acclamations, mass settings. Go back to explaing and introducing liturgical music, why choose, why use Have too often fallen into choir mass, early silent mass, guitar mass, organ mass – why? because it is comfortable, easy, etc. Whenver I run into that scenario, realize that the parish liturgy team has either failed or given up.

    (Charles – agree – the pastor can control anything but, as we see by many comments on PTB, do you really want the pastor to be the final decision maker? That is the basic trend in our diocese currently and diocese wide liturgies both reflect and suffer from that trend. Too many pastors stopped any type of liturgical education after ordination; their music/liturgical abilities/education at ordination may have been minimal,…

    1. Bill, I think where you, me and FRAJM can find agreement is in the maxim that the pastor IS, in fact, the final decision maker. But if there is one thing missing from that process, namely consultation or, ahem, aggiornamento (sp?), with the professional laity that the clergy hire, those maladies your diocese and mine suffer from could be elegantly solved.
      I believe Fr. Allan meant to include that perspective.

      1. Absolutely Charles, our full time music director and other full time staff always win out when they put forward a good reason why we should do something or continue to do something. Just this morning is a good example. We celebrated our 12:10 PM Mass (which is not our principle Mass) with our Men’s Schola singing the parts of the Mass in Latin and we celebrated the Ltiurgy of the Eucharist Ad Orientem, but all was in the Ordinary Form, communion under both kinds and brigade of EMHC’s and lay lectors too, so no one need become apoplectic. I had misgivings about chanting the Gloria and Credo in Latin as no one at this Mass knows these in Latin nor have they ever sung the Credo in Latin or English, but the MD had her way and it was glorious. And how else are we to teach these simple parts? The Gloria is the Jubilato Deo one and the Credo was III, the Sanctus, Orbis Factor, Kyrie from the M. of the Angels and the same for the Angus Dei. They sang the Introit other official antiphons in Latin too, but we still had congregation English hymns for the processional, recessional and at the communion procession. In all the MD had her way and successfully so and that is why it is good to have professional directors and pay them somewhat reasonably well. No one crucified me for the Liturgy of the Eucharist Ad Orientem, but all else presided from the “Presidential” chair.

      2. Your parishioners are fortunate that V2’s liturgical vision has been implemented so well in their parish. Good work Fr. Allan!

      3. Some would suggest that it is a new version of “clown masses” justified by the reform of the reform in continuity and if questioned, justified technically by SP. Mutual enrichment as they say, Rex!

        Of course, could be completely undone by the next pope. So much for principles. Wasn’t a primary principle of SC that the ritual be *simple*, straightforward, etc.? All these proposed *mutual accretions* only seem to be contrary to SC – oh yeah, that’s right – it was *fabricated*.

  20. First of all, why are hymns the first thing that is addressed? We hear in the liturgical documents all the time that the “Ordinary” and dialogues belong first and foremost to the people? Why not encourage that first? The hymns are important, but are a much bigger issue since Catholics do not have the same hymn singing culture (outside of certain ethnic traditions) that many Protestants do.

    Also, frequent changes in hymnody as a discouragement is a non-starter for me; we have to be judicious, but at the same time, I think the issue is more one of catechesis than anything else. After all, we have the most educated laity in history. They can’t figure out a melody more or less in one key in 4/4 time? (as an example).

    There is also a tendency for the pastor to give less freedom to musicians in Catholic traditions.

  21. I live in a liturgical hinterland deep in Methodist-Baptist territory. I can’t speak for other Catholics. But at the tiny Byzantine parish where I am, depending on my schedule, sometimes able to attend the English divine liturgy, there is always so much of a “critical mass” of people singing the beautiful short and long responses – no instruments or ‘choir’ – that I always sing everything.

    At the OF Roman rite church I attend otherwise, I just try to pray in silence and wait through the piano and guitar songs (not sure if they are “hymns” or not) that about 1/3 to 1/2 of the congregation sings, accompanying the musicians. Maybe if I had grown up a Catholic in that culture I would be able to sing it, but I just can’t at all. The combination of the awkwardness of the music combined with the “identifiability” of your own voice if you sing is just too much.

    1. Hereward nicely describes a problem many of us have: We laity are unable to attend mass in a parish where the music matches our preferences. Especially in Methodist-Baptist terrority in, say, Louisiana or Kentucky, our options are limited. In a larger and more Catholic city, parishioners self-select a parish in which the liturgical choices of priest and DM help, rather than hinder, their worship experience.

      The music program at my own parish is beautifully directed, with a deep and talented pool of well-trained cantors and a strong choir at the mid-morning Sunday mass. The congregation sings our extremely limited selection of traditional and unchallenging hymns with reasonable enthusiasm.

      With all that said, I would gladly trade for Hereward’s parish and a music liturgy I find anything but awkward. Some of us do prefer at least the occasional mass where the organ sits unused, and there ought to be enough room in our faith for masses and parishes that are both orthodox and willing to accommodate a range of liturgical options.

  22. I have in front of me a copy of “The Congregational Hymns,” which I discovered when I cleaned out the music files at my parish. Copyrighted 1917 (which certainly predates the bishop), the book was “especially compiled and arranged for general congregational singing, by the Cincinnati Commission of Church Music.” This imprimatur-sanctioned hymnal contains a total of 24 hymns, with three variations each of O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo.
    In contrast, I recently updated our parish’s repertoire list, I realized that we had topped the 300 mark (that number includes melodic psalms). Tantum Ergo is on the list, as is Holy God, but so is All Are Welcome, Give Me Ears to Listen, and our latest addition, from the world of contemporary Christian music, In Christ Alone. (My public radio station reminds me daily that “All music was once new.”)
    In selecting hymns I certainly attempt to reflect the readings of the day, to do my part to add to the meaning and seamlessness of the liturgy. No hymn is going to be everyone’s favorite (I have a list of 19 that will absolutely NOT be played at my funeral), but I hope during the course of the liturgy, everyone is touched by something in the music.
    So many of the previous complaints about this parish or that parish indicate a lack of application of the very helpful guidelines provided by the U.S. Bishops’ “Sing to the Lord.” I lean on that document pretty heavily. And, as others have commented, pastoral leadership plays a big role. When the celebrant is singing with vigor (and has encouraged the servers to do the same), when the choir and cantors are not performing but are also leading by example, singing can become infectious!

    1. Rachel;

      I am guessing that the 1917 book you have is a book for congregational singing. These were published following Tra le sollecitudini’s call for such a book, but they are not “hymnals” as we think of them. “Congregational Singing” meant singing at celebrations outside of Mass…thus the multiple versions of Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris. I have many such books myself…I would guess yours also has an abundance of Marian Hymns for Marian devotions, and other hymns for Eucharistic Devotion as well as specific hymns for Saints (Joseph and Patrick at least!). But the important thing to note is that these were not intended as hymnals for MASS, although in many places they became songbooks for Low Mass. I would be surprised if your copy contains liturgical settings (Credo, Sanctus, Bendictus, Agnus Dei).

  23. What would happen if we lay folk posed the question ‘why are so many fewer people going to Church these days’ and then answered our own question with a sweeping generalization. ‘well, all priests are pedophiles, all ecclesial leaders are corrupt and are more concerned with protecting their own rather than the innocent victims, and the average IQ of the Roman Catholic ordained is shockingly lower than the general population.’. That’s helpful, isn’t it?

  24. I speak now only for parishes of some size (800 households or more) where there is one priest and a music director responsible for music in all the Masses. They must be on the same page and endeavor to collaborate closely. I meet with my music director every week for an hour or more. While we have some other matters to discuss (she’s also adult formation director), we touch base on the recent liturgies–what went well and not so well–and try to apply those lessons to what’s coming up. While we both have a large repertoire of music which we have learned over the past many decades, I notice from time to time she wants us to sing a piece of music which she knows, but not known to me in this parish for the last 15years. She is certainly free to make a case for such a selection, but is not free to spring it on me or the assembly just by posting the number. I have asked her to be very judicious in proposing new music since our repertoire is already very large and she agrees with that.
    I would not hire a music director who was not prepared to work closely with me. If not you end up with two presiders: the priest from the altar and the MD from the music area.

  25. Padres Jack and Allan ,
    Speaking only for myself, I would beg you consider reversing your acronym from Music Director (MD) Director Music (DM). Then when I have my obligatory heart attack at Mass, there won’t be confusion when someone pleas for a doctor in the house. Or else I’m going to have to have “DNR” tattoo’d on me chest.

  26. Where I worship, the assembly tends to sing vigorously and well both in hymnody and the Ordinaries. The choir is good and the cantors lead well. When the choir is present (from Sept. through mid June–unfortunate that it gives an impression that parish life runs on an academic calendar rather than a liturgical one, but that’s another discussion) it leads us in only two hymns [entrance and recessional] throughout the liturgical cycle. We sing an extra hymn at Offertory during the summer months at Ordinal Time, which is well led by the cantors who remain during those months.

    I’d wish we could sing more during the whole of the liturgical year.

  27. People will sing -if- they have something to sing about. I’m not sure who said that, but someone did and it makes sense. When liturgy and homily is poorly prepared, and there is no vision for the parish it will be reflected in the singing (and other ways also.) I can’t remember the last time I heard a “good news” homily – one that gives hope and vision to a people who are truly in need of it. Instead, we must “use these words now” and the homily has become a commercial for church politics. There is little to sing about.

  28. I have seen cases where the “professionalism and prominence given to the music ministry may work against congregational participation.” If by “professionalism” he means people who are highly trained in music (degreed/conservatory) but not well-formed in liturgical theology and spirituality. Two of the most ineffective music directors I’ve known were among the most highly trained: one with a Ph.D. in music and the other with a master’s degree in organ performance and extensive concert experience. Both of these people wrecked several parish music programs before being run out of town. [sorry, St. Louis friends, I won’t name names]

    I have known folks in the cathedral/formal ritual worship paradigm who extol advanced studies in music performance while scoffing at training in liturgy or spirituality. When I was earning my M.A. in liturgical theology, one such person told me directly that I was wasting my time!

    To be a highly-effective liturgical musician, it takes training/experience in both music and liturgy. One without the other is out of balance and can wreck havoc.

  29. I try to train my cantors when to lead, follow, or get out of the way. If the tune is new or the crowd unfamiliar we need your strong vocal leadership. But if the congregation is singing with confidence, turn your internal volume knob down from 9 to 1-2. We don’t need you belting out Amazing Grace or the Holy from Mass of Creation into a hot microphone.

    For the congregational parts of the music, a cantor is like training wheels–a means to an end, but with the goal of becoming transparent and finally blending into the background. For other parts of the music, the cantor rightly acts as a soloist. The contrast is shown best on a familiar responsorial psalm–sing the solo verses loud & clear, then cue the people for the refrain and turn your internal volume knob way down to get out of their way.

    God gave us two ears and one mouth, cantors do well to use them in that proportion.

  30. They “still belt out Tantum Ergo.” Yes, but so what–they don’t understand what they are singing/praying–so what’s the point?

    1. I wouldn’t jump so quickly to that conclusion.

      Or, if you do, can you not also say that people say/sing things in English without understanding what they’re praying/singing?

  31. I won’t ask for a citation.
    What I would ask is have you, Mr. Swanson, picked up any hymnal, pulp or hardbound, and look at either the chant or strophic (ST. THOMAS) version printed in it, words with/without music, and found the Latin text alone? Nope, not a chance. The English is right there with it every darn time.
    And don’t sell our faithful PIPs short on their Latin acumen upon your opinion alone, if you please.

  32. There is at least one Benedictine among us, and possibly other religious, so I would like to know “why some monks don’t sing” or why they all do sing, if that is the case. Religious are people, and Catholics even…

  33. “People still belt out Tantum Ergo and Holy God.”

    I live in Los Angeles and I have never heard any of our many Latino parishes belt out Holy God, We Praise Thy Name. These comments seem to reveal that when the Bishop is imagining “the people,” he does not have in mind the 40%+ of the American Catholic Church which is Latino.

  34. Thank you Tony for pointing this out, especially the bishop’s diocese has an extremely high latino population.
    I read this article in my diocesan paper last week. I am also waiting for the second part of the series. Is the bishop not recognizing that those involved in music are not part of the assembly and should be relegated to the choir loft where the music comes from behind while our ears point forward? There are very few places in our diocese where the musicians could hide the tabernacle now that the bishop is methodically moving tabernacles out of reservation chapels and areas to the center directly behind the altar. I suspect the bishop’s motivation for the article is that he is beginning a process of re-renovating the cathedral (a major renovation took place about 20 years ago). I hear from some priests that he intends to build a new balcony in order to relocate the organ and musicians to the rear of the building.
    The previous edition of our diocesan newspaper announced that 11 priests were retired, many of whom are well under 75. That’s one-tenth of our parishes.

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