Musical Issues in Contemporary Worship: Striking a Balance Between Tradition and Current Styles

This week Pray Tell is posting the talks and panels from the 2014 Collegeville Conference on Liturgy, Music, and the Arts. The following is a video of one of the talks given at the conference.


By Chris de Silva

As liturgical music ministers, we are called to be stewards of welcome, providing a community of belonging for all. Can hymns, praise and worship songs, anthems, Latin chants and folk music from the global church coexist in our contemporary celebrations? This keynote demonstrates ways of bringing together the church’s rich musical heritage and tradition with contemporary styles and idioms to create an intergenerational form.



  1. Thanks, I enjoyed that talk.

    I noticed two movements.

    (a) Some of the more contemporary liturgical music seems be composed of melodic and harmonic colors that I tend to associate with popular Broadway musicals. I’m not saying that that’s bad, but I see a relationship.

    (b) I’m seeing a movement away from scriptural texts.

  2. I appreciated the different ways in which Chris illustrated various points.

    His invitation to reflect on SC116’s reference to various musical styles leads me to think in new ways about music in worship.

    It was particularly helpful to hear him talk about Jonathan Tan’s contrasting of “tradition maintenance” (which I infer to ultimately be a falsifying of authentic tradition) and “traditioning.” Among the more memorable elements of his explanation of traditioning, I noted these:

    1) His eliciting of three points from Terrence Tilley’s work
    • Tradition can be made and remade
    • Traditions adapt with integrity to changing circumstances
    • Traditions mutate as they are transmitted

    2) His use of his own “From Age to Age” work, which he describes as an exercise in incorporating chant into liturgy, together with more contemporary style.

    3) His linking of both traditioning and a pluralistic musical repertoire with being a welcoming community.

    4) His use of various images of the Last Supper and the Communion of Saints to show how traditioning retains the key elements of the tradition while infusing them with relevance and meaning for a different cultural context.

    5) His emphasis on knowing the existing tradition (of both the larger Church and the particular parish) before shaping new ones.

    6) His use of some remarks by Pope Francis at an audience earlier this year, which offer a standard for assessing liturgy:
    “A celebration could be perfect from an aesthetic point of view – it can be beautiful – but if it does not lead us to an encounter with Jesus Christ, it risks not giving any nourishment to our hearts and lives.”

    Chris de Silva’s talk can also be found on YouTube at:

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