Expert Answer Forum

Music at Mass QUESTION from Jeff June 6, 1999
I read Daniele's question regarding the use of contemporary Christian music, e.g. Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Rich Mullins, at mass. If I may be so bold as to attempt at least a partial answer... (I am not well studied in the rubrics of the mass, so please, Mr. Miskell, correct me if I am in error on any point) I have been at many masses using music by the above artists; for example, El Shaddai by Amy Grant, Our God is an Awesome God by Rich Mullins, and so on. Such songs are songs of general worship and praise, and their lyrical content does not contain any suggestions of teaching contrary to the Catholic faith (that I can see). This is one of the criteria that can be used to determine if a song is appropriate to the mass, as many Christian tunes will have ideas embedded in their lyrics that are specifically Protestant. A second criteria is the style of the music. While we do not need to be bound exclusively to traditional hymns (witness the Holy Father at World Youth Day mass in 1993, where one of the prominent songs was We Are One Body, by Catholic pop singer Dana), the style does need to be respectful, and appropriate to drawing people into worship, whether quiet and meditative or boisterous and full of praise. By contrast, I enjoy some hard Christian rock (yes, it does exist), but, while it can provide a good alternative to some of the satanic (or at least amoral) heavy metal out there, its tone is, I think, not the sort of thing that inspires prayer and praise. One very important criteria is the question of whether the music draws the entire assembly into song. Somewhere in the new Catechism (I do not have my copy with me, so I cannot gove a specific reference), it states that, among the arts, music has a particularly special place in the mass, since it provides a way for the entire congregation to lift one voice to God. Some songs are so complicated that the congregation cannot keep up, and, although they may love the music, it degenerates to a mere performance, where the congregation is listening and not participating. I have found the above mentioned songs to be quite easy to sing along with (in fact, the verses of Rich Mullins' Our God is an Awesome God have the form of a responsorial, which is easy to sing even if the words are not in front of you). Finally, you have to take into account the needs of the congregation. If the attendance of a mass is (as you mentioned) just youth, some contemporary music might more effectively relate the emthusiasm and affection for God that is in place at a mass, but if the crowd is mixed and the older people would be offended by such music, then it would be inappropriate to include it. Just another side note-while including contemporary pieces for the celebration of the mass, do not completely write off the older stuff. There is much to be gained from it. I am sure that there is much in this that is incomplete and vague, but I hope it can be of at least some help. Mr. Miskell, if these answers seem appropriate to you, please publish them on your page, along with any corrections or supplements you deem necessary. Thank you. ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on June 10, 1999
Dear Jeff, Thank you for a most excellent response. I'm not to up on the who's who of modern Christian music. But as you say, the music must be conducive to worship. The Mass is timeless and the music should reflect this as well. I also think it's not too much to ask that music played at Mass should be that of Catholic artists. This is true for modern as well as traditional hymns. My blood boils every time I hear Martin Luther's fight song A Mighty Fortress played at Mass. It's completely inappropriate as far as I'm concerned. Peace, John Miskell Back to Index Page

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