The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Holy hee haw: the Bluegrass Mass?

Personally, I’d love to hear this for myself:

edward-james-richard-portrait.pngThere was some Catholic toe tapping to the strains of banjo and fiddle as the first ever “Bluegrass Mass” was celebrated in September exactly where it belonged: the “birthplace of country music,” Bristol, Virginia. 


The unique Mass at St. Anne’s Catholic Church was held on the weekend of Bristol’s annual Rhythm and Roots festival, September 19-20. It was the brainchild of pastor Father Timothy Keeney and the work of another priest — and Bluegrass musician — Father Edward Richard. 

Father Richard, a professor and vice rector of Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, brought a small ensemble of Bluegrass musicians from Louisiana and Kentucky to help him lead worship through the music he composed, at Father Keeney’s request, especially for this “Saint Anne Rhythm and Roots Heritage Mass.” 

Parishioners had practiced the Bluegrass-style Mass parts for several weeks so by the time they arrived at church, they were excited about this worship “first” in the familiar musical genre born and bred here in their Appalachian Mountains. 


Bristol, which straddles the state border with Tennessee, was the site of the “1927 Bristol Sessions,” a recording session that launched the careers of the Carter family and Jimmie Rodgers. It is considered by music historians to be the “big bang” of the commercial country music industry — hence the “birthplace” designation. 

Father Keeney, pastor of St. Anne’s for eight years, said the Bluegrass Mass was something he’d wanted to do since he first arrived in Bristol. 

“This form of music is an integral part of Bristol’s history and culture, and the church should always be a vehicle for dialogue between God and people in every age and culture,” he said. 


“I’d been looking for a while for someone to write a musical setting for the Mass in the idiom of Bluegrass,” he explained, “but I couldn’t find the right person. There were plenty of people writing Bluegrass music, but not where the music served the liturgy.”

Check out the link for more, including pictures.

And if you visit this website you can hear some of Fr. Richard’s work for yourself. 
You can read more about it here.
Comments read comments(10)
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posted October 29, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Larry laughed, Jesus wept.

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posted October 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm

The Bluegrass Mass uses the ICEL 2012 texts. How’s that for old-meets-new?

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posted October 29, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Well … it’s a wholesome musical genre. It’s not the first time bluegrass-style music has been composed for the liturgy. What’s interesting in the story is the composer’s initial reticence. Is he truly convinced?

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Lynn Thomas

posted October 30, 2009 at 11:44 am

I have to doubt that Jesus wept over a bluegrass Mass. Why should _any_ form or style of music be inherently ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for liturgical use? As a parent, I am always intrigued by what my child comes up with. When he was small, I was fascinated by his art and attempts to please me. Why would God be different in this respect?
Note, I don’t begin to say that I personally like all styles of music at Mass. Some appeal to me more than others, but that’s a matter of personal taste, not inherent worthiness. Our parish is large and wildly diverse, so our music covers a broad spectrum of styles. As a choir member I have sung gospel music, Gregorian chant, golden oldies, and a wealth of contemporary songs from a breadth of sources. Some of it I really don’t care for, but it all has a legitimate place. We can’t possibly restrict ourselves to a narrow, ‘proper’ box [however you want to define ‘proper’, but usually meant in the mid-20th Century pre-VII, very ‘Catholic’ sense] without leaving most of the community outside. Similarly, a crowd of college students will quite likely, and rightly, use different music than a crowd of senior citizens probably chooses.
So, my questions of the music relate to the fit between the occasion of use and the community using it, not the particular style.
Go Bluegrass!

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posted October 31, 2009 at 11:24 am

You might want to read something like: Educate yourself on Tradition and Liturgy. Modernism has always been held as a grave sin by the Church, in all it’s forms. Don’t root for heresy and the destruction of Tradition.Become Protestant if you do not like the Church.

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posted October 31, 2009 at 11:38 am

Lynn Thomas

posted November 1, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Grace, if that was aimed at me, I never said I don’t like the Church. I said that I don’t think any particular form of music is inherently unacceptable. Okay, the folks in Rome like Gregorian chant best. Fine, wonderful. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Detroit, do as Detroiters do. And when in Taipei, guess what? Do as the Taiwanese do.
Gregorian chant can be lovely but it’s not inherently holier than any other musical form. It is a human creation. It can be well or poorly written or executed. I happen to think it’s quite Eurocentric, and the universal church should work to let go of, or rather loosen its grip on, those elements that are particularly Eurocentric, or any other -centric. We’d all be better off for it. A little less comfortable, maybe, but better off.
Maybe the Almightly gets a little bored with all that chant, and takes delight in the variety, too.

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posted November 4, 2009 at 6:13 pm

You should take your own advice and educate yourself on what the Church teaches about liturgy, especially what it says about inculturation. Then spend some time in Appalachia before you try to insult our culture or call it heretical.

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Deacon Norb

posted July 14, 2010 at 6:37 am

Now for the rest of the story — as Paul Harvey used to say:
–In the hierarchy of American dioceses/archdioceses (based solely on chronology), the first three are respectively: Baltimore; New Orleans and Louisville. In the USCCB gatherings, Louisville’s hierarchial rank over any Atlantic coast arch/diocese is very obvious. When their diocesan banners are brought in during the entrance procession, Louisville is #3.
–Louisville is a “relocation” of that see. It was originally located in Bardstown, Kentucky.
–Just down the street from Bardstown in one direction is the Trappist Abbey at Gethsemani and in another direction is the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Loretto (the convent home — and now burial place — of Mother Mary Luke Tobin, the American Woman who was formally appointed an Observer at Vatican II by Pope Paul VI).
–In that area of Kentucky Holy Land, there are literally scores of small little country churches that keep the faith alive in what is originally “bluegrass country.” Some of those churches have been in continual existence as parishes since the late 1700’s.

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posted January 13, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Have no enough cash to buy some real estate? Worry not, just because this is available to get the mortgage loans to work out such problems. So take a sba loan to buy everything you want.

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