The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


The 10 Best Hymns?

posted by jmcgee

Yesterday, I linked to a First Things post about the “10 Worst Hymns.” A friend and longtime reader wrote to me this morning, disappointed:

I think lists like this could be a turn off for some Catholics of my generation (30s). FWIW, it didn’t sit well with me.

Like it or not, hokey as these songs probably are, this was the music Catholics in their 30s grew up with. These songs mean something to us. Don’t just bash them — and in the process egg on some of the haters in the com boxes (some of whom are schismatics).

Instead of singling out the bad, why not highlight more of the good?

He’s right. Why not highlight the good instead of the bad? With that in mind, below is a random and totally subjective list, in no particular order, of my personal favorites: 10 relatively new hymns (from the post-Vatican II era) that I particularly like. Feel free to add your own.

Laudate Dominum by Christopher Walker – a grand processional hymn that never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

Go Up to the Altar of God by James Chepponis – see above

The Breaking of the Bread by Michael Ward – one of the most beautiful, deeply personal Eucharistic hymns. I even heard this once at a wedding.

Shepherd Me, O God by Marty Haugen – a growing favorite at funerals, this one haunts me long after I’ve heard it.

Christ Be Our Light by Bernadette Farrell – a lilting waltz that could have been written by Richard Rodgers, this may be one of the most purely singable hymns of the post-Vatican II era.

The Summons by John Bell – you hear this a lot during Lent, and it was reprised just last week at our parish, to tie in with the gospel about the sending of the 72.

Out of Darkness by Christopher Walker – another thrilling processional hymn.  I chose this for my Mass of Thanksgiving after my ordination.  (Anyone know where you can get a recording of it??  UPDATE: I found a CD from OCP that has it!)  

Shine, Jesus, Shine by Graham Kendrick – a lot of people hate this.  It’s a popular “praise” song in evangelical churches, but there’s nothing like this anthem when it’s sung by our soaring choir at my parish. 

Jesus Took A Towel by Chrysoganus Waddell, OSCO – this Trappist composer from Gethsemane has been writing hymns for over 50 years, and this is one of his best.  Our choir sings it, thrillingly, during the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday.

And – finally – one that was actually on the list of worst hymns…

I Am the Bread of Life by Suzanne Toolan – I’ll never forget the beautiful soprano who sang this at my mother’s funeral.  Call me sentimental, but it got to me, and to this day, it moves me. 

There you go. A scattered sampling, off the top of my head.  I’d like to hear what you think, so clear your throats, open your hymnals, and chime in.



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Deacon Jim

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:33 am


Always better to focus on the positive. One I’d add is “Ave Verum Corpus”… sends chills up my spine.



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Ryan Ellis

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:36 am


I’m a 32 year old cradle Catholic. I grew up in a typical suburban parish, which means that I had to hear these crappy songs growing up.
Like your friend, I have often fond memories of my youth with this as the soundtrack. However, that does not make them appropriate for the liturgy. Gregorian chant is supposed to have pride of place. At the very least, the propers should ordinarily be used.
The simple fact is that those of us Catholics who grew up in the 1980s only received $0.60 on the $1.00 of our Catholic heritage. It wasn’t until we were in college or in our 20s that we found the other $0.40. Some of us still haven’t.
Put simply, we were gypped out of things like Latin, the traditional Mass, propers, Gregorian chant, no-meat Fridays, nuns in habits, ad orientem, communion rails, and all the rest.
We was robbed! Defending the robbery is the worst kind of Stockholm Syndrome.



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MD Catholic

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:43 am


Amen! After I sent the link from yesterday’s posting to some friends who happen to be in a Contemporary Music Group, I was schooled that any music written to lift up the Glory of God is beautiful music (ehh hemm, I still disagree). Nevertheless, it is always better to focus on the good and I will add Adoremus te Christe.



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Dave

posted July 8, 2010 at 9:21 am


Is there any standard given about what makes a song good or bad? If there is no standard by which to judge, these lists are really nothing more than haphazard, subjective views. I would suggest things like looking at the words of the songs and deciding do they aim at giving praise and worship to God or are they merely navel-gazing? Are they consistent with the teachings of the Church or do they contain subtle heresy and ambivalent ideas (should we sing “Gift of Finest Wheat” when most people don’t believe in the real Presence?) I like to think in terms of if I could step outside of the music of the song and actually pray it to God when judging whether I think it appropriate or not. Just some thoughts.



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Ryan Ellis

posted July 8, 2010 at 9:32 am


@Dave, there is an objective standard. It’s in the General Instruction for the Roman Missal. You’ll notice that “pride of place” is given to Gregorian Chant. Sacred polyphony gets an honorable mention. Latin is emphasized.
This is consistent with everything the Church has said before the Council, in the Council documents, and everything said since then.
Put simply, vulgar and sappy hymns have zero–no–place in the Mass. Even if they might occasionally show up, the typical experience is supposed to be the propers in Latin, in some form.
Here’s what it has to say:
###
The Importance of Singing
39. The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly, “Singing is for one who loves.” There is also the ancient proverb: “One who sings well prays twice.”
40. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.
In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together.
41. All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.
Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.



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Ryan Ellis

posted July 8, 2010 at 9:39 am


As an example of applying the GIRM norms, here’s what it has to say about the Introit. Notice the clear order and emphasis here. The proper is what is meant to be used, with hymns as lesser, inferior options. The letter and the spirit of the GIRM and the mind of the Church are simply obvious:
###
The Entrance
47. After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.
48. The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.
If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. above, no. 31).



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Billy

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:00 am


At evensong in college we used to sing a hymn called “How Shall I sing to God?”. It was simple, but nice.
The last verse says,
How shall I sing to God? And tell my Savior’s story.
Passover Bread, life from the dead.
I’ll sing with my life,
Witnessing and giving,
Risking and forgiving.
This is my song, I’ll sing it with love.



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Cathy

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:02 am


The plain truth is that most of what is asked to be implemented won’t be without trained musicians who are paid properly for their expertise. A good musician, who also has good pastoral sense, can help to ‘train’ a congregation to love the treasures in the tradition, while also incorporating good music written since the 16th century.
But, most places rely on someone who is part time and can’t devote their lives to informing themselves and practicing their craft. Or, they rely upon volunteers who are good-hearted but not necessarily well trained.
I just returned from a trip to Europe and went to several cathedral liturgies. I heard superb music at one place, competent but banal music in a few places, bad music occasionally and no music most often. I only heard the propers sung once. So, lest one think this is only an American issue, think again. (What passes for liturgical music in Latin America is usually horrible, by the way, including communion lyrics sung to old Beach Boy tunes.)
We should keep the ideal in front of us, but recognize that it is rarely achieved. And also be cognizant that to even come close, we have to train (and pay) a whole corps of good organists and choral directors. Frankly, I don’t see anyone getting on that bandwagon.



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Jess

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:11 am


Actually, I’m in my early 30′s and NONE of my friends like what passes for hymnody these days or in the days of our youth. Just because people have a sentimental attachment to this music does not really justify its use in the mass. I was surprised at how touchy people got over the list at the First Things blog. Honestly, lighten up!
At any rate, my all time favorite hymn: Pange Lingua



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Ryan Ellis

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:14 am


@Cathy, I agree that a full Gregorian Chant choir or a good organist is expensive.
So why isn’t the fallback in that case simply saying the propers, or singing them in a simple tone anyone can learn?
Why should the fallback be absolutely awful and out of place hymns that make traditional Catholics like me want to gouge our eyes out? No one cares what we think–in parish after parish, we’re accused of being “schismatics” (see above), or otherwise ignored. Of course we’re cranky, but that’s another rant entirely.
Why is the answer to an impoverished musical ability to defy the will of the Church? Just sing or say the Propers! How hard is that?



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Augustine

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:20 am


The correct title of Michael Ward’s hymn is “In the Breaking of the Bread”. (You forgot the “In”). Thanks.



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Bruce T.

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:31 am


Dave is absolutely correct. The hymns chosen above are chosen for subjective reasons. This is a huge problem with liturgy today. Those in control push their subjective agenda and overlook the Church’s rite itself.
Of course, I admit that I like some of those tunes … because that’s what was force fed to me at Mass as a child. But, as an adult I actually studied the texts and quite disappointed by these songs.
Now some principles are often forgotten by hymn lovers:
1. Hymns are alien to the Roman Rite of Mass. (Traditionally they belong to the Liturgy of Hours).
Before the vernacular Mass, hymns in the 20th c. served inadequately for vocal participation of the congregation. Sadly, hymns became entrenched so that almost no Catholic parish sings the actual SCRIPTURAL antiphons.
2. Modern hymns rarely are Catholic in that they do not uphold Catholic truth. Some even deny Catholic truths like “Let us Break Bread Together on our Knees.” Marty Haugen is not a Catholic and is proud of his rejection of the Church. And the above list includes songs those who reject Catholic truth would gladly sing.
3. Modern hymns -except a few like “I Am the Bread of Life” by Suzanne Toolan – are either words of human experience or paraphrases of Scripture, but not actual Scriptural texts. Thus, most Catholic parishes are preferring the purely human words of hymns to the divinely inspired words of Scripture contained in the proper but never chosen liturgical antiphons.
4. In paraphrases of Scripture for hymns the tail wags the dog. The words of Scripture are not good enough it seems, so the composer must change them to fit the music rather than vice versa. (Chant is totally different wherein the text not tune is given pride of place.)
5. Notice the paraphrases of Scripture above in “Shepherd Me, O God”
and “Christ Be Our Light.” Now we must use the imperative mood to command God. Instead of the humble declarative the “Lord is my Shepherd,” we demand “shepherd me!” And Christ is not the Light of the World, we demand He “be our Light.”



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Bruce T.

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:37 am


I believe Meinrad Abbey [http://www.saintmeinrad.edu/monastery_liturgicalmusic.aspx] has produced simple tones that can be applied to the proper antiphons (introit, offertory, communion) and psalm and sung by anyone in English.
But, sadly most priests and deacons think singing hymns is what participation is all about.



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Nathaniel C.

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:42 am


I whole-heartedly agree with your choice of “Shepherd me, O God.” That refrain, in its haunting simplicity and yet profound desire, has become a frequent short prayer for me in times of distress.
On the whole, however, I find it quite disappointing that the Roman Catholics in America (especially the compilers of “Gather”) so completely ignored the rich traditions of English-language hymnody, especially the grand hymns written by Anglicans and Methodists. I grew up Anglo-Catholic, singing out the 1942 Hymnal — so all of these post-Vatican II hymns were a novelty to me when I got to college. How much I missed the triumphant processionals and heartbreakingly beautiful meditations I grew up with! (And I don’t care what they print in the hymnal or Mass booklet: it’s muscle-memory to sing “Joyful, joyful, we adore THEE”.)



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Ruth Ann

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:55 am


Growing up in Chicago, before V II, I was exposed to a variety of hymns in both English and Latin, and after V II came, the newer ones, also welcome. When it comes to art, it’s a matter of taste what one does or does not like. Why not select a variety of hymns for use at liturgy throughout the course of the liturgical cycles? I’m glad I know and can sing such a variety and love them all. I do get tired of certain hymns when they are overused.



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Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:56 am


I love Peace Prayer by the St. Louis Jesuits, it is simply the text of the Prayer of St. Francis set to a lovely tune. I agree with Deacon Greg about Christ Be Our Light – Bernadette Farrell is one of our best liturgical composers! Bob Hurd’s Ubi Caritas is tremendous as is his Mass of Glory. And His beautiful Contemplative Rosary is a masterwork that will stand the test of time.
(By the way, Ryan, how about you list some of your favorites instead of bashing other people’s? This is supposed to be an opportunity for accentuating the positive!)
Thanks Deacon Greg – for washing the taste of yesterday’s post out of our mouths!



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Dorian Speed

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:05 am


I should really stay away from these discussions, as I have such strong opinions and have a hard time being charitable. I tell myself it’s okay to mock because “Art can stand up for itself,” or something, but the fact is that many of these songs do have great value for people who don’t share my preferences.
That being said, I think my primary complaint is that many of the St. Louis Jesuits’ standards are sung ALL THE TIME. Part of the reason people sing along is because they hear them every week!



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romancrusader

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:14 am


My main critcism of Haugen is that his Mass of Creation takes liberties with the official texts of the Mass. Plus, he’s not Catholic, he’s a Lutheran. Last I heard, he was working on his second Protestant denomination now. And why in the heck would a Lutheran be writing hymns for the Catholic Church? To me, that makes no sense. I refuse to sing anything by Marty Haugen.



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romancrusader

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:15 am


What ever happened to the traditional Catholic hymns like those out of the Adoremus Hymnal? God help us!



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Nick Senger

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:18 am


Thanks for listening to your friend and taking a positive approach to writing about hymns. So many articles on liturgical music are condescending, divisive or pedantic.
Here’s hoping that more people take your lead and offer their ten best rather than slam the well-meaning leaders and composers of the past. It seems to me that the Gospel begins with love, and love begins with civility. Of all the Catholic blogs I read, yours is the most civil, and hence the most loving. Thanks for being such a good example to this (God willing) deacon-to-be.



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Sandra M

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:28 am


I’m with romancrusader. What about the Adoremus Hymnal? I’m in my early 40′s, part of that generation who grew up with Put Your Hand in the Hand, or Christ is Love to the tune of Edelweiss, and definitely OCP. I’m tired of hearing the lyrics mashed up so as to be as gender neutral as possible. With the exception of a few OCP songs, I generally avoid them.



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John

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:35 am


Oh…the sentimentality. None of this music is timeless. It does not look to forever, and it does not make one feel connected to eternity. One of the absolute most critical things for us to remember while we try to define and/or reclaim our music is that hymnody is not our music. Does it have its place? Absolutely. The melodies can create an anthem in people the way other music cannot, but that does not change the fact that OUR music IS Gregorian Chant. So many problems of today trace directly back to the attitude of the man in his 30s who grew up with those dreadful “Gather” jingles: we do not feel any possession over any music that isn’t as old as we are. Chant, just like the Mass, should belong to everyone for eternity, but instead we spend all of our time talking about what music WE love, or what music is a part of OUR generation. We were robbed of Chant, the one thing that belonged to all Catholics, everywhere, forever.



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romancrusader

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:40 am


I have objections to Protestant hymns being sung during Mass. The hymns are prayers cantata. How we pray determines how we believe. Since protestants do not believe as we believe, we have a big problem here. So therefore, Protestantism is a heresy. The protestant’s music in the Church has done great damage to the Mass. Can anyone see this?



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Tom

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:44 am


I’m a thirty-something Catholic as well who can appreciate the frustration more traditional-oriented people have with contemporary music at modern parishes, which is why I steel away to TLMs and colloquiums every so often to maintain some sanity. I .truly don’t mean to be offensive; it’s just that there simply isn’t any compromise (from most parishes I’ve attended) between traditional and modern contemporary hymns. I didn’t comb through the comments section thoroughly of the 10 worst, nor did I leave any spiteful comments, nor was I surprised that almost all of them were regularly sung at my home parish. The last Gregorian chant at my parish was the response at the end to “Dominus Vobiscum…et spiritu tuo” (apparently a one line, one time deal; nothing else since).
I can appreciate the commenter’s sentimentality, but there should be a way to breach the subject without being construed as spiteful. Many of these would be more appropriate IMHO outside of a liturgical setting. It’s the simple fact that they’re run into the ground year in and year out, and the reasons for this can be myriad. The different aspects of parish life, including musical ability and parish “politics” can make change a slow process, but when you don’t notice any liturgical music effort towards reverence being made surrounding the Eucharistic miracle, over time it becomes very heart-breaking.



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jestrfyl

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:47 am


I had a seminary professor tell us in class that we can do what we must with various translations and interpretations of scripture, but as far as a congregation is concerned, don’t mess with the hymns. In this era of updated hymnody changed for inclusivity and other corrections, we sometimes lose the poetry (though the originals are not not always good either – ex: visual rhymes that do not sound the same). Music has a fundamental power – melodically and textually – that is not easily challenged. Most people get their theology, not from scripture, but from the songs of faith that they learned befopre they were 13 years old.
Those hymns that have powerful connections – regardless of the text – will remain powerful. That too is a gracious gift of the Spirit. Appreciate it for what it is, but don’t expect everyone to appreciate the same gift.



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jestrfyl

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:50 am


RomanCrusader
Ease off a bit. It’s been 500 years. Do you also profess “The South will rise again”? I think we need to learn from each other and draw from each others strengths – not denigrate, discount, and dismiss each other. I use many pieces from RCC and other orthodox resources. Singing prayers is powerful indeed. We all do it – so why not share the blessing rather than think you or anyone else can stake out a particular musicla or liturgical territory.



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romancrusader

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:56 am


“Ease off a bit. It’s been 500 years.”
Sorry, but I stand by my statements. And I think you’re being insulting by saying “it’s been 500 years”.



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Alice

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:57 am


Bruce T,
I’m “on your side” as far as wanting chant and reverence, but nothing annoys me more than half-true arguments.
1. Only half true. The Gloria and the Sequences are hymns traditional to Mass in the Latin Rite.
2. Apparently you mean “hymns sung in modern Catholic Churches” because “Let Us Break Bread” is anything but modern (even if it is heretical) and plenty of Marty Haugen’s music is older than this music director. There are plenty of hymns and songs that I think are dubious in their theology, but the Church is a bit more accepting of singing theologically correct hymns by those who may have been heretics in some other way than you are.
3. Not all the Proper antiphons are from Scripture and even some of the many that are are so chopped up that one cannot figure out their context without actually looking them up in the Bible. Certainly, there are juxtapositions that would make modern hymn writers blush.
4. Really? With the way that “modern” composers give a different rhythm to each verse to fit the text, I have a hard time believing that the melody dictates the text. Certainly there are plenty of examples of hymns in Latin, where text is not sacrificed to melody or meter.
Plus, chant (as opposed to Latin hymnody) is not as different as you may think. There were plenty of complaints from Renaissance Latinists that the text was sacrificed to the music melismas accented the wrong syllable, making it hard to understand the text.
5. Sure. Have you ever noticed how many times the Psalmist uses the imperative with God? “God, come to my assistance…Lord, make haste to help me…Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause!” Even Simeon has the audacity to say, “Now, O Lord, dismiss thy servant..” Perhaps in the original Hebrew or Aramaic, a more polite form was used, but there are many, many cases of the imperative addressed to God in the Latin Vulgate and the Nova Vulgata.



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Jan Ignace

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:59 am


Oh Gosh….
Preserve us all from hackeyed lyrics and horrid Barry Manilow scores. We have sinned against at least two generations with these shallow, saccharine ditties.



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Joshua Fahey

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm


I love the Summons and Shepherd Me O God. When I was in the children’s choir at my home parish we loved singing Shine jesus Shine. Another one of my favorite hymns is Here I Am Lord (that was on one of the top worst lists). Another one to add is Hail Mary Gentle Woman by Carey Landry. Also, I don’t know how old it is, but Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence sent a chill up my spine when I heard it. God Bless >P



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Jim

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm


In late 2008 or early 2009, This Rock magazine ran an excellent two-part article on bad liturgical music. It had the length to delve into why some music is bad and other music good for the liturgical setting.
When I was in seminary, one of the professors enjoyed taking hymns, usually the more modern hymns, and playing “find the heresy in the lyrics” with the class.



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Brian Sullivan

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm


The approach I’m taking is to let our parish music director know when hymn was played well, was a good choice for the Mass, etc. If I don’t like anything in a given week, I don’t comment. I’m hoping this will help the musicians realize that there are people who like music other than the songs that are usually played–which, unfortunately, run pretty much down the 10 Worst list.



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Larry

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Each week at our Cathedral, if he is in town, our Archbishop celebrates a “young people’s Mass”. This is the best attended Mass and not just by young people. They have a very good contemporary choir. Some of these worship and praise hymns/songs simply make me feel I am really worshipping God when we sing. So much so that when I am alon in the Adoration Chapel I will sing one or more of these pieces to our Lord. Even if I am really depressed this helps me awaken to the Presence of my LORD and my GOD. Here are a few. Agnus Dei by Michael W. Smith, Lord I lift Your Name on high, by Rick Founds, At the Name of Jesus, by Jim Cowan, All Consuming Fire, Anon. and To Him Who Sits on the Throne, by Debbie Graafsma, Nearer than Before, by James Cowan, Purify my Heart, Mercy/Vineyard Publishing, and one I learned when my kids were in Catholic School: Lord of the Dance, by Sydney B. Carter
If I can’t have these then please give Gregorian Chant. One last one from an Orthodox Liturgy but used by many Catholic parishes from time to time. This piece simply lifts me out of myself and surroundings. Cherubic Hymn #7 by Bortniansky



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Conservative

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm


A beautiful hymn we sing these days is “O God beyond all Praising”
[I'm quite fond of that, too -- and it actually goes back a ways, with the melody drawn from an Anglican hymn called "I Vow to Thee, My Country." Dcn. G.]



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Paul Snatchko

posted July 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm


Thanks for the accent on the positive, Deacon Greg! I second your “best of” picks!



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Casey

posted July 8, 2010 at 1:12 pm


As a 31 year-old, I disagree with this list. I grew up with songs like these (and those on the 10 worst list) and, now that I know better, I’m appalled at how shallow (and sometimes heretical) they are.
If the Church puts up Gregorian Chant as having “pride of place,” then the “best” hymns should be those that are most like Gregorian Chant. I’m not a music major, but what little I’ve gleaned as a theologian and from my music major friends leans against sentimentality and sing-songyism. Yes, we should want to sing at Mass. That’s a good thing, but we should be led by it to a deeper contemplation of the truth of what is happening on the altar (a sacrifice) and our place in that offering. It should also draw us into a deeper contemplation of all eternal truth.
Personally, I’m all for burning all the Gather hymnals, and pretty much everything by OCP and the other major “Catholic” music companies. I love the Mass, and I love the patrimony that has been handed down to us by our Church, both in doctrine, in discipline, and in liturgy.
Think about this: When was the last time you heard someone chant the Entrance Antiphon? How many of you knew that there was a prescribed Entrance Antiphon for every Mass? Read the GIRM. In section 48, it discusses the Entrance Chant and lists 4 options (in this case, listed in preferential order). The first option is: “the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting.”
One of our biggest problems with liturgical music is that the “catchy” songs seem to be the ones that “liturgists” choose to keep playing. With all of these folksy, sing-songy tunes, I fear that I’m in the middle of a children’s television show instead of the Mass. It’s no wonder that there are so many men who have no interest in going to Church anymore. Many Masses have been stripped of their external elements that speak to men. Listen to the monks of Fontgombault or some other schola, chanting the Mass parts instead of your local “Mass of Creation” played on piano and led by a cantor, and you’ll notice something much deeper. I wish I knew more and could explain it better.
Follow the link below to a online copy of Jeffry Tucker’s book “Sing Like a Catholic.” I heard him talk at Ave Maria a few months back, so I looked into his book (which I haven’t yet finished) and have STARTED to grasp what Catholic music should really be like. He’s a much better resource than I.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/12699133/Sing-Like-a-Catholic



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Dana MacKenzie

posted July 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm


Cathy: “The plain truth is that most of what is asked to be implemented won’t be without trained musicians who are paid properly for their expertise. A good musician, who also has good pastoral sense, can help to ‘train’ a congregation to love the treasures in the tradition, while also incorporating good music written since the 16th century.
But, most places rely on someone who is part time and can’t devote their lives to informing themselves and practicing their craft. Or, they rely upon volunteers who are good-hearted but not necessarily well trained.”
Excellent points. Often the church budget and the pastor’s (or admin’s) own ear for music has much to do with the quality of the music.
A nearby parish has had two women doing the music for 15 years. They were only mediocre musicians back then, but with age they’ve gotten much worse. The Keyboardist appears to be going deaf, and she’s often either singing or playing in the wrong key. The guitarist is self-taught and can’t do much more than strum easy chords. The music, therefore is the “easy play, campfire” stuff, and it cheats everyone.
The previous pastor had no ear for music at all, and when people complained, he didn’t take it seriously. The new pastor does not wish to hurt anyone’s feelings, so nothing changes. Meanwhile, genuine musicians from the universities and elsewhere, who could help the liturgy while making a few dollars for themselves, go unemployed while these two women, who really are not musicians, torture the congregation week after week. I know a former parishioner who changed parishes, saying, “I gave it ten years and then I just couldn’t take another week of it.”
The pastor recently noted that his parish does not do many weddings, that couples seem to opt for “the groom’s parish.” Given the “musicians” his parish offers, I can’t blame them. They’re fairly well paid, by the way.



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Bruce T.

posted July 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm


Alice,
If you dislike half-truths, then it is important you make distinctions.
1. Thank you for helping me be more precise since such precision only furthers my argument. When I said hymns were alien to the Mass, I meant the variable hymns used in place of antiphons, which is why I pointed out variable hymns are proper to the breviary. The Gloria is not a hymn in the same sense as is being used in this post. If we term it a hymn, then we should call it a “proper hymn.” (The same would be true of the Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the rare Sequences). These are “hymns” which are officially sanctioned by immemorial usage and with official translations. They cannot be substituted with other hymns. Therefore, if you want to call them hymns, fine. But, make sure you don’t obscure the truth by failing to make the proper distinction between them and the hymns which substitute for antiphons.
2. Yes, by modern hymns, I meant those hymns sung in contemporary (post 1969) Catholic parishes. Despite your youth, Marty Haugen’s music qualifies. And he is theologically dubious in hymns suchas “Gather us in” (with offensively sarcastic lines like “not in some heaven light years away”.)
Moreover, the Church is accepting of hymns to replace antiphons when necessary. But, it is not precisely the “Church” that is accepting of the music listed above, because those are selections used by individual pastors who either like it or hand over the liturgy to their music directors who are not Catholic, have never studied theology, or have no appreciation for the Catholic liturgical tradition, etc.
3. Despite your claim to the contrary, the vast majority of antiphons are from Scripture. The Liturgical Reform carefully chose them to give a theme to the Mass, so that the Mass of the day is like a book.
But, even if not all the proper antiphons are from Scripture, they are specifically and officially sanctioned by the Church. Of course, the US bishops are supposed to provide a list of approved hymns, but continually shirk their responsibility.
Even the GIRM puts the hymn only in the 4th place of options. But, a great many pastors in league with their music directors make that option the default.
4. If modern composers respected the sacred text, they would not change words for the sake of the melody. One example is “Shepherd me O God.” Now, the USCCB approved translation of Ps. 23 is “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” I am not such a stickler that I’d find fault if “lack” were rendered “want” or even hymns which have “My Shepherd is the Lord.” But, Haugen’s version massacres the grammar and gives a paraphrased personal interpretation. I want to sing the sacred text, not Haugen’s.
5. Yes, I have noticed “how many times the Psalmist uses the imperative with God.” I’m glad you point this out, because this is exactly my point!!! If God inspired the human author of the Psalm to use the imperative, we should use the inspired imperative. If the inspired author uses the declarative we should use the declarative. What we should not do is arrogantly change the inspired text for the sake of a song.
My whole point is that we should start singing the antiphons at Mass and abandon the 4 hymn sandwich as somehow normative. And since lex orandi lex credendi still holds true, it is important that when hymns are used heretical songs be weeded out.



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Viator Catholicus

posted July 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm


“O God Beyond All Praising” utilizes a portion of Gustav Holst’s Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity.



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compozor

posted July 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm


A central principle of the Catholic Church has always been “lex orandi, lex credendi” (“the way we worship is the way we believe”). So what we do and say in the Liturgy is central to how we understand our Catholic faith and our identity as Catholics.
The problem of much of the music that developed around the Novus Ordo is that it suffers from the same lack of a sense of the transcendent that the Mass text translations do. The music tends to the bland and familiar formulas of folk-rock and Broadway. I know this sounds harsh, but it must be said. Several of our recent Popes have addressed at length the issue of music for the Mass because of its central place in the Liturgy. Music has a power to stimulate (or suppress) the lifting of the spirit of the faithful. It can raise our hearts to contemplate the awe and transcendence of the God we worship or it can keep us earth-bound, in a place of spiritual mediocrity. When, in Revelation, we are given a vision of the heavenly hosts singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”, I think it is safe to say that what it will sound like is less like Andrew Lloyd Webber or Rod McKuen and a lot more like Bach or Palestrina or Victoria. The purpose of the Liturgy is to unite the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, and music that can help us to imaginatively enter the realm of Heaven is going to make us more faithful, more fervent Catholics.



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Fr Eric

posted July 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm


There have been many good comments. Still, there is a great deal of sentimentality that controls us. Music is critical!
Just recently I learned how to offer the Extraordinary Form Mass (1962 Missal or Tridentine). I know that this is difficult for many to hear, but there is more emphasis on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist than about me or the congregation. This is not a call for the old rite. Yet, with the priest facing the people, churches that are deliberately built in awkward styles so as to diminish the altar, and a music industry that sings the glory of itself, we are lost. The liturgical changes, some needed, have also ushered in a banality that makes people wonder what/who we are worshiping. Since Vat II we have entered into a more flat-horizontal liturgy that has created the cult of the priest. I do agree that it is emasculating, as someone commented. Men want to live and die for a cause worth dying for. It is easy to see how men will easily deny or negate worship of/with schmaltz.
We must look at the words. Are they heretical outright, or are they simply weak. Is it the “blood of Christ” or is it “pass the cup of wine?” Is the music singable? A long time from now we will be singing the Tantum Ergo and much of the last 40 years will be gone.
What we need is a cult of the Eucharist and transcendent, not horizontal, music.



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Adam Rasmussen

posted July 8, 2010 at 8:47 pm


Deacon, I totally agree about I Am the Bread of Life, which was on the bad list! I also love Shepherd Me, O God, further proof that some (even if not most) modern hymns are very good.
And one always has to beware combox hate, as this is the internet after all, the ultimate gift to radicals of every stripe who used to have to take out bizarre newspaper ads to get their message out. Plenty of schismatic traditionalists all over Catholic blogs. Any conservative or traditional statement about faith immediately opens the gateway to rad-trad vitriol, sadly.



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Joseph Cleary

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:37 pm


Deacon – A solid balanced positive list.
roman– I am not a theologian like many who post here, I do believe Christ gave us some pretty explicit direction about how to view the assembly of any and all Christians in Matthew 18:20. I actually welcome the music tradition of the protestant churches. In fact, I believe that Holy Spirit is behind the cross fertilization of music within our churches. ( many of such songs are scripture based, not heresy and well suited for assembly singing to boot !) Most Catholics would be surprised to learn just how many Catholic prayers and music are now a standard part of the hymnals of the Lutheran and Methodist churches.



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Michele

posted July 9, 2010 at 1:45 am


Deacon Greg,
I have to disagree with a lot of your posters…I really don’t care for Gregorian Chant because I am only listening to the beautiful choir and not singing along. I know the GIRM, but seriously, how many parishes actually have choirs capable of attaining chant without sounding awful or boring?
I don’t speak or understand Latin and I don’t remember ever attending Mass in Latin, since I was born in 1959. When I’ve gone to a TLM as an adult, it doesn’t do anything for me. I just don’t get why it’s so amazing for others, but, hey, we’re all different.
I love the music I hear at Mass that is Praise and Worship ( the songs Larry suggested) and the Marty Haugen, Christopher Walker, Bernadette Farrell, John Michael Talbot, David Haas, Sebastian Temple (from my childhood) and such.
Just my opinion. I guess I’m not holy enough for the correct music at Mass…and many of the ‘protestant’ songs do express our Catholic faith quite well in my opinion- I don’t understand the objection.



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cathyf

posted July 9, 2010 at 9:12 am


Return To God — Marty Haugen
May We Praise You, O Lord — John Foley, SJ
Of the Glorious Body Telling — J.M. Neale (Ok, any Latin office hymn done by Neale as opposed to the execrable gawky schoolboy-Latin translations that we are afflicted with in the back of a Disposable Word of God…)



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Robert McDevitt

posted July 9, 2010 at 9:45 am


Halelujah, Let’s celebrate the good instead of bickering and squabbling about individual perceptions of what is bad. Liturgical music is meant to help build up the Body of Christ. Silly “what do you hate” lists merely serve to increase division and foster contempt.



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Jay Everett

posted July 9, 2010 at 10:37 am


Not surprised at all about the Catholic Church in the USA using protestant songs etc. After all it is basically now the Catholic American Protestant Church. A far cry from what it should be. Physical worship is the order of the day with hand clapping and homily jokes, not to mention the alter servers holding hands and raising their hands in the Orans position along with the priest….are you a physical catholic? The return of the holy rollers……



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Alice

posted July 9, 2010 at 12:12 pm


Not sure of the composers, but I like “Let Justice Flow Like a River”, Take the Word of God with you as you go”, and “One Breath”. “I also agree with “Out of Darkness” which is a really good hymn for the Holy Saturday ceremony of New Fire.



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Ryan Ellis

posted July 9, 2010 at 12:41 pm


@michele, that’s not a shocking opinion coming from a Baby Boomer. You guys ruined everything. Gen X and Gen Y are trying to fix it. Please get out of our way while we undo the damage your generation did to liturgy.
@Robert McDevitt, this is not about “individual perceptions.” This is about the law of the Church, and the fact that it’s observed only in the breach in 99 percent of parishes. There is objective fact here, not opinion. The Church is quite clear on the rules.
@Joseph Cleary, if the Holy Spirit is “cross-fertilizing” with heretics, it forgot to tell the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, who writes and enforces the GIRM. Besides, wouldn’t the pollen coming from the heretic flower poison the Catholic Church? We contain all truth, and have nothing that we can learn from heretics from that truth.



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Sarah

posted July 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm


I was baptized Catholic but raised Protestant. When I became Catholic in my early 20′s, I was going to Mass at a monastery chapel where the music was always Gregorian chant. I fell in love with it. Whenever we had to go to Mass at a parish church (either the one close to home or another further away), the music reminded me of the Protestant music I grew up with. The agony was acute.
I would agree that it’s not just subjective. People make the mistake of assuming that anyone who dislikes campfire music during Mass are just being “subjective” and divisive. It’s a sense of what fits, and campfire music doesn’t FIT in a Catholic Mass. It may have a place (for those who enjoy it), but that place is not in the Catholic liturgy of the Mass.
Lots of these “hymns” says nice things about God, and many have a rhythm you can clap or sway to (). This does not make them appropriate for the Mass. What’s wrong with being selective about the music we choose to sing during the Divine Liturgy? Give God the best we’ve got.



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Kim

posted July 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm


good information



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TeaPot562

posted July 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm


How about:
“Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” (Old One Hundredth tune);
“Panis Angelicus” (Cesar Franck)
“Ave Verum Corpus” (Mozart)
“O Sacred Head Surrounded” (J.S.Bach)
“Holy God, we praise Thy Name” (conclusion of benediction/adoration)
“How Great Thou Art” (possibly a Methodist hymn; I don’t know)
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Even if Luther, still good music)
and “We Praise You, O God” (Dameans – from the SLJ era)
TeaPot562



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Sam Schmitt

posted July 9, 2010 at 5:44 pm


Michele,
Your opinions are interesting, and I could share my opinions with you, but in the final analysis that’s really not that relevant when it comes to judging what music is appropriate for the liturgy. That’s why I cringe a bit when I see these “favorite” hymn lists – it confuses what WE want, what makes us feel good, and what the Church wants for her public worship (it’s not our personal property).
You seem to take your own impressions and feelings as the rule by which to decide what’s worthy of the liturgy (“I really don’t care for Gregorian Chant,” the TLM “doesn’t do anything for me,” “I love the music I hear at Mass that is Praise and Worship”). May I suggest that the liturgy is something to which we should conform our feelings, our tastes, our preferences, instead of the other way around?
Actually you’ve hit upon something when you say (facetiously I take it) – “I guess I’m not holy enough for the correct music at Mass” – since one of the purposes of the liturgy is for us to *become* holy, and music is supposed to help us. If this is true, it would make sense that the music at mass would not be immediately accessible, comfortable, and “easy” – perhaps it should be unfamiliar, challenging, and “tough,” at least at first! That way we could grow into into and conform to what the Church is offering, instead of the other way around.



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TeaPot562

posted July 9, 2010 at 6:50 pm


A thoughtful comment:
Perhaps Mr. Schmitt is correct. But familiar hymns with texts that reflect truths, in terms of our relationship to God, or to each other, cause us to ponder what the hymns are saying. Unfamiliar hymns we may listen to; but what do we think about? Do we admire the beauty of Gregorian Chant, but only understand every fifth word? Or do our minds wander?
In a different context, I do not enjoy Bach string quartets, because the music patterns are too much like mathematics, which was my profession before retirement. Being at a concert as a listener should be relaxing. Listening to Bach quartets was too much like work.
Liturgical music needs to be doctrinally correct; it can teach or refresh the hearers’ understandings of various truths. It can reflect the sublime presence of Our Lord. It should reflect WHERE WE ARE in the particular liturgy: Offertory, Consecration, Communion.
The music used during Holy Week and the Easter Triduum is IMHO particularly important in this regard.
But if someone is going to bring Gregorian Chant to a 21st Century suburban parish, that person is going to have to recruit and teach a bunch of lay people the elements of Chant, AND train them to sing the Chant items acceptably. Good luck with that. And a part of our problem is that from age 15 to 35, many of our young people have stopped attending Catholic liturgies. Is it someone’s considered opinion that trying to train them in Gregorian Chant will be a tool to bring them back to the practice of their faith?
TeaPot562



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George M.

posted July 10, 2010 at 10:48 am


It’s ridiculous and sadly funny how certain commentators here mock those they label as “traditionalists” or “schismatics” (oh! the charity abounds!) who merely insist on implementing Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as well as the present General Instruction of the Roman Missal, simply because the said commentators personally like soupy, emotional, gushy, or Protestant tunes.
How about we try doing what the Church documents actually say, instead of sticking with what Fr. X and his music director decided to do on a whim back in 1975.



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R.C.

posted July 11, 2010 at 7:13 pm


Speaking as a church musician, parts-writer, orchestrator, and composer, let me explain why “Shine, Jesus Shine” is a bad piece of music:
It is in pop-song format, which means it is to be sung at a consistent tempo throughout, with a drum beat.
However, if one sings the verses at too fast a tempo, the syllables are too-closely packed together: One sounds like a Texas tobacco auctioneer, and one will usually stumble over the flood of words.
So, naturally, one slows the tempo down, to make the verses singable.
But then, when one arrives at the chorus, one finds it dragging: The words are so arranged that each syllable of each word is placed over a note which is about half again as long as it ought to be, to be comfortably sung.
This causes the singers to speed up during the choruses…
…only to find themselves, when verse 2 arrives, at a tempo which is ten beats per minute too fast to comfortably sing the verse lyrics. Tobacco auctioneer time again.
This is simply bad lyric-writing on the part of the original composer: An amateur error, like bad slant rhyme, or rhyming “fire” with “desire,” or similar adolescent graoners.
It’s not that there’s something heretical or ugly in the lyrics; it’s just that the chorus lyrics and the verse lyrics belong in two different songs, at two different tempos.
So it’s long past time that one was retired, along with Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” and other such songs which, whatever their other merits, contain egregious blunders of songwriting craft that ought to have been fixed prior to release to the public.
Really, what do they teach young songwriters these days? Oh, that’s right: They don’t. Folk emote on to the page while strumming a guitar, and it makes the top 40 a few weeks later. If Paul McCartney were deceased, he could join former bandmate Lennon, along with Messrs. Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein and George and Ira Gershwin, in their collective posthumous exercise routine; namely, spinning in their graves.
[R.C. Sondheim is still alive. But I get your point. Dcn. G.]



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R.C.

posted July 11, 2010 at 8:28 pm


Whoops! Well, call me a doofus. I beg your pardon Mr. Sondheim; reports of your death were greatly exaggerated. (Reports of me misremembering which of the greats have shuffled off, and which are still with us, are sadly accurate.) Thanks for the catch, Dcn. G!



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bt

posted July 11, 2010 at 9:51 pm


Our Catholic grade schools should be training students in music and in the liturgy. By the time one gets to eighth grade, they should be able to read musical notes, know the musical scales, and be able to participate in the traditional modes of Catholic music. As well, they should have a familiarity with the history of our liturgical music and knowledge of the historical figures (such as St. Gregory) that contributed to it. There is a huge educational deficit out there in the congregation right now. Catholics want to know more about the history of the Church and the meaning of the liturgy. Even if a few minutes of each sermon were devoted to catechesis, it would be very helpful.



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Singer

posted July 11, 2010 at 10:44 pm


Sister Suzanne Toolan was my high school choir director at Mercy High School in Burlingame, CA. She smiled continuously, and her joy in her life and her vocation was evident to everyone around her. I am, however, disappointed that the lyrics of “I am the Bread of Life” has been made PC. No longer will “him” be raised up, but “you” will. Reminds me of how “Amazing Grace” was altered as well. In any case, I don’t hear it as frequently as I once did at Mass, but it does bring me a certain peace and contentment to sing it. God bless Sister Suzanne. She was a splendid teacher.



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joan

posted July 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm


You must have seen this video by now, but if not, it is quite clear and true:
http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/2010/07/church-music-5.html



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Corrie

posted July 12, 2010 at 6:10 pm


FOR REAL?!! Shine Jesus Shine?!!!! lol and Christ be our Light?! wow!!!
I would have definitely added “O God beyond all praising” or anything by Matt Maher… im very surprised! but thank God you didnt say “table of plenty” or “Lord of the Dance” lol.
-Corrie from Door County, WI — CYE CAMP PRAY HIKE!!!



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