Bad Music at Mass: Short & Flabby?

From the inestimable Fr. Z comes his response below to a question from a well-meaning reader asking why Gregorian Chant is preferred over hymns like “Gather Us In” at Mass.

Bad music at Mass is a sensitive and sore point for Cowboy Papist, for the simple reason that these ‘ditties’ and hymns are very distracting from the reverence and mystery of our liturgical celebration.  When Those Who Close Their Eyes in a musical-type Olympian choral  exertion at Mass look for endless recognition, Cowboy Papist and Herself can hardly not cringe.

Fr. Z has put it much more diplomatically:

. . . music for liturgical worship is not a mere add on or decoration.  It is liturgical worship.  Therefore the texts used should be sacred texts.  The texts of those ditties mentioned in the question are not sacred, liturgical texts.  They are not the prayer of the Church. Moreover, the music for liturgical worship should be art.  The ditties mentioned above are not art.  In fact, they are at about the level of the theme-song of Gilligan’s IslandThey are not worthy of use in the sacred liturgyThey are just bad music.

When we sing hymns or ditties in the place of the assigned texts of Mass, we cut the legs out from under our proper liturgical worship and shortchange ourselves, obscuring what Christ the High Priest wants to give us through Holy Church’s choice for our liturgy.  Another view is that the Church herself told us what music should be preferred: Gregorian chant and polyphony.  I think we should do as the Council asked.  If we think we need music of no greater depth than the old Armour hot dog commercial tune in order to feel we are being “called by name” by Jesus, then we are in serious trouble.  Game over.

The ditties mentioned above, and their like, foster a purely immanent sense of God and what goes on during liturgical worship, underscoring a notion that what we do in church is all about what we do and suppressing the essentially important dimension of God’s mystery and transcendence, without which we cannot have true Catholic liturgical worship of God according to the virtue of religion and a properly oriented Catholic identity.”

Our last pastor, reverent and lovely man that he was, loved the sing-along evangelical gospel music during Mass, especially ‘Gather Us In.’  The music director too often finds that ‘Gather Us In’ allows for wonderful harmonic experimentation!  Ugh!!  Anything with ‘Me’ or ‘I’ in the lyrics simply takes the focus away from Christ during our most holy celebration, and it should be remedied by all Catholics, clergy, religous and lay, as soon as possible.

Herself cannot help but expand on the words in ‘Gather Us In’ at the most inopportune times during Mass: “Gather us in, the short and the flabby; gather us in, the ugly and thin.”  God forgive us, as she spend endless time find new adjectives for this song!  It must be outlawed at all Catholic celebrations forthwith; so let it  be  said, so let it be done!

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