Sunday, May 29, 2011

Griping About Liturgical Music

It seems that it's an all too common complaint among many Catholics that what music the music director approves of is getting ridiculous. Cam has spoken about her issue with the particular Our Father her former (is that right?) parish uses. (There are way to many nice sung Our Father's out there that I really don't understand why someone would use something like that.) But she isn't the only one. A lot of bloggers complain about the very same thing. They go to Mass, and the music they are presented with makes them think that they're in a rock concert not a worship service.

The Vatican doesn't have an "approved" or "disapproved" list. What's liturgically appropriate is determined by the Bishops. The United States Council of Catholic Bishops doesn't have specific lists either, but rather they have a guideline. It's a good reference, but isn't specific enough about certain songs. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has a specific list of recommendations and that's about as close to any listing I could find. In the United States, it seems that specific songs are approved or disapproved by the individual Bishops. My Bishop, as far as I can tell, has never issued a list either.

This leads to a whole host of problems. According to the guidelines, when choosing a liturgical selection, parishes should choose songs that aren't contrary to Catholic teaching. Granted there are a number of hymns from our Protestant brothers and sisters that are great, but I'm afraid that a lot of them are creeping into our repertoire and choking out equally good compositions from Catholics. I've talked a little bit about my disgust with Amazing Grace. In fact that particular blog post was extremely popular, which only tells you just how upset people are over this matter (or to the contrary think it's me being a little too strict).

But today was the worst musical selection ever. I've been a church musician for a long time. The only American patriotic songs that I have ever seen in a hymnal was God Bless America and Battle Hymn of the Republic. Debate may rage as to whether or not these are liturgical appropriate, but they are there. Let me make my stance very clear. Patriotic songs are appropriate in certain venues: ball parks, fireworks displays, schools, etc. But I don't think they are appropriate in a worship service. We're there to lift our voices to God and honor God, not a country. But I will let God Bless America and Battle Hymn go. It isn't that bad.

No after God Bless America was played at the end of Mass, the music director led the congregation in a rendition of God Bless the USA. And when it started, I thought that I was going to either loose my lunch or loose it. I've contemplated a way to tell Father that this was out of line, but since I don't have much of a leg to stand on in my argument (since there's no official list), I'm ranting here.

God Bless the USA is a pop song, more specifically it's a country song. It's a patriot song where the only mention of God is in the title and the single line of "God Bless the USA." Has our liturgy, our worship of God, our sacredness, been defiled by a country song? Did 2,000 years of great Catholic worship music suddenly get discarded for a country song? I think so. I'm not so sure my "progressive" priest would agree with me. He's Irish and the music director is a naturalized citizen from Mexico. You'd think they both would know better. But I guess not.

And after this whole, "Oh, my. This is really over the top" episode I started thinking about why they would do this. And then it hit me, lot's of parishes do stuff like this around secular holidays. In fact for MLK Day, my church sang We Shall Overcome. Is that a good song either? Probably not.

The song We Shall Overcome is a protest song. It's roots are in a gospel song We'll Overcome, but the fact remains We Shall Overcome is a protest song and not a worship or religious song. So why was it sung at church? And why are these songs always the closing song for Mass? Do directors think that it's okay to just slip it in at the end even though we're still in a place of worship?

Don't get me wrong. I love the song We Shall Overcome. I sing it all the time to myself when I see something like human right's abuses in China. But I still don't think it's appropriate for a worship service.

So am I off the wall? Should I just lighten up and go with the flow? Or do you think I should still write that letter to my parish priest and tell him that these songs aren't appropriate particularly one country song which has no ties to anything religious whatsoever? What was sung at your parish this past Sunday? Let me know because I'm really sitting on the fence about this one.

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