Total Pageviews

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Makes a Song Fit for Mass

Yesterday, I posted an entry on youth and sacred music.  It is not an easy subject because music tends to bring about a lot of emotional responses.  However, it is important to look at this matter in light of what the authoritative documents of the Church state.  In my research on the subject, I came across an interesting power point presentation that the USCCB made before the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions prior to the formulation of the document Sing to the Lord.

The power point presentation offers some very useful observations and suggests some guidelines that could help parishes, music directors and even youth ministers in selecting music for the Mass.  The USCCB made some interesting findings in its research.  The first lists two major concerns:
  • Individual songs should be consonant with Catholic teaching and free from theological error; and
  • The repertoire of liturgical songs in any given setting should not manifest a collective bias against Catholic theological elements.
The next matter centers around a series of questions that those selecting music for use in the Mass should ask when examining possible songs for inclusion in parish's repertoire:

Is there a sufficient attention to the Trinity and to the Trinitarian structure of Catholic beliefs and teachings? Do our liturgical songs fail at times to present the Trinity as the central mystery of the Christian faith? Does the language used in referring to the Persons of the Trinity contribute at times to a lack of clarity? Is there a reluctance to use “Father” for the first person of the Blessed Trinity? Is the relationship between Jesus and the Father stressed sufficiently? Are there times when the word “God” is placed in a sentence where one would expect to find “Father” or “God the Father” since the reference is precisely to the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity?

Is there an obscured presentation of the centrality of Christ in salvation history and an insufficient emphasis on the divinity of Christ? Do our liturgical songs present Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation? Is the indispensable place of the incarnation in the plan of salvation sufficiently presented? Is Jesus the Savior often overshadowed by Jesus the teacher, model, friend, and brother? Is there an appropriate balance? Is there an imbalance in our emphasis on the humanity or divinity of Jesus Christ? At times, can we detect a negative undertone in speaking of the divine nature of Christ, as if divinity is equated with being “distant and unreal.”

An indistinct treatment of the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings?

Do the texts give insufficient emphasis to God’s initiative in the world with a corresponding overemphasis on human action?

Is there a sufficient recognition of the transforming effects of grace?

While some may argue that this could constitute a rather laborious process, I submit that this may not necessarily be the case.  If the publishers are not employing this same kind of scrutiny, then, I believe that perhaps it should fall to the parishes to exercise this quality control.  Sadly, quite a few songs that publishers offer in their books do not pass this test.  Spirit and Song, for instance, includes, as its last entry, the R&B classic, "Lean on Me."  This is a secular song, not sacred music.  That is why such scrutiny is necessary.


  1. To the author:

    Kudos on your site. I am impressed. I have posted a link to a few of your articles. If you get a chance, send me an email (jtawney AT catholicexchange DoT cOM).


    Jake Tawney
    Roma locuta est

  2. Thank you for the kind words. I will be sending you an email tomorrow. I have been sidelined with a migraine and only resumed my blogging today.