It’s probably fair to say that one of the most radical changes in the last fifty years has been the music used during Mass. Most typical parishes nowadays have a lame “gathering song”, a vanilla “offertory hymn”, a “Communion song” about “breaking bread” and “sharing the cup of blessing”, and finally, a “song of sending forth”. In Masses for gatherings of youth, we’ll usually find a praise and worship band, or if nothing else, a lot of acoustic guitars and emotional songs. Then in traditionalist circles, we’ll find either chant or some old, reverent hymns. This last category is a rare bird, though. Most of the time, the music heard at Mass is unoffensive, non-theological, very community-oriented, and thought of as a direct fruit of Vatican II.
Now, I tend to be a pill (by the standards of many) when it comes to the question of what music should be used in Mass. I’m staunchly anti-Praise & Worship where the Mass is concerned, and I also dislike nothing more than the above-mentioned community hymns by the likes of Dan Schutte, David Haas, and Marty Haugen. But the question is, why am I against it? Can’t people worship God however they want? Can’t people sing whatever music they feel connects them to Our Lord? If it would get teenagers (and by the way, I am one) to go to Mass, would Praise and Worship really be that bad? These questions, my friends, are what I shall attempt to answer right now.
Objection 1: We Should Be Able to Worship God However We Want
The thing wrong with this argument is that it is using the word “worship” as an arbitrary form of praise given to God, one that’s kinda blurry and simply needs to end in acknowledging the greatness of the Lord. And while there’s some truth to that, the Mass is not “worship” in that way. Protestants have worship when they get together and read the Scriptures and have songs, the man kneeling next to his bed is worshiping while he recites his evening prayers. But that’s not all that goes on at Mass. Yes, the first reason for which Mass is offered is the adoration of God. But this adoration is not subjective worship like prayer. This adoration is done in a concrete, most perfect way, a way that is within the context of another act. What is this act? It is the act of giving God the only offering totally and completely acceptable to Him: the infinite offering of God Himself. It is so perfect an act of adoration, so beyond what we would think of ourselves, that God Himself had to institute it during His Last Supper on Holy Thursday. And because God was the One Who had to give it to us, that means God is the One Who determines how it’s done, rather than us.
Further proof that God is the director of liturgical acts comes from the fact that He Himself had to proscribe even finite sacrifices in the Old Testament. Remember how, in Exodus, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh to ask him for a time of freedom, so that God’s people could offer Him sacrifices in the wilderness. Pharaoh asks why they can’t just offer God their sacrifices without leaving, and they reply, “We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as He commands us” (Ex. 8:27). Pharaoh keeps trying to make deals with them, and they say, “until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord” (10:26). They can’t just do whatever they feel like, they have to do what God wants. If this was the case with their finite offerings, how much more would it be the case with that infinite offering that is the Mass?
Objection 2: It Should Be Allowed In Mass Because It Might Bring People Such as Teens Closer to God
Well first of all, considering that I’m a 16-year-old myself, this obviously isn’t universally the case. But that’s not the point. I’m going to talk here specifically about Praise and Worship, since I don’t know any teens inspired by Schutte, Haas, or Haugen. However much Praise and Worship might make Mass exciting for a teen–even, for a time, inflamed with enthusiasm for Our Lord–it does so purely within the realm of subjectivity, at the cost of obscuring what the Mass actually is. As I said above, the Mass is objective. Praise and Worship turns the Mass into a play of pleasant emotions, when in actuality, the thing going on at the altar is far from “pleasant”. “Good”, sure, but not pleasant. You have to realize, when the priest says the words of consecration elevates the Eucharist, you’re observing far more than you’d think. Under the veils of bread and wine, you are looking at the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity stretched out upon the Cross, scourged, beaten, suffering intensely, DYING for you. I’d like to repeat that:
Your senses may not grasp it, but at Mass you are observing your Creator, Lord, and God being willfully destroyed, due to YOUR OWN SINS (and mine). It might sound harsh, but is it untrue? It’s not the time to sing upbeat, emotional music that takes away that reality of the Mass, and changes that objective thing into something shaped by our own tastes. It’s a time to say, “Thank You, O Lord, for the gift of the Mass as You have given it to us. In gratitude for Your sacrifice I will put myself aside to adore You within the liturgy as You please”.
If we’re talking upbeat music, then that makes the music the focus of the Mass, rather than Our Lord on the altar. And this next part is important: I’d even say this is the case if we have solemn, operatic music. Any music that makes itself and not God the center of attention has no place in Mass.
Finally, music is not just something added to the liturgy for the sake of enhanced effect, and a lot of folks don’t know that. Liturgical music properly speaking should be an extension of the liturgical texts themselves, which is why there are pre-composed “Entrance Chants” and “Offertory Chants” and “Communion Antiphons” in the missal for every Mass of the year. It is the thought of the Church that these would be sung, not the random four hymns every week. The random four hymns is an exception. The norm is to chant the Propers of the day, which are connected with the Mass of the day, and don’t just add to it to sound nice, but are truly a part of the Mass itself. It’s quite odd, therefore, that most parishes choose four hymns all the time instead of the set-in-stone, actual liturgical texts the Church has given us.
On the Question of Haas-Haugen-and-Schutte-style Music
As I said at the beginning of this post, the problem with modern “community-style” hymns is that they make the Mass purely into a fraternal social gathering. But again, the Mass is not just the community getting together to worship God arbitrarily. It is a concrete offering made to Him on His own terms, and He is to be the focus. Thus, hymns that are a celebration of ourselves are quite a problem. They totally distort the character of the Mass into what Pope Emeritus Benedict called “the self-enclosed circle”. With this type of music, God is worshiped in our own way, and thus, it’s not really God being worshiped at all, but our perception of God. When we worship our perception of God rather than the true God, we end up worshiping ourselves.
It’s time parishes do a deep-cleaning where music is concerned.
The Lord bless and keep you this Holy Week.