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What Would Jesus Sing?

Q. Dear CNP:

Are you aware of how many young Catholics are turning to Protestant churches wherein they can find a venue to sing His praises in a form that speaks for them? And if you are aware of this, have the popes who want to stick so strictly to traditional styles been aware of it? My daughter is a singer with a lovely voice but will not sing in choir because, even in the contemporary choir, the music is sad, droning and not joyful. She wants very much to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, which she has done with her friends in Protestant churches. But she and some of her friends within the Church seldom go because, though they understand the significance of the Mass, or have been taught it, they cannot find any inspiration in the current liturgy. I understand that it is sacrosanct, but I truly believe, in order to reach the most people, especially the young people, we need to allow for their joyful praises to be heard in the church. I daresay Jesus would have agreed with me.

– Snappy Tunes

A. Dear Snappy:

Thank you for your heart-felt question concerning your daughter.

It is gratifying to hear that your daughter has such a strong urge to sing the Lord's praises. From your perspective, seeing that she and her friends are not finding musical fulfillment in the Catholic music near you, you may have extrapolated this in your mind to a universal condition. There are many, many young Catholics, however, who are drawn to liturgy and worship of the Almighty specifically by traditional musical styles, particularly Gregorian chant. They find in it a mystical, holy and compelling repertoire of sacred music particularly suited to the awesome liturgy they join in. Ten of my high school choir singers participated in a two-day chant workshop near here and sang the chant they learned at a Saturday vigil Mass.

Further, it is the young priests and current seminarians who are most interested in and accepting of the traditional music and liturgy of the Church.

But musical preferences, as you well know, are secondary to the fundamental reason why Catholics have an obligation to worship our God by participation at Mass and by receiving the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. Our interior commitment to this sacred duty is why we attend Mass — this must be fostered by example, prayer, and a full understanding of the majesty and benevolence of Almighty God who deigned from his exalted position as Creator of the universe to touch our world in the Incarnation of his beloved Son. He further gives us the Body of Christ as the perfect food for our journey through life to heaven.

Church architecture, banners, priests, comfortable chairs and, yes, even music, are secondary and subservient to this ultimate duty. Pray that your daughter may come to see that only in the Catholic Church, apart from any musical fulfillment, is the supreme exchange of gifts: our offering of our lives to God and his gift of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It may take years for the allurement of snappy tunes and catchy rhythms to give way to more substantial liturgical values — just as McDonald's and comic books have their fleeting appeal to teens. We adults and parents hope that they mature into culinarily-aware young adults who have a love for the literary classics. The hope is even greater regarding their relationship with the Church and consequently their eternal salvation.

The notion that young people can be attracted to Mass by the "external joy" of praise music or rock music is based on a superficial assessment of what our young people are capable of in their prayer life. A shallow attachment to liturgy based solely on the tempo of music will not give them the sustenance they need for their life's arduous journey.

How do we determine what music is most appropriate to the worship of Our Lord? Certainly Jesus did not speak about this topic in the Gospels. He did, very clearly however, set up an everlasting institution [the Catholic Church] with a structure in place to answer such questions — and many more. The authority granted to Saint Peter and his successor popes assures us that such practical issues are handled in a clear way. The simplicity of it is this: we listen to Peter (that is, the reigning pontiff) and we follow his instruction. Pope Benedict and his twentieth century predecessors have repeatedly spoken on church music, including the pre-eminence of Gregorian chant and the appropriate place of the organ in Catholic worship. The Second Vatican Council clearly agrees with them, notwithstanding the many 1980s musicians and liturgists who proffer other opinions.

We need not guess "What Jesus Would Say" about secular music and styles in his Temple. We can know that he delegated authority for such decisions to the Church, which has spoken in favor of music that respects the traditions of the Faith, that flows from these traditions in an unruptured line, as well as modern music that builds on these traditions to provide worthy new songs for the Lord.

Hence, we need to pray for one another, that we may stay close to the Holy Church, following her lead, and may one day enjoy the beauties of the eternal liturgy of heaven, spoken of so eloquently in the Book of Revelation:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
he who was, and who is, and who is to come.
To the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb,
be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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