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Pop Goes the Prelude

Q. Dear CNP:

Just wondering ... Where do you personally draw the line concerning pop music as wedding preludes? Obviously, if the song is overtly profane or racy, it doesn't belong in church period. But there are lots of generic songs out there, some quite old, some from recent movies, that treat love in some sentimental way or other.

Again, we're not talking about the wedding Mass (or ceremony itself) — where pop music is strictly forbidden (in my church at least). It's the prelude (and postlude) stuff that's on my mind.

Marital Muzak Meister

A. Dear 3M:

I personally make no distinction among musical selections for prelude, liturgy, postlude. It's all one event in my book. "Sacred" begins when one enters the consecrated [set apart] church building.

My basic rule of thumb, which I express to brides (and their mothers) is: "If it shouldn't be played at Sunday Mass (e.g. Communion time), then it doesn't belong at the Sacrament of Matrimony either."

My criteria have gotten stricter over the years. Obviously, sacred music is allowed (i.e. music in a sacred style). All radio music, Broadway tunes, popular ditties, movie soundtracks are forbidden. Unless, by some stretch, a sentimental love song speaks of the true Christian view of love (with Christ as an active participant in the love between a man and a woman), then these, too, need to be avoided.

Music that leads the congregation "elsewhere" (apart from holy thoughts) should be suspect. For example, whatever "sacred" text might be attached to Londonderry Air, it's always going to be Danny Boy in my mind.

Obviously, for other reasons, we don't use Voice of God and Sing of Us hymns ["On Eagle's Wings," "Be Not Afraid," "I Am the Bread of Life," "One Bread One Body," "Gather Us In"].

Neutral music (a Bach Prelude and Fugue, for example) seems fine to me — where else does one hear these but in church. And Bach wrote everything SDG (soli Deo gloria).

A grayer area still exists among the many contemporary songs that, apart from having Scriptural texts, sound like they belong in a cocktail lounge on piano, mellow guitar and drum brushes. Perhaps these put one more in mind of a MaiTai than a Motet.

I've found that even as I get stricter, I'm having less difficulties with brides and their potential outrageous requests — thanks be to God! My biggest battle of late has been avoiding the "double" processional — one piece for the ladies, a separate star piece for the spot-lighted bride. Usually a sober reading of the rubric from the wedding rite, talking about a liturgical procession with everyone (including the priest) walking in together, will show just how much a concession is the standard, stilted separate male and female entrances already. If the bride leans too much toward two processional pieces, I propose a "proper" liturgical processional. She usually settles for one piece of music.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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