dells_of_bittersweet

Guitar Music at Mass

101 posts in this topic

I think a lot of people are opposed to guitars at mass because they have only ever seen them played badly. What's missing in this discussion is that Musicam Sacram gave local bishops conferences the authority to approve instruments for use in their territory, and the USCCB gave permission to use the guitar in 1967. Further, the documents called for "Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own." 

To play guitars well, we need to think about how we can make them sound sacred. These include:

-finger picking or otherwise outlining the melody

-strumming tastefully rather than overpoweringly

-using sustain to emulate the way the organ produces a continuous rather than discrete sound

Here is a blog post I wrote outlining my thoughts in detail:

http://contemporaryorthodoxy.weebly.com/blog/guitar-in-liturgical-music

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8 hours ago, dells_of_bittersweet said:

I think a lot of people are opposed to guitars at mass because they have only ever seen them played badly. What's missing in this discussion is that Musicam Sacram gave local bishops conferences the authority to approve instruments for use in their territory, and the USCCB gave permission to use the guitar in 1967. Further, the documents called for "Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own." 

 

Does not mean we have to consider it worthy for Mass.

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sometimes my schedule will only allow for the later mass that use acoustic/folk guitar and some god-awful ccm songs and I just want to die. I've asked God to maybe intervene and break one of the strings. And then I'm like "no, that will not stop them, break them all!"

Is it possible to for the guitar to elevate and stir within us reverence and awe and all of those other things we are supposed to contemplate at Mass? Maybe. But everyone is different I guess. Emotion can become conflated with piety. It gets messy. I don't pretend to have the answers. I love, love, love folk music but when I hear guitars at mass I just want it to stop.

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I suppose I'm focused on the mass and don't notice if it is played well. What freaks me is loud organ played opposite a truly awful choir. I used to end up attending a mass with a senior choir that had sung together since grade school. Offkey, one singing an octave above in a loud screech, a couple mumbling into mics because they couldn't read the music anymore. It was ghastly.  

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It is definitely worthwhile for a parish to have money in the budget for a qualified organist and schola director. Whether they are the same person, or a couple different people, the difference it makes is tremendous. Music cannot be an afterthought, and if that means it costs a bit of money then so be it.

Some parishes even have key positions in the choir itself being paid, at least a nominal amount. You gain a higher level of professionalism and committment.

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2 hours ago, Nihil Obstat said:

That's an interesting interpretation of Tra Le Sollicitudini, which also says the following:

"The Church has always recognized and favored the progress of the arts, admitting to the service of religion everything good and beautiful discovered by genius in the course of ages — always, however, with due regard to the liturgical laws. Consequently modern music is also admitted to the Church, since it, too, furnishes compositions of such excellence, sobriety and gravity, that they are in no way unworthy of the liturgical functions."

Furthermore, Musicam Sacram is now the highest authority document on liturgical music. It contains the following passages:

"61. Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own, especially mission areas,[42] will require a very specialized preparation by the experts. It will be a question in fact of how to harmonize the sense of the sacred with the spirit, traditions and characteristic expressions proper to each of these peoples. Those who work in this field should have a sufficient knowledge both of the liturgy and musical tradition of the Church, and of the language, popular songs and other characteristic expressions of the people for whose benefit they are working."

Also "62. ... The use of other instruments may also be admitted in divine worship, given the decision and consent of the competent territorial authority"

The USCCB has used the authority granted by paragraph 62 of Musicam Sacram to allow guitars at mass. 

You are putting a massive slant on the liturgical documents. What you are ultimately saying is that your own personal preferences should be made law. 

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10 minutes ago, dells_of_bittersweet said:

 

You are putting a massive slant on the liturgical documents. What you are ultimately saying is that your own personal preferences should be made law. 

With all due respect, you can pound sand. I am saying no such thing.

I can see the way this is going. I think I will not be further involved. I make no apologies for traditionalism, and I have no patience to be condescended to.

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When I saw the title here, I finished the sentence in my head automatically: "Guitar music at Mass makes Baby Jesus cry."

But, if you're into citing certain documents, let's look at Sacrosanctum Concilium, indeed, an constitution of the Second Vatican Council:

"120. In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things."

"116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."

"36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites."

Moreover, I think there's a few things you're missing in Tra Le Sollecitudini, like those many parts dealing with the inadmissibility for liturgical worship of profane styles of music.

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Sacrosanctum Concilium additionally says:

"112. Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship."

"116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30."

It's important to recognize that Sacrosanctum Concilium allows for other genres of music and Musicam Sacram, the Vatican II document specifically about music, calls for adapting sacred music to local musical traditions. "Other things being equal" likely refers to cultural considerations as to when chant should have the pride of place:

"61. Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own, especially mission areas,[42] will require a very specialized preparation by the experts. It will be a question in fact of how to harmonize the sense of the sacred with the spirit, traditions and characteristic expressions proper to each of these peoples. Those who work in this field should have a sufficient knowledge both of the liturgy and musical tradition of the Church, and of the language, popular songs and other characteristic expressions of the people for whose benefit they are working."

With regards to Tra Le Sollicitudini banning profane instruments, who says the guitar is a profane instrument? The purpose of my blog post was in part to illustrate how the guitar can provide a sacred sound. The USCCB, whose job it is to interpret these documents does not consider the guitar a profane instrument. 

Nihil Obstat - Traditional music has an important role to play in the church and you have a right to like it. What upsets me is when traditionalists misrepresent the documents to imply that they outlaw practices you simply don't like. When we go around stretching texts to their breaking point to get rid of music we don't like, we end up with a dictatorship of emotional preference. 

 

 

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The idea that all parishes should be able to pay musicians is a bit elitist. My former parish in the inner city had to have help in order to pay the electric bill. I guess poor parishes should just close. 

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3 minutes ago, CatherineM said:

The idea that all parishes should be able to pay musicians is a bit elitist. My former parish in the inner city had to have help in order to pay the electric bill. I guess poor parishes should just close. 

Money goes here and there. I am saying real Catholic music should be a priority. A bigger priority than it currently is for many parishes. If budgets are that tight then so be it. Nobody expects blood from stones.

Otherwise we are stuck with wretched guitar and piano tunes during Mass because nobody can be bothered to expect better.

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44 minutes ago, Nihil Obstat said:

Money goes here and there. I am saying real Catholic music should be a priority. A bigger priority than it currently is for many parishes. If budgets are that tight then so be it. Nobody expects blood from stones.

Otherwise we are stuck with wretched guitar and piano tunes during Mass because nobody can be bothered to expect better.

Why can't guitar music be "real Catholic music"? Musicam Sacram seems to say it can when it talks about "Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own." And why must the tunes be wretched? Is Silent Night a wretched tune because it was written for the guitar?

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I played the organ for 30 years for the Catholic church.  I was never on a fixed salary for it.  I think in that whole entire time, I was probably paid a total of $200.00.  lol.  

I never asked for a salary.  I strongly believe God gave me the talent, so I had an obligation to pay HIM back, not the other way around...

As for Sacred Music in the Mass...

 

The Church allows any instrument to be used.  What I have an objection to is how those instruments are played at Mass.  I don't believe choirs devoid of any musical talent belong in Mass.  They do everyone a horrible disservice.  I wish our pastors would vet musicians like Trump vets immigrants.  You either have the talent to play at the Sacred Mass, or you don't.  Some of us were meant to serve as musicians, others were not.  

 

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a acoustic guitar is fine, instead of the traditional pipe organ for mass, in fact i think it's rather nice

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6 hours ago, dells_of_bittersweet said:

Why can't guitar music be "real Catholic music"? Musicam Sacram seems to say it can when it talks about "Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own." And why must the tunes be wretched? Is Silent Night a wretched tune because it was written for the guitar?

Aside from the hymn "Silent Night," can you name a piece of sacred music written for the guitar (the stuff in the OCP hymnal notwithstanding because its sacrality is questionable)? I can't name one. I can think, though, of plenty written for choir, organ, and/or orchestra without even having to think about it. So if you're going to crow on about how the St. Louis Jesuits are just as much sacred music as Allegri's Miserere even though they write in the style of Simon & Garfunkel (not that you have; I just have a suspicion that you might go there), then I challenge you to name a secular work written in the style of Allegri's Miserere.

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I think that every parish would do well to consider the power of music in evoking emotions and recollection.  It's just my opinion but I feel like a lot of parishes want to use guitars and drums to attract people but I frequently find that the choir is out of tune, off in timing, and not harmonizing well.  Furthermore, I also get the sense that they think this type of music will draw in younger people because it's more like the music we listen to but with all due respect, the music on mainstream radio (provided it's not vulgar) is much better.  I don't go to Mass because it's just like the world outside; in fact, I go there for the very opposite reason.  When I go to Mass, I know I'm encountering Christ in the most holy sacrifice and I want everything to be reflective of that, i.e. music, art, architecture, etc.  So while I don't want to sound so rigid that I feel guitars should be banned, I strongly prefer polyphony, chant, and some organ music.  To me, it just seems more ethereal.  I also like the fact that with polyphony and chant I can't really join in so instead I let the music fill me with love for the Mass and for Christ.

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1 hour ago, Kateri89 said:

I also get the sense that they think this type of music will draw in younger people because it's more like the music we listen to but with all due respect, the music on mainstream radio (provided it's not vulgar) is much better.  I don't go to Mass because it's just like the world outside; in fact, I go there for the very opposite reason.  When I go to Mass, I know I'm encountering Christ in the most holy sacrifice and I want everything to be reflective of that, i.e. music, art, architecture, etc.  So while I don't want to sound so rigid that I feel guitars should be banned, I strongly prefer polyphony, chant, and some organ music.

This is how I feel as well. I can remember being a Catholic teenager sitting in a confirmation class with catechists who were trying really hard to be hip and cool (and failing at it!), and just thinking, "But I'm here for confirmation. I don't need them to know about pop charts and the stuff everyone's watching on TV, I can hear about that at school lunchtimes."

I'm not rigidly anti-guitar either (I've been to a few Youth 2000 retreats in my time, which are solidly orthodox in their emphasis on Adoration, the rosary, and confession, but have guitars and drums). But while I was happy to go on retreat with Youth 2000, I wouldn't want that to be my regular liturgy. It's OK for a retreat to be a bit different, you even expect it, but it's not necessarily ideal for your day to day devotional life. My preference is still for chant, and I wish it were more widely taught and valued.

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1 hour ago, Kateri89 said:

I think that every parish would do well to consider the power of music in evoking emotions and recollection.  It's just my opinion but I feel like a lot of parishes want to use guitars and drums to attract people but I frequently find that the choir is out of tune, off in timing, and not harmonizing well.  Furthermore, I also get the sense that they think this type of music will draw in younger people because it's more like the music we listen to but with all due respect, the music on mainstream radio (provided it's not vulgar) is much better.  I don't go to Mass because it's just like the world outside; in fact, I go there for the very opposite reason.  When I go to Mass, I know I'm encountering Christ in the most holy sacrifice and I want everything to be reflective of that, i.e. music, art, architecture, etc.  So while I don't want to sound so rigid that I feel guitars should be banned, I strongly prefer polyphony, chant, and some organ music.  To me, it just seems more ethereal.  I also like the fact that with polyphony and chant I can't really join in so instead I let the music fill me with love for the Mass and for Christ.

Your comments about an absence of quality control in contemporary Christian music both in terms of composition and execution are well taken. I will be the first to complain about how terrible some of this music is. The reputation of contemporary Christian music has been seriously compromised by this. What I want to contribute to the conversation is how this music can be done well. I point you to Facedown by Matt Redman and Oceans by Hillsong. These are contemporary songs that have a sense of the ethereal to them. If more effort is put towards encouraging the programming of songs that have a sense of the sacred and in getting guitarist in a mindset of creating a sacred sound, much of these problems could go away. 

I likewise think that music at Mass should not be a reflection of the outside culture. There should be a sense of the sacred. Musicam Sacram speaks of " Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own" not of replacing sacred music with secular music. There is a big difference between putting Christian words to a Metallica tune and playing common local instruments in a way that makes them sound sacred. Music is a language. When we are able to harmonize the musical traditions of the culture with sacred music, we are speaking in an idiom the people can understand. In the places I have been where praise and worship has been done well, the response from the young people has been overwhelming. In places where the execution is poor or the music is not actually contemporary but left over songs appealing to baby boomers, the response is one of revulsion. 

I also point out that Musicam Sacram places a heavy emphasis on the importance of congregational singing:

"15. The faithful fulfil their liturgical role by making that full, conscious and active participation which is demanded by the nature of the liturgy itself and which is, by reason of baptism, the right and duty of the Christian people. This participation (a) Should be above all internal, in the sense that by it the faithful join their mind to what they pronounce or hear, and cooperate with heavenly grace, (b) Must be, on the other hand, external also, that is, such as to show the internal participation by gestures and bodily attitudes, by the acclamations, responses and singing.The faithful should also be taught to unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God.""16. One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song. Therefore the active participation of the whole people, which is shown in singing, is to be carefully promoted as follows: (a) It should first of all include acclamations, responses to the greetings of the priest and ministers and to the prayers of litany form, and also antiphons and psalms, refrains or repeated responses, hymns and canticles. (b) Through suitable instruction and practices, the people should be gradually led to a fuller—indeed, to a complete—participation in those parts of the singing which pertain to them. (c) Some of the people's song, however, especially if the faithful have not yet been sufficiently instructed, or if musical settings for several voices are used, can be handed over to the choir alone, provided that the people are not excluded from those parts that concern them. But the usage of entrusting to the choir alone the entire singing of the whole Proper and of the whole Ordinary, to the complete exclusion of the people's participation in the singing, is to be deprecated."

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_instr_19670305_musicam-sacram_en.html

2 hours ago, bardegaulois said:

Aside from the hymn "Silent Night," can you name a piece of sacred music written for the guitar (the stuff in the OCP hymnal notwithstanding because its sacrality is questionable)? I can't name one. I can think, though, of plenty written for choir, organ, and/or orchestra without even having to think about it. So if you're going to crow on about how the St. Louis Jesuits are just as much sacred music as Allegri's Miserere even though they write in the style of Simon & Garfunkel (not that you have; I just have a suspicion that you might go there), then I challenge you to name a secular work written in the style of Allegri's Miserere.

I think our Evangelical brothers and sisters have done a better job learning how to make a sacred sound using contemporary genres, so the St. Louis Jesuits wouldn't really be my first example of good contemporary sacred music. However, I will speak a word in their defense: due to the incompetence of the average parish music department, most people have probably never heard their music played to its full potential. Also, I find the comparison to Simon and Garfunkel interesting. Perphaps their most enduring song is "Sound of Silence" and I believe this song is intended to have a sacred sound to it. Its the cry of the secular man's heart to find the spiritual. You should listen to the original recordings of Sing to the Mountains and Be Not Afraid and you will find a much more sacred sound than you normally experience in a Catholic parish. 

But, I emphasize that our Evangelical brothers and sisters have found a better way. Matt Maher and Audrey Assad, who are Catholics working alongside Evangelicals, have produced some phenomenal works. I recommend looking at New Every Morning, I Shall Not Want, Restless, and Garden for beautiful sacred songs with theologically rich lyrics. And for an Evangelical composer, look at Facedown by Matt Redman. 

There are many old hymns that are originally folk tunes, including:

-What Child Is This - originally Greensleeves

-Be Thou My Vision - Slane, originally With My Love on the Road

-I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say - Kingsfold, originally "Star of the Country Down"

The Guitar is the native instrument of American gospel, including such classics as "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" and "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus."

There are plenty of secular songs done in a polyphonic style. In fact, polyphony nearly got banned when the music from a pornographic play got set to the words of the mass and used as a mass setting. The secular examples are numerous. Look up "Puis qu'en oubli" - its a polyphonic courtly love song. 

Edited by dells_of_bittersweet

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