I’m up to my eyeballs with modern “Catholic” music. No, this isn’t going to be another bashing of all things modern or all things Haugen. (I actually enjoy much of the Mass of Creation, judge me as you might.) But recently, the difference between good church music and bad has been highlighted by the difference between what I’ve been hearing at the morning and evening Masses at my parish.
Now, I’ve hesitated about writing this in the past, because the morning choir director is a wonderful lady, and I’m very fond of her. The members of the choir are also people I admire, respect, and like. But I have gotten increasingly distressed by the song choices that have been thrust at the morning attendees.
The first problem is a relatively simple and not terribly surprising one: Oregon Catholic [sic] Press. They publish a music issue that drones at its best and offends at its worst. A year or two ago, Charming and Patient Husband and I determined that many of the songs featured in this esteemed booklet are composed by monkeys with a blank music composition sheet on the wall and a handful of darts. I am of the rather bizarre opinion that if you don’t have an idea or an inspiration for a song, it may be a sign that you should not write a song. Trying to force one by putting random notes on a sheet rarely results in beautiful music that honors God.
Recently, though, I’ve begun to wonder if honoring God is even the point of some of them. Now, to be sure, there are a few good and time-honored songs in the music issue. I can’t even evaluate accurately the percentage, though, because I only know what songs are chosen for us to sing on a given Sunday. Recently I noticed that more and more of them don’t bother mentioning God.
Let me reiterate: liturgical songs that make no mention, direct or indirect, of the Person for whom they are written. Not even words like “You” or “Him.” Not even “creation.”
What, some may ask, does a worship song that doesn’t worship sing about, then? Gather songs are the perfect example bar none. A number of them essentially say “We gather together because gathering is nice. We gather to gather. We gather so that we might be a gathering of people gathered! What a sacred space it is when we gather!”
These delightfully meaningless gathering songs are often followed by collection songs that say “We love the poor and the lame, so that social justice might be served.”
Then, by Eucharist we’re ready for the big guns. “Oh, we love so much! We have a table. We eat bread. We gather around the table to eat bread. Did I mention we serve wine? We serve it with bread!”
Then, finally, we exit to some song that might as well have been written by Kool and the Gang. “We celebrate! We have a good time! Let’s go out and care about the poor!”
Thankfully, we can still pray, hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and receive Him in Holy Communion. OCP hasn’t taken that away.
I’m not naming names, and my intent isn’t to point fingers at individuals. We come to church to worship… all I’m asking is that choir directors remember that and make it our first priority in the music they select. If God isn’t mentioned, if the song is about us, not Him, I don’t care how good the arrangement is; it isn’t going to inspire, and it won’t give Him the honor due Him.
Please, please, let us sing His praises.