Catholics and Hymn Singing

Interesting blog post of Father Longenecker as to why Catholics won’t sing hymns.

Several explanations are attempted, some of them valid and/or serious, some others made rather in jest.

I would personally say that the reasons are, mainly, as follows:

1. As Father Longenecker points out, most modern hymns are just plain stupid, childish, and ugly. Whenever I am stuck at a mass with such hymns, I am tempted to despair for the human race. It gets a bit better only when I notice that it is always the usual suspects who sing, the others hopefully offering their suffering to the Lord.

2. Hymns singing at Mass is not, as far as I understand it, a very Catholic thing. If it has been fine for Catholics not to sing hymns at Mass for 2000 years there is really no reason why they should do it now. The fact that Protestant love to sing hymns at their own Mass says absolutely nothing in favour of the practice. Rather, I would say that…

3. It is the fundamentally different Catholic understanding  of the Mass that doesn’t match really well with the idea of hymn singing. Catholics just don’t go to Mass to sing. It’s not that they – as Father Longenecker puts it rather doubtingly himself  – “don’t sing hymns because they still don’t know how to participate at Mass”; it is rather that their understanding of their participation at Mass is completely different, because their Mass is completely different, from the Protestant one. Not communal meal, but sacrifice. Not celebration of the community, but stunned silence in front of the enormity of the miracle taking place in front of them. Not loud singing, but reverent silence. Not excitement, but humble kneeling. All this, of course, unless the Catholic Mass is more or less gravely protestantised; but this is another matter altogether, and certainly no improvement.

Of course, at times there is some singing, or at least chanting. At a Latin Sung Mass, the faithful participate in some of the… chanting. The Credo, for example, is chanted by the congregation together with the choir, and many answers are also chanted. But even on these occasions, at the sung parts (the Gloria, say) the choir sings, and the faithful in the pews allow themselves to be uplifted by the music and the atmosphere. Which, if you ask me, is a far more profound participation than the merry shouting of Protestant masses, because in the singing we are protagonists, but in the listening we disappear in our prayers, we are made very humble and very littler by the thundering majesty of the choir; and yet, we feel taken up to hope, and to a world of beauty that is like the down payment of a much bigger beauty to come.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good hymn like the next man, and I find that some of the Protestant hymns are really beautiful (a truly stunning example is above). But I am never requested to sing hymns at the Masses I like most (the low and sung high Tridentine Mass; considering the Oratory Sung Mass a Tridentine for the sake of the argument) and I would never think that there is a problem in this.

If you ask me, the lot of this generation is not to try to improve on what our ancestor have done, but to recover it and fully appreciate it again.







Posted on August 1, 2011, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Jesus tells us in his word to sing hymns when we get together with other believers. Why would a priest be so against hymns?

    Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
    Ephesians 5:19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,)
    Colossians 3:16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

    • AMG,

      we are Catholics here, and we do not think like that.

      Catholics don’t do things because they happen to have read something in the scripture that they find it convenient to interpret in a certain way; they do things as the Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit, has guided them to do, creating a spiritual patrimony that they have transmitted (traditio = transmission) to us.

      As to your quotations, they are prime examples of Protestant misreading of the Scriptures: clearly no one says that a Catholic shouldn’t sing, in the appropriate setting.

      You are, also, wrong in your premises: Catholic priests are not against hymns. But they might well be against hymns when they are not appropriate.


  2. You posted about a priest who did not like hymns. Where did you explain it that the priest would like to sing appropriate hymns verses inappropriate hymns?
    Where did I misread the scriptures? Show me where I misunderstand the scriptures. The scriptures are easy enough for a child to read and understand; that is what the Bible says. The scriptures get confusing when others take the word of man, without checking the scriptures.
    What is so hard to understand about telling us to sing hymns? What is so hard to understand when told do not call anyone father? What is so hard to understand about not making statues and bowing to them?

    • AMG,

      1) the priest complained because people don’t like singing hymns. You got this all wrong.

      2) You misread the scriptures by saying that what you read there applies to the Mass. It doesn’t. The Church says what is an appropriate mass, your idea about what you scripture says about the Mass are inappropriate.

      3) You do are a Proddie, aren’t you?

      Why is it so hard to understand that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded? Why is it so hard to understand that this Church can’t have gotten the Mass wrong, but that YOU – and the Proddies like you – get it wrong? Why is it so hard to understand that it is the Church telling you how to read the Bible?

      There’s only one Church that Christ founded. Think of it.


  3. Thanks for the link to this point. I made a comment on the blog re: the Irish situation, which is poorly understood and much misrepresented.

  4. M,
    All I did was show scriptures that tell us to sing hymns. Your post is about excuses for Catholics not to sing hymns. What is not to understand?

    I have no misunderstanding of those scriptures. The Word of God says what is appropriate. Your obedience to fabricated teachings is not appropriate. The Bible says we are to obey God, not man. See Acts 5:29.

    I am a Christian. I do not belong to any Proddie denomination. I belong to the body of Christ. I am a follower of the Word of God.

    The Catholic Church follows teachings that contradict the word of God. Over the centuries, the Catholic Church adds teachings that contradict the word of God. As you say “There is only one Church that Christ founded”, however, the Catholics have teachings they have added over the centuries, teachings that contradict the word of God.

    • AMG,

      your post has been allowed merely as a public show of the stupidity of proddies of your kind, and no commentary from me is necessary.

      If you had some sense, you’d understand that it cannot be that Christ founds one church, and then allows it to “fabricate” anything.

      Either you believe that Jesus is God, and then it follows that God can’t be fooled; or you are a fool yourself.

      Think about that, buddy.

      This is the last message from you I allow to get through.


  5. AMG,
    if you are reading this, and if you are truly open to the Truth of Christ, then please consider reading Mark Shea’s excellent book “By what Authority?”. Shea is a former evangelical who came around to the view that the Catholic Church is the one true Church of Christ, and he did so precisely by carefully examining the Scriptures that you rightly revere. In the aforementioned book Shea explains his reasons in a highly readable and convincing way. In short, he started out convinced that the Truth must lie in Holy Scripture alone, and that it has no need of interpretation, just as you believe, but gradually recognized that the actions and words of Christ as described in Scripture point to something different.
    Give it a try. If you are right, than you have nothing to fear from a serious investrigation of the facts. If you are wrong, than you’d better find out before it is too late.

  6. In one of the famous Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes says to a complaining Watson, “A well-played violin is a treat for the gods; a badly played one….”

    Which is merely stated to illustrate that most hymn singing is appallingly bad and not very conducive to quiet meditation at Mass. Protestants, of every stripe and hue, are used to this cacophany and so it is rather pointless to argue with them. Just hope and pray that one day they are exposed to beauty and then, God willing, nature will take its course. That is no guarantee that one so benumbed by triteness and amateurishness will instantly convert (look how many people who are “nurtered” on modern films are no longer able to appreciate, let alone enjoy, the vastly superior films of the 1930s-1960s). Catholics, who attend the banal Novus Ordo, have become merely cut-rate protestants in their cringe-making, inept hymns. They, too, are becoming unable to respond to the beauty of a sung Latin High Mass with real music as they have become so accustomed to musical junk for the past forty years that they can hardly distinguish what is good and what is bad.

    [Which is not to totally exonerate some traditonalist priests and orders who, like the Instutue of Christ the King for example, are so musically illiterate that they will (with some exceptions) allow the worst type of musical amateurisms and excesses in their own normally beautiful traditional Masses.]

    Some good Catholic souls will point out this Church document or that which recommends loud singing by the laity. Even the Church can make erroneous prudential judgments, you knpw. Some will mention the cliche that “he who sings at Mass prays twice” (to which I would reply, “he who sings badly at Mass makes it impossible for me to pray once”). It is the same with the so-called “dialog Mass”, one of the first rumblings of the liturgical catastrophe that hit us in the early ’70s. This opened the door to many abuses which were crystallized in the awful nocus ordo.

    My advice would be to keep Gregorian modes sung by good voices in a well-directed choir as the norm in all Catholic masses, and leave the silly hymn singing to our protestant friends.

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