On Music and the Priestly Life

Since music imitates the inner life of the soul, it follows that good music imitates and evokes sentiments that are consistent with a virtuous life, while music that evokes vicious sentiments is detrimental, and even destructive, to the soul. 

 

The subject of music is a great pastoral challenge for priests, who often realize that what they preach at Mass can be quickly undone by the destructive forms of music which the baptized faithful listen to at home. Modern culture operates on the unquestioned premise that we will be massaging our emotions throughout the day by listening to music. This explains why music is being blared in virtually all places, from malls, to grocery stores, to restaurants, to doctors’ offices, to personal music players, and in almost every car driving down the highway. This noise-filled world of ours profoundly undercuts virtue, for God is heard primarily in silence, as the saints continually tell us. Having to be continually plugged in to music makes us “affective cripples,” unable to live in joy without having some sound going into our ears. 1  What is more, the type of music we listen to also has an impact on our life of virtue.

Priests need to be aware of how to engage, with courage, the people on this topic while maintaining authentic pastoral charity and understanding. It is my hope that this essay will help priests—and seminarians—to reflect deeply on the type of music they listen to and the role it plays in priestly life.

At the moment of priestly ordination, the candidate prostrates himself at the foot of the altar.  This is an act symbolic of dying to the world and its delights, even to those things that are not in themselves sinful, yet may not be fitting for a priest, in that they would hold him back from an intimate union with the Triune God.  The priest has the supreme duty of striving for, and achieving, with God’s grace, divine contemplation and resplendent holiness. In imitation of St. John Marie Vianney, the priest must be fully immersed in a life of prayer in his ministry. Here, we look to the Holy Eucharist as the source and goal of all priestly ministry, as well as the exemplar for the priest in his relationship to the world:

Let priests, in all their person, stay at the level of their lofty functions; let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all, yet, above the rest of men. (Fr. William Doyle, S.J.)

Some time ago, I watched a documentary on the first years of the musical career of Elvis Presley, in which both some of the original fans, and detractors of his music, shared their thoughts.  Despite their disagreements, the two groups concurred on one thing: the music of Elvis had something to do with the release of sexual passion.

It is striking to note that these contemporaries of Elvis, fans and enemies alike, first heard his music without any preconceived ideas or expectations; they were “blank slates” to its initial impact. Yet, both sides related an impression that seemed obvious: the music evoked the feeling of unleashed libido.

Conversely, in the 21st century, we experience the disadvantage of being numb to that primordial shock. In a real sense, our ability to judge much modern music objectively is compromised because our musical tastes were formed—or deformed—before we developed the critical tools necessary for judging the moral quality of music. We have been surrounded by pop and rock music from an early age.

To even begin a discussion about the moral quality of music, we must acknowledge that there is a very real difficulty in looking at it from this viewpoint.  There is no common awareness that there exists a moral aspect of music, but rather, that it is a morally neutral territory where each person is free to make subjective judgments.  While it is true that “about tastes, one ought not to argue,” I submit that there is also a moral quality about which objective criteria can, and must, be established.  But, it is a difficult task to approach this matter objectively.  Sounds become part of us, and we all experience the passionate desire to share the music we love with others.  “Our music” possesses us as much as we possess it.

Particularly for young people, music is everything.  It is their passion and, as such, it tends to be above any criticism or scrutiny. Memorized lyrics stay in their imaginations, and on their lips, through the day.  When away from their music—at school, in church, or with their family—they anxiously wait to get “plugged in” once again.  Who, then, can underestimate the power of music?

I have experienced firsthand the difficulty in objectively analyzing my own musical taste.  When I listened to rock music as a youth, it just felt good and consequently seemed good. It never occurred to me that this music could be in any way harmful to my soul, or was making it difficult for me to pray or to be pure. I certainly did not know any better, nor was there anyone to tell me otherwise.

Allan Bloom wrote in his influential book, The Closing of the American Mind, about the effect of music on college students.  Bloom reviews Plato’s theory of musical education in the Republic and then recounts how his college students began to feel threatened by Plato:

(Students today) know exactly why Plato takes music so seriously.  They know it affects life very profoundly and are indignant because Plato seems to want to rob them of their most intimate pleasure…. The very fact of their fury shows how much Plato threatens what is dear and intimate to them.  They are little able to defend their experience, which had seemed unquestionable until questioned, and it is most resistant to cool analysis.  Yet, if a student can—and this is most difficult and unusual—draw back, get a critical distance on what he clings to, come to doubt the ultimate value of what he loves, he has taken the first and most difficult step toward the philosophical conversion.  Indignation is the soul’s defense against the wound of doubt about its own; it reorders the cosmos to support the justice of its cause. 2

Furthermore, Catholic author Michael O’Brien, writing about the public fascination with the Harry Potter series, makes the following point about addiction to pop culture:

By and large, culture is entertainment now, among Christians no less than non-believers. We are very attached to what gives us pleasure, especially what gives us intense pleasure, and it is extremely difficult to have it questioned if there is a lack of freedom in our own interior life regarding the attachment…. (With) all addictions, the addicted person will present—in a calm reasonable tone—many arguments “proving” why he or she should remain a consumer of whatever is enslaving them. Now, “enslavement” and “addiction” is probably over-stating the case, but surely we should ask ourselves why we are consuming, with so little self-examination, cultural material that we have come to feel we can’t do without? Why are we not applying normal, prudential, critical analysis to material that has such a power over us? What’s happening inside of us that we cannot question it?.. We are capable of maintaining rational faith in a correct set of doctrines while at the same time consuming cultural entertainments that contradict those very doctrines. 3

On some level, O’Brien argues, we have concluded intuitively that there is nothing wrong with a certain form of entertainment provided it makes one feel happy and good.

How, then, does music have an influence in disposing one to virtue or vice?  The fundamental reason is that all art imitates nature: an artist takes from the created order certain elements, and arranges them so as to express a feeling, conviction, or viewpoint.  Within the fine arts, music is the most sublime and powerful, for it creates sounds that recall experiences and effects of nature, but most importantly, it echoes the emotions and passions of the soul.  It follows, then, that music is not only for pleasure and relaxation but also has a role to play in the formation of our soul. 4

Although music cannot force us to act against our will, it has the remarkable power of moving us to take delight in the emotions and passions that it evokes.  The repeated listening to a certain type of music will indeed create an emotional and mental attitude.  For example, King Saul, when being afflicted by an evil spirit, asked David to play calming music on the harp to bring comfort to his soul (cf. 1 Sm 16:15-17). Let us imagine the different effect if David had played a war drum instead.

Acknowledging the effect that music has on our spiritual lives, how then are we to judge between morally good, and morally evil, music?  Obviously, the evaluation of lyrics is the easiest criterion to use in judging the moral quality of music, a process that would eliminate songs whose lyrics contain anything contrary to our Catholic faith or common sense morality.  In some forms of rock and rap music, for example, there are explicit themes of violence against women, sexual license, coarse language, and innuendo.  Even some mainstream pop music, such as that of Lady Gaga, contains questionable lyrics that form our society in a manner contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

There is little room for doubt that lyrics expressed in a given style have a tremendous effect on people.  A case in point is the most popular song of the Rolling Stones, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” which makes sensuality the goal of life. Like much modern music, it teaches that emotions should always be high, lasting, fulfilling, and with little or no virtue or discipline required to get there. However, the truth is that all emotions have a beginning, middle, and end, and eventually they will leave us hanging.

There is yet another part of music that exerts even more influence than lyrics: the elements of the music, i.e., the melody, harmony, and rhythm. Although these components can be easily overlooked, two historical examples illustrate their significance.  The first, recorded by the Roman philosopher Boethius (d. 525), wrote of the awareness that ancient peoples had concerning the influence of music on the human soul.  The story goes that a teacher was exiled from a Greek city-state simply because he added another string to a traditional instrument.  The charges against him said that these first-century people were “angry with Timothy the Milesian because, by rendering the music complex, he brought it about that the souls of the youth, who had been entrusted to him to educate, were hindered from the moderation that characterized virtue.  Moreover, he had altered the harmony, which he had received as modest, into a type which is more effeminate.” 5

The second example, from more recent times, is the well-known story of the blind and deaf Helen Keller who, with her amazing sense of touch, could “listen” to music by placing her hand on an instrument, or even on the throat, or face, of a singer.  Once she said: “I love the instrument by which all the diapasons of the ocean are caught and released in surging floods—the many-voiced organ.”  She liked to listen to radio concerts with her fingers on a specially made loudspeaker, and could distinguish among the oboe, piano, and harp. On the other hand, she disliked jazz, saying that it had a bombarding sensation, not pleasant to her touch, and disturbing to her emotions.  “When it continues for some time,” she admitted, “I have a wild impulse to flee.” 6

The most fundamental element of music is the rhythm—the beat.  As with the other elements of music, rhythm itself does not cause virtue or vice, but it disposes a person to one or the other.  With extraordinary insight, Boethius wrote:

Music can both establish and destroy morality.  For no path is more open to the soul for the formation thereof than through the ears.  Therefore, when the rhythms and modes have penetrated even to the soul through these organs, it cannot be doubted that they affect the soul with their own character and conform it to themselves. 7

Indeed, music is powerful in its ability to go straight to the soul, bypassing the reason, where it directly affects the emotions, feelings, and subconscious. 8

Thus, even though the lyrics may be good and uplifting, the music itself can cause disorder in the spirit, two examples being the dissonant melody in the overture to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, or the pulsating rhythm of rock music.  Such music naturally leads to agitated and sensual images and thoughts, rather than those that are virtuous and pure.  One could conjecture that it was probably such music that stoked the fires of Israel’s revelry before the golden calf of debauchery while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments.

What, then, do we think about the many forms of music around us?  In the U.S.A., there is a remarkable diversity from which to choose: folk, classical, bluegrass, pop, rock, jazz, to name a few.  Some forms are good for the soul, others less so, and some are destructive.  Each has its own distinct culture.

Time does not permit for a treatment of each genre of modern music, but let us at least speak briefly about one form: rock music and its variations. It is my hope that the principles brought forth in this essay will be applied to other forms when they are encountered as well, so that clear discernment can then be made in terms of their moral implications.

It was stated above that at the time when Elvis first became popular, many on both sides of the issue believed that his music was related to sexual license. Most adults know, at least on the intuitive level, that the rock “beat” was seen by its proponents to imitate the motion of sexual intercourse, hence the term “rock and roll.”  Whether or not this indeed is the root meaning of the term, it is at least within the range of possibility. Incidentally, Ravel’s Bolero is recognized as having this type of sexual rhythm, which is probably why it is the one piece of classical music that is commonly known and liked by people who otherwise have no interest in classical music.

It would be an over-simplistic generalization for me to say that rock music has only to do with sexual expression. There are certainly other emotions and desires that are signified through this music, such as the creation of high energy and release of anger to name but two.  But it is my firm conviction that the release of libido through rock music is particularly threatening because it constitutes a serious obstacle to formation in chastity.

Evidence of the sexual undertones of rock music can be observed in the way people dance to this music. I remember a significant episode in my priestly life that really opened my eyes to this truth.  It involved a Catholic couple, conservative in many ways, both in their faith and political views, who attended a wedding reception following a nuptial Mass that I concelebrated.  All was going well at the reception, with people of all ages dancing the customary “Chicken Dance” and other dance forms. Then, without warning, the DJ started playing a classic rock song from the Australian band AC/DC. The man and woman, who until that point were well behaved, began at once to gyrate to the music in lightly disguised sexual movements.  It was as though they were taken back at once to their wild, high school days. I sensed that they were not fully conscious of what the music was doing to their souls, and through their souls, to their bodies.

Incidentally, the power of music to stimulate corresponding bodily response is seen in small children, who are very receptive to music, and naturally reflect what they hear through the motions of their bodies.

Apart from its effects on the soul, such as sensuality, rock music also has physiological effects, which include the increase of adrenaline in the bloodstream that makes the music physically addictive. 9  Further, when rock music is played at high volume—such as at concerts and night clubs—there is an outpouring of sexual hormones. 10  Some of us may have read about the scientific experiment in which plants thrived when exposed to Mozart, but wilted when exposed to rock music.

Another more complex question arises with regard to tempo in music.  Of itself, a fast tempo in music can be acceptable: fun, fast, and high-energy music often contributes to wholesome joy and virtue in recreation, e.g., Irish dance music.  But what role does it have in its relationship with rhythm and the other elements of music? For example, how does Irish dance music differ from rock music in its effects on the soul?  This question underlines the difficulty of making precise judgments in regard to some forms of music. However, I believe that we know enough about the harmful effects of rock music for us to make a clear judgment about it.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following prior to his election to the papacy, in which he outlined the detrimental effects of rock music:

(Pop music) is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. Rock, on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd, and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit’s sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments. 11

The phrase “beneath the elemental force of the universe” seems to refer to Gal 4:3, where St. Paul writes about the state of being imprisoned by demonic forces: “When we were not of age, were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world.”

Since his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI is known to have a strong dislike of much popular music. At a concert of sacred music at the Vatican in 2006, the Pope appeared to state that modern musical modes are not consistent with the tradition of Catholic sacred music: “It is possible to modernize holy music, but it should not happen outside the traditional path of Gregorian chant or sacred polyphonic choral music.”

Considering the above points, I have reached one conclusion that may be unsettling to some: even Christian rock music is disordered. Though the words may be good and uplifting, the music itself speaks another language. In this case, the musicians may be said to be fighting a battle with weapons on loan from the Enemy.

The case is, of course, easier to make with regard to secular music. However, I am not making a blanket condemnation of all contemporary music. There is such a broad spectrum of musical offerings available that it would be rash to reject all forms of modern music. Nevertheless, forms such as the variations of hard rock music do not speak the musical language that the Christian soul can interpret as leading one to the life of virtue.

On the other hand, it would be too extreme to say that one should only listen to classical or sacred music. There are, indeed, contemporary forms of music that can help the soul discover the beautiful, and to evoke virtuous desires. Yet, it is of utmost importance that we discern the type of music we listen to, and also to conscientiously track its effect on our spiritual life.  From this careful discernment, we can judge whether or not, in this area, our human hearts are bringing forth good fruit (cf. Mt 7:17-20).

To summarize, since music imitates the inner life of the soul, it follows that good music imitates and evokes sentiments that are consistent with a virtuous life: joy, honor, courage, purity, and the like.  It also follows that music that evokes vicious sentiments—such as pride, unrestrained anger, a wrong sense of freedom, rebelliousness, and sensuality—is detrimental, and even destructive, to the soul.  By way of example, a march played by a Marine Corps band would bring up sentiments of courage and selflessness, while the music of Green Day would evoke aversion to such feelings.

Music touches us, moves us, and forms us in the human virtues upon which grace builds.  In the grand scheme of things, music has an impact on our sanctification.  We become like the music we listen to.  It is sobering to consider that our musical habits will have some influence on our salvation or damnation.

Our journey to Heaven is one of purification and a long process of learning to serve God, not ourselves. In Revelation, we read: “They serve Him day and night in His temple, and He that sits on the throne shall dwell among them” (Rev 7:15).  In Heaven, the souls of the saints do not harbor any desire for music that stimulates unruly passions; the saints are in perfect harmony with the Triune God. Are we ready now for that life?

Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote:

It is fearful, but it is right to say it: that if we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man. We know how unhappy we are apt to feel at present, when alone in the midst of strangers, or of men of different tastes and habits from ourselves. How miserable, for example, would it be to have to live in a foreign land, among a people whose faces we never saw before, and whose language we could not learn. And this is but a faint illustration of the loneliness of a man of earthly dispositions and tastes, thrust into the society of saints and angels. How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! 12

When we die, all of the memories and desires of our soul will stay with us. At that moment there will be no “magical” transformation within us.  As we live, so shall we die.  When we die, we shall pass through the veil of death to the judgment seat of God.  Our goal on earth is to strive for peace and purity to the extent that it is possible with God’s grace; it will be left to Purgatory to reestablish a divine harmony in our soul.

Part of the antidote for addressing the harmful effects of music involves promoting the healthy and holy liturgical music that the Catholic Church has given “pride of place”: chant and polyphony.  For centuries, Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony have united souls, still traveling their earthly pilgrimage, with the angels and saints in our praise of the Triune God: “I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God” (Ps 145:1).

During seminary years, candidates for the priesthood do well to reflect often on the major goal of formation, which is the goal of all Christian life: to be deeply rooted in prayerful contemplation as a preparation for beholding the Beatific Vision in Heaven. If this goal is ever lost sight of, the sacrifices of seminary formation will begin to appear as simply “hoops” to be negotiated.  It is good to recall that all activity of the ordained priest is directed to the celebration of the Holy Mass, a mystery before which St. John Chrysostom trembled:

(When the priest) invokes the Holy Spirit, and offers the most dread sacrifice, and constantly handles the common Lord of all, tell me what rank shall we give him? What great purity and what real piety must we demand of him? For consider what manner of hands they ought to be which minister in these things….ought not the soul which receives so great a spirit to be purer and holier than anything in the world? 13

The prospect of holding in his hands the Body and Blood of Christ, and entering into the Holy of Holies to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, should help the seminarian focus on the inner harmony and purity that needs to be established in his soul. Such an interior harmony cannot be attained, however, unless there is an effort to become familiar with, and enraptured by, authentic beauty. Truth and goodness are not enough for the seminarian to arrive at the holiness of life to which Christ calls him; transforming beauty is also needed. Good music helps the seminarian to bring his instincts and emotions under the order of reason, thus arranging the inner soul in a “beautiful harmony.” Listening to beautiful music can dispose a seminarian for the experience of contemplative intimacy with God in prayer, which finds its apex in the faithful and loving reception of Holy Communion.

Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to tune our souls to divine harmony, particularly through praying her Holy Rosary.

  1. I am indebted to Father Dan Jones of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit for this insight.
  2. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster:  1987), 70-71. Bloom also says of children: “Rock {music} gives children, on a silver platter, with all the public authority of the entertainment industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later,” 73.
  3. Michael O’Brien, www.lifesitenews.com….
  4. See Basil Nortz, “The Moral Power of Music,” in Homiletic & Pastoral Review (April 2002), 18.  Together with Allan Bloom’s book, I have drawn from this excellent article throughout my essay. I also recommend E. Michael Jones, Dionysos Rising: The Birth of Cultural Revolution Out of the Spirit of Music (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994).
  5. Ibid.  See also Nortz, “The Moral Power of Music,” 18.
  6. See Dorothy Herrmann, Helen Keller: A Life (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 158-60.
  7. Ancius Boethius, On Music, Book 1, Chapter 1.  “You can hypnotize people with the music and when you get them at their weakest point, you can preach into the subconscious what you want to say,” Jimi Hendrix, in Life (October 3, 1969).
  8. See Bishop Alexander (Mileant), “Rock Music from a Christian Standpoint, www.orthodoxphotos.com/readings/rock. Christopher Knowles, a proponent of rock music, proposes an interesting theory that rock music has affinities with the ancient music of mystery cults: Christopher Knowles. The Secret History of Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Mysterious Roots of Modern Music, Berkeley: Viva Editions, 2010.
  9. See Verle L. Bell, M.D. in How to Conquer the Addiction to Rock Music (Oak Brook, Il: Institute in Basic Life Principles), 81.
  10. See Tame, The Secret Power of Music, 199.
  11. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), 147-48.  Regular listening of rock music lessens the impact of its harshness on the soul and on society at large:  “ … It would have been repugnant, even to the rebels of 1954, if instead of Elvis Presley or Little Richard, they had been bombarded with the sounds of Metallica or Marilyn Manson. At that time, many politicians and spiritual leaders denounced even Elvis’ music as the devil’s music. Today, Elvis and the rest of the 50s style rock-n-roll has literally become kindergarten music,” Brian Neumann, “Secularism, Media, Music and Culture: Part 1.” Go to: amazingdiscoveries.org….
  12. John Henry Newman, “Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness, in Parochial and Plain Sermons (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997), 9.
  13. St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, Book VI, n. 4.
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avatar About Fr. Gary Selin

Fr. Gary Selin, a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver, is assistant professor of theology, and a formation advisor, at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from The Catholic University of American in 2011, and is currently writing a book on the theology of priestly celibacy.

Comments

  1. avatar Tim says:

    Thanks Fr. Selin! It’s refreshing to see someone address this topic! Would that someone also address the issue of movies/television, not specifically for priests, but I have found that many very solid priests have blindspots in the area of what movies and television shows they watch and speak about, from the pulpit and otherwise. Thanks again for this great article!

  2. having grown up in the 60′s…music was my downfall, specifically the music of THE ROLLING STONES….for 45 years i followed them as idols…then life changed and gave all the garbage of music up. The music is demonic and sinful, the music of today , rap..etc..is nothing but full of sexual depravity , anger, and free of all morals and values….generations of children AND adults letting their minds and hearts being misled by the music from hell….thank you for the article Father

  3. avatar Maureen says:

    Thank you Father. I have become increasingly attracted to sacred music. I agree that music is very powerful. I have felt how sacred music draws my soul toward God, while many times secular music makes me feel anxious or unsettled. I pray for a renewal of sacred music in the Holy Mass.

  4. This article expands on a theme I wrote about in COMMUNIO in the mid seventies. Much of the music listened to by our children (privately, now, because of the prevalence of mp3 players and earplugs, rather than boom boxes) is what is called Dionysian. Heavy on the rhythm with lyrics that since the fifties have only lightly, if at all, disguised the sexual underpinnings. This is why chant is so important to liturgy. It unsprings the text from the beat. No longer does the rhythm of the words drive the melody. Melody and rhythm must be servants of the Word.

  5. avatar Gretha says:

    Thank you for this article. I agree with nearly all the premises, as a “classical” musician and recent convert to the RCC when I had stupidly thought the Mass would be the source and summit of my Christian life, only to find the musical aspects of the liturgy a total travesty carried by utter musical banality and ugliness. It does not seem to really bother the priests though, this wholesale schizophrenic opposition between the verbal and the musical manner in which we are supposed to celebrate Mass. I pray like mad every single time I prepare for Mass: Please God, help me not to become upset and disgusted with our musical offering to your glory… please, please, please…
    Thus far my prayers have not been answered and Mass has become an occasion of sin for me.
    I found myself looking for excuses not to go to Mass while my entire being longs for it. Then of course comes the next problem: confession of mortal sin. But I feel I sin more by attending these travesties and trying to handle my utter and total disappointment and anger at the awful musical side of things than by staying away altogether. Really problematic!
    I thank the dear Lord that it is possible to view and hear the Pontifical Masses of Benedict XVI at least a few times per year via television or internet. THIS is what is keeping me in the Catholic Church. Or should one say, this Pope is the medium that God uses to at least give thirsty souls a liturgical hope that things will some day improve, even if it will be too late for them to experience it in person. I am 68 years of age.

    • avatar HPR Site Admin says:

      Gretha: Instead of giving up on Mass altogether, you might try finding another parish where they either have better music, or have no music during the liturgy… There are solutions here, just need to ask around, call some parish offices, ask friends. Just a thought…
      -HPR Managing Editor

    • avatar WSquared says:

      Dear Gretha, I understand and feel your pain, and to a degree, I share it– even as a not-so-good musician (lapsed pianist, classically trained, here!). But please don’t use your disgust and disappointment, even if there is a good basis for it, to miss Holy Mass, which you have correctly identified as a mortal sin. You might want to confess the sin of intellectual and spiritual pride, too, if you don’t already– not calling you out here so much as given what you’ve identified and described, it’s something you can and should ask the Lord for help with by laying it before Him, both in prayer and in the Confessional. And from my own experience, it’s something I learned to pray about and identify *by* first confessing it. It will help strengthen you and help give you peace.

      I like the idea of finding another parish where they have better music or have no music during the liturgy. I don’t much like the music at my parish, either, and would not want to allow it to keep me away from Mass, and I have heard awful music at other parishes that have irritated me (and the architecture didn’t help, either, particularly if it was “in the round” and I couldn’t even see the Crucifix!).

      But I would also suggest the following: read about the Mass and study it. Unpack it. See also if you can find a parish offering the Extraordinary Form (the Traditional Latin Mass). Daily Mass, whenever you can manage it, also helps in this regard, where the liturgy is usually celebrated without music. I am not for a moment suggesting to you or anyone to put the Extraordinary Form over and against the Ordinary Form (a.k.a the Novus Ordo). Because a valid Mass is still the Mass. BUT the EF can, does, and will teach you a good deal of what the Mass and the Eucharist are actually about and teach you how to actively *pray* the Mass and not just attend it, given that for Catholics, the Mass is the public prayer of the universal Church, what we pray is what we believe, and as this article and your comments point out, both directly and indirectly, we Catholics are to pray with our senses and everything we got, including our bodies (and this process is a life-long learning process). It certainly worked that way with me when I attended Sunday Vigil in the OF and Sunday Mass in the EF, particularly in preparation for the new translation of the Roman Missal, and so I was able to compare and contrast the EF and OF, and contemplate the way the two relate and fit together.

      Now that I can’t attend the EF regularly but once a month, given that I’ve moved, what I do is to see the EF as the “answer key” to the OF: when I attend the OF, I plug the EF and what it’s taught me into it, and watch the Mass in the OF “unpack” itself and unfold before me. Then, what the Mass is becomes clearer, and even the distracting strains of really horrid music tend to get relegated to the background, and I effectively learn to tune it out. Sometimes, admittedly, that is hard at some parishes, whereas I’ve done my best to “offer it up,” and not get too, too grouchy or indignant to the point of storming out of Mass, say, even though I do agree that this is highly problematic and needs to be dealt with decisively (arming one’s self with the likes of “Sacrosanctum Concilium” for any time anyone wants to pull that “Vatican II versus ‘pre-Vatican II’” canard out of their hat is a good start). Furthermore, why do you assume that your prayers aren’t being answered? Isn’t the fact that we are talking about this at all and the fact that change *is* happening in some quarters, prompted by the likes of Summorum Pontificum and liberalizing the celebration of the EF– in some parishes evidence that they are on the way to being so?

      God bless you, Gretha. Please keep coming back to Mass, and don’t let the music be a distraction, hindrance, or even primary reason to be there or not.

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