By David Palmer

Who Decides what Art or Music is Sacred?

Who decides what music is “epic” enough to be used for the Mass entrance, during communion and the closing recessional? Is epic music subjective to someone's age, culture and taste, like wine or beer? For example, some wine drinkers, view beer as being laughable as an inspiring tribute. However, for many craft beer enthusiasts, their carefully balanced brew is a glimpse of heaven and that some wine drinkers are pretentious phonies.

Does the pipe organ inspire you? Does the Catholic book of worship hymns, produced decades ago, touch your mind and heart? Was the music of the early Christians like the music of the Renaissance? Does the music at most Masses create a sense that you are part of a triune celebration, in the presence of the Creator of the universe? For me, the answer is "nope!" It makes me feel like I am simply checking off the, “going to Mass box,” one of among my many other weekly obligation boxes. Wouldn't the purpose of the music be, to speak to my soul, allowing me to be in synergy with the celebration of what is visible and invisible?

Music is like art. It can confuse, amuse, annoy or even make one angry but it can also inspire, creating a sense of clarity, Joy, peace, love and forgiveness. I know one thing for sure, the music that's played at most 4:00 p.m. Saturday Masses anywhere you go, caters to the senior crowd. To me, the music is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Some friends refer to these choirs as, “The Death Rattlers,” who perform in churches all over North America on Saturday afternoons. Is it any wonder our teenage children dread being forced to check off their weekly church box?

A few years ago, when my daughter was dating her future husband, an unchurched twenty-something, he came to Mass with us in our Parish and let's just say he was polite but we knew inside he was thinking… shoot me… now. It seemed like for the first time I was experiencing the Liturgy through a new lens. Sadly I was embarrassed, given my altered paradigm. He kept coming with us out of obligation, wanting to please Olivia, not because it meant anything to him. It wasn’t until he went to St Benedict Parish where the Mass touched his heart, where he wanted to enthusiastically join the church the following Easter. Granted, not everyone enjoys their Sunday AM music, I'm sure it would not be very appealing to the Death Rattler crowd, but for them they have their four pm Saturday Mass. Nonetheless, to me it's evidence that what is sacred or inspiring music at Mass is somewhat subjective to the attendees.

Ok, yes I know what truly is sacred, I have been to Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica several times, I know what the ultimate is in sacred reverence but how could any church in small town near you replicate anything close to it? They can’t. I believe whatever the music chosen to celebrate most Sunday liturgies; it should be selected based on the majority of the attending cohort. A style moving them into a deep self-reflection, wanting to be there to worship with love and appreciation for His gift on the cross and not just be there for a check the box hour.

For me whatever the style of music, if it transcends me into the presence of God, who loves and accepts me, given my faults, how can it be not a blessing? if this music moves me to tears how can that be inappropriate? Answer, it isn't! If it helps me to become a better version of myself, not being so self-indulgent and less into the false Trinity of "me, myself and I", it must be sacred, a grace from The Holy Spirit, permeating my heart, mind and soul. An invisible blessing, like that of a sunrise or sunset, a grace given to me from God.

I've never been to a Latin Mass, but I've heard from many that it is one of the most inspiring events you can go to. The respect, reverence, music, scents… I hear that it speaks to all of one’s senses. I'm looking forward to attending one when I'm able. I've heard many former Protestants state that the Latin Mass is one of the greatest gifts to the Catholic Church.

A couple of years ago I ran across an eight-minute a cappella video viewed over four million times, demonstrating the evolution of 1500 years of Christian worship music. Given today’s topic I had to watch it again. Although not all, many of the tunes are as moving today as when they were written, proving that music can transend cohorts, cultures and tastes. (The list and link is below)

  • c. 560 (Original Old Irish poem) – Be Thou My Vision (Dallan Forgaill)
  • 1225 (original poem) All Creatures of Our God and King (St. Francis of Assisi)
  • 1529 – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Martin Luther)
  • 1668 – Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Joachim Neander)
  • 1779 – Amazing Grace (John Newton, Edwin Excell)
  • 1863 – The Solid Rock (Edward Mote / William Bradbury)
  • 1922 – Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Helen Lemmel)
  • 1939 – Victory in Jesus (E.M. Bartlett)
  • 1952 – Burdens are Lifted at Calvary (John M. Moore)
  • 1969 – Pass It On (Kurt Kaiser)
  • 1978 – Soon and Very Soon (Andraé Crouch)
  • 1988 – Awesome God (Rich Mullins)
  • 1993 – Shout to the Lord (Darlene Zschech)
  • 1998 – Trading My Sorrows (Darrell Evans)
  • 2000 – God of Wonders (Marc Byrd & Steve Hindalong)
  • 2004 – Revelation Song (Jennie Lee Riddle)
  • 2010 – One Thing Remains (Brian Johnson, Christa Black, Jeremy Riddle)
  • 2012 – Oceans (Joel Houston, Matt Crocker, Salomon Ligthelm)
  • 2014 – Good Good Father (Anthony Brown, Pat Barrett)
  • 2015 – Lion and the Lamb (Brenton Brown, Brian Johnson, Leeland Mooring)
  • 2017 – Do It Again (Chris Brown, Mack Brock, Matt Redman, Steven Furtick)

Blog photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 March 2021 20:36