Pope Francis criticises modern church music

The Pope told participants in a liturgical music conference today: ‘The encounter with modernity and the introduction of [other] tongues into the Liturgy stirred up many problems: of musical languages, forms and genres.

‘Sometimes a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed, to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of liturgical celebrations.’

He added: ‘We need to promote proper musical education, especially for those who are preparing to become priests – in dialogue with the musical trends of our time, with the demands of the different cultural areas, and with an ecumenical attitude.’


photo: The Pope’s record deal

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  • When he’s right, he is right… Why should one go into a catholic church and listen or sing kind of third hand pop melodies with a childish twist? Since the late 60ies there are so many really naive people in charge who are “convinced” they can fill a church by copying the sounds that people listen to outside the church. But why then go to church? Of course since then there is a growing crowd who prefer to stay outside because they can hear the good songs there. I promise the church will fill up if they go back to their sacred roots.

    • The relationship of the church to music has often been fraught, right through its history. I eschew the rubbish popular music – guitar compulsory! – which passes for serious church music. This is what I prefer and what you’ll get every Sunday in Vienna at one of the 3 major churches (though this particular one was for a requiem mass). But the orchestra, conductor, choir and organ are standard fare at those churches:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfSju3dPZ5c

      • In the first instance church services are for the people, not for the ministers and professional musicians. How one defines great music is a good question, whether it’s a question of education or background is open to discussion. Fact is, many sometimes condescending (not always intentionally so) church musicians are not connecting to their audiences – and this is one of the reasons some churches are empty. Sometimes you check out mainstream and embrace something else. Reggae sounds good in large spaces anyway..!

        • Not so, Bernard – at least not in the orthodox Catholic tradition. Divine worship is for .. umm .. well for God; offered by man, yes, but for directed to him. The offering may be man on man’s behalf, for the outpouring of graces upon us, or even encourage us to turn ever more deeply to God .. God, notwithstanding, remains both the object and the subject, the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of this action.

          • Sorry NFH, I couldn’t quite understand what you are trying to say apart from ‘Divine worship is for .. umm .. well for God’ Yes I agree, it’s a musical way of expressing prayer, whether that be praise, joy, confession etc. What form that takes is a human decision, and I happen to think it makes sense to make it inclusive off all, which includes ALL kinds of music -which means including some music not to our taste. We are, after all, an eclectc bunch of folk..

    • If people are coming to Mass only for Music, they are there for the wrong reasons. If they stay away because of the music, it’s their problem.
      I think of equal concern is that frequently choirs are being led by people who CANNOT sing. I’ve been in churches where the leaders sound like mooing cows. They think they can sing, but they are awful.
      I think that before a person becomes a choir leader he or she needs to audition and pass.
      If music is so important we need to consider the leader.

    • I disagree from the experience of our parish. Two years ago the parish changed music directors and went to chants including the Gloria in Latin. If parishioners have a choice they will leave for more traditional music. Our parish lost about 35-45% of the active membership to a new neighboring parish that plays traditional songs. I am in the middle and would like to have a blend of the two music styles at Mass.

  • He’s right about his and there are movements in the US to re-establish great music in church. In the parish I attend, long gone are the pop/rock crap of the last 40 years. We actually sing a lot of ancient chant in Latin no less and many of the great hymns that came from the Anglican tradition – real music. We’re not to the point where 4-part hymnals are back, but so few Americans know how to sing or read music I guess it’s pointless. And the pipe organ is back, too! No more guitars and drums, even the piano is relegated to a minor role. There’s a great book explaining it all: Why Catholics Can’t Sing. It’s been around for about 30 years (?) and there’s a new, updated edition. It’s about time something is done.

  • It has been argued by Dawkins, Hitchens et al that the relatively recent ‘cotton wool’ presentation of religious ceremonies in some western religions is a sign of religion in decline. In comparison, the fire and brimstone + messianic presentations of the past kept an already captive audience awestruck and in place.

    If this explanation is valid, the saccharine music targeting the youngest
    (most impressionable) attendees is unlikely to change while religiosity wanes.
    One remaining stronghold may be the USA Evangelical scene, but this is also
    in decline according to annual polls. But they got country.

    So again, what is the purpose of music?
    Does its use for social manipulation testify to its power,
    or betray its essential value as a vehicle for free human expression and communication?

    • St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians (Eph. 5:19) to “[a]ddress . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord…”

      And an oft-misquoted passage attributed to St.Augustine, but well synopsising the spirit of his passages about music and prayer in The Confessions, says, “Singing is praying twice.”

  • Church music is supposed to offer an alternative experience to the noise of the world outside the church, for the congregation to find their inner self again. Say, the opposite of heavvy metal and Elliott Carter.

    • For me, great music ennobles the church and accompanies its ritual with grandeur and meaning. No lesser individuals than Bach (yeah, Lutheran), Haydn, Mozart, Schubert et. al found it worthwhile composing music for the Catholic mass. I’m with them on this one!!

      • I know you wrote”et al”, but we should also mention Bruckner too by name. Especially in Vienna. Let’s see how the Pope’s thoughts about the subject are forged into action.

    • Canonic popes are rare, indeed. But there is a long tradition, especially the renaissance popes who built St Peters’ and bullied Michelangelo in painting the Sixtine Chapel.

  • There are many reasons Catholic Churches do not have music which is liturgically sound. Most point to pastors which can’t hold a note and do not appreciate the difference. In the past two weeks our new pastor when asked does he have concern for the quality of the music responded with “Do you think anyone in the congregation can tell the difference?”. This was after informing the new choir director, he would not provide a promised accompanist to assist in the practices and liturgies of the adult choir. We are about to loose a great musical program unless we can get about $10,000 for this year’s season. Search “Holy Cross” and “Charlotte NY” on youtube to understand what we had up to July 1st, 2017. If you might be able to help, please connect me. billb@tmssolutionsltd.com

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