My Personal Church Music Preferences

Please note!
The following has nothing to do with correct liturgical practices, or what would be pastorally appropriate in particular parish. It does not represent what I would actually do if put in charge. It does not represent my understanding of Sacrosanctum Concilium or the USCCB’s guidelines on anything.

The following is what I, personally would like to experience as a consumer of music at Mass.

Generally speaking:
1/3 Plainchant, mostly in English, sometimes in Latin
1/3 “Contemporary Catholic” music from the last 30-40 years: St. Louis Jesuits, a lot of David Haas, Dona Pena, Bob Hurd, Talbot, the Iona Community, Taize
1/3 A mixture of everything else- mostly Protestant Hymnody (especially early American), Sacred Polyphony (mostly Palestrina) and Choral music (mostly British), with a smattering of Contemporary Praise and Worship, Black Gospel, and other ethnic styles from time to time.

The choir and instrumentation:
Big choir.
Mostly piano based, with a rhythm section. It’s great if you can have a separate set drummer and hand drummer. A mandolin or other small lute instrument is a nice addition.
I usually can’t stand organ, so it would be no loss to me if there wasn’t one. (Again- this is just about what I personally like).
Most importantly, though- everyone doesn’t play on everything.
In fact- there should be a strong preference for acappella singing whenever possible, even with contemporary styles. Up to half of the music heard should be unaccompanied.

Which brings me to some specifics:

I want the Ordinary of the Mass (all the dialogues and all the acclamations) chanted, unaccompanied. In English (except perhaps the ones everyone knows well like the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei). There are some composed Mass settings I really enjoy as music, but all that stuff really clutters up what I think should be incredibly simple.

I enjoy the common “four song slots” practice- Gathering (Processional), Preparation (Offertory), Communion, and Sending (Recessional). Those would generally be the Contemporary music styles, with some taken from the last 1/3rd when textually appropriate.

In addition to hymns and songs, the Propers would be sung or chanted. For example- after the contemporary congregational singing during the procession, a Cantor or Schola would solo or lead the Introit. A similar practice would be taken with the other Propers. This would probably lengthen the Mass considerably- which would be fine with me (my preference, here, remember). Some compositional attempt would be made to connect the music of the Propers with the hymns and songs they are being paired with. That is a project I would gladly work on each week.

When the congregational communion song runs out of verses, the choir has the opportunity to sing some (textually appropriate) Palestrina or Tallis or Rutter or Faure or something beautiful along those lines. Sometimes the children’s choir sings. Sometimes we have instrumental music. This music is allowed to go on after everyone has received communion- there is no rush to get the Mass over with.

The congregation, of course, sings contemporary pop hymns and ancient chant equally well, full of joy and earthy heavenliness.

The Ordinary Form is used, and the Priest faces the people. (Prayers are addressed up and out, to God). Gestures are large- slow, and deliberate.

There is incense. There are bells at the Elevation. There are Gothic style vestments and deacons in dalmatics. Altar servers wear the traditional black and white. Processions take a long time. Everything takes a long time. There is plenty of silent space around each action, each reading, each prayer. There is no ad libbing (AT ALL), but the spoken prayers are read so sincerely that we all think they are the Celebrant’s own words. When we do clap, we clap on 2 and 4.

This wide variety of songs and styles will be very well planned out, so that it will feel like a unified whole and not a random collection of things. Great care will be taken with each element individually.

I’m probably missing some details. And I know that this hypothetical Mass would be two hours or more, and that lots of people would dislike at least 1/3 of the music. Some will call it too solemn, others not solemn enough.

I understand all of that. And again- I am not writing this to teach others about proper Liturgical programming. I just thought some of you may be interested in knowing what perfect Mass I have in my head when I dream about Liturgy.

So- rather than fill up my comments telling me that I’m wrong (since I can’t be wrong, because this was really just about what I want), I would like to encourage everyone to write about your perfect Mass.

Not what you think is right. Not what you think is Pastorally appropriate. Just, for the fun of it (maybe more), describe your ideal Mass- the Mass that would most completely cater to your needs, tastes, and desires.

11 thoughts on “My Personal Church Music Preferences

  1. 1. A holy priest.
    2. At a high altar.
    3. The congregation facing the crucifix together, in the same direction.
    4. Organ or other appropriate instruments for prelude and postlude.
    5. The Mass is sung.
    6. The congregation chants the ordinary. The Gloria is sung straight through. The Credo could be recited, but on special occasions, sung.
    5. A small, superb volunteer choir of the congregation sings the antiphons proper to the day, with psalm verses, either with or without the organ.
    6. The responsorial psalm’s antiphon is sung once by the congregation at the beginning and end. The psalmist sings the verses to a psalm tone.
    7. If the congregation is large, the communion antiphon verses are sung in fauxbourdon by the choir, followed by a motet. The harmony could of course be modern.
    8. After the dismissal, i.e., after the Mass, the congregation would sing a Marian chant or hymn.

    Obviously, this means a lot of chant, either in Latin or a vernacular, but it would be obviously derived or related to the Gregorian chant. No instruments or music with secular associations would be allowed. The choir would sing from the loft. The psalmist and cantor would be modest, face the sides (not the congregation), and sing without a microphone. The Mass would follow its objective course. The overall impression would be holiness, serenity, and awe.

  2. Sounds nice. I hope you have found what you are looking for.

    Clearly we have different tastes (part of the point of me posting this). I hope you’ll keep reading anyway.

  3. Adam

    I have nothing kind to say about the Pope’s attempt to resurrect the dead Latin Mass. Tridentine is a tradition best left to gather dust in a museum. Liturgy, literally means: The work of the people…So Ratziger has no say in the matter, rather parishioners get to choose the manner in which they worship God. To me what your blog misses is the critical link between Worship, Music and Multimedia. After Pope Benedict dies, the Catholic Church will need to figure out how to incorporate computer art, internet, film, and electronic music into sacred worship. It cannot be put off. When the message of the gospel, modern music, dance, electronic media, and good sermons are brought together the result is a powerful religious experience.
    Use of electronic media means one can fulfill the Great Commission as internet allows infinite expansion of a church without bricks and mortar. Recreating Baroque altar pieces with Puti, Frescos, and pompous displays of Gold, Linen, and incense ain’t gonna cut it in a space age society. The Tridentine Mass literally is the theater of the absurd…stagecraft without message. Relationship with God reduced to ritual, magic and superstition. Christ would be ashamed. Modern man’s religious expression needs to be contemporary.

  4. Now, now, cloudsurfer…

    First of all, I encourage you to tone down your vitriol. I don’t appreciate the R2 people saying my favorite David Haas songs are trite and meaningless. I equally don’t appreciate your desire to banish the traditional expressions of worship, still beloved and useful to millions around the world, to the dustbin of history.
    Additionally, it is simply impolite to refer to Benedict XVI as “Ratzinger.” I sense that you are using his old name to invoke the distaste many liberal Catholics developed for the man during his tenure as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I shared that distaste, but I also have a strong distaste for those who cannot contain themselves to civility and courtesy. He is properly “Benedict” (or one of his many current titles), not “Ratzinger.”

    As to the actual content of your comment…

    Liturgy is the public work of the church. That is, it belongs to all of us. It does not belong, then, to us individually, or to a particular parish, for us to do with as we will. Whatever my disagreements with him, the Pope certainly has much to say about this as shepherd of the people. To suggest otherwise is absurd, or simply Protestant. (Protestant is fine, but then why bother bringing it up?)

    Beyond that, I don’t take any of what the Vatican or this Pope specifically has said to be contrary to a sensible approach to modern expressions of worship. The traditionalists are constantly exegeting the Pope’s statements, as well as the V2 docs, in a way that supports their particular efforts to “Reform the Reform,” but that is not the only possible way to understand the official church teaching. Clearly, the Bishops of the United States have elaborated at least one alternative understanding- which the Vatican has not condemned nor redacted.

    I’m not sure what to make of your desires within worship. The internet helps spread information, but we cannot conduct worship online, so the liturgical reach of a parish will always be limited by the physics of the real world. Multi-media and film have been attempted in worship settings over and over for the last 50 years, usually with dismal and tacky results.
    The Liturgy, like Christ, is both fully human (the work of us people) and fully divine (the work of God). Artificiality (projected images, pre-recorded music) strips the liturgy of its humanity. Tackiness strips it of its divinity.

    I have feelings similar to yours with respect to a general preference away from “Baroque altar pieces with Puti, Frescos, and pompous displays of Gold.” (I like linen and incense…). But I think you’ve missed the boat here, too. If you are claiming that liturgy should respond to your particular needs, and be expressed in a visual and aural (and olfactory) language that will reach you- How can you possibly suggest that others (the traditionalists) not be afforded the same right?

    The Tridentine Mass (or any other religious manifestation) is not “the theatre of the absurd.” Absurd theatre was an attempt to show the inherent meaningless of creation. The liturgy of the Church (in its present and past forms) is intended to express the most profound meaning of the universe.

    Your equating of traditional liturgy with magic and superstition sounds… Protestant. I have nothing against Protestantism, but if you are Protestant I don’t understand the point in commenting about the Catholic liturgy on a Catholic blog. That’s like a Canadian being upset that the US didn’t follow the Canadian constitution when enacting a new law.

    Finally- and in all seriousness:
    I can’t fathom why you would be so vehement against outward forms of worship being antiquated, when you yourself refer to humanity using the sexist and outmoded moniker “man.” That’s hardly contemporary of you.

  5. I’m with Pes. Extraordinary Form (Missa Cantata or Missa Solemnis) or Ordinary Form with the Ordinary in Latin, chanted, and on some occasions, done in wonderful polyphony of any century as long as it is reverent. Or even Ordinary Form in the new translations, always the Roman Canon. Say the black, do the red. Accompanied by organ or harpsichord, or combinations of strings and winds, or classical guitar, and very rarely, piano; often unaccompanied, and mix it up between accompaniments in the same Mass/in the same piece. Never: drumbeats (an occasional tympani and melodic percussion are totally acceptable); dancing; ad-libbing.

  6. Patricia:
    You’re already aware of where my preferences diverge from yours, so I’ll just point out how much I agree with: NO dancing. NO ad libbing.

    Thanks for your comment!

  7. My ideal Mass doesn’t have to be the same from week to week. There are weeks when a Mass full of hymnody accompanied by a(good quality) organ played by a good organist would bring tears to my eyes. I had an experience like that in Sydney, Australia that still ranks as one of my top liturgical experiences of all time.

    More often, I would feel fed and uplifted by a (well-balanced, competent) contemporary ensemble, yes, including guitars AND drums.

    I think it’s wrong to exclude an entire classification of instruments simply because they have been used in secular locales for secular purposes. The organ’s been used that way, too. Those who would further the argument that contemporary music is intrinsically inappropriate for liturgy are implying that the Holy Spirit stopped inspiring people at some point in history, and that’s just not true.

    Really, this whole conversation is about personal preferences. No one aesthetic of liturgy is “correct,” while all others are somehow less.

  8. Kathleen-
    Thanks so much for your input here!

    I think it’s wrong to exclude an entire classification of instruments simply because they have been used in secular locales for secular purposes.

    I agree with you. The Roman Catholic hierarchy disagrees to some extent. Further discussion on this point is welcome.

    Really, this whole conversation is about personal preferences. No one aesthetic of liturgy is “correct,” while all others are somehow less.

    This conversation is ABSOLUTELY about personal preference, as I said in the first paragraph. As to some being correct and others not- there are legions who would disagree with that too, but I’m of a mind to agree with you on that as well, with some reservations about the frightening “free-for-all” that has happened in contemporary liturgical practice.

  9. New here as well, and drawn in by your humor (enjoyed the recent GIA/OCP reviews). I don’t want to distract too much from your stated goal in this thread (although maybe the thread has been around long enough to make a little distraction permissible) — but I’d be interested to hear more on why you’re of a mind to agree with Kathleen that “no one aesthetic of liturgy is ‘correct'”.

    Or maybe a more fundamental question is, what do you mean by “aesthetic of liturgy” in particular and how does that relate to the concept of “taste”, which you mention often in the half-dozen or so posts here that I’ve read this evening?

    Might as well do a full disclosure here and say that, given my druthers:

    * Mass would be, first of all, almost entirely sung from beginning to end — excluding the celebrant’s offertory prayers and the anaphora, but ABSOLUTELY including the readings and the general intercessions — and without artificial amplification. Microphones and speakers would be donated to thrift stores.

    * All four Graduale propers would be sung, especially the Gradual itself, probably in Latin unless the traditional chant melodies could be preserved in translation (please may I just hear ‘Audi Filia’ sung at Mass once before I die?). The congregation would sing the psalm verses and doxology in English.

    * Mass would be celebrated ad-orientem or at least in the ‘Benedictine’ manner (i.e., prominent crucifix on the altar between the celebrant and the people). Meanwhile the celebrant’s chair would face liturgical north and would be placed “off to the side” (I’m assuming a traditional small-church floor plan) — so that, by and large, the celebrant would face the people only when the Missal explicitly directs him to turn toward the people. 😉

    * The Roman Canon would be used far more often than any other anaphora (certainly it would be the norm on Sundays). If we could borrow the Anglican-Use translation that would be awesome; if not, the new ICEL translation will be just fine. Regularly, though (perhaps once a month), it would be prayed in Latin — so that every Roman Catholic could hear the music and poetry of the central prayer of the Mass, as it has been prayed for far more than a thousand years.

    * A few of the elements that were removed in 1970 would be restored (mainly the Introibo/Psalm-42, the ninefold Kyrie, and the celebrant’s old offertory prayers).

    * Composed-fresh-each-week General Intercessions would be suppressed in favor of either (a) nothing, which is really the more Roman way, or (b) a fixed, time-proven text, like the Great Litany from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (which would, of course, be chanted by a deacon vested in dalmatic, facing liturgical east)

    * A “solemn rite”, with three ministers (one of whom need not be a cleric but need must wear a tunicle), would be revived, and celebrated at least once a week in parishes with more than one cleric. In this solemn rite there would be plenty of opportunity for overlap (i.e., situations where the celebrant is praying one thing and the choir/congregation are singing another).

    * Any participation by lay ministers (apart from a vested ‘subdeacon’) would occur outside the sanctuary, as is done in the Byzantine rite, e.g., when a lay reader chants the Epistle

  10. Ben- Thanks for reading!
    I would love to address the “no style is wrong” within the context of still having good taste. But I’m supposed to be painting my living room right now, so I don’t have time for that just yet.
    I do want to comment on your perfect Mass, though (and thanks for sharing).
    What you’re describing sounds like the direction the Holy Father is trying to take us in. I’ve only been to a few Masses like that, but they have been really wonderful. I do believe, personally, that I couldn’t take it week after week as a congregant. I attended a High Church Episcopalian parish for a little while- at first I was in awe. Then I got bored. Really, really bored.
    On the other hand, there is no doubt that what you suggest would be a vast improvement over the luke-warm celebrations in many parishes.
    As to some of the specifics:

    Mass would be, first of all, almost entirely sung from beginning to end — excluding the celebrant’s offertory prayers and the anaphora, but ABSOLUTELY including the readings and the general intercessions — and without artificial amplification. Microphones and speakers would be donated to thrift stores.

    YES! I can definitely get behind that.

    * All four Graduale propers would be sung, especially the Gradual itself, probably in Latin unless the traditional chant melodies could be preserved in translation (please may I just hear ‘Audi Filia’ sung at Mass once before I die?). The congregation would sing the psalm verses and doxology in English.

    I’m in favor of Propers(+hymns). My preference would be to “mix it up” with Propers settings: latin, english, chant, polyphony, choral. There are so many good Proper cycles, it would be a shame to not hear several of them.

    Mass would be celebrated ad-orientem or at least in the ‘Benedictine’ manner (i.e., prominent crucifix on the altar between the celebrant and the people). Meanwhile the celebrant’s chair would face liturgical north and would be placed “off to the side” (I’m assuming a traditional small-church floor plan) — so that, by and large, the celebrant would face the people only when the Missal explicitly directs him to turn toward the people.

    One day I want to have an all-out, no-holds-barred knock-down debate on orientation. In the mean time, I’ll just say: my preferences differ from yours. (Although I am in favor of the chair being on the side, instead of up front.)

    The Roman Canon would be used far more often than any other anaphora (certainly it would be the norm on Sundays). If we could borrow the Anglican-Use translation that would be awesome; if not, the new ICEL translation will be just fine. Regularly, though (perhaps once a month), it would be prayed in Latin — so that every Roman Catholic could hear the music and poetry of the central prayer of the Mass, as it has been prayed for far more than a thousand years.

    I don’t even understand why there are other EPs besides the Roman Canon. This is not a time or place for variety.

    A few of the elements that were removed in 1970 would be restored (mainly the Introibo/Psalm-42, the ninefold Kyrie, and the celebrant’s old offertory prayers).

    Other than the 9-fold Kyrie, I don’t know what you’re talking about (I was born in 1982).

    Composed-fresh-each-week General Intercessions would be suppressed in favor of either (a) nothing, which is really the more Roman way, or (b) a fixed, time-proven text, like the Great Litany from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (which would, of course, be chanted by a deacon vested in dalmatic, facing liturgical east)

    AMEN TO THAT! The Anglicans have a nice Intercessions for Morning Prayer I might consider. But these made-up-by-the–lady-who-does-the-bulletin prayers have GOT TO GO.

    I think I disagree with the last two, but I’m not sure- I’ll have to think about it more before I say so.

    Thanks again for reading!

  11. Thanks Adam for your reply. Definitely understand about time. As far as those other elements from pre-1970 go, the Introibo/psalm 42 is the first and best-known part of the prayers at the foot of the altar. Introibo ad altare Dei, etc. Apart from being a gorgeous and entirely-Scriptural text, there’s this really interesting “blending of roles” if you will, where the celebrant will say something at one point that later is repeated by the server/congregation. It’s an element of the preconciliar liturgy that is also evident in the 9-fold Kyrie and probably elsewhere. First had my attention drawn to it by Aidan Nichols’s book “Looking at the Liturgy”. Sadly all of this sort of enchantment, which had gradually developed over centuries and stood the test of a very long time, was redacted from the Roman liturgy in the 1970 (i.e. “Novus Ordo”) Missal.

    Beyond that, “Introibo ad altare Dei” is a cultural marker. It’s one of those tag-phrases that surfaces again and again in literature and simply cries out “Catholic” (or at least “Roman Catholic”). It’s deeply regrettable that the postconciliar liturgical reformers chose to excise it.

    The offertory prayers I don’t feel so strongly about, but they are pretty majestic and emphasize the sacrificial character of the mass, which might stand a bit more emphasizing these days.

    Btw we’re almost exactly the same age… Have you ever been to mass in the older form?

    More later if I can find the time. 😉 My main thought about taste & aesthetics & so forth is that one can make all the good arguments one likes in favor of celebrating the liturgy in one particular manner or another, but in the end the best argument is from tradition. “We should do it this way because that’s how the generations before us did it” is a poor argument in many contexts but a very strong argument–I’d say the strongest–in a discussion about liturgy. I confess that I’ve lifted this idea from Joseph Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy”, and it’s really the conclusion of an extended biblical reflection there that begins in Exodus, but at any rate I found it all very convincing.

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