What’s the Point?

I have seen many people debate over the years about the type of music that is performed in a Mass. While I have often toted the line that I can appreciate the variance of musical types from parish to parish, a sort of 31 flavors of ice cream for the church yet still all ice cream, it has gotten me to thinking about the role of music in the Mass. There are definitely different roles of music within the Mass itself. The “Gloria” and the “Alleluia”, for example, and very necessary and a part of the Mass and are called “ordinaries”. But there are typically 4 songs that come from the hymnal (the Processional, during the preparation of the gifts, during the distribution of the Eucharist, and the Benediction) , and they vary from Sunday to Sunday. These “Propers” can change with the seasons and the Music Director has some choice in what is played.

In reality, those four songs don’t vary too much in my parish; I seem to hear repeats pretty often. Perhaps these are favorites of the choir, or they are classics that have been performed in my parish since long before I was around. But, it is these songs that add the musical flair that is different from one parish to the next. In my current parish, the choir also features guitar, piano, drums, bass and sometimes a guest instrument such as violin or horn. However, in the next parish over, they are much more orthodox; they only have an organ, and the music is led by a Cantor who sings only in chant. Much of the music is A Capella and in Latin. While this could be chalked up to simple preference, I thought there should be more to it than that. It got me asking, what’s the point?

What is the point of these songs during the Mass? The ones that are prayers are in the middle of the Mass and they will have the same words no matter what parish you go to. Sure, the instruments that are used are different because of the performers that are in that parish, but essentially, aside from some slight musical style differences, the main prayer songs are the same. The other 4 songs are not as direct a part of the service, but they have another purpose. I was reading a nice myth debunker about music by St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pensacola, FL. The point that this article brought up at the end was about the purpose of music.

The music at Mass is supposed to inspire us to think more reverently and contemplate God. The music is not supposed to be simply what we like, or even to make us sad, but it can be powerful. It is not feel good music, but it is supposed to bring our minds and hearts closer to God. “If the music at Mass reveals more about what we like and what makes us happy, it is doing us a disservice. If it brings us to true prayer and helps us contemplate the beauty of God’s holiness and love, it can reveal God to us in amazing ways.”

This explains why most music at evangelical or non-denominational churches feels wrong to me. While the music may be good, or even something I would like in another context, it does a disservice to those who came to worship. The music takes the place of the purpose of the service. This is even more relevant in the Mass. As Catholics, we have the True Presence, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ there before us in the Eucharist. Nothing should take us away from that. If anything, the music should inspire us to contemplate deeper, think more reverently, and be more awe-inspired by God and what He did for us. While there can be variance in the music from one parish to another, one thing is for certain; no parish should have music that takes away from the beauty and mystery of God who is present.

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