Liturgical music

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: I used to make a living playing music. Then for about twenty years I was a cantor, choir member, and musician at several Catholic parishes. So I have great respect for your skills and education as a classical organist. Which leads me to my question.

The Church’ has an illustrious 2,000 year history of liturgical music, from plainsong thru the medieval, baroque, and classical eras, even to the mid 19th century, So how come observant anglophile Catholics around the world for the past 50 years or so have been stuck with a forgettable collection of tunes (I just can’t call them hymns) that were commissioned in the 1970’s? Awkward, uninspiring melodies with lyrics that seldom achieve a keen sense of spirituality.  It may be just my opinion, but beauty does have objective truth, as in music, art, architecture, theology, and liturgy. 

Help? Please?


A: I explored this question to a limited extent on pages 16-21 of my book, Whose Mass Is It?. Folk music was the genre du jour at the time of the council, and somehow it stuck around. Even at funerals today, when we give families a choice of infinitely many liturgical songs, they nearly all fall back on the same limited repertoire.

I don’t enjoy all the music we use at mass, but I know that others do, and that composers have offered them to the church with the best of intentions. I focus on the words and pray along.

The problem may be more cultural than Catholic – having more to do with people’s limited appreciation of fine arts.