Why the Music Is So Bad

October 2008By Lucy E. Carroll

Lucy E. Carroll writes frequently on sacred music for Ado­re­mus Bulletin ( Her Churchmouse Squeaks cartoons appear in the Adoremus print edition. She is currently organist/director at the Carmelite Monastery in Philadelphia, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Music Education at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey.

There has been an increasing groundswell of complaint lately about the inadequacies of music for the Novus Ordo Mass -- the primitive quality of the music, the inappropriateness of style, the lack of sacred nature, and the near-heretical status of many hymn texts. A generation has grown up never hearing Latin, chant, polyphony, or traditional hymns in church. Much of this has been blamed on the Second Vatican Council. The Council, however, re-affirmed the use of Latin as the official language of the Roman rite, extolled the value of choir, stated that chant was to be given "pride of place," and urged that musicians be well trained in seminaries and parishes. Pope John XXIII, who convened the Council, wrote an encyclical, Veterum Sapientia (1962), stressing the importance of Latin training in seminaries.

Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to the U.S. brought the great variance in "Catholic" music to the mainstream media. The music in the papal Mass in New York City, with its use of classical composers --Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Palestrina -- and chant, was in stark contrast to the pop-style hymns, merengue rhythms, and secular styles of music in the papal Mass in Washington, D.C. Indeed, during the D.C. Mass, EWTN's Raymond Arroyo stated on the air that this was unusual music to choose for this Pope. He further added that Pope Benedict had written much about the liturgy and its music, and that it was evident that the people who selected the music for this Mass had not read a word of it. Commentators on other networks, however, repeated the press release they had been given that this Mass showcased "American multiculturalism."

Why the discrepancy between the instruction and the practice?

There is the oft-repeated concern that, instead of reading the actual Vatican documents, Church leaders look to so-called experts who propound "the spirit of Vatican II," which has little to do with the actual writings. But the problems run much deeper.

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

Back to October 2008 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
An old theme; and a well-known fugue. For the last 40 years we've all known what the VCII documents "really say" and what the myriad "instructions" have instructed the Bishops to do, etc. The fact is Catholicism in the US was only rarely distinguished by anything approaching good taste and proper liturgical music. Now even the veneer is gone. Speaking as someone, like the author of Northern European background, I'm amazed at the insulting stuff that is purveyed in the name of "Hispanic liturgy". The more we fragment the more we need to AVOID this linguistic balkanization. Posted by: santiago
November 03, 2008 02:25 PM EST
Let it be known that Saint Peter's in Monticello NY has received a great gift from our Lord in the form of a truly orthodox parochial vicar. Amongst the works the Father is using Father Rojas for is a revival of appropriate and real Roman Catholic Sacred Music. Would that the church had more priests with the sort of fortitude this guy has. Posted by: gespin3549
December 04, 2008 10:19 AM EST
Add a comment