Solutions to the Catholic music problem

In my blog thus far, I’ve attempted to show that there is a Catholic music scene; however, the artists in the scene are relatively unknown due to the Catholic church’s liturgical structure, Western European cultural influence, and tradition. Now I will be outlining ways the Catholic Church can support these artist.
1. An argument for contemporary music a Mass
Obviously the best way for Catholic artists to gain exposure is by showcasing their music at Mass. This is the most effective way because a good majority of Catholics only come to Mass and thus Mass is their only exposure to Christian music. The use of contemporary music at Mass is very controversial.
If you recall in my last post, I linked to an article by Peter A. Kwasniewski. He argues against contemporary music at Mass. His main thesis is that using music with secular origins conforms the mind to the world instead of to the divine mysteries and does not foster a contemplative atmosphere. Furthermore, he argues that the instrumentality of the music is what lingers in the soul, not the lyrics. He states,  “A piece of music carries with it and conveys not only what its maker may be thinking and feeling, but in a deeper way, the thoughts and feelings of the context and culture out of which the musical style or its elements emerged.” (1). He proclaims that, “our calling as Christians is to bring holiness from the altar into the world, and, as much as we can, to transform the world, renew it, sanctify it by the power of the sacred mysteries. Christians have never seen it as their job to bring elements of the fallen world from the outside into the temple, remaking liturgy, preaching, and art forms into reflections of that world.”(1) I’d like to respond to this argument.
First, I would like to ask, isn’t all music inherently secular? Music, in my opinion, has always found its origin in human society and culture. Perhaps the only exception would be Plainsong or Chant since this style directly relates to the Hebrew chanting of the Psalms. As time went on, this chants would become more elaborate. In fact, Gregorian chant is derived from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican chants.(2) It would go on to replace the local chant tradition of Rome. According to David Wilson, Gregorian chant was promoted, not by the church, but by Charlemagne, who ordered it performed by the priests upon pain of death.(3) This brief history summary serves to  showcase that even music written for the church and by the church had cultural influences. If culture can influence the early church’s music choices, then it can continue to influence the music of the church today.
Furthermore, Kwasniewski doesn’t just support plainsong, but also Renaissance polyphony. He states, “Traditional Church music is derived from sacred precedents: Christian plainchant from Hebrew chanting of the psalms, Renaissance polyphony from plainchant (when singing a motet by Palestrina you can feel the Gregorian influence upon every line), Baroque styles from Renaissance ones;”(1) This is hypocritical when one considers the origins of Renaissance polyphony. According to Msgr. Charles Pope, Renaissance polyphony emerged as harmony was introduced into Church music. (4)  He describes that harmony entered into church music as a culture shift occurred due to the reintroduction of Greek Philosophy, “Several factors influenced the introduction of harmony. First, there was the reintroduction of Greek philosophy and some of its views back into the Western world through scholasticism.” (4). Likewise Msgr. Pope points out that,
” the music was not without controversy. There were two main problems with this new style called polyphony. The first problem was the intelligibility of the text. With multiple harmonies being sung, the Latin text, often staggered across many parts and voices, became harder and harder to understand. Clergy in particular complained of this, arguing that the sacred text was taking a backseat to musical flourishes. In addition, the “theatrical showiness” seemed secular to many. The second troubling issue was that many of the composers of the day drew from secular melodies that were often heard in taverns, in theaters, and on the streets. They would often take these recognizable melodies and set them as a cantus firmus (musical theme or foundation) of sacred compositions, including the parts of the Mass.” (4).
Hence it seems hypocritical of Kwasniewski to promote polyphony when he accuses contemporary music of have the same problems that originated with Polyphony. I believe he can be criticized for having a slanted view of the history of sacred music. I also believe he misunderstands the nature of contemporary worship music. Kwasniewski seems to think that contemporary worship music involves slapping Christian lyrics onto secular music. The reality is that Contemporary worship music and gospel music arose as spiritual hymns for the 21st century church. It arose to sanctify the secular, to take what was secular and make it holy. Contemporary worship music especially gospel music was not an attempt to secularize the sacred like Kwasniewski believes. However, since contemporary worship music at mass remains controversial, I have a few  guidelines.
`1. Whenever possible use Catholic sources and Catholic artists
This avoids two criticisms. First, it avoids the criticism that this music is not sacred because it did not originate in the church. Second, it avoids the criticism that funding contemporary music funds protestant artists, which in turn promotes heresy. The vigil project is a good example. It is a group of Catholic artists, who currently have written 7 songs for the Lent liturgical year and they are working on Advent as well.
2. Save the upbeat song for the recessional.
This allows the church to be mindful of the sacredness of the mass and allows room for contemplation.
3. Absolutely no secular music
If it is not written by a Christian or Catholic artist and is not in a hymn book, don’t use it.
4. Avoid theatrics, Mass is about contemplation, not entertainment.
5. Coordinate the music to the Gospel message
This makes the use of Contemporary worship music less like a gimmick and more like it is relevant
There are less controversial ways to allow artists to promote their music.
2. Adoration with live music
Here in the Virginia Beach area, we have a ministry called Catholic Underground in which there is adoration accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a singer. Afterwards there is a free concert featuring a Catholic artist. Unfortunately, this only happens twice a year.
3. More Diocese should host and sponsor Catholic music festivals.
So far the only dioceses that I know that sponsors an annual concert are the Toledo Diocese and Diocese of Cleveland. They sponsor Exclaim and the Fest respectively. One criticism I have of these festivals especially the Fest is that they fail to invite Catholic artists. If you are going to have a Catholic festival make sure you have at least two Catholic artists; otherwise, you become indistinguishable from other protestant sponsored festivals and promote the belief that there are no good Catholic artists.
4. More Catholic conferences like Steubenville and market the conferences as open to all ages.
Maybe I’m bitter since I wasn’t Catholic in middle school and high school, but why is every single conference geared towards youth or college individuals? There is very little for older Young Adults or even adults. Likewise this is a great way to get Catholic Artists on board. In fact The Josh Blakesley band recently gained popularity from touring with Steubenville youth conferences.
5. Parishes should allow more room for Charismatic prayer groups.
Worship in the Holy Spirit by its very nature is improvisational and therefore offers a great way to incorporate Catholic contemporary worship.  I would also like to see more Charismatic Masses offered by individual parishes.
The main point is that Catholics deserve to have opportunities to express themselves through contemporary praise and worship. If not at Mass, then the Church should find other avenues to offer these opportunities. While silent contemplation should reign supreme, people also crave worship music that is relevant and allows them worship with their whole body and allows improvisational prayer expression. A balance of both modes of expression is what is needed in today’s church.

Catholic music scene part 2

So when I last wrote, I attempted to refute the claim that that there is no contemporary Catholic music scene. However, I would agree that Catholic artists have more of an uphill battle than protestant contemporary artists for very specific reasons related to Catholic worship liturgical structure and culture, plus tradition.
1. Mass
So the first thing we have to understand is the difference between Mass and other Christian services. The Catechism of the Catholic church defines Mass as, “at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood.” Hence when we speak of Mass, there is the notion of sacrifice that simply isn’t present in other Christian services. Because of the sacrificial nature of Mass, there is a great desire among Catholics to keep the Mass holy, pure, and undefiled by worldly conveniences.This desire has led the Church to define certain aspects as appropriate and not appropriate to be used at Mass. These guidelines insure unity in the liturgy and help to mitigate abuses. Protestant evangelical services have no such restraint placed on them and freely utilize worldly conveniences in order to be relevant, modern, and attractive.  This relates to music in so far as the Catholic church has attempted to define the music that is appropriate for Mass as Sacred Music, but as this blog post points out that definition has changed through out the history of the Church and what was once thought not sacred has now become sacred. It remains to be seen whether the use of contemporary instruments will remain controversial or whether the ideal of sacred will yet again evolve. The point I wish to make is that contemporary musicians find greater acceptance in protestant circles when they do not have to adhere to the notion of sacred and thus have a wider performance space. I am not advocating that this is ideal in that I feel that the notion of sacredness is important to the Catholic church identity and need not be sacrificed. I do; however, often question the premise that using a guitar impedes on sacredness. For an argument that it does see this post.
2. Class room of silence verses body movement
As a revert from nondenominationism and Pentecostalism, this was a distinction that I pick up on right away and it took a while to adjust.   In the Pentecostal tradition, worship is a sensory experience in which the whole body is involved in worship. Hence during a pentecostal service, you will see people dancing, jumping up and down, falling on the floor, hands lifted high, shouting, crying, and kneeling. I don’t think there is a name for this style of worship, but I call it body movement. I define body movement as the belief that one can hear from God when one has relinquished control of one’s body and is free to express oneself in worshiping of God.
The Catholic Church has subscribed to the belief that, instead of worship being a sensory experience, it should be a contemplative one. However, there still are sensory elements in the Catholic church such as incense, but these elements are designed to foster contemplation. Mathew Kelly coined the term, “classroom of silence” to describe the idea that through silence we can hear the voice of God. I believe that this emphasis on silence is largely a western European cultural phenomenon and a traditional consequence. Before Vatican II, the laity were not encouraged to be active participants in the liturgy. Instead, they were encouraged to pray contemplatively about the mystery that was unfolding before them and to contemplate on the scripture reading. Hence, before Vatican II silence was the ideal. The laity were spectators. Vatican II sought, among other things, to give the laity a more active role in the Mass. Hence, the Mass was now offered in the vernacular instead of the traditional Latin; the priest faced the people; and the laity were allowed to serve as Eucharistic ministers. However, despite these changes, the idea that the laity are spectators still lingers. This is why, despite the changes, most Catholics still remain relatively disengaged at Mass.
I also believe that silence as an ideal may be somewhat cultural. I base this conclusion on my limited experience in African American Catholic churches. These churches tend to be much more lively. The laity tend to actively participate in the singing and evidence of body movement can be seen. Often times a select few will raise their hands and sway. However, when it is time to be silent, they are respectful and reverent. I’ve heard similar things about Latin American Catholic churches. Interestedly enough, the Boisi center published a paper stating that a preference for improvisational worship may be due to the incorporation of American values such as innovation, individualism, and volunteerism. (Cite:
Most contemporary worship styles cater to the body worship movement as opposed to contemplative since contemporary worship relies on improvisation. Hence, In a strict liturgical style, it can be hard to incorporate contemporary music especially upbeat style songs. Vatican II has left some room for incorporating improvisational worship. For example, a Catholic Church may  cater to a particular culture by incorporating that culture’s music and self-expression into the liturgy. The debate remains how much incorporation should take place before it tarnishes the sacredness of liturgical worship especially the Mass.
I do not know the answer to the question of how much incorporation is too much; however, I do feel that there is room for compromise and utilizing new ways to offer contemporary worship to balance out the overemphasis of silence. It is these solutions that I’d like to talk about in my next post.

Catholic music scene?

In my first blog post, I mentioned how I love Contemporary Christian music or CCM. I do tend to appreciate more the edgier side of CCM mainly that of rock and metal. As a new Catholic, I often found myself wishing and longing for music that reflected my theological beliefs a little more closely. However, as a new Catholic, I simply assumed that such a thing did not exist after all I didn’t hear contemporary music at Mass and if I did hear it at all it was always at adoration and always Protestant songs. The only exception was Matt Maher. If you’ve been in the Catholic Church awhile, I can guarantee that you either love Matt Maher or are sick of hearing his music everywhere lol. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter camp. So when I was suddenly thrust with the responsibility to pick the music for Adoration ministry, I found myself frustrated with the lack of options. On one hand, I found it a little disingenuous to use Protestant songs during adoration, yet on the other hand, those were the most requested other than, you guessed it, Matt Maher. Hence, I was on what seemed like an impossible quest to discover contemporary Catholic Artists. I wish I could take credit for all the wonderful artists I have discovered; most of the credit goes to the The question is what does the Catholic music scene look like if there is one; why is it so hidden: and what can the Church do about it?
I believe that, in contrast to this article, there is a Catholic music scene. This scene comes in a variety of different sounds.
1. Folk mass artists
You have artists, who are clearly classically trained or at the very least have served as the cantor of his/her church. These people have beautiful voices and usually do traditionally sounding songs in a modern way. One such example is Tom Booth. Most of these types of artists I found, not on, but on Most of these artists became popular during a time when there was a large demand for Folk masses usually around the 70’s and 80’s. Thus the music associated with Spirit and Song has a dated feel. There are a few exceptions such as Matt Maher, Jackie Francois, Ike Ndolo, and Josh Blakesley.
2. Proudly Catholic
In this category, you have artists that are Catholic and definitely want that to come across in their lyrics. A particularly bad example of this is the band The Thirsting  (see below)
Anyone else getting a POD vibe up in here? As a Christian rock lover, I want to like The Thirsting, but it’s hard to listen to music when the lyrics just make you laugh. I have to give them credit for incorporating the term Sacrament into a song that couldn’t have been easy. Better examples exist including Father Kevin Mcgoldrick’s Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue, which is a devotion song to Mary. Christian rock bands had to come to the realization that overemphasizing Christ can come across as silly sometimes; anyone remembers Skillet’s Forgive or Comatose? Likewise, bands like the Thirsting must also come to realize that overemphasizing Catholic theology can also be silly. I believe The Thirsting learned their lesson as their second album is better. Case in point The Road by The Thirsting(see below )
It is my hope that the Thirsting will find a balance between promoting Catholic ideas and their hard rock song so that they can move into the 3rd and my favorite category.
3. Alternative rock music
These are artists that have managed to find the balance between authentic lyrics, rock music, and message. It is not obvious on first listen that these artists are Catholic; however, a brief look at their bio page will reveal that they are indeed Catholic. You don’t normally associate Alternative music with the Catholic church, but there is a surprisingly large number of artists. In fact, there used to be an annual concert series called Rocking Romans, sadly it appears that the last one was in 2012. Some of the cool artists featured were Milo and Pointe Blank. Recently there has been a renewal of this style of music in artists such as Cody Roth and Donny Todd.
4. Worship music 
This probably makes up the majority of the Catholic music scene. Most recently the Vigil Project set out to pair solo artist together to create 7 songs for the church that spanned significant events between Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. It culminated in a Pentecost vigil. There are other worship bands too such as the Josh Blakesley band, Out of Darkness, and NOVUM. These worship bands are trying to be like the Catholic Hillsong or Jesus Culture. They mainly play at Catholic conferences and praise and worship events. Finally, you have the worship solo artist such as Dee Simone, Sarah Heart, Tori Harris, and John Finch.
5. Worship pop artist
These artists try to blend catchy pop tunes with worship lyrics. Think of Audrey Assad’s first 3 albums and you have the idea. These kind of songs are sometimes vague about their subject matter in that the songs are more like love songs. Examples include Alverlis, Andrea Thomas, Jamie Thietten, Connor Flanagan, Aly Aleigha and Landers.
So this concludes my brief survey of Catholic Artists and there are so many more artists! If interested in learning more, you should subscribe to the Catholic playlist podcast. In my next post, I’ll tackle why these artists are so hidden and what the Church could do about it.

Catholic revert goes to Outcry Tour

What I learned about Ecumenism

So I have a confession to make; I love contemporary praise and worship music and I hate the organ and gregorian chant. I know that saying this makes me sound pretty anti-catholic, but you will not find a stronger defender of the faith. That being said, music is a big part of my spirituality. When I first encountered Christ, it wasn’t through gregorian chant, old school hymns, or organ, but it was through Christian rock music and eventually Christian contemporary music. So despite all my misgivings, when I heard about a concert with Hillsong, Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture, and Elevation worship, I knew I wanted to go.  These are my insights about the night and what it means for ecumenism.
1. People crave authentic worship.
During the concert, we watched a video where they interviewed each artist and got their insight on what church means to them. I don’t remember who said it, but one quote that stood out to me was, “I believe God gave us music so that we could have the ability to move and touch the human heart.”  I firmly agree with this quote. When it comes to it, sacred music should touch and move the human heart. It doesn’t matter the style or setting. The question you should be asking yourself, does the music at my church/parish move me into a closer encounter with Christ? What makes bands like Hillsong so popular is that you can  feel their passion for the Lord in every song. Can the Catholic church ever have this authenticity? I believe so, but it begins by putting away our legalist attitudes about what worship is supposed to sound like and start embracing all forms of music.
2. Music can unify.
The major theme of the Outcry tour is unity. The whole night they talked about how they wanted to focus on worshiping Jesus without focusing on denominational differences. How were they able to do this? They did it through music, which glorified Christ. The didn’t preach or debate or lecture. Instead they just played music and called out to Jesus. They explain how Jesus calls all to be one; how the church is stronger together then divided. If they Catholic Church truly wants all to be one, then the Church needs to support Catholic contemporary artist, who are able to bridge the gap. I remember that the Richmond diocese sponsored a concert with both protestant and Catholic artist and opened it up to the public. I wasn’t Catholic at the time, but I attended as well as my non-Catholic church. I listen to Ike Ndolo sing about the importance of the real presence in the Eucharist.  Imagine if some of my protestant friends heard the message and were moved to investigate. Maybe that planted the seed in me. Music unifies in ways that nothing else can.
3. There are points of dialogue that develop when people come together.
One of the best speakers of the night was the representative from World Vision. He was trying to get people to sponsor a child, but what he said was striking. He said that Jesus did a great miracle when he took the bread and wine and transformed the molecules to do something great, and Jesus can take earthly substances and do the impossible. I don’t know about you, but that sounds awfully Catholic to me and dangerously close to transubstantiation. I remember turning my friend and saying, “he is half way Catholic.” Now imagine if I had been able to engage him further or engage my protestant brothers and sisters further, what would happen? Maybe they’d come to see the sacramental outlook isn’t crazy at all, but that it is God choosing to do impossible things with  earthly elements.
4. Humor makes the message easier to swallow.
Once again the World vision minister stole the show and his message is still very much in my head. Why? Because he was funny and when you are funny, you are engaging. He made jokes about eating at McDonalds or taking bibles from Hotel rooms, or only wearing a light jacket because he is from Minnesota and should be able to handle a little 60 degree weather. Yet when it came time to be serious, he was serious, and I was moved because I was engaged. When is the last time you heard your Catholic priest crack a joke on Sunday during his homily? I’m not saying that I want my priest to be stand up comedian, but somehow we gotten so lost in the amount of honor and respect due that we forget that we can have joy. 
5. Protestants are desperate to hear about the real presence; they just don’t know it. 
When listening to the worship songs, one central theme that stood out to me is wanting to be in God’s presence. I recognized it in the song, Show me your Glory by Jesus Culture. The lyrics state, “I long to look on the face of the One that I love. Long to stay in Your presence, it’s where I belong.” Note the longing mentioned in the song. I remember thinking how sad is it that they have lost the doctrine of the Real Presence, and how lucky I am as a Catholic that I have a 24 hour adoration chapel, where I can be in the real presence of Jesus when ever I want. I can look upon his body made manifest in bread and at Mass I can touch the body with my hands. I don’t need to imagine some incomprehensible spiritual reality, but instead God loves me so much that he comes down to meet me by the power of the Holy Spirit and when I consume him, he and I become one.
6. Commercialize Christianity is alive and thriving and it sickens me.
Come on people, wake up! The whole concert was a walking advertisement for Christianity and we ate it up. I know that hosting concerts is not a cheap affair, and for that reason I will gladly pay a ticket price. However, what sickens me is that they then try to sell t-shirts, hats, books, and whatever merchandise. I would like to know where the money and the merchandise goes. Does any of the money go to charitable organizations or does it go to pay the so called Christian entertainers? If they really wanted to preach the gospel, why not play for free and take a love offering. Invite the homeless and give them the left over hoodies and jackets. This leads me to my next point.
7. Hillsong senior pastor, Brian Houston, has become arrogant. 
While I hate to talk bad about someone I don’t know, I know that first impressions mean a lot. So right off the bat, I walk into the place and they are passing out free books, written by Brian  Houston. Secondly, the first 5 minutes of Hillsong’s introduction is spent talking about their movie set to come out this year (oh goodie). Finally after playing merely two songs, Brian comes out to preach. He decides to do a word study sermon, focusing on the word, “unusual” as it appears in the bible. He first focuses on unusual miracles as found in some translations of Acts 19:11. This would be alright, except for the fact that he spent the first 5 minutes talking about how his church is an unusual miracle. He brags about how his church was not afraid to pursue contemporary music instead of hymns and how they were the only church to have a movie made about them. He even bragged that they reinvented the podium to make room for the worship band. The next 10 minutes were a little better. He talked about Hebrews 11:23, which in some translations, describes Moses as an unusual child. He then brags about how his niece is an unusual child and proves it by showing her dancing (while this is cute and funny, I’m not sure how it is relevant other than giving him another opportunity to brag). Lastly, he talks about how unusual children should be fostered, because God has place a calling on them to do great things and God needs more people to paint outside of the lines. I must admit that this was my favorite part of his whole sermon. He offers to pray for those that feel unusual so that they may discover their God given calling (this spoke to me specifically).
Next came the altar call and this is where I really began questioning Brian Houston’s motives. I generally hate altar calls, and no it isn’t just because I’m Catholic. I see that if they are not done correctly, they can make grace and salvation cheap. An altar call is where one pledges their life to Jesus. By committing their life to Jesus, one is told that they are now saved, their sins are forgiven and they are now a new creation. When done correctly, it can be a powerful experience. Everyone needs to have that conversion experience, where they come to know the Lord personally. The Catholic church recognizes this especially in programs like discovering Christ. The major and important difference is that the Catholic church rightly recognizes that this is not the end; that the journey is not over and one conversion experience is not enough to save you or to keep you from sin.
Anyway back to Brian, so he goes through the standard altar call procedure. He asks those, who haven’t made a personal commitment to Jesus, to raise their hand. Now normally, the people, who raised the hand, would be either be invited down to the front or to a booth, where there are people waiting to mentor them; to help them in their walk and usually give them a free bible. None of that happened. Instead, Brian tells the people that they should: 1.tell someone about their commitment so that they can be held accountable, 2. get a bible, and 3. become a member of the local church. So you mean to tell me that one of the largest and richest churches in the world cannot even be bothered to have a booth with a prayer team, or give out free bibles, or connect people to local churches? Instead the money was spent passing out free copies of his book, Live, Love, Lead. Why? Does Brian Houston really think that his book will have a greater impact than the bible? I hope not, but that my friends is the impression that I’m left with.
I don’t mean to end on a negative note. I also believe a lot more could be said especially about the false dichotomies between body movement and the class room of silence as well as between welcoming the sinner and holiness. However, I did learn the in order to have true ecumenism, we Catholics must put aside our legalism and worship wars and recognized that ultimately what is important  is encountering Christ, whether that be in the extraordinary form Mass, nous ordo Mass, gregorian chant, organ, piano, guitar, drums, violins, Choir, or praise singers. We can learn from our protestant brothers and sisters and they can learn from us. In the end, we all give praise and honor to Jesus, who is king.