May 2, 2018
In a recent U.S. Catholic survey, eighty percent of those questioned said that music at Mass was very important to them. However, only thirteen percent were totally satisfied with the music that they have and actually sing. The music at Mass is important, very important! It is not simply a performance by a soloist or choir, a background to accompany our prayer, a means to create a mood, or an incentive to shout and clap our hands. Music is integral to our liturgical worship.
Pope Francis has clearly defined the purpose of music at Mass. He said that it is “first of all a matter of participating intensely in the mystery of God, in the ‘theophany’ that takes place in every Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord makes himself present among his people, who are called truly to participate in the salvation realized by the crucified and risen Christ” (Homily at Santa Marta, December 12, 2013). The Second Vatican Council called for full, active and conscious participation of the laity at Mass. Like the introduction of the vernacular in liturgy, music is meant to foster this participation.
However, Pope Francis has noted that the very “introduction of vernacular languages into the liturgy has raised many issues: of language, form and musical genre. At times, a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of the liturgical celebrations” (Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the International Conference on Sacred Music, March 4, 2017). Good liturgical music should be both aesthetically pleasing and theologically correct. For example, any song that refers to the Eucharist as bread and wine has no place in Catholic worship. The Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus and the songs we sing should express this reality.
Lifting our hearts to God in liturgy always goes beyond the boundaries of human speech. Thus, liturgy, by its very nature, calls upon the help of music and song to praise to God. Music varies from culture to culture. And so do the musical instruments. In liturgy, it is possible to enculturate the many types of songs and instruments in as much as they enhance the celebration and lead us to focus on God.