Why Catholics don’t sing in church?

It’s hard to believe that it’s a year since Pope John Paul II died. One cracking programme on radio three used the opportunity to look at the state of serious music within the Catholic Church and, amongst some stunning choral music, tries to answer the question of how Vatican II, unintentionally perhaps, pushed many parishes down the ‘folk’ route, and why Catholics don’t like singing in church. The main feature kicks in about half an hour through.

  • Pete Baker

    Hmmm.. different musical genres for different churches, I guess..

    “If the sound’s an issue, we do have earplugs available”

  • Mainly becuase the hymns we are expected to sing along to are crap.

    And the music that’s inspiring to listen to, is sung in a language none of know, Latin.

  • Shuggie McSporran

    “why catholics don’t like singing in church”.

    They don’t like to give away their location.

    I thinks it’s a hangover from the days of the penal laws. There was the risk of protestants overhearing the singing and calling in the militia who would have transported them to the West Indies or Van Dieman’s Land or, worse still, Connaught.

  • missfitz

    Maybe its just in Bangor, where they’re not welcome

  • Mick Fealty

    Auds is onto the thesis of the programme.

    Also every time a new priest comes in they have a terrible habit of changing everything to their own preferred repertoire – which means there is no established cannon. There is little chance of at least getting one ‘old favourite’ that everyone can belt out in every Mass.

    It strikes me that this is not generally the case in Protestant churches, which are either very traditional or make supreme efforts to make the music fairly simple, and accessible even for new ‘entrants’.

  • Katinka

    The great musical glory of the Church of Ireland is choral evensong. However, much of the rest of their singing (by the congregation without a choir)is also pretty poor. The Presbyterians sing psalms, the tunes of which are pretty dreadful in my opinion. Only the Methodists, the Evangelicals and the Welsh let it rip! The former have a great advantage in having had the great hymn writer Charles Wesley, and some wonderful hymn tunes. I have always been disappointed at the singing any time I have been to mass because the Irish are good singers generally, and very musical. In fact I think the Irish are the most musical of the peoples in the UK and Ireland.

  • circles

    They always sing at christmas time. Never knew that that wasn’t standard practice.
    But do most catholic churches not have choirs? Whats the use in that then?

  • Mick Fealty

    Have a listen circles – if you can find the time.

    Re Christmas. I would note two things: it’s mostly carols, which are traditional; and at midnight Mass, I’ll bet not all the congregation are entirely sober.

    The programme discusses the decline of traditional choirs.

  • Yokel

    Cos they are telling jokes…..

  • missfitz

    I have actually noted a great decline in church music over the years. When I first moved to Rostrevor, there was music at all the masses except the 8am job. There was a folk group at 9, childrens choir (cor na nOg) at 10.30 and then the Choir proper at 12. I think they just have the kiddies choir now.

    Dont know what has happened, perhaps a reflection of general declination in attendance?

  • heck

    I have been to a black protestant church in the US. They had the best church music I have ever heard. It is better that any from either NI fenians or NI prods.

  • Yokel

    Katinka, as sweet as the whole ‘most musical people’ line is its just another myth.

  • páid

    “why catholics don’t like singing in church”

    Ye Gods! And I can remember 100 hu…erm rangers fans taunting 3 rather quiet celtic fans, one of whom was my good self, in a railway station with…

    “You only sing in the chapel” 🙂

  • kensei

    Perhaps because we wish the priest would hurry the hell up so we can get home to dinner :P?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Maybe the Catholic Church should invite U2 to lead worship?

    The Irish rock band’s songs and lyrics are being used by the Episcopal Church in so-called “U2 Eucharists” as a means of attracting young people who relate to the group’s social activism.

    More here.

  • RE U2 – last week at Mass, it being Lent I suppose, the choir sung “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as the psalm.
    Which is interesting choice, given that I would hope the priest, who sang along rather heartily, has found what he was looking for in the church.

  • In my parents’ house there’s a book with the title, “Why Catholics Don’t Sing”. Now I half wish I’d read it. However, from my own experience in New York, this is only an Irish Catholic phenomenon.

  • Jo

    Isn’t it a cultural thing with Catholic men, that singing is more a female thing? Men sing only at footie matches when they can get lost in the crowd and are half cut as well. Sundays, the hangover predominates.

  • RmcC

    My wife hauled me kicking and screaming to an RC midnight mass last year. For the “true spirit of Xmas” don’t you know.

    The choir was wonderful. But the previous year we’d taken in an Anglican Xmas service, where both choir and congregation gave of their best.

    As did I, a blown-in-the-bottle atheist. Much better. I even felt drawn to da Lawd for a nanosecond or two.

    Catholics are missing out on so much.

  • TL

    Half the time I don’t know what the words are(yeah, yeah I could look it up in the book but the song’d be half over by then)…we have a “music director” that is always changing the songs. When he does return to something from the past that we all know most people sing…poorly.

  • Snuff Box

    I’m against singing at mass. For the simple reason that it can only distract people’s attention from what the priest is actually saying. You spend a lot more time listening to see if the organist hits all the right notes than actually taking in what is going on up front.

  • TL

    In extreme cases I’ve been known to send a text message or two during mass…the singing is the least of my distractions.

  • GrassyNoel

    Jaysus, you’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel with a thread like this one…is this some kind of sad attempt to underline “fundamental cultural differences” or “celebrate the enthralling diversity” between protestant/catholic/unionist/nationalist/republican/loyalist?

    Hmmm…singing in church. Fascinating indeed.

  • This is one thing that has really irked me about attending mass in England, they all seem to sing Psalms!!

    The first Sunday I went in I thought I was in a COE church but it seems to be common practise in England.

    No need for that oul musical nonsense! If I want to hear folk music I will attend a folk night.

  • Methodists have the best tunes, no contest.
    I visited an Anglican church in Belfast where there was a projector screening all the words at the front of the church and some young fella on a drum kit – was interesting but I don’t think the older ladies approved!
    I think there is a ‘Happy Clappy’ choir at one of the Presbyterian churches in Ballymena, which is very popular with the weans apparently.

  • eranu

    snuff box, singing in church is intended as worship to God. thats what your supposed to do. if there was no singing then another act of worship would have to be found. not sure what it would be though..

    i thought that methodist charles wesley hymns were mostly pretty boring. i dread to think what sort of boring droning noise that singing psalms must be like.. argh!! its seems that the songs and music in churches have been frozen for the last 100-200 years. it seems very strange. i wonder when singing changed from what was currently popular each year, to something ancient.
    ive attended a non denominational evangelical church quite a few times and they have a band with guitars, drums, bongos and the like. the songs are all modern and very uplifting. after a few songs people are raising the roof and all smiles. its great. thats what worship is supposed to be about. how the main churches decided to stick with the most boring stuff from 100s of years ago i’ll never understand.

  • Aislingeach

    Having looked at it from both sides…to get good choirs and good congregation participation you have to have a culture of singing. I know in the US Methodists were encouraged to sing; other groups weren’t always(at least, not consistantly). In Catholic churches, it depends more on whoever is in charge of the music. If you have a priest/lay minister who takes the time to build up the music, it happens. Otherwise…

    And sometimes, it takes little tricks. If you want more congregational participation, you scatter singers throughout the church and lean heavily to music the people know and will sing out.

  • Marie Antoinette

    Music was good in Catholic churches before the savagery of “The Enlightenment”. Then, only nobles went to Church and Mozart and composers of his calibre wrote Masses for us. Things were so much better then.
    Now Micky Mud and Paddy Stink think they belong. And so do their grandparents. They take over the choir and kill any concept of music. This is not a local problem as the Christian Brothers’ brats would not know the difference between a musical note and a bull’s fart. However, when real people are forced to consort with rabble and listen to their bleatings in Church, it is not nice.

    Germany is so much better. Cathedrals are subsidised to hire proper orchestras and singers and the rabble are told, in no uncertain terms, to STFU.

  • slug

    “The Presbyterians sing psalms, the tunes of which are pretty dreadful in my opinion”

    In my presbyterian Church in Ballymena we haven’t sung psalms for many years. In the old days we used to sing one plalm then 3 hymns now its all hymns and the music is often accompanied by flute piano and saxophone. Not sure I would say happy clappy though the choir seems to be getting bigger all the time.

    I do like the music and the traditional hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision” and so on.

  • slug

    “Germany is so much better. Cathedrals are subsidised to hire proper orchestras and singers and the rabble are told, in no uncertain terms, to STFU.”

    Really that whole sentiment is contrary to presbyterianism, which is very congregationalist and likes things done from bottom upwards.

    And I must say that singing a traditional hymn with gusto is one of the best pleasures in life 🙂

  • merrie

    When I was at school we used to sing at some masses in Latin. We learned the hymns at school, had no idea what the words were (we were not taught Latin the language) but we could sing them. Adeste fideles etc.

    I remember reading the translations of some of the hymns and one line translated as: “Intestine wars invade my breast”. Maybe it was a good idea to sing these hymns in Latin rather than English.

    I read that Pope Benedict is hoping to get folksy style music out of the churches and return to Gregorian plain chant and have choirs etc. I rather like that idea, especially if there are properly trained orchestras and ensembles as well (but not for the plain chant).

    In the City of London there is only one Catholic church, the rest are Anglican – 55 of them in the square mile. Nowadays most are used rarely for services, more for lunchtime classical concerts a couple of days a week. A few, such as St-Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, are “quiet places” for dropping in for a quick meditation. The lunchtime concerts are a very pleasant interlude if you are working in the City.

    Even more off-topic, here are some of the names of the 55 Anglican churches in the City of London:

    St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe
    St Andrew Undershaft
    St Vedast alias Foster
    St James, Garlickhythe
    St Bride’s, Fleet Street

    St Bride’s spire is the model for all those wedding cakes. It survived WW2 bombing though part of the church was destroyed.

  • Marie Antoinette

    Merrie, How come they use that spire in cakes? Do the peasants not integrate other designs into their primitivisms as well?

    Slug “flute piano and saxophone” The Presbyterians of Ballymena must be a hardy lot. Tone deaf but hady. I do remember the U2 upstarts on their Rattle and Hum tour where the Harlem singers were infinitely better than them. Balymean Prsbyterians, like most Catholic churches give too much leeway to the tone deaf.

  • merrie

    Marie Antoinette

    Wedding cakes (or this style of wedding cake) apparently were invented by a baker around Fleet Street in the Victorian era (or just before). It isn’t a peasant/primitive tradition.

    If you check out a picture of St Bride’s spire you will see what I mean – exactly.

    This thread is really old, activated by spammers I think, but still interesting. Must check the date of threads before commenting!!

    Mick: can you get the spam block thing back up again???