Contemporary Catholic liturgical music

Last updated

Contemporary Catholic liturgical music encompasses a comprehensive variety of styles of music for Catholic liturgy that grew both before and after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). The dominant style in English-speaking Canada and the United States began as Gregorian chant and folk hymns, superseded after the 1970s by a folk-based musical genre, generally acoustic and often slow in tempo [1] , but that has evolved into a broad contemporary range of styles reflective of certain aspects of age, culture, and language. There is a marked difference between this style and those that were both common and valued in Catholic churches before Vatican II.

In the Catholic Church, liturgy is divine worship, the proclamation of the Gospel, and active charity.

Second Vatican Council Roman Catholic ecumenical council held in Vatican City from 1962 to 1965

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. The council, through the Holy See, was formally opened under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and was closed under Pope Paul VI on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1965.

Gregorian chant Form of song

Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song in Latin of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregorian chant developed mainly in western and central Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries, with later additions and redactions. Although popular legend credits Pope Gregory I with inventing Gregorian chant, scholars believe that it arose from a later Carolingian synthesis of Roman chant and Gallican chant.



In the early 1950s the Jesuit priest Joseph Gelineau was active in liturgical development in several movements leading toward Vatican II. [2] In particular, the new Gelineau psalmody in French (1953) and English (1963) demonstrated the feasibility and welcome use of such vernacular language settings.

Society of Jesus male religious congregation of the Catholic Church

The Society of Jesus is a religious order of the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome. It was founded by Ignatius of Loyola with the approval of Pope Paul III in 1540. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.

Joseph Gelineau was a French Catholic Jesuit priest and composer, mainly of modern Christian liturgical music. He was a member of the translation committee for La Bible de Jérusalem (1959).

Gelineau psalmody is a method of singing the Psalms that was developed in France by Catholic Jesuit priest Joseph Gelineau around 1953, with English translations appearing some ten years later. Its chief distinctives are:

Contemporary Catholic liturgical music grew after the reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council, which called for wider use of the vernacular language in the Roman Catholic Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:

Vernacular common speech variety of a specific population

A vernacular, or vernacular language, is the speech variety used in everyday life by the general population in a geographical or social territory. The vernacular is contrasted with higher-prestige forms of language, such as national, literary, liturgical or scientific idiom, or a lingua franca, used to facilitate communication across a large area. The vernacular is usually native, normally spoken informally rather than written, and seen as of lower status than more codified forms. It may vary from more prestigious speech varieties in different ways, in that the vernacular can be a distinct stylistic register, a regional dialect, a sociolect, or an independent language.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM)—in the Latin original, Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (IGMR)—is the detailed document governing the celebration of Mass of the Roman Rite in what since 1969 is its normal form. Originally published in 1969 as a separate document, it is printed at the start of editions of the Roman Missal since 1970.

Great importance should ... be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly.
Although it is not always necessary (e.g. in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. [3]

It adds:

All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.
Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, set to the simpler melodies. [4]

The first English language Mass was of Gregorian chant style. It was created by De Paul University graduate Dennis Fitzpatrick and entitled simply "Demonstration English Mass". Fitzpatrick composed and recorded this mass on vinyl in mid-1963. He distributed it to many of the US bishops who were returning from a break in the Second Vatican Council. The Mass was well received by many US Catholic cleric and is said to have furthered their acceptance of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC). [5] This Vatican document on the sacred liturgy restructured the Mass and permitted the use of vernacular. Fitzpatrick's Mass had allowed the bishops to imagine what an English Catholic liturgy might sound like.

<i>Sacrosanctum Concilium</i> Catholic Constitution on the Liturgy

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, is one of the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. It was approved by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,147 to 4 and promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 4 December 1963. The main aim was to achieve greater lay participation in the Catholic Church's liturgy. The title is taken from the opening lines of the document and means "this Sacred Council".

The revision of music in the liturgy took place in March 1967, with the passage of Musicam Sacram ("Instruction on music in the liturgy"). In paragraph 46 of this document, it states that music could be played during the sacred liturgy on "instruments characteristic of a particular people." Previously the pipe organ was used for accompaniment. The use of instruments native to the culture was an important step in the multiplication of songs written to accompany the Catholic liturgy. [6]

In addition to his role in creating this first English language Mass, Dennis had a large stake in F.E.L. (Friends of the English Liturgy). [7] Many of the contemporary artists who authored the folk music that was used in American Catholic Liturgy choose F.E.L. to be their publisher, as did Ray Repp, who pioneered contemporary Catholic liturgical music and authored the "First Mass for Young Americans," a suite of folk-style musical pieces designed for the Catholic liturgy. Repp gave an impetus to the development of "guitar masses." [8] [9]

The reforms sparked a wide movement in the English-speaking Roman Catholic church where an entire body of older Protestant hymnody and newly composed contemporary Catholic liturgical music was introduced through new hymnals such as World Library Publication's People's Mass Book, the Living Parish, We Celebrate, NALR's three volumes of Glory and Praise, and Mayhew-McCrimmon's 20th Century Folk Hymnal volumes.

A great deal of the early composed Contemporary Catholic Liturgical Music of the 70s was inspired by popular music of the day, which used guitars and other instruments commonly associated with "folk" music, and included songwriters such as Ray Repp, Joe Wise, and later members of American groups such as the St. Louis Jesuits and the Dameans. Of this group, the St. Louis Jesuits music spread widely and many of their compositions continue to be popular today.

In the United Kingdom, the Catholic Charismatic Movement also contributed to these changes, introducing the "praise and worship" approach to liturgical music which was incorporated into publications by Mayhew-McCrimmond.

By the 1990s and into the early 21st century, this style of music drew less on its folk roots than on a number of different styles and influences from contemporary society. In many areas of the United States and in regions throughout the English-speaking world, most or all of the music played during Sunday Mass was taken from this late-20th-century body of work. As a result, traditional forms of Catholic music (such as Gregorian chant) had become rare in many churches, and unknown in some. By the year 2000 most Catholic songbooks preferred contemporary Catholic liturgical music, some hymnody, and a very small collection of chant (which had once been the sine qua non of Catholic Church Music).

Besides its spread within the Catholic community, a number of pieces from the late 20th century Catholic corpus became commonplace among American mainline Protestants. This is true of Lutherans  – particularly the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  – where both the more hymn-like assembly songs, as well as portions of Mass and psalm settings, can be found among recent hymnals such as Evangelical Lutheran Worship and With One Voice. Marty Haugen, a Lutheran and one of the commonly known composers, creates both Roman Catholic and Lutheran versions of his Mass settings, as well as writing pieces for specifically Lutheran rites.

Although musical Mass settings are not as widely used in most mainline Protestant denominations, a number of the more well-known songs have been added to the traditional hymn repertoire of these churches, and appear in many late-20th-century denominational hymnals. These include compositions such as Bernadette Farrell's "Christ be our Light", Dan Schutte's "Here I Am, Lord", John Foley's "One Bread, One Body", David Haas's "Blest Are They", and several of Haugen's pieces including "All Are Welcome", "Gather Us In", "Awake, Awake, and Greet the New Morn", and "Healer of Our Every Ill".

Musical style

The musical style of 21st-century Catholic music varies greatly. Much of it is composed so that choir and assembly can be accompanied by organ, piano, or guitar. More recently, due to style preferences and cost, trends show fewer and fewer parishes use the traditional pipe organ, therefore this music has generally been written for chorus with piano, guitar, and/or percussion accompaniment. [10] Some songs including "One Bread, One Body" (Foley) were arranged, often by others than the composers, for pipe organ. Although initially, the late 20th-century genre was "folk-sounding", it has matured over the last 30 years to a much more eclectic sound of its own.

Contemporary Catholic liturgical music makes heavy use of "responsorial" settings in which the congregation sings only a short refrain (like "Glory to God in the highest") between verses entrusted to the cantor or choir. This differs from the "responsive" antiphony of Gregorian chant, in which alternate verses are divided between two bodies. The responsorial form is eminently practical in performing the psalmody of the Easter Vigil which occurs in darkness, as well as in the absence of pew hymnals or video projectors. It has the disadvantage of excluding the congregation from full participation, and some contemporary composers have preferred to through-compose their Mass settings: A much-anthologized "Gloria" is that from Carroll T. Andrews' A New Mass for Congregations.

The vernacular Mass texts have also drawn composers who stand outside the dominant folk–popular music tradition, such as Giancarlo Menotti and Richard Proulx.

American composers of this music, with some of their most well known compositions, include: [11]

Notable composers of contemporary Catholic liturgical music from outside the US include:

Publishers of this music

A significant percentage of American contemporary liturgical music has been published under the names of three publishers: Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), Gregorian Institute of America (GIA), and World Library Publications (WLP, the music and liturgy division of the J.S. Paluch company).

Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) is a not-for-profit affiliation of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland is de facto head of OCP. [16] Archbishop Sample is the eleventh bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland and was installed on April 2, 2013. Cardinal William Levada who became Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Roman Curia was a former member of the Board of Directors. [16] Levada as Archbishop of Portland (1986–1995) led OCP during its expansive growth, and this style of music became the principal style among many English-speaking communities. Francis George, prior to becoming Archbishop of Chicago and cardinal, was also Archbishop of Portland and de facto head of OCP. OCP grew to represent approximately two-thirds of Catholic liturgical music market sales. [17]

Differing views surrounding this music

Contemporary music aims to enable the entire congregation to take part in the song, in accord with the call in Sacrosanctum Concilium for full, conscious, active participation of the congregation during the Eucharistic celebration. What its advocates call a direct and accessible style of music gives participation of the gathered community higher priority than the beauty added to the liturgy by a choir skilled in polyphony. [18]

Music for worship, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is to be judged by three sets of criteria – pastoral, liturgical, and musical, with the place of honor accorded to Gregorian chant and the organ. On this basis it has been argued that the adoption of the more popular musical styles is alien to the Roman Rite, and weakens the distinctiveness of Catholic worship. [18] [19] [20] . Others complain that certain songs in this genre put the singer in the position of God, singing His part in the first person. Suzanne Toolan's "I Am the Bread of Life", was composed in this manner. However there many examples of this first-person usage in the chants used at Latin Mass, as found in the Roman Gradual. And due to "inclusive language" becoming an issue by the 1980s, this was one of many songs that were edited in newer hymnals. Dan Schutte's "Here I Am, Lord" (based on a Scripture text) was composed with the intent that the cantor would sing God's part, but over time people in the pews began to sing both parts. [21] [ failed verification ] This style contrasts with the traditional form where the congregation sings to God. [22]

In 1990, Thomas Day wrote Why Catholics Can't Sing—The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste, assailing the then-current style of music in the American Church, but today its use has become lingua franca as multicultural and new youth styles of worship have emerged. [23]

Pundit George Weigel said that "[a]n extraordinary number of trashy liturgical hymns have been written in the years since the Second Vatican Council." Weigel called "Ashes" a "prime example" of "[h]ymns that teach heresy", criticizing the lyric "We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew" as "Pelagian drivel". [24]

See also


Hymnals and song collections

Opinion pieces


^ Available on a blog by the author

Related Research Articles

Plainsong is a body of chants used in the liturgies of the Western Church. Though the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches did not split until long after the origin of plainsong, Byzantine chants are generally not classified as plainsong.

Antiphon short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle; call and response, especially in Christian music and ritual

An antiphon is a short chant in Christian ritual, sung as a refrain. The texts of antiphons are the Psalms. Their form was favored by St Ambrose and they feature prominently in Ambrosian chant, but they are used widely in Gregorian chant as well. They may be used during Mass, for the Introit, the Offertory or the Communion. They may also be used in the Liturgy of the Hours, typically for Lauds or Vespers.

Dan Schutte American musician

Daniel Laurent Schutte is an American composer of Catholic liturgical music and a contemporary Christian songwriter best known for composing the hymn "Here I Am, Lord" and over 150 popular hymns and Mass settings.

Anglican church music

Anglican church music is music that is written for Christian worship in Anglican religious services, forming part of the liturgy. It mostly consists of pieces written to be sung by a church choir, which may sing a cappella or accompanied by an organ.

OCP is a major publisher of Catholic liturgical music based in Portland, Oregon. The not-for-profit company publishes liturgical music, books, choral collections, hymnals, missals, and support materials serving the universal and multicultural church in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese.

Liturgical music music genre

Liturgical music originated as a part of religious ceremony, and includes a number of traditions, both ancient and modern. Liturgical music is well known as a part of Catholic Mass, the Anglican Holy Communion service and Evensong, the Lutheran Divine Service, the Orthodox liturgy and other Christian services including the Divine Office. Such ceremonial music in the Judeo-Christian tradition can be traced back to both the Temple in Jerusalem and synagogue worship of the Hebrews.

Jan Michael Joncas is a priest, liturgical theologian, and composer of contemporary Catholic music, best known for his hymn, "On Eagle's Wings". He received a Master of Arts degree in liturgy from the University of Notre Dame in 1978 and went on to study at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1980, and teaches at the University of St. Thomas, at the University of Notre Dame, and summer courses at the Saint John's School of Theology - Seminary.

The St. Louis Jesuits are a group of Catholic composers who composed music for worship most often in a folk music style of church music in their compositions and recordings, mainly from their heyday in the 1970s through the mid-1980s. Made up of Jesuit scholastics at St. Louis University, the group originally used acoustic guitars and contemporary-style melodies and rhythms to set biblical and other religious texts to music sung in English in response to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

John Foley, S.J., is an American Jesuit priest who is a composer of Catholic liturgical music and a professor of liturgy. Among his compositions are One Bread, One Body (1978), Earthen Vessels (1975), Come to the Water (1978), The Cry of the Poor (1978), For You Are My God (1970), and the album As a River of Light (1989).

David Haas American author and composer

David Robert Haas, is an American author and composer of contemporary Catholic liturgical music. His best known songs include "Glory to God”, "Blest Are They", "You Are Mine", "We Are Called", "We Have Been Told", "Now We Remain", "The Name of God" and "Song of the Body of Christ".

Rorate caeli antiphon sung during Christian liturgy

"Rorate caeli", from Isaiah 45:8 in the Vulgate, are the opening words of a text used in Catholic and Protestant liturgy during Advent. It is also known as "The Advent Prose" or by the first words of its English translation, "Drop down ye heavens from above."

The Dameans were a group of Catholic musicians who rose to prominence in the folk music era of the 1970s. They began as seminarians at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana; they formed in 1967.

GIA Publications, Inc. is a major publisher of hymnals, other sacred music, and music education materials. Headquartered first in Pittsburgh and now Chicago, GIA is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. GIA originally stood for Gregorian Institute of America, founded in 1941 by Clifford Bennett with a focus on Gregorian chant. The company has been owned since 1967 by the Harris family, who led GIA to become one of the leading publishers of Contemporary Catholic liturgical music in response to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Đọc kinh is the Vietnamese Catholic term for reciting a prayer or sacred text. In communal worship settings, đọc kinh is characterized by cantillation, or the ritual chanting of prayers and responses. To Westerners, this form of prayer can be mistaken for song.

Aniceto Nazareth

Aniceto Nazareth is a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay, musician, published composer and liturgist.

Hymnody in continental Europe developed from early liturgical music, especially Gregorian chant. Music became more complicated as embellishments and variations were added, along with influences from secular music. Although vernacular leisen and vernacular or mixed-language Carol (music) were sung in the Middle Ages, more vernacular hymnody emerged during the Protestant Reformation, although ecclesiastical Latin continued to be used after the Reformation. Since then, developments have shifted between isorhythmic, homorhythmic, and more rounded musical forms with some lilting. Theological underpinnings influenced the narrative point of view used, with Pietism especially encouraging the use of the first person singular. In the last several centuries, many songs from Evangelicalism have been translated from English into German.


  1. "Here I Am, Lord". Oregon Catholic Press. Retrieved 2018-07-27.
  2. "Joseph Gelineau". GIA music. Retrieved 2009-02-28.
  3. General Instruction of the Roman Missal Archived 2008-12-11 at the Wayback Machine , 40
  4. General Instruction of the Roman Missal Archived 2008-12-11 at the Wayback Machine , 41
  5. Canedo, Ken. Keep the Fire Burning, Pastoral Press, 2009, pp. 27-28
  6. Vatican Council II, Musicum Sacrum (INSTRUCTION ON MUSIC IN THE LITURGY), 1967,par. 46
  7. Canedo, Ken, Keep the Fire Burning,Pastoral Press 2009,p28
  8. Canedo, Ken, Keep the Fire Burning,Pastoral Press 2009,p42
  9. Canedo, Ken, Keep the Fire Burning,Pasteral Press 2009,pp27-28
  10. The American Guild of Organists [ permanent dead link ]
  11. Dates of birth and religious affiliations taken from Gather: Comprehensive, eds. Robert J. Batastini and Michael A. Cymbala (Chicago: GIA Publications, 1994), from the Oregon Catholic Press website, and from the St. Louis Jesuits' news page Archived 2006-10-30 at the Wayback Machine on Dan Schutte's website.
  12. "Ian Callanan Biography". GIA Publications.
  13. "Paul Inwood". OCP.
  14. Hawn, C. Michael. 2013. History of Hymns: Priest bases hymn on call to be ‘fishers of men.’ Carrollton, TX: CircuitWriter Media, LLC Retrieved, July 12, 2013
  15. & . 2002. Cesáreo Gabarain. Grand Rapids, MI: Christians Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College Retrieved, July 12, 2013
  16. 1 2 "Oregon Catholic Press". Archived from the original on 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2008-02-24.
  17. Catholic Book Publishers Association
  18. 1 2 Hovda, Robert W.; Huck, Gabe; Funk, Virgil C.; Joncas, J. Michael; Mitchell, Nathan D.; Savage, James; Foley, John (2003). Toward Ritual Transformation: Remembering Robert W. Hovda. Liturgical Press. ISBN   978-0-8146-6196-3.
  19. Snow Bird Agreement, 1993
  20. USCCB, Sing to the Lord, November 2007
  21. "Dan Schutte".
  22. Day, Thomas (1990). Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste, Crossroad Pub Co. ISBN   978-0-8245-1035-0
  23. Steinfels, Peter (September 29, 1990). "Beliefs". The New York Times.
  24. Weigel, George (2013). Evangelical Catholicism. New York: Basic Books. pp. 164–65. ISBN   978-0-465-02768-2.