Music versus music

musicThe Catholic Church inspires some of the world’s most beautiful music.

The Catholic Church inspires some of the world’s most banal music.

Yes, both of these statements are true.  And when I go to an unfamiliar parish, I never know whether I’ll encounter the beautiful or the banal – or a stumbling compromise between the two.

Last Sunday, we heard both extremes within the same Mass.

It wasn’t our parish, but one we attend occasionally when our Sunday schedule gets fractured by family logistical challenges. (Our own parish is a bit of a drive and this one is closer.)

I steeled my nerves after settling into the pew and noticing guitars being shouldered to the right of the altar.  Soon they were strumming away, sounding like a bad marriage between Bob Dylan and a garage band.  They weren’t the worst modern group I’ve heard at a Mass – but they were in the running for the title.

A young priest entered, took his place and started the Mass – singing Gregorian Chant in a perfectly beautiful, masculine voice.  He chanted all the Mass parts, including the Eucharistic Prayer. It was surprising, unexpected and breathtaking

Sadly, the hymns were “performed” by the garage band.  I felt like I was watching a concert with Willy Nelson and Pavarotti alternating songs.  The big difference was the band was performing and the priest was praising, worshipping, glorifying God.  The band was self-absorbed and the priest with other-absorbed.

I love many genres of music.  About the only type of music I can’t stomach is rap, but that is a topic for another time.

When it comes to Church music, I’m more of a traditionalist.  Not only do I find that it fits the occasion better, but poorly played “contemporary” choir music usually sounds worse than poorly played traditional music.  Frankly, most parishes are musically challenged.

I’ve gone full circle on the traditional versus contemporary music debate.  I grew up a Methodist in a large church with absolutely glorious music.  After converting to Catholicism, my first musical experience was in a contemporary choir, from which I’m still in recovery.  Since then, my choral experience has been VERY traditional.

I sought out the chanting priest after Mass and thanked him for the beauty of his celebration.  He smiled and replied, humbly, “Thanks be to God.”


About Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a writer and consultant. He lives in the Chicago area and has a wonderful wife, son and daughter. He enjoys fishing and occasionally catches something. He tries to play the piano and sings a little. In addition to writing for Regnum Christi Live, he blogs at Laughing Catholic. And you can follow him on Twitter: Jim Fair (@fishfair).
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