I go to the Saturday vigil Mass on Saturdays with my Mom, because she is quite frail and needs help just getting to, and into, the church.
The choir is a fairly typical one as choirs go in the contemporary church in America – a guitarist, bassist, a drummer and about six male and female voices. Their music choices are also typical – some Marty Haugen, St Louis Jesuits, maybe a little Gregory Norbet sometimes.
Among the singers is a young woman in her late teens or early twenties, who has a strong voice, but whose singing tends toward a certain kind of R&B styling – one that owes a lot to Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and other contemporary ballad-belters – that I find distracting and even offensive.
Liturgical music is supposed to focus us on the Glory of God, and not on the Mad Skills of the Singer. There is also a sexualized character to contemporary R&B singing – that sort of orgasmic whimper at the beginning of a phrase – that is like fingers on a chalkboard to me in a liturgical setting.
Here’s the thing, though: while I think I’m on solid ground with respect to the suitability of some of this singing, the thing I first need to wrestle with is my own reaction to this music. I have come to recognize that when I react too strongly to this music, it comes too often from a poisonous arrogance and selfishness in myself, and not enough from a place of truly humble concern. I have actually walked out of the Church after communion when I found a singer’s performance becoming unbearable.
I think liturgical music is an important part of worship – “He who sings well prays twice” and all that – but whatever the contemporary problems with it, our discussion of it needs to proceed with a healthy dose of humility and awareness of our own brokenness if we are to be helpful at all.
There is a certain kind of Catholic blog post where the comboxes quickly fill with snotty caricature and uncharity, and are mere excuses to deepen the divisions between us. Let’s try to see the good in one another, and then sit down and reason together.