If Only We Could Sing Some New Songs…as long as it’s something we know!
Your liturgy team often hears from parishioners that they wish we’d sing new songs, more contemporary songs. Yet we also hear from parishioners who wish we’d sing more of the good old songs. You probably have noticed that new songs are often featured in our worship aid.
The Gather Comprehensive hymnal in our pews was published in 1994. There have been three subsequent editions of this hymnal which we have chosen not to purchase, even despite the major change in Mass settings in 2010. Instead we’ve chosen to use our seasonal worship aids to introduce new Mass settings and new music.
But what about the traditional songs and the contemporary songs? What do they have in common? That’s what is important. The style is not what is important, but rather the content. You can take the same lyrics and tune and accompany it with an organ, a worship team, or sing it acapella. There are many possible styles for the same piece.
You’re Not Too Cool for Traditional…
Hymns have played a role in worship since the earliest days of the Church. In early times, when people would attend a Mass, the choir and priest would sing—often in Latin. But when hymns were translated into the language of the people and they were encouraged to sing, everything changed.
Hymns are characterized by their simple form, their (general) sing-ability and theological depth. The vast majority of all hymns are “strophic,” meaning every verse has the same melody, which makes them easy to learn and remember. They are usually sing-able by the average person. Certainly some are challenging to sing, but for the most part the rhythm and melody are kept simple. The biggest thing that hymns have is their depth of theological content. Hymns have captured in beautiful and poetic language the truths of Scripture. There’s a reason that so many of them have lasted for hundreds of years: they help us to understand the faith in timeless ways.
Sure there are some hymns that are weak and get replaced by stronger ones. Yes there are some that are better suited to our Catholic position than others. But to simply throw out all hymns is to say that these gifts from those who have gone before us are worthless.
So no, you’re not too cool for traditional. You need the depth of content that hymns bring to your worship experience.
…and You’re Not too Mature for Contemporary
On the other side of the spectrum are modern worship songs. These usually reflect the popular music styles of today in their form and musical style. They are often more complicated in form with some combination of a verse, chorus, and often a bridge. There may be an instrumental break or a solo section. This type of song is structured to create an interesting and more complex piece which is similar to the music most of us hear every day. This practice is nothing new, traditional church music has often been reflective of the popular music of its days. (Many traditional hymn tunes originated as drinking songs in pubs of the local area.)
The thing that modern songs bring is a differently lyrical style. Rather than the intricate prose found in hymns, modern worship songs are typically of a devotional, personal nature. Often a point of contention is that these songs are all fluff, or too ‘me-centered’. But what modern worship songs help us to do is bring the truths of God to a personal level.
If hymns communicate God’s truth, modern worship songs help us apply that truth. They both have a role to play in worship and help us grow as disciples of Jesus. There’s a place for both of them in worship.
If you have questions or comments about music selection at our parish, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director of Music