Music ministry in the Church has been shaping me and my faith since I was a little girl. By the time I was eleven years old, I was cantoring at my home parish—getting involved in anything music-related in the Church that I possibly could.
There was a lot of joy that came from using my gifts for the Church, and I suppose that’s what led me to pursue music ministry in my life to this day.
One Bread, One Body … and Coombaya
However, there has also been plenty of frustration that has accompanied my passion for music in Catholic parishes.
As much as I have enjoyed using my gifts to serve the Church, one thing that I can never quite seem to stray from is my annoyance with the quality of the music at Mass. This might sound petty, I know, but I remember being a little girl singing “One Bread, One Body” for the one-hundredth time and going to Mass with my family at different parishes while traveling thinking, “Church music has got to be better than this. We might as well sing coombaya.”
Music Makes the Mass
Yeah, right. Let’s be honest, the Mass itself is the most beautiful form of worship in the world. Jesus himself becomes present on the altar of every Catholic Church at the words of Christ spoken through the priest. What an absolute gift. Where would we be without this supreme blessing? Everything in the Church points to and stems from the Eucharist at Mass … including music.
While I do believe the music at Mass should be beautiful, I definitely don’t believe the Mass should be superseded by lights, drums, projection screens, and what amounts to entertainment. That is never the purpose of gathering for worship on Sunday. However, I do believe that when music at Mass is properly ordered to “lifting up of the mind and heart to God” and endowed to encourage “full, conscious and active participation”, something truly beautiful happens to our worship at Mass: we become more open and more disposed to worship Christ the way we were created to.
This might sound a little puffed up. How can music have such a big impact on the human person and worship? Well, let me tell you a personal story of how I know this to be true.
Seeking True Worship
After my brother died and my whole family began this journey back to our faith, my parents began, as they call it, “church hunting”. We were looking for a reason to go back to Mass (other than the fact that the Lord of the universe was present body, blood, soul and divinity). My parents shared in similar frustrations as mine, and as so many good people in the Catholic Church: they were looking for a place with good music and great preaching. You can sit there and judge them for being shallow or maybe you can relate, but I think we’ve all experienced this at some point or another. We want to experience “the best” the Mass has to offer … even if that means driving an extra twenty-five minutes to find it!
So we began attending a church thirty minutes from our house for a long time and eventually, after lots of catechesis and true encounters with the person of Jesus at Mass, many times because of the openness we had because of the good music, we returned to our old parish, despite their sub-par music and below-average preaching. We all came to realize that Mass isn’t about the music. It’s not about feeling a certain way. In fact, the Mass isn’t about us at all. It’s about worshiping Christ and receiving him in the sacrament he laid down his life to give to us.
Music is Important
This is not to say that music has no place in the Liturgy. In fact, the Liturgy itself was written with music in it. “The Lord inhabits the praises of his people.” How beautiful! “When you sing you pray twice”? There is so much goodness, truth, and beauty to be found in the music at Mass. Worshipping God through music has the ability to lead us to encounter his true presence-and that is such a gift. But we need to remember, regardless of how off-pitch the singer might be at Mass, whether we’re singing the same song for the hundredth time, the purpose of the Mass is to give praise to God, not create an experience or emotion.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t experience something beautiful at Mass or that the Spirit can’t move you to tears through the music. In fact, that is the hope. God is always moving and working through the sincere worship of his people, and he is seeking us out and finding ways to reach out to us.
That being said, I believe there needs to be a renewal of the worship music at Mass. We are wasting opportunities to engage those who are being pulled away because they can find better music elsewhere. We are missing out on opportunities to praise Our Lord with the best music we have to offer him, music that can change hearts and change lives.
For any of my musician friends reading this who are serving the Church: let’s build a bridge for those who are struggling to worship at Mass. Let’s offer Gregorian Chant, contemporary worship music and the best version of “One Bread, One Body” that we can give! Let’s make the music at Mass beautiful for the sake of Jesus present on the altar. And I encourage all of you, no matter how bad your voice might be, sing out with all your heart. Music at Mass, when ordered to the Eucharist, has so much power. Let’s unleash it!
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Music and Motion in Prayer
Music Ministers Share Their Most Embarrassing Moments
Sing for the Love of God (Insights from St. Augustine)
Music Lifted as Prayer: An Organist Shares His Passion
About Taylor Tripodi
Taylor Tripodi is a twenty-something cradle Catholic from Cleveland, Ohio aspiring for sainthood. She graduated from Franciscan University, majoring in theology and catechetics and is now a full-time musician, traveling all over and spreading God’s unfailing love through word and song. In her spare time she enjoys making scented candles, seeking adventure, and being present to her large, crazy, Italian family. Want to hear her sing? Check out www.taylortripodi.com.
Featured photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash
I would be very, very hesitant to dismiss Fr. John Foley’s “One Bread, One Body” as “Kumbaya” music. You might not care for the folk genre, but the pioneering genius of Foley and the St. Louis Jesuits is that they put the words of Scripture (in English) in our mouths. They used the idiom of the time to do it.
Catholics are always accused of not knowing Scripture by our Protestant sisters and brothers, and it’s a fair criticism. But songs like “One Bread, One Body” absolutely shatter that argument. In its lyrics we sing, almost verbatim, the letters of Paul to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians.
Those words aren’t merely “Kumbaya.” They’re Scripture. And for the first time, we understood and reinforced the words and the theology that had always been a part of us.
The quality of music definitely needs renewal in many places, but it’s not about one style or another; it’s about education and formation for music ministers (and those who direct them). One Bread, One Body is a lovely piece of music that has moved many people and formed their worship in a positive way for generations. We all have pieces and styles that speak more or less authentically to us, but they’re not the same from person to person. The diversity of the Spirit’s inspiration is a beautiful thing that we need to respect and honor. Questions of musical taste are inherently subjective, and too often these days, people try to impose their own preferences as somehow inherently better than those of others. This is not respectful of the Spirit who inSpires across all ages, genres, and styles.