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‘All are Welcome’ not a welcome hymn at Mass, USCCB committee says

“Christian tradition, both Eastern and Western, has from antiquity been acutely aware that hymns and other songs are among the most significant forces in shaping – or misshaping – the religious and theological sensibility of the faithful,” the committee wrote in “Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church.

Credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

CNA Staff, Dec 10, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The doctrine committee of the US bishops’ conference (USCCB) earlier this year produced a guide to evaluating the lyrics of hymns on the basis of their doctrinal content, noting that Vatican II declared sacred music’s purpose to be “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.”

“Christian tradition, both Eastern and Western, has from antiquity been acutely aware that hymns and other songs are among the most significant forces in shaping – or misshaping – the religious and theological sensibility of the faithful,” the committee wrote in “Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church,” which bears the date September 2020.

“It is all the more important, then, that hymnody selected for the liturgical life of the Church successfully draw out the beauty of the Christian mysteries themselves. This cannot be done if language is used that is out of keeping with the sensibility created by scriptural texts and universal liturgical usage.”

The document has been distributed to bishops, who were encouraged by the USCCB to share it with diocesan worship offices, pastors, and parish musicians.

The U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee provided two general guidelines for determining whether a hymn is doctrinally suitable for liturgical use: whether it conforms to Catholic doctrine, and whether its images and vocabulary appropriately reflect the usage of Scripture and the liturgical prayer of the Church.

While hymns needn’t “be composed of doctrinal formulae … It is important to avoid language that could be easily misconstrued in a way that is contrary to Catholic doctrine,” they explained.

Hymnodys’ beauty “is constitutively related to the truth of the mystery of faith it proposes for our wonder and praise,” the document’s preface notes.

It adds that since beauty and truth are convertible, “there can be no competition, much less contradiction, between the two. The truth of the faith need not be — and indeed must not be– compromised or subordinated to the canons of compositional style or the needs of musical or poetic form. At the same time, the beauty of the faith cannot be neglected — indeed it must be reverenced and highlighted — in the desire to communicate effectively the truth of what has been revealed.”

Hymn-writers are bound to honor and communicate “the mystery of faith in word and music, and this requires genuine artistry, industry, and fidelity,” the bishops wrote. They added that “while there are a number of factors that affect the suitability of hymns for use in Catholic liturgy, such as singability, beauty of language, poetry, etc., in this resource we are concerned with their doctrinal content.”

Scripture provides “the normative idiom for the expression of the mystery,” the bishops said. “The sacred texts, and the liturgical sources which draw on the living Word, provide something of a ‘norm’ for expression when communicating the mystery of faith in liturgical poetics, or hymnody.”

The bishops emphasized both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Vatican II in their own writing.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s 1963 constitution on the sacred liturgy, itself noted that “The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources.”

The bishops’ document refers to, and includes as an appendix, the 1997 report of then-Archbishop of Indianapolis Daniel Buechlein on 10 common deficiencies in catechetical materials.

“Since contemporary hymnody and contemporary catechetical texts evolved, to some extent, together, it can be useful to use this list of ten imprecisions to alert a bishop, pastor, or liturgical music minister to deficiencies they may find in hymns, or in a collection of hymns as a whole,” the doctrine committee advised.

They urged that those involved in hymnody “be especially attentive” to six categories of potential deficiencies: in the presentation of Eucharistic doctrine; of Trinitarian doctrine; in the doctrine of God and his relation to humans; a view of the Church that sees her as essentially a human construction; doctrinally incorrect views of the Jewish people; and incorrect Christian anthropology.

Regarding Eucharistic doctrine, the bishops warned that “Catholics nurtured on a steady diet of certain hymns will learn from them that at Mass we come together to share bread and wine, which remain bread and wine, a common meal, even if under special circumstances … A steady diet of these hymns would erode Catholic sensibility regarding the fullness of Eucharistic teaching, on the Mass as sacrifice, and eventually on the Church, as formed by that sacrifice.”

They advised that language implying “that the elements are still bread and wine after consecration should be avoided,” and that “poetic license should conform to customary usage of Scripture and liturgical Tradition.”

Examples of hymns that offend the presentation of Eucharistic doctrine, they said, include God is Here! As We His People; Now in This Banquet; Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees; and All Are Welcome.

As alternatives, they offered Ave Verum Corpus, Taste and See, You Satisfy the Hungry Heart, Seed Scattered and Sown, I am the Bread of Life, One Bread One Body, Eat This Bread, Look Beyond, At That First Eucharist, O Sacrament Most Holy, O Salutaris Hostia, Adoro Te Devote, and At the Lamb’s High Feast.

Hymns with poor presentation of Trinitarian doctrine include The Play of the Godhead and Led by the Spirit, while the bishops said that God Beyond All Names “fails to respect God’s transcendence.”

Those that erroneously see the Church as a human construct include Sing a New Church and As a Fire is Meant for Burning.

The bishops wrote that hymns “that imply that the Jews as a people are collectively responsible for the death of Christ” would be ruled out, naming in particular The Lord of the Dance and O Crucified Messiah.

The document on hymns said that Canticle of the Sun “teaches that death is natural and necessary for our life to have something at stake and thus be ‘real.’ In fact, it is the Resurrection of Christ that makes our life ‘real,’ restoring what we had lost in Adam, and it is the Passion of Christ, not death per se, that ‘helps us to feel.’ Death is not a necessary part of human nature.”

“Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church” concluded by reflecting on Vatican II’s emphasis on “the importance of sacred music in the Church’s liturgical worship.”

“In this document we have endeavored to identify and to reflect on the role that these words–the lyrics—have in music intended for use in the liturgy. It is our hope that this guidance will help insure that all the sacred music employed in liturgical celebrations will achieve its purpose, ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’.”

The advisory on the use of hymns comes as the USCCB has been approving new translations of components of the Liturgy of the Hours.

At its 2019 fall general assembly, the conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the ICEL grey book translation of the hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours. That translation was in turn confirmed by the Congregation for Divine Worship in May.

The new edition of the hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours is the first time that English translations of the hymns found in the typical edition, in Latin, will be prescribed. The edition of the Liturgy of the Hours heretofore used included its own hymns, very few of which were translations of those in the typical edition.


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79 Comments

    • I agree! Lets ditch the hymns and return to Gregorian Chant and plainsong. That is the truly inspiring music. It should be played before the Mass as people are congregating and then throughout the Mass except for certain times. It truly raises the mind and heart to Christ!

    • I don’t agree. It seems very Pauline and Augustinian and Biblical.
      Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found. Was blind but now I see.

      This sounds amazingly like the message of Catholic Christianity.

      • Not quite, the notion of “wretch” conjures the Lutheran total depravity of human nature following the Fall, compared to the Catholic teaching of only a tendency toward evil: “concupiscence”. Better wording would be “saved a soul like me.”

        • Peter,

          Not trying to ‘conjure’ up any Lutheranism. Not saying human beings are totally depraved. Only that rebellion to God and sin make us wretched, and God forgives and heals us freely. What do we have that is not a gift?

      • Amazing Grace can give the impression that we are automatically saved. To bring the hymn more in line with Catholic doctrine it could read
        Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saveS and setS me free, etc.

        • I don’t think we should play with the lyrics of hymns. We’ve seen too much of that.
          If a particular hymn isn’t deemed appropriate for singing at a Catholic Mass, ok. But let’s not change the words around. It destroys the poetry and is disrespectful to the composer.

    • I think we can’t forget about the whole congregation who range from age 0 to 100 and come from diverse backgrounds. What child will be inspired or participate in Gregorian chant? How many teens will continue to go to church if they are sung at by someone performing Gregorian chant? I teach tweens and teens.. I have learned from them that the music during the mass needs to help them feel invited to sing along. STUFFINESS, arrogance, and being exclusive has no place in the
      People’s celebration of the Eucharist. People in the pews are the church, so their language and culture needs to be incorporated. Yes, Catholic doctrine must be followed. That can be carried out without Latin or chanting. Quite frankly, 99 percent of parishes have awesome volunteers who lead music. They have full-time jobs and families in the real world. They don’t perform. They lead and the congregation joins in. There are songs from every generation, old and new, that can praise God,, weave the message of the gospel, celebrate the Eucharist, and send the congregation forth to live out the gospel. We need to keep adding to our repertoire, not get stuck in a rut.

      • Diane Nagel, Gregorian chant is not “performed” any more or less than songs are. “Song leaders” at a Mass are often a distraction to worship, epecially when they sing poorly.

        Chant can be done in English, not just Latin, with simple congregational refrains similar to the responsorial psalm. A “song leader” can be a “chant leader,” or “cantor.” Their job is not to get everyone to sing, or to cause some emotional reaction, it is to sing the Word of God for all to hear.

        Music at Mass is not an “add-on,” it’s integral to the liturgy. We don’t simply “sing at Mass,” rather we are to sing THE Mass. Teens, or anyone, should not expect to be entertained at Mass, by the music or anything else. It is corporate worship, not personal worship. Active participation in corporate worship is not always vocal nor external, and often simply means listening and absorbing.

        Chant is the musical prayer of the Church. It is truly sacred. It elevates the Word from mere recitation. The Word is primary, and the music is written around it. With hymns and songs, the music is primary and the Word is often altered, paraphrased, or theologically compromised to fit into the melodic and rhythmic structure. Chant is timeless, for all people in all times amd places, not date-stamped. It doesn’t call attention to itself the way songs potentially do.

        Music is not meant to attract people to Mass, to entertain them, nor to keep them coming back. When we cater to different musical tastes within a parish, we take the focus off God and put it on the people present. That’s not worship. It’s musical manipulation, similar to a mega-church.

        Everyone, young and old, present at a Mass has the right to hear the Word of God the way the Church intends, not some lyricist’s or composer’s interpretation. Chant allows for that. Songs potentially deprive one of it. Sacred hymns can be used, but not as a substitute for the prayer of the Church.

        • What a magnificent reply. A pithy, spirited and charitable case for piety, beauty and transcendence in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Thank you so much, Porter Girl

      • How about getting out of the rut of accommodating trash music that rewards spiritual tantrums by the young wanting to deaden their minds of any sense of obligation to the peoples of the past? Maybe they might have a better chance of actually growing up, much like the young who actually come to appreciate the sublime beauty of the Latin you trivialize and disparage.

      • Gregorian chant, or for that matter any sacred music, is not “performed ” . It’s a form of vocal prayer. Even Protestants know that.
        Simple chant is very easy to sing and has been a source of beauty for everyone to hear for hundreds and hundreds of years. That’s including our mostly humble and illiterate ancestors. There’s nothing stuffy or arrogant about the transcendent.

      • Do you mean then, Diane, songs that sound like they were written by John Denver? Since many parishes “change” the music of the Mass to suit the anticipated attendance, there is an entire generation of children who never heard the basis, beautiful hymns that were sung back in the 60s and 70s. This is unfortunate. I attended a Mass in Houston while on a business trip that the accompanying instruments were a piano and drums! Can you imagine drums during a Mass! Needless to say they were not singing traditional Catholic hymns. Every Catholic Church should have an organ so that these traditional Catholic hymns can be heard the way they were meant to be. The closeness of God can be FELT during the playing of them!

      • Calling chant stuffiness is snobbery Ms. Nagel.

        Your preference to outlaw Chant has ruled for 50 years…so much for the lip service paid to Vatican 2.

        As to what you presume to think is appealing to young people, one popular Bishop has unwittingly observed this about that: 6 young people leave the Church for every one that converts.

  1. How about they address the song, “Amazing Grace”. I agree with the statements below.
    “The Protestant roots of the song by John Newton is more Lutheran or Calvinist than Catholic. It more conveys depravity.” (Patrick Coffin)
    “I don’t think it’s the best of songs and has no place in the liturgy.” (Colin Donovan)

  2. Perhaps beyond the lyrics they could examine the quality of the music itself ? Our hymnals today contain mostly shlock. That includes some of the selections mentioned as alternatives to “All Are Welcome.”
    I’d rather sing from an old school Baptist hymn book and be done with it if I can’t have Gregorian chant at Mass. At least I’d be singing authentic hymns that had some musical integrity instead of 1970’s pseudo Protestant shlock.

    • Absolutely correct. In the 1940s and 50s, St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto produced a series of Jubilee Hymns edited by Msgr J.E. Ronan. They were all beautiful, singable, attractive and doctrinally correct according to the season. During the intervening years, beautiful music has been replaced by Tin Pan Alley. Quality music is available.

  3. It might be a good idea for Dioceses to train the parish music directors on how to select (appropriate) hymns based on the Church calendar and the readings for that day.

    Maybe a mix of message and hope and Marian devotion. (But it’s more difficult to pick appropriate hymns if you don’t have a pianist or organist.)

  4. Personally, I like Overcome by Elevation Worship and want it played at my funeral, but only if an enthused “worship band” can be hired. I can tolerate All are Welcome.
    .
    I will haunt anyone, and not nicely, who leads the assembled in Taste and See, You Satisfy the Hungry Heart, Seed Scattered and Sown, I am the Bread of Life, One Bread One Body, or Eat This Bread.”
    .
    Worse, maybe I’ll just have it written in my will the parish only gets money if they have the cantor lead the congregation in some cobbled together Gregorian Chant.
    .

  5. I am a life-long, trained choral singer, who has sung in Church choirs as a boy, and as an adult, along with several years in a community chorale, I have been trained and sung and (sometimes) heard at Mass some of the most beautiful music, in heaven and on earth.

    As a boy in Long Island at St. Raymond’s Church, I was trained to sing by our music teacher, the beloved Sister Maria Thomas, IHM, who taught us to sing, among other things, Gregorian Chant. Yes, little 4th and 5th graders singing Gregorian Chant. I remember, seared into my memory, in Holy Week, chanting Psalm 140, “Deliver Me O Lord from Evil Men, Preserve Me from Violent Men,” and imagining Our Lord Jesus, in Gethsemene, praying the very same words, in agony.

    To the best of my recollection, the last time at Mass I sang in Gregorian Chant, was with Siter Maria Thomas, some 55 years ago.

    After that, the gift she passed on was thrown out by “the reform.” The only place I could encounter Gregorian Chant was in my secular community choir. Our director, a superb young musician, one night brought an older colleague from his music department at the university where they both taught. I was then in my 40s. When he learned I was a Catholic, he, a Protestant musician, asked me the rhetorical question: “Why the Catholic Church has abandoned beautiful sacred music?”

    Which brings me to the CNA, and it’s artcle here on liturgical music and its appeal to the Second Vatican Council via Sacrosanctm Conslium.

    And I observe how the CNA and USCCB, with all of the impoverished effluvia of a committee, can claim to talk with authority about Catholic liturgical music, and appeal to the “super-dogma” of the Second Vatican Council, and still work overtime at denying by deliberate silence what Sacrosanctum Consilium actually said: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian Chant As specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal…it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”

    Thanks CNA and USCCB, for paying lip service…

    Which

    • I used to sing in a Latin Schola at our cathedral each Sunday. Our choir director was from the Episcopal church nearby & he had to teach us about the proper way to sing Gregorian chant & read the notes. Most of us were clueless.

      He was a lovely man & very interested in sacred music but what a pity we had to rely on the Anglicans once again for choir direction. Nothing against Anglican choir directors, they’re the best, but why are there so few Catholics doing this properly?

      • Because “the McCarrick committees on mediocre liturgy” make sure there’s nothing beautiful, because…that would lead people to actually believe that there is a God…something repulsive to the McCarrick Establishment and it’s manic materialist cult.

        To them, the Church is a career, and their goal is advancing in work-aholic drudgery, which is what McCarrick modeled. Their is no need for beauty in worshiping God, because both God and beauty distract people from worshiping the McCarrick cultists, so and also steals time and “resources” away from their “more pressing business.”

        • There was nothing in this article that referred to McCarrick. Once again, what is this pathological obsession of youts about McCarrick that leads you to inject him into articles and posts that bear no relation whatsoever to that topic?

  6. Let this be said – Liturgical Music should elevate its listeners and singers, which the music we used to sing did. But since Vatican II in my opinion the level of such music has sunk drastically – to the point that to me it is depressing.

    I remember 14 years ago when I joined my present Parish – I was looking for a new Parish and was at St. Augustine’s in Augusta – I asked the organist if she could play ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ for me and she did so easily. That was it.

    Now she’s gone and the new organist has not played it no matter how many times I asked so I have given up asking – he plays what I call ‘lounge liturgical’ music.

    Listen to the 4th movement of Camille Saint Saens’ Symphony #3 in C minor – The Organ Symphony. (Brace yourself)

    • A affluent parish down the road from where I work built a humongous, quasi-Byzantine church, a much better design than their previous theatre -in-the-round church, but still not in the best of taste. It resembles Constantinople on the Bayou or Our Lady of the Synthetic Stucco.
      They have liturgical lounge music also. Jazz piano you’d expect to hear in a New Orleans bar. But at least the church design is more oriented towards the traditional. It’s a step in the right direction. They just need to upgrade the music with the same intention.

    • It just seems so obvious that the whole this-world environment of the Holy Sacrifice should be befitting the dignity honor and glory of God. Not campfire music like “We are Companions on a Journey, breaking bread and drinking wine.”
      Gall. That is what our Lord has been given to drink.

  7. The problems with the lyrics of these songs are evident, but the melody also invites scrutiny. I observe that grown men do not warm up to singing these emasculated, embarrassingly syrupy, banal, namby-pamby, nursery-song tunes. I’m sorry, I just cannot bring myself to sing along with them. We need to cultivate masculine participation in the parish with songs that that have a strong melody, when we do sing an entrance or closing hymn, which, by the way are not a required part of the Mass. During the liturgy, Gregorian Chant is supposed to have “pride of place”. See more about what the Church teaches on this in my Ignatius Press book (2019), “The Sound of Beauty”.

  8. I think we need a return to the antiphons at Mass. They are the chanted psalms, and needn’t be in Latin. They can be sung with congegational refrain, similar to how the responsorial is currently done. These are the prayers of the church, given to us, for each Liturgical day of the year. Way better than anything sung with bastsrdized lyrics or paraphrasing of the prayers. Hymns could be sung additionally after the antiphon.

    But the hymns (not “praise and worship” songs, there’s a difference) must be truly sacred, and reflect Catholic teaching.

    And definitely banish anything by a certain mediocre composer who’s name shall not be mentioned out of respect for those whom he sexually assaulted via his music “ministry.” Vomitus.

  9. While this is an important topic and one that has long needed to be addressed, perhaps this committee might like to see what went wrong with the “Catholic Voting guide”. Some bishops did not get the message (nor pass it down) about not voting for any candidate who supports abortion.

  10. It is encouraging to read this piece. My question is, why did it take decades for this to be addressed? Mass goers have become so accustomed to mediocre “songs”, and lyrics that do not exactly commend the Catholic Faith – again “songs”, as many music ministry leaders call them, that shifting course in this matter will not be easy. Better that the musically and lyrically dubious numbers should have been set aside long ago.

  11. Agree with all the negative comments about the schlock we are expected to put up with today. Especially agree with the comment re male aversion to singing this namby pamby stuff. Hey, I see we’re into the year of St. Joseph.
    And, please, put “Ashes” in the trash heap where it belongs.

  12. As one who loves to sing in Church (and can’t thanks to the mask mandates), while I don’t agree with all the song choices listed here, the principle is sound. More traditional music may foster greater reverence, even if we do Latin more than normal.

  13. A side note (so to speak) on Gregorian Chant which comes to us from the late 6th Century…

    It’s partly about simple acoustics (Leland Roth, Understanding Architecture, 2007). The adapted basilica church form involved large volumes, hard stone surfaces, a linear geometry of length-to-width (a sort of giant stone organ pipe!), and therefore long reverberation times for anything spoken from the altar or ambo. The spoken words resounded for as much as six and eight seconds and the “multiple overlays were unintelligible.” (For example, San Apollinare basilica in Revenna, with a length of 185 feet, has a resonant frequency of 3.0405 cycles per second, as well as a series of ascending harmonics—just in case someone is wondering!).

    The answer: chant the liturgy such that the air in the vast volume of the basilica would vibrate at the right frequencies, carrying the more paced message clearly to everyone inside. In those days, trial and error to get things right, and today validated by the later science of acoustics.

    And so, Gregorian Chant is a worthy alternative to the new cacophony and washed-out content echoing now from published hymnals in the pews, and even drowning out anything of the Liturgy spoken from the altar or ambo.

  14. “The latter was used as the processional during the 2014 installation of Cardinal Blase Cupich as Archbishop of Chicago.”

    Why was this line inserted, I wonder? I’m not a Blase fan, but these CWR guys are all so transparent and shameless about their hate.

  15. Can’t fathom much of this really. Singing is a way to lift the heart and mind to God. Be thou my vision..Holy holy Holy..To be a pilgrim…..All people that on earth do dwell..All that I am..Amazing grace…be still and know…Breathe on me breath of God…I’ve been leading worship by choosing the- hymns as a prison chaplain- for several years now. Yes of course we cannot sing about giving glory to green parrots but for goodness sake lets get some LIFE into our hearts!!

    • Michael,
      May God bless you for what you do for those among us who are incarcerated. Especially at this time of year and when in-person visits have been eliminated in most jails because of Covid.
      Some Christians tend to forget that particular instruction from Christ. It’s one of the more difficult corporal works of mercy.

  16. Actually, this seems to be a good step in the right direction, which is cause for thanksgiving in a pontificate and a year in which most everything else seems to be moving in the wrong direction. The question is whether anyone will pay attention to it or not– and whether it will matter when the extraordinary form of Mass is growing and the ordinary form is imploding.

  17. Yes, I think it is a step in the right direction. Pastors and especially choir leaders need to be on board. The Ordinary Form is imploding? Coming in for criticism, sure.

  18. Catholic music is moldy, dull and doesn’t even illicit boredom!

    Our Protestant Brothers and Sisters dominate Christian music! Not endorsing the verses, but there music is stimulating and reverent! Meamwhile we’re stuck with the same tired melodies that drag on in tedium!

    We use to be on the edge when leading composers contributed in classic times! Go to a Hillsong United concert, if you can get tickets! Their concerts are loaded with Catholics! Music changes and reflects our feelings and spirit!

  19. Now that Carl Olson has answered your question, are you going to go the extra step like he did, and (1) say thank you if yours was a simple question, or (2) apologize, if you were insinuating CWR was being dishonest? (Or is it something else?)

  20. Our Church also offers the Latin Mass and, the only one I will attend. The music is absolutely heavenly ! The English church music that most Catholic parishes have are so Protestant and sound very childish. As a ‘revert,’ I will only stick with the Latin Mass and their heavenly voices!

  21. I go to the Latin Mass in Lewiston at least a month, one of the biggest reasons being the acapella choir, which unfortunately is down during the pandemic.

    But

    (Once upon a time about) 6 years ago t’was a lovely spring morning and I headed for Lewiston for the Latin Mass. I always get there as early as I can and this time there was no one in the Church (I thought) as I entered. I went up to the main floor and headed into the darkened Church – there was enough light to see the interior. I sat down and it was only then that i heard the organ – the organist was practicing and he was playing gently, and I just sat there and didn’t say a word of move a muscle. He must have thought that only God was listening because just the memory of his playing still brings me to tears – after 6 years.

    We’re living in tough times and with the administration coming it it’s only going to get worse, but – we can survive this.

  22. Thank you. I was confounded by the commenter’s suggestion that music needs to be an attracting force to mass. It is wrongheaded in so many ways and you came through with a great reply. My two kids listen to Gregorian chant and love it. So, the premise of kids not liking it is wrong anyway.

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