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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

September 25, 2013

The perennial question – why don’t Catholics sing?

evelyn @ 10:20 pm

Or why, if they do, is their singing lacklustre and unenthusiastic so much of the time?

I say ‘so much of the time’ because I have played at Catholic occasions when the singing is nothing short of wonderful.

So it isn’t that they can’t sing. They just don’t sing. Why?

Here are some reasons I have gathered from various sources, with my comments:

1. They haven’t picked up a hymn book/Mass sheet so don’t have the words. [Easy to remedy]

2. They don’t think the priest is interested. [True in some cases, perhaps, but most priests are as puzzled as anyone.]

3. The hymns and Mass parts aren’t announced. [That’s the way the Mass works, of course, although occasionally the priest is able to announce a hymn, say at the beginning.  Not sure that it makes much difference.]

4. They don’t get a good lead from the organist. [This IS significant. Organists need training and encouragement to give the all-important lead. Protestant churches mainly employ professionals, which could be a factor in their success.]

5. They don’t know most of the tunes [Teaching routine needed.]

6. The person with the loud voice in the next pew puts them off. [Not in every pew, surely?]

7. The choir puts them off. [Choirs can learn to blend rather than dominate.]

8. The big voice with the microphone puts them off. [Puts me off, too.]

9. Catholic liturgy pre-Vatican II didn’t have congregational singing. It isn’t part of our tradition. [But that was half a century ago – most people don’t remember it.]

10. In the days of persecution in Ireland, Mass had to be celebrated secretly and quietly. Most of us are descended from Irish immigrants. [Again, and I write as one such descendant, that was a long time ago. Also, I’ve noticed the singing problem in France and Spain, too.]

11. They don’t want to appear to be like the Protestants. [I thought we all got along well these days.]

12. They don’t want to sing, full stop, and why should they be forced to? [I know just one person with this view. It can’t be widespread, surely]

The sheer number and variety of these reasons are mind-boggling. Many of them are just guesses, of course, although some, like 1, 4, 7 and 8, might be worth pursuing.

But let’s be more positive. Two questions which might inspire helpful comments from readers:

  • There are parishes in which the congregational singing is always good. If your parish is one of these, why do you think this is?
  • Why do certain hymns buck the trend? I’m thinking of ‘Soul of my Saviour’ and hymns to Our Lady. These are invariably absolutely belted out. I love playing them, and wish we had them more often.

Comments most welcome.

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