Why Catholics Can't Sing
Mark Sargent May 22, 2006 - 7:28pm
Over at MOJ, my fellow MOJ blogista, Commonweal contributor and law prof, Rob Vischer, posted a lament about why he liked almost everything about being a convert to Catholicism except the singing at Mass, where he gets the sensation that he is at a "very sleepy campfire sing-along." He is so right, as I wrote in this follow on post at MOJ, though the real question is why Catholics can't (or won't) sing:
I was touched by Rob's cri de coeur about the dreariness of Catholic liturgical music and congregational singing. And I can't dismiss his despair about what passes for music in our churches as the lament of a not-yet-fully-assimilated evangelical convert still longing for "Amazing Grace" and "Rock of Ages." This cradle Catholic agrees entirely with Rob about not just the lousy singing but a body of music that. at best, combines the Carpenters with bad show tunes or Sesame Street singalongs. If you think I am just being some kind of snob, check out Thomas Day's terrific book. "Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste." The book begins with this intriguing passage: "Contemplate this very odd situation. Today, a large number of Roman Catholics in the US who go to church regularly--perhaps the majority--rarely or barely sing any of the music. (I have heard a congregation of fifty elderly Episcopalians produce more volume than three hundred Roman Catholics.) If you think about it, this stands out as a most curious development in the history of Christianity." Day does not provide a simple explanation for why this is true (ie, it all went to hell in a handbasket because of Vatican II. Actually, it was pretty bad before that too.) Instead, he argues that "The uneven singing of the American Catholic congregation is really a symptom, not the disease itself. It is the result of a human history that stretches across the centuries, not the result of some recent artistic or musical development." I will leave it to our readers to turn to Professor Day for an explication of that history.