Why I Don’t Care If You Sing Praise and Worship at Mass

Several weeks ago, my family and I were at a wonderful camp in Ohio called Catholic Family Land (it’s a real place!), an outreach run by The Apostolate for Family Consecration. Of course, every day begins with Mass, and later in the day, right next to the sports fields that are used all afternoon, there’s a small adoration chapel. Overall, it’s a lovely wholesome, Catholic atmosphere.

The music used at Mass was typically of the praise and worship style, which is less than ideal. But you know what? I was ok with it. That’s right.

If I am given a choice between folksy Haugen and Haas, Glory and Praise songs and praise and worship  genre songs, I’ll take P&W any day, for one major reason: in the Catholic liturgical music paradigm, text comes first.

One of the reasons gregorian chant is so uniquely suited to the liturgy is it’s nature as principally elevated speech. The rhythm of chant comes from the speech. The simplicity of the melodies allows the text to be heard more than any other form of music. The relative simplicity of the melodies (compared to polyphony) allows the the text to be highlighted even more. All this to say, while the melody and idiom of the music matters, the text is most important. And with the unique scriptural tradition of Roman liturgical music, the text of P&W makes it oddly suited to the liturgy, more so than other sentimental hymn texts.

Look at Blessed Be Your Name, by Matt Redman. The text is based on Job 1:21, as well as other imagery from the psalms (“streams of abundance”). Or look at Shout To The Lord by Darlene Zschech. More imagery from the psalms.

Is Praise and Worship a massive improvement on schmaltzy hymns from Haugen and Haas? No, they are far from ideal. But they are definitely an improvement in the text, the more important of the two primary aspects.