How is the Music for Mass Chosen?

Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, listener Jake called in to ask Patrick who chooses the music for Mass and from where do they choose it. Jake was specifically curious about the music choices because he wanted to know if it would be wrong for him to lobby for the inclusion of the song, “Why Me” by country artist Kris Kristofferson.

Patrick began by saying that the music for each specific parish is simply chosen by the choir or music director. While that isn’t necessarily the case for every parish, the point is that it’s usually an internal, administrative choice. “It could be by direction of the parish priest if that is a duty that he has undertaken to himself. There are also services that parishes can subscribe to that provide for them a list of recommended songs based upon the feast day or whatever the importance is of a given Sunday.”

As for the second part of Jake’s question, there are cumulative libraries of Mass hymns that have been curated and maintained by groups like Oregon Catholic Press. Their lists of music, or hymnals, are viewed, approved, and finalized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Then the approved music is disseminated amongst the parishes and they choose the music they will use.

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“So, you would find a mix of contemporary and older, more traditional songs. Some of these publishers skew heavily in the direction of the newer songs.” So technically, the ultimate determinants of music are the bishops. Patrick volunteered his opinion that he disapproves of much of the contemporary music chosen for Mass because they are often performed like they are “show tunes”. He, as well as many Catholics who prefer traditional music, find the contemporary bend of certain songs distracting and irreverent. However, these are merely opinions and Mass music has garnered the bishops’ approval.

With regards to Jake’s desire to include Kris Kristofferson’s song at Mass, Patrick pointed him towards the 2nd Vatican Council’s document titled Sacrosanctum Concilium. In the document, the bishops maintain that music played at Mass should be “sacred” and not profane. By the word profane, Patrick doesn’t mean sacrilegious, impious, or disrespectful. Rather, he means secular.

Therefore, when choosing music at Mass, you should consider the genre and audience as well as the lyrics and message. A song might have beautiful words and a deep, spiritual meaning behind it, but if it’s a pop song written for radio and entertainment purposes, it is probably not appropriate for Mass. For instance, the song “Hallelujah” has some beautiful lyrics and melody, but it was written as a folk-rock and pop song that has a complex meaning and certain controversial interpretations.

Patrick concluded, saying, “By way of a guideline, if the Church says – as the Church does – sacred music is what should be selected for mass, it seems to me that would rule out a secular song like the one that you just mentioned. I could think of a lot of secular songs, and the Church would say no. Because it’s not sacred music, it doesn’t really belong at mass.”

Listen to the full question and answer below:

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.