Monday, 23 April 2012


A friend of mine emailed me to tell me that the above music makes him feel like the music below...

He asked me to do a blogpost on why it might be that 'Bread of Life' and such ditties repulse him so much. 'There must be a reason', he said. There is, Bro, most certainly.

It's because the 'Bread of Life' song is sh*te. The Church's back catalogue of incredible, transcendent music written by geniuses inspired by the Holy Spirit is extensive and yet parishes still wheel out 'hits'  from the 1970s. It's enough to make anyone want to slit their wrists in desperation.

However, if you have any more penetrating thoughts on the subject of quite why the music still sung in many Catholic parishes is so repellent, do go over to my friend's blog and give him your ideas. My opinion is that 'Bread of Life' isn't the music of the Catholic Church. It's the music of a strange 1970s cult. That's presumably why so many people fled the Church in droves.

The vast majority of Catholic music before the 1970s is surely either itself prayer inspired by God, or prayerful music to dispose us towards Him, or, more common than not, both. 'Bread of Life', in trying to praise the Divine on man's terms, instead of God's, fails to honour either the Divinity or even our humanity. That's the key to it.  It's not reality. It's a smokescreen.

It speaks of a concept of God or a notion of God, rather than of God Himself. It is trying to 'explain' God, rather than allowing God to explain Himself or reveal Himself on His terms. The psalms contain the vast range of human yearning for God and desire to seek His Face. Similarly, the music of the Catholic Church is a prayer, expressing joy, gratitude, sorrow or awe in the Presence of God. The 'feelings' associated with those prayers are not the focus, however. The focus of prayer is upon God who has given us the 'spirit of adoption' so that we could do Him praise and worship with due reverence.

Secular music works in its proper setting because it is from the heart, whether they be tales of woe or joy. Take Portishead, for example. You can tell that woman was heartbroken for some reason or another. It respects our humanity.

Music used in the worship of God works in its proper setting because it is from God Himself.  Man could not find a way to praise God so God gave man the prayers and the music in order that He may be praised as is fitting for Him to be praised.  Gregorian Chant respects God's Divinity and in doing so, not only respects our humanity, but lifts our humanity out of whatever bizarre hovel we happen to be inhabiting in our lives in general at any given time. Prayer is about Christ condescending to us and us being taken up by Christ to glory. Then along came the 1970s and some men thought they could improve on the genre of Church music altogether by completely destroying it and replacing it with something entirely new, but incredibly dated.

The fact that the vast riches of the Church's traditional music and liturgy are a gift from Almighty God consigned to the history bin in the vast majority of parishes in the United Kingdom is something else altogether, something that really needs to be discussed, hopefully at Episcopal level.  I think the Holy Father wrote a letter or an encyclical to the Bishops about it.  What were those documents, again? Anyway, whatever it was, whatever they were, I'm sure their Lordships will read them one of these days.

It must be somewhere in the 'in-tray'. They'll get around to it, its just there's so much paperwork nowadays.


berenike said...

Er, you know Gregorian chant wasn't actually dictated to Pope Gregory by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove singing into his ear?

Have a wee listen to the Copts and whathaveyou on Youtube as well.

georgem said...

I'm rather pleased to say that I couldn't make out a word which was being sung. Perhaps it was because I was too busy trying to work out why the priest kept going backwards and forwards to the table (off-centre altar?).
All became clear when I counted nine EMHCs.

pelerin said...

Well put Laurence.'With due reverence' is exactly what is needed and it is impossible to sing these plodding hymns with reverence.

Yes the nine EMHCs made quite a procession - I wonder how many there were in the congregation 'necessitating' so many? (Rhetorical question of course)

There IS a yearning for the Traditional music of the Church and last year I saw an example of this. I attended a performance of Mozart's Requiem which was given in Reims cathedral. Luckily I arrived early as the cathedral was absolutely full by the time it started. Not a spare chair anywhere. A lady next to me commented that she was glad to see so many as she knew the organiser who had been very afraid there would be little interest.

How wrong he was. There was a full orchestra and choir who being placed in front of the altar were the focal point of attention. I could not help thinking how perfect it would have been if they had been there to 'sing the Mass' in such a magnificent setting instead of as a concert.

There was loud applause and cheers at the end from the 'audience' As I came out I heard an English couple talking. One said to the other 'Wonderful - And it was all free!'

The attendance there in that provincial cathedral proved that many people are willing to listen to the music of the great Masses and talented musicians are able to sing and play them. But I still think it was such a pity that the Mass was not celebrated for that is what Mozart wrote it for was it not, to accompany the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It had been reduced to being a concert - still uplifting - but nevertheless merely a concert.

Lynda said...

That awful "music" is not Catholic, not about worshipping God and keeping His commandments in His Holy Church. It is about worship of oneself, one's "feelings". It is the music of the New Age, pantheism, of Carol Keehan and the LCWR, a non-theistic and non-moral "religion".

Sue Sims said...

One of the reasons for the persistence of these 1970s and 80s songs is that, to be fair, many of the melodies and harmonies are actually quite memorable. I was in York over the weekend for an exam board meeting, and went to the anticipated Mass on Saturday evening at St Wilfrid's, where all the music was that vintage. We sang a Bernadette Farrell song ('Christ, be our light') which I didn't know; the words were, to quote our revered host, 'sh*te' - the standard Justice and Peace stuff - but the tune was incredibly catchy and the harmonies, with their change from minor in the verses to major in the chorus, plus a waltz-like rhythm which swung along beautifully, were really good. I've been humming the tune (NOT the words) ever since.

anthony said...

Lawrence, surely Portishead is not bad! It's just moody, arty alternative music. It's like Morrissey. But slower, and with strings and a female voice.

Gigi said...

"It's because the 'Bread of Life' song is sh*te."
:) LOL

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