Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Gather Us In, A Bad Song Is Playing

May 7th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

From The American Catholic

by Paul Zummo

A reader writes in to Fr. Z to ask why Gregorian Chant is to be preferred at Mass to hymns like “Gather Us In” which the reader, a newly minted Catholic, happens to like.  Fr. Z responds here, and the commentators also chime in with responses that hit the mark.

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29 Responses to “Gather Us In, A Bad Song Is Playing”

  1. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    If you check the most ancient sources for Gregorian chant, you will find that some of the tunes come from the ancient Jews, Egyptians, and drinking songs of students in Rome and elsewhere in the ancient world.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    Gregorian chant – that’s the ticket. That will fill up the pews.

  3. avatar good catholic woman says:

    Why is Gregorian chant more prayerful? Perhaps to some ears, but that doesn’t make chant objectively more of a prayer than any other hymn. One of Pope Pius X’s legacies was his encouragement of liturgical hymns that the “regular” people could sing–in other words participate in. Gregorian chant, to be done well, takes quite a bit of training. I, personally, find it beautiful, but not “preferable” to other hymns. Some are very inspirational and prayerful, some are just OK…
    The important point is that the congregation prays..together.

  4. avatar Nerina says:

    Gregorian chant – that’s the ticket. That will fill up the pews.

    Well, Anon, we’ve been doing it the progressive way with folk tunes from the seventies for the last 40 years now. How’s that working out for us? That’s right. Plummeting attendance numbers whereas before the implementation of VII “reforms” we had weekly Mass attendance north of 75%(and I realize that other factors are at play here too). Shouldn’t we at least consider how we celebrate the Mass and consider what Holy Mother Church desires?

    I find Gregorian Chants boring, I would much rather worship the Lord with lively and enthusiastic song. God loves music, all music, be it chants or drums. The church is Universal and therefore it’s celebration should to be Universal, open to everyone’s version of celebration!

    I would suggest that you go back and read the comments on Fr. Z’s post. They really are helpful and informative. I’m sorry that you find chant “boring,” but that’s not the point. This isn’t about personal preferences (I happen to despise treacly, banal, navel-gazing praise music but that’s what I hear every weekend at my local church) . The Church has said that chant is preferred. Further, how is the “universality” of the Church expressed in seventies folk music, or modern praise and worship or with drums? Think about it. Gregorian chant was used for centuries. “Universal” transcends not only place, but also time – as in, across the centuries. Are we not connected to the “cloud of witnesses” as we offer worship along with them?

    One of Pope Pius X’s legacies was his encouragement of liturgical hymns that the “regular” people could sing–in other words participate in.

    Actually, GCW, in his motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini, Pius X called for a restoration of Gregorian chant in public worship. He further instructed the faithful to use chant so as to participate in ecclesiastical offices (which, at that time, included singing in a choir). You’re right that he did recognize the beauty of modern music (again, this MP was written in 1903 so “modern” then is different from “modern” now) but he warned:

    Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, greater care must be taken with regard to it, in order that the musical compositions of modern style which are admitted in the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminiscences of motifs adopted in the theaters, and be not fashioned even in their external forms after the manner of profane pieces.

    You may be referring simply to hymns and given the state of liturgical music in our diocese I’d be happy to hear some good old-fashioned hymns. Unfortunately, the hymns we are often subjected to are not ones like “Sacred Head Surrounded” but are ones called “The Summons” (Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?) or “I am the bread of Life” where we speak in the voice of God and offer ourselves as “the bread of Life” (and if you’re under the direction of a really progressive choir director, she’ll have you sing it in Spanish even though 99% of the pew sitters are english – but I digress).

    The important point is that the congregation prays..together.

    Oh, how I wish that were true. Even in the NO with all of these contemporary songs, most people don’t sing. And a big reason is because the songs are unsingable for most of the congregation. The range is usually very wide and the rhythms are difficult for the average person to sight read. Then there’s the problem of the choir (at least in my church) of using different Mass settings every couple of weeks so that just when people are getting used to the ordinaries, they suddenly change and we’re back on a steep learning curve with the new ones. Or we get a combination of Mass settings to really keep us guessing. I can tell you that not much participating, if we define it by number of people singing, is going on.

  5. avatar Scott W. says:

    I find Gregorian Chants boring,

    Then it is a good thing we don’t worship Anonymous-12925.

  6. avatar Bruce says:

    Every time a guitar is strummed at Mass, a devil gets his horns.

  7. avatar good catholic woman says:

    “Silent Night” was written on/for guitar. Look out, Devils!
    Seriously, “Gather Us In” is asking God to gather us in, as one family. I have prayede the same thing–asking God to gather all together in unity.
    A person may not like a certain song, but playing on an organ does not make it any more prayerful than playing on a guitar, or piano, or flute. Prayer is lifting our hearts to God–and there are many ways to do that.Is the “Ave Maria” more prayerful than “Immaculate Mary”? or “Salve Regina”? or “One Bread, One Body”?

  8. avatar Bruce says:

    Actually, good catholic woman (small c was your emphasis), an organ DOES make song more prayerful, and Benedict himself has said this. Guitars are for long-haired, white, hippie types who like to break them out a frat parties and strum a little “white blues” for the lady-types. They’re not for the Mass, and are only truly prayerful when John Belushi smashes them against a wall.

  9. avatar Gen says:

    Silent Night was written for use at church, but outside of Holy Mass. While it is a beautiful song and generally appropriate for use at Ordinary Form Masses during Christmastide, this ought to be remembered. There is certainly a place for hymns in Catholic liturgy . . . and that place is behind Gregorian Chant, Renaissance Polyphony, and certain music in the Viennese choral tradition. It isn’t a matter of opinion or taste, but following the very simple rubrics set forth by Vatican II.

    Instrumentation is also covered rather plainly by the documents of Vatican II. Again, there is room for flute, guitar, piano, etc. (let’s not get into a debate as to whether these should be used at Mass). However, the organ is considered the norm for worship with music. It is especially well-suited for Mass, and has enjoyed prominence for well over 400 years.

    Some of those who would rather see flute and guitar over organ and chant will quote the psalms in defense of their views. This would be fine, but we need to remember that the worship of the ancient Israelites is different from the Catholic Mass. The Mass isn’t the joyful return from exile which we see time and time again in the psalms/canticles of the Old Testament. It is the prayerful vigil we pass at the foot of the Cross on Calvary. While both are very Biblical and sacred, we should remember that our focus is the latter and not the former. This being said, unrestrained Hallelujah-ing isn’t exactly appropriate.

  10. avatar good catholic woman says:

    Wow, Bruce..I don’t know where to begin?? With the bitter stereotypes of “White, hippie types”? “Frat parties”? And the Catholic, ( small “c” )was just the way it typed out..get over it.
    You really didn’t address my comment beyond venting a distaste for “White, hippie types”. Blessed Pope John Paul II happened to love Masses that featured a variety of musical styles and instruments. The beauty of Catholicism is that it is universal ( maybe that’s where the small “c” comes in) meaning that as much as the Mass is the same everywhere in the world, it also reflects the culture of the people. When my Dad was in the Philippines during WWII and went to Mass in a small village outside of Manila, the Mass, although prayed in Latin, had the music of the people–the hymns were clearly Filipino as were the musical instruments. It was a joyful celebration of a people in the midst of war and enemy occupation. My father never forgot it. Our Church, in its beautiful history, has always managed to blend the universality of the liturgy with uniqueness of the people celebrating.
    And Gen, the Mass is not a celebration of the Crucifixion but a celebration of the empty tomb. If Jesus’ life had ended on Calvary, we wouldn’t be a Church today. But because he was raised up three days later we celebrate His Presence with us as a Living Lord..not a dead prophet. It is in that beautiful celebration that we gather at Mass…The Pascal Mystery is not that “Jesus died”, but that “Jesus died, Jesus Rose, Jesus will come again”–That is what Mass is all about.

  11. avatar Gen says:

    Please don’t misinterpret my words. I didn’t say we worship a dead prophet. I said that the Mass is a commemoration of Calvary. This is the clear teaching of the Church. The Mass, while providing the faithful with the body of the risen Lord, is a commemoration of the Sacrifice of Calvary, not merely the empty tomb. While, as St. Paul says, our faith would be for naught if the Resurrection did not happen, the sacrificial elements of the Mass do not stem from that blessed event. Instead, it comes to us primarily through the Passion of Our Lord, i.e. the Last Supper and Crucifixion.

    “That is why Calvary is actual; why the Cross is the Crisis; why in a certain sense the scars are still open; why Pain still stands deified, and why blood like falling stars is still dropping upon our souls. There is no escaping the Cross not even by denying it as the Pharisees did; not even by selling Christ as Judas did; not even by crucifying Him as the executioners did. We all see it, either to embrace it in salvation, or to fly from it into misery. But how is it made visible? Where shall we find Calvary perpetuated? We shall find Calvary renewed, re-enacted, re-presented, as we have seen, in the Mass. Calvary is one with the Mass, and the Mass is one with Calvary, for in both there is the same Priest and Victim.” – Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

  12. avatar good catholic woman says:

    It’s not good theology to pick and choose quotes from former prelates. There is a whole theology about the Mass. I suggest you do some serious reading or better yet take a course. Franciscan University in Steubenville has some great courses. The Mass is not a re-enactment of calvary. It encompasses the entire Pascal Mystery.

  13. avatar Gen says:

    I have taken courses.

    You keep misinterpreting my words. I never said the Mass excludes the Resurrection. I simply said it includes the Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord, too. After all, the Crucifixion is the whole “sacrifice” aspect of the Mass. Without the pouring out of His blood for us, the same blood which is brought to us at Holy Mass, there would be no sacrificial aspect. Jesus would have been a nice guy who died of old age, not a Savior whose death flung open the doors of Heaven.

    I also find it interesting that you say now that the Mass encompasses the entire Paschal Mystery when, just a couple comments ago, you said, “And Gen, the Mass is not a celebration of the Crucifixion but a celebration of the empty tomb.”

    I direct your attention to the following:

    And also, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

    [Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.189

    1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”190

    1368 The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.


    So, just to be absolutely clear, “Eucharist,” (i.e. “the Mass”) is “the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit.” It cannot be clearer than this, Mrs. Finn. As you said, the Mass encompasses the entirety of the Paschal Mystery, but the debate began when you claimed that the Mass was not the re-presentation of Calvary, which it absolutely and undeniably is.

  14. avatar good catholic woman says:

    Who do you think is writing as “good catholic woman”? Mrs. Who?? You may have added 2 + 2 and gotten 5…
    (It cannot be clearer than this, Mrs. Finn??) I’m not only NOT that person,I’m not even married. Wow.
    There was a Mrs. Finn who taught at Bishop Hogan / Northeaster Jr. High. Could you mean her?? It’s weird because she was my teacher.
    Oh Well. Sorry to disappoint.

  15. avatar Gen says:

    You posted using “” as your email address, and did so multiple times. These comments were left after you left a string of inflammatory comments on other posts, anonymously and without any identification whatsoever. You also posted all of your comments from one specific IP address, i.e. the same computer. However, now you have changed your email address and you’re using a different computer. If you are not Mrs. Judith Finn, you most certainly used her email to post your comments. That’s not able to be debated. Another possibility is that you’re just another anonymous commenter seeking to cause problems by posting under another’s name. Whatever is going on, there is too much deceit to make me see the value in continuing this debate. If you feel compelled to continue this discussion, kindly take it to our forum, located at

  16. avatar Bruce says:


  17. avatar Bruce says:

    On a more serious note, there is no reason to have guitars at Mass when churches are equipped with organs. Furthermore, if the organ is missing or broken, there is no reason why there can’t be chant. Guitars and flutes are for Haight/Ashbury, not the Mass.

  18. avatar A Catholic says:

    The problem I have with some of the more modern Church music is that much of it seems to evoke a self-pitying, self-focused vibe. In contrast, older music seems to be more about the majesty of God, and the gratitude we have for all His blessings. I know that is something of a generalization, but that’s my opinion. As for Gregorian Chant, it is very beautiful and prayerful, but perhaps should not be used to the exclusion of traditional songs and hymns. Chant is chanted, not sung, and there should be a time to worship in song as well as in chant. Again, just my two cents.

  19. avatar Bruce says:

    good catholic woman, I’m sorry if I offended you with my description of contemporary Church music or if I insulted you. I was stating my opinion on the matter and I could have been more charitable.

  20. avatar JLo says:

    Thank you all who use and all who appreciate CCC references as authority, and special thanks to Gen for a wonderful (and obviously needed by some) primer on Holy Mass. My only comment is a reminder of what we are speaking about… the place of music at Holy Mass. We do not go to Holy Mass to be entertained (that’s for Anonymous-12925, who is bored by Gregorian Chant, and for anyone else who likes to hum favorite tunes and tap toes and clap hands. Fine, but do those things elsewhere). We run to Holy Mass (or should!) to worship the Lord of Life and to be where Calvary is there for us each and every time as we stand with Our Lady and St. John at the foot of the Cross. Banal, pop, regional, national, whatever!, music has no place at this event. The sacred does. And Holy Mother Church, as always, gives us the best answer, i.e., Gregorian Chant in primary place. +JMJ

  21. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    Gospel According to St Raymond, found in a mummified alligator in Memphis, Egypt, 2011AD.

    And so Jesus went up to the temple for the Passover during his second year of ministry and found people changing money, laughing aloud near the Holy of Holies and doing other terrible and disrespectful things!! So he returned to Nazareth to discuss it with His mother.

    Mother Mary suggested that rather than do anything substantial, He ought to start a blog where people could ventilate and argue and not really have to do anything effective or risky at all. Real change could be eliminated and people could continue in their volatile complacency and blowing hot air.

    The following year Jesus went to the temple and instead of complaining, did something.
    That got into the real gospels.

  22. avatar Ink says:

    Thank you JLo: I’d just like to chime in and remind any supporters of “community” and “all-inclusiveness” that the purpose of Mass is to worship God, not ourselves. Chant is inherently tied into the Mass because it is the text of the readings of the Mass (things like the Indroit which change) as well as the words of the Mass itself (stuff like the Gloria or Kyrie). Community-gathering music can be done after Mass, in youth groups, after-Mass gatherings, etc.

  23. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Regarding “the music of the people”… I’d been in a Catholic Church once prior to about 8 years ago. I’d never heard the type of music that was regularly played in the couple of parishes I became familiar with prior to this time. I have yet to hear it outside of a Catholic Church. How exactly is it “the music of the people”? Where do “the” people play such lousy music besides these Catholic masses? I must not know because thankfully I’ve never heard it before. To me, it just sounds so contrived. If this is truly folk music, then thank God I wasn’t a child of the 60s. And for the record, I do enjoy plenty of 60s music.

    another decent companion article to this popped up a week or so ago at It’s titled “Ecclesial Consumerism”:
    It was a brief article, but the comments have been voluminous. I found this comment to be interesting:

    it might be good to consider the experimental approach that C. S. Lewis took to literary criticism. Instead of first asking the question, “What are good books?”, Lewis asks, “What are good readers?” For Lewis, a good book is the kind of book that good readers prefer to read. Analogously, we can ask the question “What is a good worshiper?” and conclude to good liturgy as that which good worshipers prefer.

    Raymond Rice,
    I’m disappointed you pulled out the “stop blogging and do something card”. Such a comment is quite presumptuous. There are many people involved in CleansingFire (bloggers and readers) who are much more involved than the average person, so I think it’s really unfair of you to say that. I’d also point out that we all have different roles. Have we not encouraged people to take action here at CleansingFire? Have we not shared information and helped people realize what are the proper ways to handle unfortunate situations? Have we not provided enough uplifting stories? What’s your beef?

  24. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    on top of that Raymond Rice, I don’t think your analogy works. Jesus went to where the people were to talk to them openly. That’s what this blog is. It’s a place where ideas are shared – usually quoting people much smarter than us. It’s a place where world views can be formed. It’s a place where Tradition and Magisterial Teachings are honored and welcomed. It’s a place where one can unlearn what they’ve brainwashed by their local institutional Catholic Church.

  25. avatar Ink says:

    Backing up Ben: There are enough encouragements to discern and pursue a vocation around the site that I think pulling the “stop complaining and do something” card is really… well, short-sighted. Plus we have lots of active readers anyway–Gen posts on some of the goings-on in the diocese in terms of awesome liturgical happenstances (like Vocations Rosaries) and speeches and whatnot, and he gets the information from readers.

  26. avatar militia says:

    I think far more is being done than Raymond Rice and others realize. First, there is a process we are called to follow, going to the person, going in a group, going to the church, all as preface to taking stronger and possibly more public action, risking scandal. It is this love and care for the church which makes many hold back. Others don’t have the gifts. But all have the gift to pray and we should not dismiss those who stand in solidarity with us in prayer. Just because you don’t personally know what is being done doesn’t mean it isn’t being done. Furthermore, doing all we can still doesn’t assure success. We need to be faithful and trust that God has His reasons for lack of success; and that is not the same as giving up. Rather, perhaps we are part of giving a perpetrator one last chance. Or perhaps our commitment is being tested. Someday we’ll know.

  27. avatar Scott W. says:

    I helped form a schola group and we actually managed to crowd out the usual junky and pedestrian music at my old parish. Does that count as doing something?

  28. avatar Raymond Rice says:

    Scott: who determined it was junky and pedestrian music???

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