Congregational singing and an ameteur musician pastor
  • We have a new pastor who is an ameteur musician. He fancies himself much more. He was a music director 35 years ago before seminary. Anyhow, he has taken to "encouraging" congregational singing at the beginning of Mass by comparing the singing to that of the other Masses. Once when he felt the singing wasn't robust enough, he made the congregation sing the entire opening hymn again. People have complained to me, so I brought it to him and received an "attitude" in return. He's "doing his job" etc. This parish is small and elderly. The people do sing, but will probably never be a full-throated Protestant roof raising. Any thoughts on how to handle?
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  • MarkB
    Posts: 262
    Sheer incompetence. He's going to make people hate singing and drive them away from the parish. If he keeps up the misguided strategy of forcing people to sing again when the first time wasn't up to his standards then the bishop is probably going to get some letters about him. The fact that he gave attitude instead of taking to heart valid constructive criticism is not a good sign.

    Maybe have someone in the congregation stand up after he finishes a homily, tell him it wasn't good enough, and tell him to repeat it and do it better the second time.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,079
    I love that, MarkB
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  • His dissatisfaction with the singing is a subject for the weekly bulletin, not during Mass.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck CHGiffen
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 672
    We had a priest that would do something like that when it was an old hymn that he thought everyone should know. He also stood at the altar until all the verses of the entrance hymn were sung and until the last verse of the recessional hymn had started.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 229
    In my parish, if the congregation where to sing a hymn with the same commitment and fervor as the "Our Father", who would complain? I like what your priest did even if it is a bit unusual. Could he have addressed it in his homily, sure, in a bulletin, of course, but by then they may have forgotten why they were being taken to task over it. To quote Barney Fife, "you got to nip it in the bud". I'm sure I'll take some flack over this: I think when MD and choir directors become accustom to minimalist singing that they don't expect or ask for anything better from the congregation.

    In my many years of singing in choirs, schola's, cantor, etc., I have observed that you have three groups of people in the church: those who sing, those who will not and those who pick up the hymnal and want to sing but quickly put the hymnal away. I ask myself the question: Why do those who pick up the hymnal and want to sing! put it down. Why do they do that? In my parish this group represents the majority.

    Is the music to high? Is it too hard to sing? Does it have a melody conducive to promoting congregational singing? Does it teach us about our faith or doctrines? Does it have suitable text? Is it too jazzy or too folksy? Is it too sentimental or too dispassionate?

    Stop bantering the priest for what he did and follow his lead and look to see where you can make improvements in hymn singing. I know this may sound undo-able but maybe have a "hymn" singing class for anyone in the parish. This could help promote congregational singing, it might garner you a few extra choir members; or start teaching hymn singing in your religion classes. If the children are having trouble singing the hymns from an ordinary Sunday then maybe that speaks too itself, but hymn singing in religion class could lead to better congregational singing down the road. It promotes togetherness, listening to each other and many other benefits. Probably not what you wanted to hear, I know. But, consider it.



  • The hymn was "We Gather Together", which I would not consider unknown nor difficult for the average congregation, nor contrary to our faith and doctrines. Nor is it "jazzy or folksy". They didn't "put the book down" as you state, but rather did indeed sing. Just not at the robust volume Father might prefer. These are 70+, mostly 80ish folks. I am not making excuses nor am I bantering anyone. His so-called "lead" was - IN MY OPINION - totally unacceptable and irreverent in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I might add that he stood at the altar of sacrifice after Communion and read the College Football scores aloud from his cellphone, then said Sorry God, but penn state was my alma mater." So perhaps the bigger issue here is reverence in the sacred liturgy instead of badgering 80 years olds for not singing like they are at a football game. As far as a "hymn singing class" - get real, and our religion class K-8 is less than 20 kids. Of these MAYBE 3 attend Sunday Mass. I appreciate your thoughts but they are not applicable to my situation.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,581
    Singing of the laity, while encouraged, is not mandatory for a valid Mass.

    HOWEVER: Using one’s cell phone in the sanctuary (to check scores of a secular war-game, no less), is, if I am not mistaken, strictly forbidden.

    My suggestion: run.
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  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,540
    What has hymn singing to do with the Mass?

    If I am in the pews I always hand hymn books straight back to the person who gave it to me, although I did this in Zurich once... and shortly afterwards while still being scowled at by the lady, a member of the choir dashed down to invite (compel) me to come up and join the choir (Mainly to sing the Propers).
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    Don9of11 - Three weeks ago, I eventually closed the hymn book, because after two verses, I still had no idea what the tune was! I recognized the words in the hymn book as something I have sung before. I could make nothing of the muddy registration, and could hear nobody else from whom to take a cue.
    This is rare, but I have suffered it in a variety of Catholic churches, including a cathedral.
    argentarius - A very bland 'gabble' text, I always sing if I can, but I could not muster enthusisasm for this.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 229
    argentarius, I agree, reading the football scores from the Sanctuary is unacceptable before the final blessing. Our parish has in large part an older congregation. I sing in our choir and most of the members are 10 to 15 years older than me, so I understand how hard it is to sing full voice, I am haviing the same problem the older I get. I hope everything works out for you.
  • Argentarius,

    You could ask Father if he's trying to make you unpopular. When he gives you a quizzical look, point out to him two things: 1) regardless of the reason for their not singing, to get him to stop whining the parishioners will blame you because you're in charge of music; 2) God respects our free will, so unless he considers himself more important to please than God, perhaps it would be better to find out why they don't sing "loudly enough" before badgering them into meeting an amorphous standard.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,898
    I don't know if it makes much difference in practice, but there are two versions of "We Gather Together".

    The classic text, a translation from a 1625 original, begins:
    We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
    he chastens and hastens his will to make known;
    the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing:
    sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.


    Many recent Catholic hymnals have the 1970 song by Omer Westendorf (the founder of WLP, as it happens):
    We gather together to sing the Lord's praises,
    To worship the Father through Jesus his Son,
    Our priest is presiding, in Christ we are abiding;
    We are his holy people whose freedom he won.


    Which one were you working with? I hope you weren't stuck with the latter version, since it's hard to get enthusiastic about singing it. It replaces a hymn about divine Providence, a sober, grateful recollection of deliverance from trials, with a self-referential, self-congratulatory song about the process of celebrating the liturgy. Since it contains liturgical jargon like "presiding" and "assembly", it's like singing the rubrics in the GIRM.

    [UPDATE: I see from another source on the net that I've conflated lines from two verses of Westendorf's version.]
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  • God, that hymn is awful. I never thought Westendorf could stoop to such a level.

    As the hymns are just as unnecessary to the rite as Father's football announcements, I don't see an issue with the situation. If they're not singing the Ordinary, that's a bigger problem.
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  • madorganist
    Posts: 529
    for not singing like they are at a football game.
    What exactly does this mean anyway? I recall another post about congregational singing on this forum where someone was shocked that anyone would expect a congregation to sing hymns with the same fervor as if they were singing the national anthem, even though it's been decades since Americans sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" with fervor—nowadays you're lucky if they even know the words. I would prefer rather more robust singing for God. But when you have soloists with microphones, what can be expected?
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • You could also ask the pastor if the reason they won't sing is that they want to sing Propers, not hymns?

  • Again, the DO sing. Just not as robustly as Father might prefer.
    Also, the hymn was the original version not the Westendorf, which honestly has nothing to do with it in this case. We here may be attuned to the theology of all this, but the average 75-80 year old in my pew is not.
    As for "singing like they are at a football game" - perhaps not the best example as you are correct, people do not sing at a football game. I meant volume-wise, like how people might cheer at a game. Obviously not the best example, my bad. Thanks everyone for your comments. Father has now stated to me that he will not be doing this in the future. Whether that is because he agrees with the criticism of parishioners, or has his feelings hurt or whatever, I do not know. For my part, I try to choose familiar traditional style hymns as much as possible. Obviously with Breaking Bread there is only so much one can do, but I use a chant Mass setting during Advent and Lent. Not doing propers yet, but its a start. Father came from a parish using We Celebrate from Paluch/WLP, and he prefers that style. Thanks again everyone. My comments on this topic are now completed.
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    argentarius - I am 81, I don't know about your 70+ year-olds, but round here we sang traditional Catholic hymns every day in school. Some were syrupy or insipid concoctions, but some were good tunes we sang with gusto. Find some of those, in a pre 1960 hymn book, and see how they/we react, appeal to nostalgia which is also called Tradition. Of course I don't know whether there are any of these left in Breaking Bread. [I don't think that 1625 Dutch Reformed folk hymn celebrating their freedom from the Catholic yoke was in our repertoire, but you are probably right they don't think deeply about the words, still less about the origins]
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,898
    Best wishes, argentarius; I hope the pastor can learn to calibrate his expectations to the situation!
  • Even if the pastor has delegated total responsibility for the music programme to you (which seems unlikely in the circumstance) he is still ultimately responsible while you are the help (either hired or voluntary).

    It's totally inappropriate to complain to an employee (you) about their bosses behaviour, because the employee cannot change that behaviour.

    So - if people complain to you about the pastor, politely tell them to complain directly to either the pastor, or to his boss the bishop.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 229
    argentarius, The 1918 St. Basil's Hymnal or the 1920 St. Gregory Hymnal would be a good start for the hymns. These can be found in PDF format at the archive.org website and hard copies at AbeBooks or eBay. Both hymnals were in use and very popular up until the 1960's.