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I love making fun of terrible Mass music. So much so, in fact, that someone on Twitter once asked me, “Are there any songs from Mass that you actually like?”
As a child growing up, I was on the receiving end of the most folksy Mass music the world has ever seen, up to and including the Amy Grant jam “Heirlooms” (“My precious Jesus, is more than an heirloom to me…”). And I’m sure all of us can relate to the many other atrocities we have endured at the hands of our local church choir.
Memories of “Glo-ria (CLAP CLAP!) Glo-ria (CLAP CLAP), in exclesis Deo (CLAP CLAP),” and the even more self-harm inducing “Ale-Ale-Ale-looooo-ya” haunt me to this day.
While much of that is thankfully gone, it is clear to all of us that dreadful Mass music still exists. And that loathing feeling goes well beyond taste, as the very worst of the worst of Catholic hymns has us scratching our heads, concerned about flat out heresy.
In no particular order, here are five of the worst:
“Gather Us In”
“Gather us in, the rich and the haughty; Gather us in, the proud and the strong; give us a heart, so meek and so lowly, give us the courage to enter the song.”
This frequently sung entrance hymn is the absolute bane of my existence. Psalms about singing a new song to the Lord notwithstanding, I do not now, nor have I ever, asked God for the courage to “enter the song.” Whenever I hear this tune, I make sure to watch the priest’s face as he processes in, hoping to see him in the same agony in which I find myself.
And please consider this wee bit of heresy: “Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven, light years away — here in this place the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, and now is the day.”
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that makes this tune more of a New Age ballad than a hymn to be sung at Mass.
“City of God”
“Let us build the city of God, may our tears be turned into dancing; for the lord, our light and our love, has turned the night into day.”
This hymn may call us to “awake from our slumber,” but when I hear it, I would much prefer to roll over and go back to sleep. It may just be me, but the idea that we are “sons of the morning” and “children of day” is a bit too much crunchy-granola-Mother-Earth.
Instead of building a City of God, let’s build a better hymnal.
“Lord of the Dance”
“I danced on a Friday when the world turned black. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back. They buried my body, they thought I was gone. But I am the dance, and the dance goes on.”
I mean, seriously? How was this song ever allowed to darken the door of a Catholic parish?
We Catholics may not be known for reading our Bibles, but I’m fairly certain that Jesus’ problems with the Pharisees were more complicated than that “they wouldn’t dance,” and I’m almost positive that Jesus didn’t “dance for the fishermen James and John,” nor did they come with him “so the dance would go on.”
I shudder even thinking about this.
“All Are Welcome”
“Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat; a banquet hall on holy ground, where peace and justice meet.”
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the idea that all are welcome seems to be an appropriate one. However, if we really want all to feel welcome, we should probably strike this hymn from our song books.
Don’t get me wrong. Jesus and the Church he founded do open the doors wide to welcome everyone, but it’s much deeper than that. As Catholics, we realize that our response to God’s welcome is a large part of what allows us to be conformed to him, and this hymn goes a long way toward sowing seeds of confusion when we’re trying to explain to a non-Catholic why they aren’t invited to receive the Eucharist.
“Mary Did You Know?”
“Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”
While I realize that a great deal of ink has been spilled on “Mary Did You Know?,” I just couldn’t let a list about worst hymns go by without mentioning it.
Some see this tune as a Christmas favorite, and I see it as one of the more heretical tunes ever sung at Mass. While Mary’s baby boy did indeed deliver her, he did so before she delivered him though a special grace. How we let in a song that hints at denying the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is well beyond me.
What are we to do? Are we doomed to suffer through all this terrible music at Mass with no relief in sight? Not even close! For every terrible hymn that snuck its way into the “Breaking Bread” hymnal, there are five that hit the ball out of the park.
For every “Gather Us In,” there’s a “Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above.”
For every “City of God,” there’s a “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.”
For every “Lord of the Dance” and “All Are Welcome,” there’s a pair of ear plugs on sale at the local drug store.
And for every “Mary Did You Know?,” there’s the “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” (which very well might be my favorite Catholic hymn of all time).
The love and hate we have toward certain hymns at Mass goes well beyond taste.
While some songs build us up and bring us into a closer union with the one true God, others have us breaking out our Catechisms and double-checking what we thought we’d always known to be true.
Let’s ask for the intercession of St. Gregory the Great, patron saint of music, to help guide our Church toward the former.
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic hipster, husband and father. You can follow him on Twitter @theghissilent.