Sacred music vs. secular music at Mass.

more than 80,000 pages of free Sacred music
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Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
For example, some people have problems telling the difference between me and my twin sister.
But when it comes to Church music, it’s actually not very hard to tell the difference between music that's appropriate for Mass, and music that's not.
If you want to tell the difference between me and my twin, you'll have to spend some time with us.
If you want to tell the difference about Church music, you'll have to spend some time with the Church documents.
The good news is, the Church has clearly laid things out for us.
First of all, a few quotes from the Church documents:

In 2003, Pope John Paul II quoted from Paul VI: "if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious"

John Paul II went on to say: With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the "general rule" that St. Pius X formulated in these words:  "The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration, and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple"
Cardinal Arinze reminded us that:
"People don't come to Mass in order to be entertained. They come to Mass to adore God, to thank him, to ask pardon for sins, and to ask for other things that they need."
Or, we look to the 1967 document: MUSICAM SACRAM:
those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.
instruments are suitable for sacred use, or can be adapted to it, that they are in keeping with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful."
Pope Pius XII wrote in 1955, 41. First of all, the chants and sacred music which are immediately joined with the Church's liturgical worship should be conducive to the lofty end for which they are intended.
In 1958, the Sacred Congregation of Rites stated clearly:
b) The difference between sacred, and secular music must be taken into consideration. Some musical instruments, such as the classic organ, are naturally appropriate for sacred music; But there are some instruments which, by common estimation, are so associated with secular music that they are not at all adaptable for sacred use.
b) they are to be played with such seriousness, and religious devotion that every suggestion of raucous secular music is avoided, and the devotion of the faithful is fostered;
The Second Vatican Council, in its document on the Liturgy, said this:
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given first place in liturgical services.
Because there are hundreds and hundreds of Sacred Music directives, let's just stop reading quotes, because otherwise we're going to run out of time.
The first thing I noticed when I read these quotes was, it's WRONG when people say, “All types of music are allowed at Mass. As long as the music moves me, it can be used at Mass.” This idea is obviously not in accordance with the Church documents.
It's also important to realize that the CAUSE or REASON for this copious Ecclesiastical legislation is very serious. After all, the Mass is the reenactment of the Sacrifice at Calvary. Think about this for a minute. The Mass is the reenactment of the Crucifixion our Lord. Is it any wonder, then, that the Church wants dignified music at Mass?
It always reminds me of the priest or Bishop, who wears precious Vestments at Mass. The celebrant does not wear these ornate vestments to exult himself, or to amuse the congregation. One of the reasons why he wears them is they're the same kind of clothes the ancient Romans wore, serving as a visible reminder of the antiquity of our Faith. The traditional vestments are also a type of “uniform” which unite us to all the Catholics who have gone before us. The beauty of the vestments also edifies the faithful, since God is the Author of all beauty, and it reminds them, in some small way, of the splendor and loftiness of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. All of these reasons are the same reasons why we use Sacred music at Mass. And all of these reasons help us to pray.
Following the Church documents we quoted earlier, we have to be careful what kind of music is used at the reenactment of Calvary. Music that may be absolutely wonderful at a party (which is trendy, exciting, emotional, and fun to dance to) is not going to be appropriate at Mass. Dinner music, theater music, parade music, circus music: all these have their place, and they're absolutely perfect for certain occasions. But not Mass.
Generally speaking, music that is beat-driven or highly emotional is not appropriate at Mass. These types of music are not in line with the traditions of Catholic Sacred music. In other words, there is a tradition of writing Church music that goes back many centuries, and it can be learned with a little effort. But I'll tell you right now that Sacred music is not supposed to be written in the same style as pop music, or the type of music you typically hear on the radio, or at a beach party (for instance). After all, if you want to be a Country music composer, but all you do is study the Tango, it's not going to come out very well.
In the past, some Liturgists have taken heat for saying that musicians who provide music for the Mass should be schooled in the traditions of Church music. But this only makes sense! After all, just because you play electric guitar in a rock band, or play an accordian at the circus, that doesn't mean you can just show up and play at Mass. Musicians are supposed to study the precious heritage of Church music. That only makes sense, right?
And here's some really great news: thanks to modern technology, it's now easier than ever to learn about Sacred music!!!
Just for one example: organizations like Corpus Christi Watershed & the Church Music Association of America have been scanning in rare Church music books, and they've put online more than 90,000 pages of Sacred music treatises, organ & vocal scores, and many other types of resources --- and all of these are available for free and instant download !!!
There are many other fine websites which provide authentic Sacred music, and many are giving away their music for free. For instance, look at Fr. Samuel Weber's output, or the English chant adaptations of Fr. Columba Kelly.

Let's just mention two other places you might want to visit: is in its second year of existence, but already this new project offers thousands of free musical scores from numerous composers and sources, as well as hundreds of free audio samples, which are especially good for people who don't read music very well. This site was made possible by generous donations to Corpus Christi Watershed, a 501(c)3 non-profit Artist Institute located in Corpus Christi, Texas. Each of the sections is dedicated to one of the Eight Jesuit Martyrs of North America.
Then, too, if you want to have a teacher teach you how to read chant, or sing polyphony, or learn more about the Gregorian modes, you need to check out the Sacred Music Colloquium. If you're interested in the Colloquium, promise me you'll take an hour and watch the DVD called SACRED, BEAUTIFUL, & UNIVERSAL, which is viewable online.
By the way, Church music doesn't always have to be old. One example of a Church composer who writes beautiful, dignified, contemporary settings is Kevin Allen. The music you're hearing in the background is his “Tantum Ergo.” You really need to check out Kevin's website, if you love beautiful religious choral music.
When it comes to the restoration of Sacred music in our Churches, we have a long way to go, and it's going to take a tremendous amount of work. Because of this, it seems appropriate to end with the words of St. Jean de Brébeuf, when he was speaking to his fellow missionaries (who later accompanied him to brutal martyrdom for the sake of Christ). Briefing them on the trials to come, he said, “Fear no difficulties. There will be none for you, since it is your entire consolation to see yourself crucified with our Divine Savior.”

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