Dec 15, 2008

Reverence, Music at Mass Top Readers’ Concerns

Online Edition:
December 2008 – January 2009
Vol. XIV, No. 9

Reverence, Music at Mass Top Readers’ Concerns
Report on the Adoremus Survey

Compiled by Susan Benofy

Music and reverence at Mass topped the list of concerns of readers who responded to the survey enclosed in the July-August issue of the Adoremus Bulletin.

Most respondents said the Masses at their parishes were reverent, and often improving. 60% rated reverence 7 or higher on a scale of 10, while fewer than 10% rated it 3 or below. The largest portion of respondents (45%) experienced no change in the reverence of Mass celebrations in their parishes in the past five years, while 37% said Masses had become more reverent and about 18% said Masses were less reverent than five years ago.

Dissatisfaction with the state of liturgical music drew by far the largest majority, with 74% rating this as a significant concern. Reverence was a serious concern for 68% of the respondents, 60% listed violations of liturgical rules, and another 39% listed “innovations” at Mass as a major concern. Homilies and translations were next on the list of concerns, with 43% expressing dissatisfaction with homilies, and 42% critical of translations. Church architecture trailed the other liturgical concerns, at 12%.

The survey elicited 607 responses from 148 US dioceses in 48 states and the District of Columbia, and included 7 Canadians and one each from Australia, the Philippines and Ireland.

The largest number of responses from a single diocese was 21 from Chicago, followed by 20 from Los Angeles and 17 from Arlington. Most responses were from laity (504)), though 39 priests, 11 deacons and 9 religious also completed the survey. Among those who perform particular services in their parishes the largest number (69) are readers. There were also 60 Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and 45 catechists.

Readers who reported that Masses in the last five years have improved most frequently attributed this to the presence of a new pastor and/or assistant. Recently ordained priests were especially commended for their reverence and orthodoxy.

The survey revealed that Eucharistic adoration is quite widespread, with 80% reporting regular Eucharistic adoration in their parishes. The adoration may be as little as one or two hours per month, but almost 11% of the respondents said their parishes have perpetual adoration. Another frequently noted improvement was moving the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary from a less prominent location.

Another survey question asked about the form of Mass attended. The vast majority of respondents (97%) said they attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass “usually or always”, while just over 10% “usually or always” attend the Extraordinary Form (1962 Missal). (This totals more than 100% because some people said they “usually” attended both forms of Mass, explaining that they attend one form on weekdays and another on Sundays.)

Only four people responded that they “seldom or never” attend the Ordinary form, while nearly 60% said they “seldom or never” attend the Extraordinary form. About 100 respondents mentioned that there was no Extraordinary form Mass within a convenient distance.

Despite the generally high ratings on reverence most readers gave their own parishes, they had concerns about the state of the liturgy in the Church as a whole.

“Indifference, indolence and ignorance regarding the actual reform called for by Vatican Council II” has led to liturgical abuses, commented a laywoman from Dallas, Texas.

Music Concerns

Though music was very high on the list of liturgical concerns, many readers also noted improvements in music in their parishes in the past five years: better hymns, more sacred music, more use of Latin Ordinaries or hymns, new music director or placement of the choir in a loft rather than in the sanctuary.

Since nearly three-quarters of the surveys reported problems with music in their parishes, it is not surprising that when asked about one improvement they would ask for in Mass at their parish, the largest group of respondents chose a change in the music. Often comments about improving the music at Mass were related to the second major concern: reverence.

• A priest from Madison, Wisconsin, wrote: “My premise: if you do the music well, reverence, honor, respect, dignity will return to the Mass”.

• And a reader from Washington, DC wrote: “I would like to have chant used, although not exclusively, because it is sacred music and simply by using it we can restore reverence to the Mass. I would reduce the number of hymns in the hymnals. Do we really need 600?”

Many people asked that the music be sacred (or liturgical), that the hymns be “better” or “traditional”, that pop or rock music not be used at Mass, that the organ be used rather than guitars or the piano. The words to hymns used were sometimes seen as being theologically inadequate, at best.

• A woman from Gaylord, Michigan wrote: “The choice of music [for Mass] is a problem, with the confusion in the wording [of some songs] which suggests that we receive wine, not the Precious Blood”.

Inappropriate music was variously described as “too loud”, “too secular”, “too commercial”, “too self-centered”. Several people found it reminiscent of “piano bar” music. Some even said that there was too much of it. This last comment usually referred to the use of music both during and after Communion, especially when a Communion hymn continues throughout the distribution of Holy Communion, and is immediately followed by another hymn so that there is no time of silence for an individual’s thanksgiving.

• A woman from Chicago wrote: “Music: It is poorly rendered and for the most part not very sacred. The music also dominates and at times seems disruptive. There is no silence during Communion. At times two songs are sung to fill the time”.

• A Madison, Wisconsin, parishioner wrote: “At Communion time there is no time to converse privately with Our Lord because of the importance placed on joining in the Communion hymn(s). Chanted psalm verses, whether by a soloist or choir group, are rarely understandable, and repeating the response is tiresome rather than edifying. First the accompanist, then the cantor, then the congregation; and sometimes the response itself is doubled!”

More Latin, Observing Rules

Wider use of Gregorian chant, especially that the Ordinary of the Mass be sung in Latin, was a matter of frequent comment on the surveys. Here the music recommendations overlapped with the next largest category of desired improvement: the use of Latin. These requests related to both the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Mass. If the request was for specific parts of the Mass to be in Latin, the reference was clearly to the Ordinary Form. Other recommendations in this category specifically asked for more Masses in the Extraordinary Form. However, some requested “Latin Mass weekly” without specifying either form of Mass.

The number of people asking for more Latin was almost exactly the same as those who say the one change they would ask is simply that the Mass be celebrated according to the liturgical books: the prayers should be read as in the Missal, not changed or replaced with improvised ones. The gestures and ceremonies should be those given in the rubrics.

• A St. Louis woman religious wrote: “As members of the Catholic Church, we have a right to have the Mass celebrated following the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, including rubrics. Follow the directives given us by Vatican II and the Magisterium including our local Ordinary [bishop]”.

• A laywoman from Los Angeles wrote: “Celebrants are not all uniform in word and gesture. How can the celebration become imprinted on souls through repetition when it is subjective for each priest?”

A slightly smaller group simply asked for greater reverence without specifics. Others expressed particular concerns related to reverence, especially showing proper respect for the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Among the specific concerns in this category were: talking and noise in the church before and after Mass (which also disturbs those who wish to pray), and inappropriate dress by members of the congregation, and the overuse of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Several requested more kneeling during Mass, especially during and after Holy Communion, or asked to be able to receive Holy Communion kneeling. Some said Holy Communion should be received only on the tongue and kneeling.

Irreverent behavior was often attributed to a lack of knowledge or belief — and this was related to the concern about the words of hymns that are theologically unsound or that diminish reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.


The survey revealed the concern over homilies is focused on the inadequacy of transmitting Catholic teaching.

• A layman from Yakima, Washington, wrote: “I feel that in order to honor Our Lord with the reverence He is due in the Mass it is important to have a basic knowledge of what the Mass is, of what we receive and offer through it, and why we are here at Mass. With this basic knowledge as foundation we can remain focused on Jesus and remember that ‘It is good for us to be here’, even when ‘here’ is a building that looks like a flying saucer.…”

• A Youngstown, Ohio, man commented: “Everything begins with catechesis. If the homilies were given to teach the people the truth in love, music, reverence, architecture and everything else would simply fall into place. The priest and deacons must realize that Sunday Mass is the opportunity to catechize”.

• A woman from Orange, California, said what is needed most is “better homilies, and especially on the issues we face as Catholics. It’s maddening to attend week after week and never hear a word about what the Church teaches and why”.

• A married couple from Washington DC, wrote: “The homilies are, for the most part, useless and/or dreadful. There is not any explanation of the Catholic faith, the sacraments, the virtues, prayer, or morality. Of course there is no mention of sin, much less abortion, contraception or other life issues”.

What does the survey reveal that Adoremus Bulletin readers most desire in their parish liturgies? Primarily they ask that Masses be celebrated authentically, reverently, according to the rubrics, without individual innovations and with truly sacred music and substantial homilies; and that people have the opportunity to encounter their Catholic heritage (through music, Latin, art) in the celebration of the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of the life and mission of the Church and of our lives as Catholics.

A succinct summary of AB readers’ views was given by a couple from Allentown, Pennsylvania:

“The first priority is that the Mass be celebrated correctly, as given by the Church. Then it must be beautiful, for the glory of God and to draw us into prayer”.


Susan Benofy, AB research editor, analyzed the data from the surveys, and compiled the results.



The Editors