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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“We decided to entrust this work to learned men of our selection. They very carefully collated all their work with the ancient codices in Our Vatican Library and with reliable, preserved or emended codices from elsewhere. Besides this, these men consulted the works of ancient and approved authors concerning the same sacred rites; and thus they have restored the Missal itself to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers.”
— Pope St. Pius V (Quo Primum, 1570)

Is Recorded Music Okay for Children?
published 27 July 2014 by Fr. David Friel

Y NOSE HAS BEEN buried in Sing to the Lord lately as part of a research project on which I am working. In 2007, the USCCB promulgated Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (SttL) as a replacement for the twin documents, Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today. To say that the new document is an improvement would be an understatement, but it is not an ideal text, either.

Two weeks ago, speaking about the Children’s Liturgy of the Word, I took issue with the prevalent notion that young people somehow need to be accommodated in the work of divine worship. As a former child, I find this to be an errant hankering—a perspective that is often well-intentioned, but fundamentally condescending and lacking in foresight. True, St. Paul advises feeding first with fluids, preparing the way for solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2). But the admonition is to serve milk (real food), not plastic fruit.

This all came to mind as I read paragraphs 93-94 in Sing to the Lord. These are the paragraphs in which the US Bishops deal with recorded music. The section begins well:

Recorded music lacks the authenticity provided by a living liturgical assembly gathered for the Sacred Liturgy. While recorded music might be used advantageously outside the Liturgy as an aid in the teaching of new music, it should not, as a general norm, be used within the Liturgy. (SttL #93)

Had the section stopped there, I would have been content. But in the next paragraph, one reads this:

Some exceptions to this principle should be noted. Recorded music may be used to accompany the community’s song during a procession outside and, when used carefully, in Masses with children. (SttL #94)

Having just acknowledged that canned music “lacks the authenticity” required by the sacred liturgy, why is a caveat provided for “Masses with children”? Are children not worthy of the best forms of liturgy? Having just rightly identified the inappropriateness of recorded music, why is its “careful use” proposed as acceptable when children are in tow?

In his commentary on SttL, Fr. Dennis Gill says it well:

Recorded music should not be used in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy… It is not the voice of the believer, the voice of the worshiper and, as such, is always inappropriate in the course of the celebration of the Eucharist, the other Sacraments, and the Liturgy of the Hours… Even in cases identified in Sing to the Lord when recorded music seems advisable, like outdoor processions, every effort should be made to actually sing in those circumstances. 1

These pages have demonstrated numerous times before that children respond very well to true sacred music. (For example, see this—Our Lady of the Atonement I, this—Our Lady of the Atonement II, this—Gregory the Great Academy, and this—Youth in Favor of Sacred Music.) If you have never experienced it for yourself, try it out. Children take naturally to chant, and there are so many resources available for teaching it to them. It is time to put the Glory & Praise cassette tapes away and to bust out the Ward method books. If you want to get started, I highly recommend checking out the work of Maestro Wilko Brouwers, the Words with Wings series available from CMAA.

It is so much more rewarding to challenge children to chant than to settle for the crudeness (and hoakiness and banality and utility and frivolity) of recorded music.


1   Gerard Dennis Gill, Music in Catholic Liturgy: A Pastoral and Theological Companion to Sing to the Lord (Mundelein, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2009), 29.