Make a Difference! 5/6 Music at Mass Review

Attended a lovely and efficacious mass at which a passel of 2nd graders received their first Holy Communion. The younglings cleaned up nicely, and were dressed in lovely little white dresses and little coats and ties, each according to the sex God gave them.

I mention this because we were in San Francisco, among people many of whom consider those who merely roll their eyes at Archbishop Cordileone reactionary troglodytes. Take nothing for granted. This lovely church is in North Beach, perched between the harbor below and Embassy Row above.

The views are nice. Million dollar, even.

We entered this lovely building and discovered a cacophony. It seems the idea that the interior of a Catholic Church especially in the minutes before Mass might be a place best reserved for silence or at least quiet is one of those ideas held only by the above-mentioned troglodytes.

File:DVinfernoVirgilShowSoulsOfWrathful m.jpg
Virgil shows Dante the souls of the Wrathful. Not so much silent reflection on the sins that brought them here, but rather a whole bunch of wailin’ and railin’. Seriously, it wasn’t like this at Mass. The people were clothed. 

So, a minute or two after Mass was to start, the celebrant came out to ask people to please quiet down so we could begin. After a few moments, things settled down to the usual background of rustling paper and clothes and whispers, and we began.

Silly me – I looked at the hymn board, and looked up the opening hymn, which was Jesus Christ is Risen Today. Alleluia, indeed! Only to have my wife hand me a program a moment later, which had Sing a New Song as the opening ditty.

Aaaaand – it was all downhill from there. But let’s not bicker about ‘oo killed ‘oo. Rather, I here want to beat on another dead horse: participation in the singing was effectively zero: the nice lady sincerely strumming her guitar and singing into the thankfully not deafening sound system basically went solo. At least, the participation in the songs – and we’re talking songs that have been sung to death for 50 years now – was not enough to drown out the ambient (to borrow Brian Neimeier’s favorite word) susurrus. I, following my general rule of singing along if the song, however terrible, is not actively heretical, started singing – and drowned out the other hundreds of people there. With a lingering high chest cold and not going all Pavarotti on it, either. Just audibly singing.

The rest of the tunes were less well known to me, at least. The mass commons were in that style, praise music, I believe it’s called, where one note follows another without nearly enough structure to warrant being called a tune, yet the guitar strumming remains vigorously sincere. Since the sheet music was not provided and no mortal power could consistently guess what note was coming next, the song leader’s solo continued unchallenged, even by me.

Finally, right before the hellish cacophony resumed, we sang a little ditty I’d been mercifully spared from before, or else my mind purged the memory in an act of desperate self-preservation: Go Make a Difference. Check this action out:

Go make a dff’rence, we can make a diff’rence
Go make a diff’rence in the world
Go make a diff’rence we can make a diff’rence
Go make a diff’rence in the world

So, we are to go make a difference – excuse me, diff’rence – in the world. OK, then. My first thought was to find a freeway overpass and drop cinder blocks into oncoming traffic – that will make a diff’rence!

But of course, that’s not what the author means! He mean, I suppose, to make a difference – excuse me again! – diff’rence – by, oh, fomenting violent revolt by the oppressed masses. Because if it were anything such as feeding the hungry or, God forbid! repenting of our sins, he’d have said so right out front.

But he didn’t. In the verses, we get:

We are the salt in the earth, called to let the people see
The love of God in you and me
We are the light of the world, not to be hidden, but be seen
Go make a diff’rence in the world

We are the hands of Christ, reaching out to those in need
The face of God for all to see
We are the spirit of hope, we are the voice of peace
Go make a diff’rence in the world

Salt *in* the earth? Not *of*?  Like, salting the fields so that nothing will grow? Salt in food, is the Biblical image. Merely confused, and unnecessarily so, since in and of scan exactly the same here. So, why?

At least that God person does get mentioned, three times even, albeit not until line two of the first verse. On the other hand, counting the implied ‘you’ of the imperative ‘go,’ we have 27 references to you, we, us, and so on. So we see where this is focused.

But is that God person actually referenced 3 times? Glad you asked – not really, or at least in odd ways that point back to us. At no point is God simply recognized as our God and Savior, Creator of the World, worthy of our love and praise and source of all goodness. In each case, God is raised up only to be a mirror in which we see ourselves.

Each of the three cases, God twice and Christ once, do not refer directly to God. Instead, they not so subtly say *we* are God. In the first and most readily defensible case, the ‘love of God in you and me’ is what we’re talking about. Are we actually talking about our Creator Father here? Or rather about how cool we are that we are showing people a love already in us with no hint of a struggle let alone the real possibility that we could reject that love. Nope, a simple given.

In the second, the writer likewise uses a traditional formulation – many saints have said this – to say we are Christ’s hands. The difference is – oops, excuse… oh, heck with it! – that the saints were cajoling and warning us: don’t wait around for God to act in some miraculous manner. YOU are that tool, however imperfect, in God’s hands. The sense of awe and unworthiness, and concomitant need to rely entirely on God’s strength and grace, is not so subtly lacking here in this song. Nope, we got this.

Finally, the assertion that we are the face of God, while again true, is oddly backwards from how the saints talk about it – Mother Teresa, for one example out of many, recognized the face of Christ in the poor she served, and thus was strengthened in her efforts to serve them. It is others, largely to the horror of the saints so identified, who see God’s face in us. Well, in the saints, at any rate.

Read just about any old Catholic hymn to compare and contrast, and you’ll see what I mean here.

But, again, I am grateful to have attended Mass and received the Blessed Sacrament with my brothers and sisters in Christ on a lovely Sunday in a beautiful church, together with that passel of charming 2nd graders. In comparison to that great act of God’s mercy and love, my complaints are utterly trivial.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

21 thoughts on “Make a Difference! 5/6 Music at Mass Review”

  1. Wait, they did this one?

    I…guess it would work as a sending-forth hymn, since you’d already be in the mindset of go forth and all. It’s Christian (I believe Catholic friendly, if not actually Catholic) pop from when I was a kid. I’ve got a CYC shirt somewhere that has the logo “Go MAD with God’s Love” on it. (Make A Difference.)

    Sadly, if they actually managed to keep the pace in the video I linked, it’d be a vast improvement over any music we’ve had at Mass for the last month or so. WHY must they turn everything into a dirge?!? It’s not respectful, it’s just depressing.

    1. That’s the song. The Shaft-flavored setting here is interesting. WWJD about those constantly pumping the wah-wah pedal? But the tempo is good, better than what I heard at mass.

      My major problem here is the lyrics – nothing in this song says anything about what sort of difference – excuse me, diff’rence – we should go make. The differences we are commanded to make includes such unpopular ones as making disciples of all the nations and obeying all Christ’s commandments. Not sure that’s what the writers had in mind.

      I hate all songs are dirges too, and sometimes wage one-man war to keep the tempo up. Worst examples are when the priest starts a mass part – Alleluia, Lamb of God, that sort of thing – and the people *slowly* join in and slowly slow down. I try to hold whatever tempo the priest used. It isn’t pretty.

      One understandable reason all church songs tend to become dirges: in a building of any size, there’s a split-second lag between when people on one side sing and people on the other hear. If people are paying attention, they end up slowing down so the other side can catch up. Obviously, when there is accompaniment, the organ or other accompaniment can try to keep it going, but I think many church musicians have slowed down

      1. There is allusion to being the Light of God and such, but I get worried about “making a difference.”

        Kind of like the “well behaved women seldom make history” thing. Decent people in general very seldom make history…usually the stuff that makes history is monstrous.

      2. Well, thank you for that explanation. It’s more charitable than what I came up with.

      3. Ours has a massive sound system, and they start at “are you kidding me? HE IS ALIVE, NOT DEAD” speed.

        When the priest who actually sings the Alleluia, the speed is decent and keeps up.

  2. Trivial, yes … unless you’re really concerned about how many of these second graders might, or might not, retain their faith into adulthood as a result of experiences like this, not only at First Communion but week after week. I think bad liturgy can be literally scandalous. As I read recently, “if this is supposed to be a foretaste of heaven, then I am not so sure why I would want to go there . . . . ”

    1. Trivial in the context of the sacrament happening right now right in front of me. Certainly NOT trivial as we try to pass the faith along to others and grow in it ourselves. I try to keep that distinction in mind in order to not lose my mind.

  3. I laughed out loud at your initial vision of making a “diff’rence”! Love it.
    But yes, Agellius has a very pertinent point. Garbage like this turns kids right off, whether or not they express or recognize this fact. If Mass isn’t special, different, other-worldly … then why bother attending? And “music” like this certainly doesn’t help. Sadly, I have family members who have lost their faith, in no small part due to years of banal liturgy, including sappy music such as this “song”.

    1. I meant to add to my rhetorical question above that this is what must occur to those who are poorly catechized as to the full meaning and beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

      1. Yes. The challenge is nothing so simple as better music and more reverence. We are called, I think, to be like St. Philip Neri – apostles to those already Catholic. I regularly hear in my catachetical role adults say they never heard the most basic Catholic stuff before. We’ve lost generations now.

    2. Of course. I try to make the distinction between criticisms of how mass is done with appreciation that there’s a mass there at all that I can go to. Plus, recognizing the good intentions of the people there. I find this is better for my soul that seething over the stupid.

      That said, we were only at the Mass I wrote about because it was a niece’s first Communion. We have long tried to shelter our kids and ourselves from the worst of it – there are parishes where will drive miles to avoid going to mass there, and others – St. Margaret Mary’s in Oakland and St. Thomas Aquinas in Palo Alto and Lady of Peace in Santa Clara – where we will drive a half an hour or more to attend, because, as one of my sons said, you know they won’t be screwing around.

  4. I try to make a diff’rence by running the Daily Sayings of St. Philip Neri email list. Your post made me think of this one:

    November 18: “Never make a noise of any sort in church, except for the greatest necessity.” – St. Philip Neri.

    You can sign up for St. Philip Neri’s Daily Sayings at

    I also was at a First Communion over the weekend. And though the music wasn’t as bad as yours, it also wasn’t good. This saddens me because we’re either forming our children with the truth, and beauty, and goodness of the Catholic Faith, or we’re (de)forming them with something else, usually something imported from the world.

    1. Nice website. I signed up. St. Philip Neri is one of my favorite saints, and the example of an apostle to those already Catholic – which is what is mainly needed these days.

    1. Well, thank goodness our pastor five years ago got rid of the “hymn” books that were an occasion of sin. We do have a modern “Praise and Worship”-type hymnal, used at some Masses, that is merely an occasion of annoyance.
      Wasn’t it Therese of the Little Flower who determined to sing most vigorously those songs she liked the least? She probably only had to contend with over-sentimentality, though.

      1. Yea, some saint did that, and I try to follow suit, but am weakening with age. I do manage to belt out “Eagles Wings” because it was my late mom’s favorite song. I offer it up for the repose of her soul.

        Otherwise, if it’s not overtly heretical I try to sing it no matter how insipid.

  5. Remembered one song that they used… I think the music director was sick or something… we just sang this during Communion:
    Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
    Pure and holy, tried and true.
    With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
    Sanctuary for You

    Just slightly slower than you would say it if you were reading a pronouncement, no music.

    It was nice.

  6. You… you really hadn’t heard Go Make a Diff’rence before? Are… are Catholic Churches that different in California in comparison to Oregon? Because (in my mere seven years as a Catholic), except for St. Cecilia’s in Beaverton (which I haven’t been to in a while because it is hard to make it on time to our local parish, much less a more distant one, so it too might have fallen), every church up here uses songs like that or worse. I actually sing along with that one, if not with enthusiasm, because it is pretty good compared to a lot of it. The current (new) music director for the Mass we usually attend is doing… better?–but the music is a constant drain on me, especially when I am in a dry patch, spiritually.

    1. Welcome home! Converts are the best!

      Nope, never heard that ditty before. Hit or miss, but we are blessed to live within 10 minutes of 4 Catholic Churches, 2 of which have less bad music. We also are within 25 minutes of St Margaret Mary’s in Oakland – they have about 1/2 dozen choirs, including chant and polyphony. We go there about once a month. They always do good music.

      Many if not most of the parishes around here probably do that ditty or worse, but we don’t attend mass there if we can help it. Not all of California is this blessed, and, in my limited experience Oregon is indeed worse.

      1. Thank you. I wish I could say I felt more at home, spiritually, but I know it is the spiritual home I really need… and really, who needs more comfort than Jesus, St. Mary, and St Joseph can provide?

        Well, I wish I could say that was comforting, but it is not. Since I am not likely to leave Oregon anytime soon, I shall just have to endure, and hope when I do move I find someplace like St. Margaret Mary’s wherever I end up going from here.

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