Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. The music at our parish’s Sunday Masses has become very heavy — and problematic for many people. We have a very friendly and inspiring priest and a talented music minister. Now, however, we are hiring singers, and there is a lot of chanting. The songs that are accompanied by the organ are also very sad and slow.

Our attendance is down, and I think it’s the music that is a good part of the problem. Different people like different styles, I know, but this overbearing sadness at all our Masses is too much! It doesn’t leave us with a sense of celebration. (City of origin withheld)

A. The style of music, even at Mass, involves personal taste. For that reason, opinions will vary widely as to what is suitable and helpful. Accordingly, many parishes try to accommodate the range of parishioners by offering different musical formats.

One Mass on the weekend, for example, may feature a choir; another may highlight congregational singing of traditional hymns; while still a third may offer music and instrumentation that is more contemporary.

Yet there are some overarching principles that must be observed, the most fundamental is to achieve conscious, active and fruitful participation of the congregation in the liturgy. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says in No. 47, the entrance chant’s “purpose is to … foster the unity of those who have been gathered.”

Surely, a cantor and a choir can do much to enhance and ennoble the liturgy, but they should not dominate. The Mass is not a concert. It is a public prayer.

You are correct in saying that liturgy should leave the worshipper with a “sense of celebration” rather than an “overbearing sadness.” (What we are celebrating, of course, is the very joyful fact that the resurrection of Jesus offers us the promise of heaven.)

Your options are these: to convey your concerns to the parish music director, the prayer and worship committee, the parish council or the pastor, or any combination of these. As a point of strategy, I would recommend gathering a few other people of like mind to accompany you.

Q. According to a pamphlet I received from our parish, confession was not made obligatory until the Lateran Council in A.D. 1215. Since this was decided by man on earth and not by God, how can it be a serious sin if we don’t go to confession at least once a year? (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

A. Indeed, the Lateran Council in 1215 did establish that Catholics should confess their sins at least once a year. But notice how that obligation is worded in the church’s Code of Canon Law (in No. 989): “After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year.”

Notice that it says “grave sins,” and here I would use “grave,” “serious” and “mortal” interchangeably. So, technically, one only has to confess when conscious of a mortal sin — although certainly I would recommend regular confession even for venial sins, as a way to stay focused on the path to holiness. But beyond that, I think that I disagree with your major premise, which seems to be that only a direct oracle from God can determine what is objectively grave.

I don’t remember Jesus ever using the specific words, “Missing Mass on Sunday is a serious sin.” But I’ve always understood that it is a serious sin because Jesus did say, “Do this in memory of me” and because I believe that the church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, has the right to establish basic teachings on faith and morals.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.