He who sings to God, prays twice. When I was younger, I would hear this expression constantly, growing up in a Catholic school in Mexico. The brothers of the Order of St. John Baptist de la Salle, who ran my school, would remind us of this adage whenever we would prepare for Mass, or really any time we would learn about song, prayer, and worship. As I got older, I began to appreciate more and gained a deeper understanding of the wisdom behind those words.
God has given us many musical talents with which to glorify Him. Music is a beautiful thing, which—when used properly—can create masterpieces that give praise to God in ways that are otherwise simply impossible. The degree of appropriateness of song in the Church—especially with regards to its use during Mass—depends on the degree of respect used for this purpose.
Unfortunately, however, music in the Mass can sometimes lead to situations in which the focus of the liturgy is taken away from the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and towards the music which is supposed to complement and glorify that very unique of miracles. Of course, music can provide an enriched experience during the Mass, but how many times have we witnessed Masses in which the congregation applauds the choir for singing? How many times have I seen people clap and even dance during the celebration of the Mass? There is a time and a place for everything, and the Catholic Church, being the aggregate of the collective experience of all that partake in that institution, has room enough for all types of passions and talents, music included.
That time, however, is not during the celebration of the Mass, and the place is not the space where it is happening. Pope Francis himself has addressed this issue, warning Catholics not to fall into the mundane in celebrating the Mass. The central focus of the Mass should always be the Eucharistic miracle and the community that forms around it and because of it. It should never be a choir, or a singer, or a catchy tune. Again, there is a time and a place for all of these, and music can be a very powerful tool for evangelization. The sanctity of the Mass, however, should never be disregarded. It should never be compromised to fit new trends or ways. It should be defended and maintained because, at the end of the day, it is central to the Catholic identity.
Anything that distracts from that fundamental element is just that—a distraction—and should not be included in the celebration. We are not attending a concert, we are not attending a party, and we are not in the theater. We are witnessing the greatest miracle and the greatest act of love from a God who truly loves us. If anything, we owe it to Him to correspond to that love with the respect and reverence it deserves. In short, yes, we should embrace music in the Catholic Church, but let us not let it interfere with the centrality of the Eucharist during Mass.